Category Archives: The Crusades

A 12th Century Game of Thrones: the Dynastic Politics of the Kingdom of Jerusalem


It is possible to view the history of the crusader states as one in which power often devolved down to Italian maritime powers, military orders or local lordships. It is also possible to see the history of the various rulers of those states, and their nobles, in the context of a history of the region centered on rapidly rising (and falling) warlords, among whom the kings of Jerusalem could be counted. The rulers of the crusader states were also, however, western European nobles, with dynastic links and political rivalries which had their origins in France, England, the empire, Italy and Norman Sicily. Increasingly, there came to be created a distinctly crusader dynastic politics, centered on the rulers of the kingdom which saw itself, and often was, the natural overlord of the crusader states, Jerusalem; there was, however, always a European context too. And just as back in Europe, dynastic politics and succession crises were never far away,

So, hold on to your hats for a 12th century Game of Thrones. For now, we’ll stick to the kingdom of Jerusalem itself.


Outremer, meaning the land beyond the sea, and its four states: the kingdom of Jerusalem itself, the county of Tripoli, the principality of Antioch and the county of Edessa.

The creator of the dynasty, after a fashion, was Godfrey of Bouillon (1099-1100), the man who led the taking of city itself in 1099.


Godfrey was the second son of Eustace II of Bolougne. He never took the title of king of Jerusalem, believing that to be Christ’s. He died without an heir, and thus the story of the kingdom of Jerusalem technically starts with his brother, Baldwin I (1100-1118), previously known to us as Baldwin of Bolougne, and Baldwin I of Edessa. In the words of Fulcher of Chartres, and in the manner of most heirs to medieval thrones, he ‘grieved somewhat over the death of his brother, but rejoiced more over his inheritance’.


The remarkable Baldwin had only 300 knights in his company in 1100: from that he built on his brother’s work and made a kingdom. Baldwin was the epitome of the younger Frankish son on the make. He was destined for a career in the church, but then abandoned the church for worldly affairs. He may well have been homosexual, his inseparable companion as king was a converted Muslim. He was also married three times. After the death of his first wife in 1097, he married an Armenian princess, Arda, to help secure the county of Edessa he created in 1098; he later repudiated her, claiming she had been raped by a Muslim, but really to secure a third, politically advantageous  marriage to Adelisa of Sicily. That mariage ended in 1216 when it was declared bigamous. Baldwin promised not to remarry, but he had no children. Thus, a succession crisis loomed. There was a plot to summon Baldwin’s older brother, Eustace of Boulogne, from France. But France was along way away, and Baldwin’s cousin took the throne in what amounted to a palace coup.


Baldwin II (1118-31) had previously been known as Baldwin le Bourq; he was then Baldwin II of Edessa, having been granted the county by Baldwin I.

Baldwin’s title remained contested, however. He was not crowned until 1119. When he was a captive in 1123-24, the same Boulogne faction thought of replacing him; he did not receive papal recognition until 1128.

As proactive warlords and astute politicians the two Baldwins served their kingdom well. As breeders, they were less successful. The thrice and unsuccessfully married Baldwin I left no heir.  Baldwin II. married to Morphia, an Armenian princess. When he became king of  Jerusalem, his nobles encouraged him to get rid of her and make a more politically useful; match, and ideally one that could produce sons. As it was, it seems that Baldwin genuinely loved Morphia. This meant though, that there was no male heir, as Baldwin died leaving only daughters.

MelisendaIronically, as so often in an age where it was often supposed only men could rule, one of those daughters would prove the key figure in the politics of both her kingdom and dynasty after her father’s death. She was his eldest daughter, Melisende. Badwin II’s solution to the dynastic conundrum was to marry her to the grandly connected Fulk V of Anjou.  Fulk had already arranged the marriage of his eldest son, Geoffrey, to Matilda, the only surviving legitimate child of Henry I of England.  That marriage would create the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England from 1154.  and would do until until Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth Field in 1485.

First of all, the fact that Fulk was willing to hand over Anjou to his son, and take the crown of Jerusalem says much for the allure of the crown of Jerusalem. This reflected the close intertwining of Outremer’s nobility its Frankish origins, and with the English crown. Indeed, Raymond of Potiers, prince of Antioch from 1136, was from Henry I’s household.

The marriage negotiations between Baldwin II and Fulk were fraught and complicated; Fulk was ever insistent that it should be him that took the crown. After seeming to agree to this arrangement, and once the couple were safely married, Baldwin reframed the succession. Fulk (1131-43) would reign jointly with Melisende (1131-52), and their infant son, Baldwin. In turn, he would inherit as Baldwin III. Melisende and Fulk were thus jointly crowned in 1131, the first rulers of Jerusalem to be crowned in the church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, rather than Bethlehem.


Indeed, Baldwin II’s daughters were to be of no little importance in the subsequent history of the other crusader states, thanks to the marriages he arranged. Dynastic politics counted. After Baldwin’s death, Fulk asserted himself in true Angevin fashion, excluding his wife from effective joint rule. This lead to a revolt, led by Hugh of Jaffa, a relative of Melisende’s. This was a result of the resentment of the growing influence of Fulk’s Angevin family. Hugh was tried for treason, and an attempt was made on his life. Perhaps in repentance for that, or simply out of realism, Fulk accepted that Melisende would rule jointly thereafter. When Fulk was killed a hunting accident in 1143, Melisende’s rule  continued seamlessly.

Baldwin_III_of_JerusalemIn fact, so effectively did she wield power, that after Baldwin III (1143-63) came of age in 1152, her son had to wrest it from her in what amounted to a small scale civil war. Once more, Baldwin III had political successes, but failed in one key duty: procreation. He died childless, and his brother Amalric was the obvious successor. Unfortunately, he was married to Agnes of Courtenay, daughter of Joscelin II of Edessa.. That marriage was very controversial. In the first place, the previous patriarch had objected to the marriage on the grounds that they shared a great grandfather. Now, politics mattered more. According to William of Tyre, such was the hostility to her that Amalric was forced to secure the annulment of his marriage as the price of the throne. William of Tyre may well have exaggerated the hostility, however: in later years she had the key role in denying the see of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, Amalric did have the marriage annulled.


Amalric (1163-74) married the great niece of the Byzantine emperor, Manuel I. However, whilst Maria Comnena was queen, Amalric and Agnes’s children retained their legitimacy, and their place in the succession.

British Library - Yt  12   152v

It was a complicated succession. Baldwin IV (1174-85) was a leper, a fact established by William of Tyre when he was the boy’s tutor. In some ways, when well, he was a pretty effective ruler. Nonetheless, there would be no long reign, and no son. To make matters worse, his heir and his nephew, Baldwin V, was himself as a sickly child of nine. Thus Jerusalem was in the midst of a prolonged succession crisis.

Maciejowski Bible, ca. 1250Baldwin V’s mother was Sybilla, the older of Baldwin IV’s sisters; the other sister was Isabella. Two factions circled around the women, seeing them as a vehicle to win control.  Raymond III of Tripoli, Amalric I’s cousin, had been Baldwin IV’s regent when he was a child. He now tried to secure control by making Sybilla marry his preferred candidate, Baldwin of Ibelin. There was another faction, however. With Amalric’s death, Agnes of Courtenay had returned to court.  As mother to Baldwin IV, Sybilla and Isabella, and thus grandmother to Baldwin V, she began to wield great influence once more. She also had the support of her brother Joscelin (with the title, if not the lands, of Joscelin III of Edessa). They were determined to frustrate Raymond of Tripoli.

Baldwin_V_of_JerusalemBeing closer to the throne, they won the first round when Sybilla was married to Guy of Lusignan, who was closely connected to the Angevin family and Henry II, king of England. When Baldwin IV became increasingly incapacitated by his leprosy, Guy became de facto regent. However, after he and his ally Raymond of Chatillon provoked an attack by Saladin in 1183, the nobles turned on him and Sybilla could not defend him. Guy was replaced as regent by Raymond of Tripoli. When the infant Baldwin V (1185-86) was crowned, he was carried on the shoulders of Raymond’s ally, Balian of Ibelin. Raymond was in the ascendant.

It didn’t last. The crisis point came when the boy king Baldwin V died in 1186. By then, Agnes of Courtenay was dead, and the question of the succession remained to be settled. Guy’s reputation was such that the nobles of the kingdom would only allow Sybilla the crown if she annulled her marriage. She agreed, but only if it was agreed that she could, as her mother Agnes of Courtenay had done, chose her next husband. Then, when she had been crowned, she chose Guy of Lusignan.


Thus, Guy of Lusignan (1186-92) was now king, jointly with Sybilla (1186-90), in the same manner as Fulk had been. It would prove a disaster for the kingdom. It was Guy that lost Jerusalem, along with his ally Reynald of Chatillon. When they were captured, Reynald was killed, but Guy was allowed to return to his wife. His authority was shot, however.

Saladin’s motive in releasing Guy was hardly an unalloyed humanitarian gesture. The kingdom of Jerusalem was all but lost to the Christians. The last city holding out was Tyre. When Conrad of Montferrat had arrived in Tyre, after the fall of Jerusalem, the city’s leaders had been on the verge of making terms of surrender with Saladin. Instead, Conrad led the city’s defence so vigorously that twice Saladin laid siege to it, and twice gave up.

Conrad of Montferrat was from one of Europe’s great noble families, and was a cousin to both Frederick Barbarossa, the emperor, and Louis VII of France. Guy of Lusignan

Isabella, Sybilla’s younger sistyermarriages… Conrad of Montferrat… 3rd crusade….

Richard the Lionheart was able to compensate him well with the crown of Cyprus, but his credibility as king of Jerusalem was shot. The kings of Jerusalem kept the title, through the many marriages of Amalric’s younger daughter Isabella I (1192-1205), but  these kings were de facto kings of Acre, of Jerusalem only in name. The game of thrones now had only half a throne to play for.


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The Crusades and the Jews

imageJewish communities had long been established in Europe, where local rulers and bishops often encouraged Jewish settlement for sound economic reasons: Jews were commonly traders and bankers, at a time when Christians were not mean to lend money and levy an interest rate for so doing (the sin of usury). In particular, Jews had settled in France and Germany in the 10th century. Anti-Semitism came in their wake: long lived beliefs in Jews as ‘Christ-killers’, and a source of moveable wealth. Throughout medieval history, that anti-Semitism could lead to violence, pogroms (campaigns of violent persecution) and systematic attempts to convert Jews to Christanity, often by force.

The surge of crusading passion brought anti-Semitic passions, and pogroms, in its wake. As the pilgrims gathered behind Little Peter, their leader was not averse to anti-Semitic preaching. His forces may not have resorted to violence, he seems to have been attempting to extort money from Cologne’s wealthy Jews to subsidise his campaigns; his followers were less restrained: when they reached Regensburg, they quickly resorted to the forced conversion of the local Jews. Even more serious was the pogrom that accompanied the mustering of crusaders led by Emich of Flonheim in south and west Germany in 1096. The pogrom of 1096 was begun in Speyer, where Emich’s men had assistance from some of the townsfolk, but were opposed by others (including the local bishop). At Worms, hundreds were killed, many others forcibly converted. At Mainz, a two day orgy of desecration, murder and forcible conversion ensued. By the time he reached Cologne, many of its Jews were in hiding, Even after Emich’s forces had been denied passage through Hungary and his army had fallen apart after being defeated by Hungarian forces, anti-Semitic violence continued.

imageSuch violence was not an accident. It was not sanctioned by the church. The church was virulently anti-Semitic, but it did not approve of pogroms. In part, the church taught that the ultimate conversion of the Jews would come, signally the second coming; as a substantial secular power, it wanted the Jewish presence for the same reason local elites often did. Local secular elites, and many ordinary Christians, sought to protect Jews: indeed, the creation of Jewish ghettos, with walls, was often as much to protect Jews as it was the separate them. Instead, the violence came from people fired with a mix of avarice and crusading zeal. In Mainz, there was much talk of avenging the blood of Christ.


The process of evangelizing the Second Crusade saw a similar outbreak of anti-Semitic violence. Bernard of Clairvaux had sought to control the process of preaching, but as before some preached the crusade without license, others went way beyond the official line. A Cistercian monk, Radulf, another charismatic holy man like Bernard himself, despite the opposition of the archbishops of Cologne and Mainz, and of Bernard himself, launched a populist preaching campaign which featured a maniacal anti-Semitism: ‘Avenge the crucified one upon his enemies who stand before you; then go to war with the Muslims’. Otto of Friesing called for Jews to be killed as ‘foes of the Christian religion’.

Nor were they alone. Indeed, whilst Bernard may of opposed Radulf was merely arguing for legal tolerance because the Jews were the ‘living words of scripture, for they remind us always of what our Lord suffered’. Other churchmen, such as the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, whilst arguing that Jews should not be killed, called them ‘detestable’ and called for them to be punished as ‘enemies of Christ’. The violence of 1146-47 often had a ritualistic element: at Ramerupt the crusaders inflicted five wounds on Rabbi Jacob’s head, openly referring to the five wounds of Christ as they did.

Popular attacks on Jews had already begun as the crusade was preached before Radulf got going. Once he had though, things got worse: the Jewish chronicler Rabbi Ephrahim of Bonn records three massacres. In contrast to the pogrom of 1096, the pogroms of 1146-47 were more sporadic, mostly thanks to the protection offered Jews by local rulers. Nonetheless, there were murders, forced conversions, desecrations and the rest, and rumours of many more. In part, Bernard of Clairvaux’s famous preaching tour of Germany in 1147 was designed to counter that of Radulf; he eventually caught with him at Mainz and forced Radulf to desist. Bernard thus stopped the preaching of a pogrom and, perhaps most of all, asserted his authority over a rival.


In 1190, Richard I’s coronation in 1189 was accompanied popular anti-Jewish riots against the ‘enemies of the Cross of Christ’. The recruiting process the following year for the Third Crusade was accompanied by anti-Jewish violence in places such as King’s Lynn and Stamford, reaching a grizzly climax when local notables led an attack by crusaders in York, leading to the infamous massacre and mass suicide of the city’s Jews at Clifford’s Tower. In contrast, a few days later in Lincoln, royal officials successfully protected Jews.

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CLIFFORD’S TOWER, YORK Commemoration stone in memory of the York massacre in 1190

It might be argued that where crusading zeal led to open anti-Semitic violence, that violence was permitted because of a lack of a strong central authority. In a Germany effectively ruled by the formidable Frederick Barbarossa, the Jews took refuge and were protected by the authorities. In an England without a present king (and Richard was long gone from England by 1190) saw authorities either unable or unwilling to resist crusading zeal and the anti-Semitic pogroms it all too often unleashed.

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Enrico Dandolo, the Blind Doge in his nineties: age and disability in politics and history.

Enrico Dandolo was born around 1207. He died in 1205, having been on campaign in Bulgaria. By his sixties, he was acting as a senior diplomat for Venice, notably in Constantinople and Sicily. He became doge (akin to Duke, ruler of the Republic) in 1192, at around 85 years of age.

It is often said that the modern world has become besotted by the cult of youth. Political leaders are commonly, it seems, getting younger. It need not be so. Certainly, some political leaders cling on well past their sell-by date. When Churchill became prime minister for the second time in 1951 he was 76, by his retirement he was clearly suffering the effects of a serious stroke, and old age. By the time Ramsay MacDonald stood down in 1935, at the age of 69, his mental powers were in steep decline. Monarchs and dictators often cling on to the bitter end. In the modern world, even beyond: the 82-year-old Franco and the 76-year-old Brezhnev were kept alive, after a fashion, to try and ensure a stable succession. Here is the old man, just about still going, with the man who would later change it all, Gorbachev (here receiving the Order of the October Revolution from the old man).

Some come to power when it is already, in truth, too late. The Renaissance papacy saw a succession of elections in which the primary criteria for election seemed to be age, leaving the college of cardinals safe in the knowledge that the new incumbent could not last too long and could not, therefore, become too powerful. Some maye be well, but turn out to be old men in a dangerous hurry: the 68-year-old Neville Chamberlain might be just one such example. By the time Andrew Bonar Law became prime minister in 1922, he had just a year to live; by the time he resigned his throat cancer had left him gravely ill and unable to speak audibly. Brezhnev was succeeded as leader of the USSR by the 68-year-old Yuri Andropov, whose ambitions to begin to reform a creaking Soviet system were undermined by his ill health and subsequent death 15 months later. His successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was 72: his health was far worse, however, and he was dead within 13 months. Hardly a shock.

Age need not be an Impediment, however, to political success. Famously, Churchill was 65 when he became prime minister; Ronald Reagan became president at the age of 69: neither could be accused of failing to make an impact.

The 3rd duke of Norfolk, the one we all associate with Henry VIII, died in 1554, at the age of 82. For all the previous reign he he been in the tower, yet after his release was still able to put down Wyatt’s Rebellion before dying later the same year. Age certainly had not withered them.

Thus, Enrico Dandolo was not without precedent. He was though, pretty remarkable. If he became Doge in 1192, it wasn’t until over ten years later when, as a man in his late nineties, he led the Fourth Crusade’s capture of Constantinople.

It wasn’t just that Dandolo was ancient; he was also completely blind. In this era, to be blind was generally taken to mean that a man could not lead. Indeed, it was almost commonplace in the late Byzantine empire to blind deposed leaders. The Fourth Crusade was diverted to Constantinople to restore Isaac II to the imperial throne, at the behest of his son, Young Alexios. Isaac, when he had been deposed by his brother, was then imprisoned and blinded. William the Conqueror blinded those who crossed him, meaning they could no longer lead men in battle, and were thus unfit to lead.

Dandolo’s blindness was total. Geoffrey de Villehardouin, the crusader and historian knew him, and reported as much. It might have been expected that his blindness would have prevented him from even being doge. He was unable to read and, by law, thus unable to sign documents. Instead, he proved to be an energetic ruler, notably reforming the Venetian currency.

He was by no means the only significant figure in politics or history to have been disabled in some way. Some were less admirable than others. Kaiser Wilhlem II had a withered arm, Goebbels had something like a club foot; however morally dubious they were, they made an impact. Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the Leper King, was a pretty effective ruler until the progressive effect of his leprosy overwhelmed him. Disability can go hand in hand with greatness. Nelson lost an eye, and a right arm. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the great US presidents, was left disabled by polio as a young man. Interestingly, though, FDR went to great efforts to disguise his disability in public.


That blind people have achieved great things in history should not really surprise us. Milton went blind before writing Paradise Lost. In our own time, David Blunkett achieved high office, despite being brought up in an era in which a disability such as his blindness was generally taken to preclude people from much of education, especially higher education, let alone high office. It may seem more surprising that blind people could be warriors too: John of Bohemia died in battle at Crecy, despite having been blind for a decade or more; Leper King he may have been, but Baldwin IV defeated Saladin in battle.

Even in that company, Dandolo was remarkable. He led stood on the brow of his ship, led his men under hails of arrows and was carried on a litter in the vanguard of the assault on Constantinople. He was, in effect, the first leader to breach the great walls themselves. Once the city was taken, he organised the systematic looting of its religious treasures, most famously the horses atop the portal of St Mark’s. He then became the power behind the Latin throne.


The great historian of the crusades, Sir Steven Runciman, famously described the cpsack of Constantinople as  the greatest crime. Some seems to agree. After they had attacked and taken Zara back for Venice, and thus attacked fellow Christians, Pope Innocent III excommunicated all the crusade’s leaders. The Franks repented, but the Venetians did not. Instead, they went to and took Constantinople as excommunicates. Whether they hoped that they would be reconciled, perhaps in gratitude for they way in which they placed Byzantium under The authority of the papacy,  we will never know. What we do know is that after welcoming the news, Innocent was appalled by the looting, rape and murder the sack of Constantinople soon became notorious for. Dandolo died excommunicate, and was buried in Haghia Sophia. When the Latin empire fell, his remains were disinterred and thrown to the dogs; legend has it that not even the dogs would touch them.

Yet he was not forgotten. Later, the site of his tomb would be commemorated, and it still is. All that for a man in his late nineties, and wholly blind too. Perhaps this history does have on lesson. Of those who aged, or disabled, or both, we should never assume weakness. Nor, it seems should we necessarily assume virtue. Instead, we should assume human nature, like the rest of us, for good or ill or both. Remember Enrico Dandolo.

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