The Twists and Turns of Outremer

Illustration from the Old French translation of Guillaume de Tyr's Histoire d'Outremer

Illustration from the Old French translation of Guillaume de Tyr’s Histoire d’Outremer

After the defeat of the Byzantine Empire at the battle of Manzikert, Emperor Alexius Comnenus turned to his European counterparts for help. Although there was no lost between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, Pope Urban saw an opportunity. The holy places of Christianity had been in the hands of Islamic conquerors for over 400 years. It was time to get them back. Hence the First Crusade, which allowed Alexius to retake western Anatolia and the crusaders to take Jerusalem. Although Godfrey of Bologne, the leader of the First Crusade, declared there should be no man wearing a crown where Christ wore the Crown of Thorns, his successors had no problem declaring themselves king. Thus the Crusader States were born.

The French called them Outremer, which literally meant “over the sea”. These consisted of the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, which all owed fealty to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They were really divided into two spheres of influence- the northern governed by Antioch and the southern governed by Jerusalem. Both areas had different goals and enemies. Antioch, which influenced Edessa and Tripoli, was mainly ruled by Normans and were embroiled with issues with Armenia, the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim states of Aleppo and Mosul. Jerusalem, however, was mainly concerned with Damascus and Egypt.

After Godfrey of Bologne, Jerusalem was ruled by the brother of Godfrey of Bologne then after his death passed to Baldwin II de la Bourg. Rule then passed to his daughter Melisende. Because of the constant state of war, women had a much higher life expectancy of the men. While a man was in the field, his spouse could exercise her husband’s authority jure uxoris, through the medium of the wife. At the request of the French king, Louis VI, Melisende was married to Fulk of Anjou, the grandfather of Henry II of England. After much political intrigue, their son Baldwin III became king. Who was succeeded by his brother, Amalric. He had a son and a daughter with his wife Agnes of Courtenay, who was descended from the rulers of the County of Edessa. However, once Amalric ascended to the throne after his brother died childless, he threw Agnes in a convent and had the marriage annulled. He then married Maria Comnena, a grand niece of ruling emperor Manuel I Comnenus, and had a daughter, Isabella.

All while this was going on, in Egypt a new power was growing. Saladin had just succeeded his uncle Shirkuh as vizier of Egypt. He was on the move and took the city of Eilat, which was Jerusalem’s connection with the Red Sea. Amalric called to his allies in Europe, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. In the meantime, there was more trouble in Jerusalem. Amalric’s son and heir, Baldwin, was found to be a leper. Historians believe he had tuberculoid leprosy as he originally was quite active as a rider and did not have any visible physical disfigurement. His tutor, William of Tyre, discovered something was wrong because the prince and his playmates had a game of digging their fingernails into each other and Baldwin felt no pain. Baldwin was still designated as heir, but his sister Sibylla took on extreme importance as she was next in line. Since Baldwin had leprosy, it was not expected for him to have heirs. Everyone was extremely interested in who Sibylla would marry, since it would be he who took on the crown of Jerusalem in right of his wife. In 1176, Sibylla married William Longsword of Montferrat. It was a good match, but William died soon after leaving Sibylla pregnant with a son, whom she named Baldwin just to keep things confusing.

Amalric’s son, Baldwin, became Baldwin IV on 1174 at the age of 13. His regent was his father’s cousin, Raymond III of Tripoli, who made a treaty with Saladin. As soon as Baldwin gain control of the throne, he refused to ratify the treaty and attacked Damascus. After a series of maneuvers, they met Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard and won with the help of the Knights Templar in 1177. It is thought that the combination of being in the field and the onset of puberty, accelerated Baldwin’s leprosy into the disfiguring lepromatous leprosy. As by 1179, Baldwin had declined so far as he could not remount his horse without aid. By the 1180’s, Baldwin was blind and bedridden and turned over power to his sister’s new husband.

With Baldwin IV declining, Sibylla’s remarriage took center stage. There were factions in the court vying to get control over Sibylla, who with her husband would be regent for her young son Baldwin of Montferrat. In 1180, she was married to Guy of Lusignan. If you remember from previous posts, the Lusignan’s were an ambitious family from southern France with ties to both the English and French throne. In short, they were trouble. He was considered a weak commander and when Saladin attacked the castle where Baldwin IV’s half sister Isabella’s wedding was being held, Guy hesitated. Baldwin had to rise from his sickbed to break the siege. That was enough for Baldwin, and he attempted to have his sister’s marriage annulled and removed Guy as regent.

When Baldwin IV finally succumbed to leprosy in 1185, he left the throne to Sibylla’s son, Baldwin, with Raymond of Tripoli as regent. You can imagine how well Guy took that. Poor little Baldwin V only reigned for a year and died at the tender age of 9. That left Sibylla as sole queen on the condition she would annul her marriage. She double crossed them, and after she was crowned queen plucked the crown off her head and put it on Guy’s. She boldly declared, “I make choice of thee as king and as my lord; for whom God hath joined together let not man put asunder.” They were stuck with the Lusignan and the consequences would be disastrous.

ER

Sources available on request