The Kingdom of Jerusalem was the dream, prize and crown jewel of the Crusades. It existed from 1099 until 1291 though the Holy City of Jerusalem fell to the Muslims earlier in 1187. There were roughly 23 monarchs over Jerusalem in that time and the claims to the kingdom and the dream it represented continued for much longer. In fact, the claim nominally continues to this day as King Juan Carlos of Spain still includes among his long list of titles that of King of Jerusalem. Today it has become rather fashionable to emphasize the failures and shortcomings of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Crusades as a whole, but it should not be forgotten that there were many great, heroic and upright figures associated with that long lost kingdom and the vision of those who founded it still shines in the mind all these centuries later. For a time the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was a beacon of light; a cosmopolitan kingdom, a crossroads of the world, a hub of trade and a place where Christian, Jew and Muslim lived and worked side by side in peace.
The founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the crowning achievement of the Christian victory in the First Crusade, summoned by Pope Urban II when Muslim forces invaded and threatened to overrun the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. The retaking of the Holy City by Christian forces was an event which gave no indication of the tolerance to follow. After miraculously snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, the Crusaders stormed into the city and in their pent up rage carried out a massacre horrific by all accounts. However, not all the crusaders took part in this shameful act, one being Godfrey of Bouillon, a great knight, who was offered the throne of the newly proclaimed Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey, however, was a humble man and refused to, as he put it, wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns. Rather than the title of king he was called the Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher and was installed into that office in a solemn ceremony in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Arnulf of Chocques was elected first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, thus fulfilling the balance in leadership between the lay and the clerical that existed in the Middle Ages throughout Christendom.
There was some doubt, at the outset, as to whether or not the Kingdom of Jerusalem would ever have a monarch at all; some wanted to see the establishment of a Christian theocracy under the guidance of the Pope, and whether or not the new country would be able to maintain its independence. That matter was settled when Godfrey of Bouillon marched out with the True Cross before him and defeated a Muslim army at Ascalon in August, securing the immediate independence of Jerusalem. The matter of government was firmly secured following the succession of Baldwin I, the brother of Godfrey, who took the title and was formally crowned Latin King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Christmas day in 1100 by the Patriarch. Although he was not the man his brother was, and was far from perfect (many compared him to King Saul of Israel) King Baldwin I did expand the Kingdom of Jerusalem and won many battles against the Muslims. He also secured the support of the Italian city states, with their powerful navies, in controlling the coast in exchange for trade rights there. The County of Tripoli and the Principality of Edessa also became vassals of the Kingdom of Jerusalem under his reign.
King Baldwin I died while leading an attack on Egypt, which would be long sought as a possession, in 1118 and was succeeded by his cousin King Baldwin II who staved off a massive Muslim invasion and drove the Muslims out of Antioch after they had briefly conquered that principality. He also conquered Tyre, adding it to his possessions and his reign saw the creation of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitallers. He also enacted laws to more plainly codify the government of the new kingdom. His fellows considered him a good Christian and an exceptional general, an opinion driven home by the fact that even his Muslim enemies had some respect for him.
The same could not be said, unfortunately, for his successors, at least in Muslim eyes, given their view of the status of women for the next monarch to reign over the Kingdom of Jerusalem was a woman; namely Queen Melisende, daughter of Baldwin II. She was very popular with the Church and the High Court (rather like a parliament) but she was challenged for power by her wealthy and militarily strong husband Fulk V of Anjou. Fulk, incidentally, was the father of Geoffrey Plantagenet from whom descended a long line of English kings. Given the nature of this old crusader it is not surprising that there was initially a power struggle between Fulk and his Queen, however, Jerusalem was not an arbitrary monarchy but rather was a nation of laws. The High Court had considerable power and if the monarch failed to obey the laws or fulfill their obligations he or she could legally be removed from power. Queen Melisende had right on her side, the law, as well as the bulk of the local nobility and the support of the Church while the authority of her husband rested on his own knights and newly arrived French forces. She finally managed to retake the reigns of power from her husband who died in a hunting accident in 1143.
One of the marks Queen Melisende left on the kingdom was her charitable support for the arts and the Church, which she richly embellished. Despite the official name of the country being the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, this referred mostly to religion as culturally the kingdom was very cosmopolitan. The court would have appeared more eastern than western and Byzantine etiquette and styles were the norm. Jewish and Muslim influences remained and even among the Christians there was great diversity between the Catholic and Orthodox as well as eastern rites within the Catholic Church alongside the Latin rite. However, as was always the case with the Kingdom of Jerusalem, trouble was on the horizon. Edessa was attacked by Muslim forces and appealed to the Queen for help. She sent what forces she could but it was to no avail and Edessa fell in 1144. This prompted Queen Melisende to appeal to the Pope, Eugene III, for help. The result was the calling of the Second Crusade to be led by King Louis VII of France (accompanied by his formidable wife Eleanor of Aquitaine) and Emperor Conrad III of Germany.
Unfortunately, the second crusade was not as glorious as the first and the crusader armies suffered considerably before reaching Jerusalem. Once there the focus soon fell on the city of Damascus. King Baldwin III, the son of Queen Melisende, favored attacking the city and the crusaders were easily persuaded. The siege ended in disaster and disunity and represented the failed last gasp of the Second Crusade. Baldwin III captured Ascalon in 1153 and his reign saw the greatest expansion of the territory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Even the city of Cairo, Egypt was occupied for a time. However, there was also civil strife between Baldwin III and his mother the Queen. The High Court tried to avoid disaster by splitting the kingdom between the two of them, but Baldwin III wanted to rule before his time and rule all. He launched an invasion of the southern half of the kingdom held by his brother Amalric, loyal to their mother, and Manassas who the Queen had appointed Marshal of Jerusalem. In the end, Baldwin was successful in taking power, though the Church was able to arrange a peace in the family and Queen Melisende and Baldwin III were eventually reconciled.
An alliance, of sorts, was secured in 1158 when the 28 year old King Baldwin III married the 13 year old niece of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel; Princess Theodora. However, the two never had any children and King Baldwin III died only a few years later in 1162. Queen Melisende died the previous year, living long enough at least to see her playboy son become a faithful husband and respected king, even earning the praise of his Muslim enemies. He was succeeded on the throne by his brother King Amalric I. It seemed that with his ascent of the throne the succession was better secured as Amalric had married Agnes of Courtenay in 1157 and the couple had three children, two of which survived childhood, Prince Baldwin and Princess Sibylla. Yet, the marriage also proved a stumbling block. The former Patriarch of Jerusalem had objected to the match on the grounds that they shared a great-great-grandfather and though they later married anyway the High Court objected to the succession of Amalric unless his marriage was annulled. He at last did so, the marriage was annulled, though the children remained legitimate and Amalric ascended the throne without Agnes as his Queen of Jerusalem
In spite of these problems though, Amalric became one of the most accomplished kings of Jerusalem. He took advantage of the disorder in Egypt and managed to take Cairo on two occasions, once in 1167 and again in 1168, captured Alexandria for a time and made Egypt a protectorate of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until the rise to power of the formidable Sultan Saladin. Amalric had to rush back north to deal with a Muslim attack in Syria but later arranged an alliance with the Byzantines to take the fight back to Egypt. One of the most problematic figures in the Syrian campaign was a French knight named Raynald of Chatillon who had made an enemy of Emperor Manuel. Raynald was a rather unsavory character, once torturing the Latin Patriarch of Antioch to force him to finance one of his revenge expeditions and he would prove continuously troublesome for Jerusalem in the years to come.
In 1174 Amalric died and the throne passed to his son King Baldwin IV. He was a brave and upright young man of great intelligence but had been afflicted from childhood with leprosy, which led to his nickname of Baldwin the Leper or the Leper King. He was only 13 years old and brought his mother back to the court in Jerusalem previously denied her. The first year of his reign the fearsome Saladin threatened Aleppo but the young warrior king attacked Damascus to draw the Muslims away. Despite his physical condition, Baldwin IV led from the front with great courage and exceptional skill for one so young. In 1177, with his troops carrying the True Cross before them, Baldwin IV won a brilliant victory over a massive Muslim army under Saladin near the city of Ramleh. In fact, only the self sacrifice of his body guard prevented Saladin himself from being captured.
During the first year of his reign, Baldwin IV was acted for by Raymond the Younger of Tripoli who was regent. He made William of Tyre, who had tutored Baldwin IV as a boy and discovered his leprosy, regent and arranged the marriage of Princess Sibylla to William Longsword who died in 1177 but not before fathering a future heir to the throne. In 1180 Raymond attempted a coup in response to marriage negotiations concerning Sibylla and Hugh of Burgundy. He would have preferred a marriage to the family of Balian of Ibelin to whom he was closely allied. Neither the marriage nor the coup came to fruition but it prompted Baldwin IV to marry Sibylla to Guy of Lusignan who had powerful foreign connections. Nor was palace intrigue all the diseased young monarch had to worry about. In 1181 Sultan Saladin attacked again but again he was defeated near the Sea of Galilee at Belvoir castle. He then marched on Beirut but Baldwin IV was waiting for him and stopped the Muslim advance. Peace ensued for a time until it was broken by the troublesome Raynald of Chatillon. In 1183 Saladin besieged Kerak, the castle of Raynald of Chatillon. By this time the Leper King was so infirm he had to be carried with his army on a litter but still he forced Saladin to retreat. So long as Baldwin IV, who was a pious young man and an undeniably brilliant commander, lived it seemed Jerusalem was safe from the Muslim hordes but his leprosy only grew worse. Toward the end he was totally disabled, blind and tormented by the eating away of his flesh. The young monarch who had defeated the best general in the Islamic army as a diseased teenage boy finally died on March 16, 1185 not long after his beloved mother.
As per the wishes of the late monarch the throne passed to his nephew, the son of Princess Sibylla by her first husband as King Baldwin V. However, the child did not live to remain long on the throne. He was dead the very next year, officially due to lifelong poor health but amid persistent rumors of poisoning. Against the opposition of many nobles of the country the throne then passed to Sibylla who became Queen of Jerusalem. The problem, though, was not so much with her as with her rather dimwitted husband Guy of Lusignan. He had earlier been regent in the infirmity of the Leper King but lost the job due to his incompetence and indeed Baldwin IV had recognized his mistake in arranging the marriage and tried to undo it. By then it was too late though and in spite of the wishes of the court, the very first act of Queen Sibylla was to crown her husband Guy of Lusignan King of Jerusalem alongside her. She was nothing if not a loyal wife though the support of the infamous Raynald of Chatillon was probably most instrumental in Guy coming to power. Unfortunately, for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, wearing the crown brought with it no greater ability and Guy of Lusignan was soundly defeated by Saladin in a Muslim invasion provoked by Chatillon. On July 4, 1187 at the Horns of Hattin the army of Jerusalem met with a devastating defeat at the hands of Saladin with Guy himself being taken prisoner.
The relic of the True Cross which the army of Jerusalem carried before it was also captured, causing many to believe the fight had been doomed and God had not approved of it as it had previously been believed that, much like the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, no army could be defeated which bore the True Cross. In any event, the battle was a disaster for the Christians with most of the survivors being massacred by the victorious Muslim forces and it left Jerusalem vulnerable to Saladin and his massive army. He quickly laid siege to the Holy City which was defended by Queen Sibylla, the Patriarch Heraclius and Balian of Ibelin with a relative handful of soldiers. After a hopeless but heroic fight Jerusalem finally surrendered on October 2, 1187. Saladin released all those who could pay a ransom for their freedom, and there were desperate efforts by the Christians to raise money, but those who could not were sold into slavery. After such a disaster, many Christians attributed the stunning defeat to the hedonism that had become rather prevalent in the social life of the city in recent years and reasoned that God denied His protection to those who denied Him.
European Christendom was stunned and horrified by the news of these disasters and France and England both started the so-called Saladin tithe to raise money for a counter-attack and Pope Gregory VIII immediately called for the Third Crusade to retake the Holy City of Jerusalem for the Christian faith. The call was answered with probably greater fanfare than any other crusade as the three preeminent monarchs of Christendom, namely Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip Augustus of France and King Richard the Lionheart of England all took up the cross and marched their forces east. In what was left of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Queen Sibylla relocated to Tripoli and was rejoined by her husband who had been held prisoner in Damascus. Saladin, however, was not simply trying to be merciful. He knew that the succession had been in dispute and he knew that of all his enemies Guy of Lusignan was not the sharpest tack in the box and would be easier to defeat if he could maintain his role as king consort. He also received the city of Ascalon as ransom for the hapless king consort of Jerusalem. It would prove to be successful tactic.
Queen Sibylla and Guy of Lusignan reunited on the march to Tyre in 1189, by this time the only major city in the kingdom the Muslims did not control. However, the crusader in command of that city, Conrad of Montferrat, former brother-in-law of Queen Sybilla, was determined to uphold the last will and testament of King Baldwin the Leper who had ordered that, should anything befall Baldwin V, the throne was to remain vacant until the crowned heads of Christendom could choose a successor. This may seem like a recipe for disaster but given the lack of ability displayed by Guy of Lusignan and the fact that Sibylla was totally devoted to him, Baldwin the Leper likely felt he had few other options. The last thing he ever wanted was for the Kingdom of Jerusalem to fall into the hands of Guy of Lusignan. Waiting for the arrival of the knights from Europe though would not provide a quick fix.
Counting on ultimate victory, Guy de Lusignan took his remaining forces and besieged the city of Acre, during which campaign the bold Queen Sybilla died in an epidemic that swept the camp, along with her daughters. In addition to the personal tragedy it was also a political blow for Guy who lost his only legitimate claim to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with the death of Sybilla. The throne then passed to Queen Isabella who was the daughter of King Amalric I and his second wife. Since the death of Baldwin IV there had been strong support for Queen Isabella, including Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin, to succeed to the throne but it was only after the death of Sybilla that she was able to assume her place. However, Queen Isabella also had problems due to her marriage. Her husband was a man with no ambition, no warrior spirit and worst of all a supporter of Guy of Lusignan. In what seemed the best course of action to everyone the Papal Legate annulled the marriage and Queen Isabella married the more worthy Conrad of Montferrat, the closest living male relative of the late King Baldwin IV. Conrad thus became king consort of Jerusalem.
However, the troublesome Guy de Lusignan was still on the scene and still clinging to his title of King of Jerusalem. Having never been popular this would not have been much of a problem were it not for the fact that he was supported by his former overlord King Richard I of England who had just arrived with his crusader army. However, the French and the Austrians supported Conrad though it would take a great deal of argument and battlefield action before the status of the Jerusalem throne was settled; a throne, incidentally, none of them actually held at this point. The Third Crusade had lost a great deal of its steam before the first troops even arrived in the Holy Land. Emperor Frederick had drowned in a river in Turkey and the King of France gave up on the enterprise not long after. King Richard I alone pressed ahead with the hope of retaking Jerusalem, but despite many fierce battles fought against tremendous odds, he was unable to do so and had to settle for a stalemate with Saladin which would allow Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy City though it remained in Muslim hands. By this time, virtually all that remained of the once mighty Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem which had stretched from southern Turkey to Egypt was a narrow strip of land with a few coastal cities and those were saved only by the audacity of the King of England.
Guy de Lusignan finally agreed that if he could retain the crown of Jerusalem during his lifetime he would pass it on to Isabella and Conrad after his death. King Richard, however, wanted no loose ends left behind before he returned to England and demanded a final decision. In 1192 the nobility elected Conrad as the one, true King of Jerusalem; however, he died only a few days later. Guy de Lusignan purchased the island of Cyprus from the Knights Templars and ended his days as master of that land which his descendants carrying on the line for some time. As for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem he had once claimed, without the Holy City upon which it was founded, it slowly withered on the vine though the titled continued to be passed on for some time. King Henry I was elected in 1194 and following him was King Amalric II of Lusignan, brother of Guy, former constable of Jerusalem and fourth husband of Queen Isabella. When the Fourth Crusade, called by the mighty Pope Innocent III, diverted from the Holy Land to Constantinople, he was forced to make peace with the Muslims for five years, possible mostly because Saladin was having family problems to deal with.
Rather than his daughter the Jerusalem nobility elected the daughter of Isabella and Conrad of Montferrat as Queen Mary I of Jerusalem. King Philip Augustus of France was asked to provide a husband for her and his choice was John of Brienne, who was also regent of the Latin Empire in Constantinople and rather reluctant to take the job but finally did so after receiving considerable support from the pope in the hope of initiating another crusade. The resulting Fifth Crusade was launched against Egypt, as Innocent III had intended the fourth to be, but met with defeat and John was forced to return to Europe in the hope of obtaining more foreign assistance. He met Pope Honorius III, the kings of France and England but most significantly the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of the powerful Hohenstaufen family. Frederick II was probably an atheist and no great friend of the Church, but he was a force to be reckoned with and was known as Stupor Mundi; the Amazement of the World. The Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights arranged a marriage with John between his daughter Yolanda and Emperor Frederick II.
After the two were married in 1225, Frederick demanded that John give up his kingly title and his new wife assumed the status of Yolanda or Queen Isabella II and he began calling himself King Frederick of Jerusalem as well. However, Frederick did not impress his devout Catholic subjects with his lifestyle nor did he seem to care much for the kingdom other than adding the glory of the title to his long list. It was not until he came under extreme pressure, after being excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX, and after the death of Isabella II, that he declared he was off to fulfill his duties and lead a crusade to retake Jerusalem. He landed in the Holy Land in 1228 but achieved no military glory. Claiming illness he decided to negotiate rather than fight and after making a deal with the Sultan of Egypt he entered the Holy City of Jerusalem and took the crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher though, significantly, without a religious, sacramental coronation. He then promptly named Balian of Ibelin regent and returned to Europe.
To most people in Christendom the whole expedition frankly stunk. Frederick had embarked on a crusade while being an excommunicate, to claim a crown that; following the death of his wife the Queen, he no longer had right to, made a deal with the Muslims and crowned himself without the Patriarch even being present. Later, Frederick sent Field Marshal Richard Filangieri to take over the regency of Jerusalem, but he met with little success and in 1243 the nobles finally declared they had had enough of the regency of the hated Emperor Frederick and declared that Conrad, his young son by Isabella II, should assume the throne. However, King Conrad II proved to be no great improvement. Queen Alix of Cyprus assumed the regency as the nearest relative of Isabella II and Conrad died an excommunicate after invading southern Italy only to be defeated by the Pope who then offered Sicily to the son of the King of England.
His son succeeded as Latin King Conrad III of Jerusalem, but by this time the kings of Jerusalem had ceased to play any role whatsoever in the Holy Land. After the death Alix in 1244 her son, Henry of Lusignan, the King of Cyprus, claimed the regency but it did not matter much as Muslim forces took the Holy City in September of the same year. The magnificent King St Louis IX of France attempted another crusade in 1250 through Egypt but met with defeat and although hopes held out for some time, Jerusalem was never to be regained by the forces of Catholic Christendom. By 1291 the last remaining Christian cities along the coast were captured by the Mamelukes and the last vestiges of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem were destroyed. The title continued to be fought over and passed around for some time, and at least as late as the reign of Pope St Pius V Rome held out hope of retaking the country but no Christian army was to set foot in the Holy City until World War I when British troops seized it from the Ottoman Turks. Today a number of royal families still claim the title of King of Jerusalem, though the King of Spain is the only reigning monarch to still maintain it on his list of titles.
Today, the Kingdom of Jerusalem is not very commonly remembered. The Crusades which gave it life tend to be portrayed, nowadays, as a shameful act of aggression on the part of Christians against a peaceful, Muslim population. There were undeniably atrocities on the part of both sides but it should not be forgotten that the Crusades were defensive wars meant to take back lands that were originally Christian and had been conquered by the Muslims coming up from the south out of Arabia. It was a remarkable feat of skill and endurance that during the Middle Ages the armies of Europe were able to travel such distances, sustain armies in inhospitable areas and survive despite being constantly surrounded and outnumbered by massive Muslim forces. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was also extremely tolerant for the time, officially Roman Catholic, but allowing various rites, Eastern Orthodox, Jew and Muslim to all live and practice their religion peacefully. The Crusader states were, in a way, the first effort of European colonization and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem has often been called the purest example of feudalism in action. Its history also dispels a number of myths about the Christendom of the Middle Ages. There was religious tolerance, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and it was not an aribtrary monarchy but a kingdom where the rule of law was supreme and where what power the king did have was balanced by the High Court as well as the Latin Patriarch who was the second most powerful figure in the country. Orders such as the Knights of St John, the Teutonic Knights and the Knights Templar also provided a greater decentralization of power as these were all independent organizations. It is also noteworthy that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was able to have a larger budget than most European governments of the time and this was possible almost exclusively because of customs duties (managed by Arabic bookkeepers) and caravan tolls rather than on heavy taxation of the populace.
Following the end of the British mandate in Palestine, the area which had once been the Kingdom of Jerusalem was restored to the Jewish nation and the independence of the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. This was immediately followed by the Arab-Israeli War in which virtually every neighboring Muslim country joined forces to crush the new State of Israel. In a stunning victory the tiny Israeli Defense Force soundly defeated the combined might of the Arab nations and secured her independence. However, lasting peace has proven rare, even after Israel returned conquered lands and agreed to the land for peace program with the Muslim Palestinians of the country. Although Israel has ceded land they have received precious little peace in return and Muslim-Jew violence continues with many seeing no hope for an end. Over the years, because of this, there has been an exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, despite the heroic efforts of the Christian remnant there.
In light of the sad recent history of the Holy Land, it is particularly timely to give the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem a second look. During the era of the kingdom the world saw, however briefly, perhaps the only occasion in which Christian, Jew and Muslim lived together peacefully. We should also remember, and defend against those who would spread disinformation, that the founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not an aggressive action but rather a defensive action taken in response to Muslim aggression. The Christians did not initiate the Crusades but rather they were an effort to defend Christian lands and to take the battle to the enemy. Although the Christians did not hold Jerusalem and its surroundings indefinitely; it is remarkable that they did for so long considered the distances involved from their bases of support in Europe as well as the vast Muslim forces arrayed against them. Many modern minds, a great deal of them propagandists, focus on the real or invented negative aspects of the Crusades and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, their arguments should be countered with the truth: that the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was founded in self defense, not aggression; that it was cosmopolitan and not xenophobic and that it was a kingdom of decentralized power, not one of royal absolutism. For all of these reasons the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem illustrates a great many things we would do well to emulate today.
This article is from the ‘Mad Monarchist’
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