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 inn 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.


Leave a comment

Filed under The Crusades

The Chancellors (6): Sir Robert Horne

800px-Robert_Horne_croppedSir Robert Horne, 1921-22

Conservative (in Lloyd George’s National Government)

Horne was the son of a Church of Scotland Minister, who went to George Watson’s (like Sir John Anderson) and Glasgow University, before becoming an academic and lawyer. He came to prominence working for Sir Eric Geddes in the war. He only became an MP in the Coupon Election and holds the distinction of going straight into the cabinet, first as minister of labour, then at the Board of Trade.

As such, he was both a surprise choice to succeed Chamberlain, but also a logical one. In the teeth of the 1920 recession and Anti-Waste Campaign, Horne oversaw the formation of Sir Eric Geddes’ economy committee: the Treasury had originally wanted cuts of £113m, later Horne would increase that figure to £175m, an overall cut of 29% in government expenditure. Thus, he brought about the end of the Addison housing scheme, stymied education reform and cut overall defence expenditure by 49%; he was thwarted in plans to cut the unemployment insurance scheme he had extended as minister of labour. Horne was, therefore, the true wielder of the Geddes Axe.

Very much a Chamberlainite, and in the coalition’s inner circle, he wanted to fight as a coalition in 1922. Thus, he refused to serve in Bonar Law’s 2nd XI cabinet and would never hold high office again: when Chamberlain came back in 1924 he returned to the opposition front bench, but declined to return to the ministry of labour after the 1924 election. He would take a series of highly paid directorships, of which Baldwin disapproved. In turn, he plotted against Baldwin in 1929, but ultimately supported him against Beaverbrook and Rothermere’s Empire Crusade in 1930. He became associated with Churchill’s views on rearmament in the later ‘30s. He was also a bachelor, party animal and ladies’ man, taking ‘20s high society by storm after he left office.

His time as chancellor was brief, but arguably important. The cuts in expenditure of 1921-22 saw government finances recover, but might also have had something to do with the long-lasting aftermath of the recession, in the form of the intractable million (the structural unemployment that bedeviled 1920s). Ironically, given his later views, Horne’s defence cuts, whilst seeming appropriate at the time, severely exacerbated the reorientation of British defence policy, enshrined in the ten year rule, that would leave Britain ill-prepared for the very different world of the ‘thirties.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1918 and after Archive, Britain, The Chancellors

The Foreign Secretaries (3): Lord Curzon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeorge Curzon, marquess of Kedleston

Conservative, in Lloyd George’s National Government, 1919; under Bonar Law, 1922-23 and Baldwin, 1923-24.

It is easy to depict George Nathaniel Curzon as the last of his kind. In fact, there would be later foreign secretaries from the House of Lords (the Marquis of Reading, in 1931, Alec-Douglas Home under Macmillan and Lord Carrington under Margaret Thatcher). But there is something to it. Curzon was the last to give the grand touch: if you wanted a genuine toff who looked the part, Curzon’s your man.

He was a bookish, rather brilliant child, who famously endured an upbringing under a tyrannical and sadistic nanny, a prep school master who was brilliant, and sadistic, and an Eton housemaster (not head of his own house) who recognised his intellectual gifts and fostered his love of art and history. From this, he acquired a passionate and boundless ambition.

At Balliol, Oxford, two friends wrote a snippet of verse about him, which would dog him for the rest of his life:

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.

The air of haughtiness would do him some good, and no little damage, in his political career.

There was substance to him, though. At both Eton and Oxford, he won a raft of academic prizes; he was president of the Oxford Union. His first great setback was when he narrowly missed a first in Greats; he reputedly swore to spend the rest of his showing the world that examiners had it wrong. He wrote history then, essays on the likes Sir Thomas More of the emperor Justinian, prize-winning essays at that; he won a fellowship at All Souls. More importantly, he then embarked upon the three great passions of his life: women, politics and travel.

He returned from years of travel in Asia, and a brief spell as under-secretary of state for India, in time for Salisbury’s victory in 1895. He then became under-secretary of state at the Foreign Office. The prime minister, Lord Salisbury was also foreign secretary, thus Curzon was the government’s foreign policy spokesman in the Commons. Cabinet office surely awaited, but Curzon wanted to be viceroy of India.


As viceroy, Curzon gained vast experience as a ruler and administrator, and was credited with a range of important and progressive reforms, though not with furthering the idea of Indian self government in the slightest. At the same time, he developed a lingering taste for imperial flummery and an even more grandiose manner that would do something to undermine him in the end. He also lost out in a bitter battle with Lord Kitchener for civilian control of the military: his defeat and resignation perhaps shows that for all his gifts Curzon lacked political nous and, as they say, elbows.


When he returned, it seemed that Curzon’s career was over. Balfour even refused to grant the earldom many, including Curzon, believed was his due; Campbell-Bannerman followed suit. He didn’t stand in the 1906 election, in part due to ill health, and in 1907 became an energetic chancellor of Oxford university (his ideas for reform were too radical at the time, but were adopted after the war). In 1906, his wife died in his arms. He would have other loves, and would marry again, but not happily; his coffin was made from wood hewn from the same tree as his much beloved Mary.

Although he finally entered the Lords in 1908, opposition politics bored him. He did himself no favours in the House of Lords crisis. At first, he had supported the ditchers, those who believed that the Lords should oppose Asquith ‘to the last ditch’. When, however, he realised Asquith would go through with his threat to create a Liberal majority in the Lords, he changed his mind. It was sensible, but earned him the virulent hatred of the Tory right (who were not people minded to forget, or forgive, easily).

It had seemed that Curzon was now set firmly in the role of elder statesman, substantial patron of the arts and scholarship, and restorer of his estates. Like Balfour, it was war that restored his fortunes. In Asquith’s coalition he was lord privy seal, but frustrated by a lack of ministry or some other outlet for his formidable administrative talents. That frustration surely played a part in his support for the move to create a war committee, that lead to the fall of Asquith. He was, like his other Tory colleagues, frustrated by Asquith’s leadership. Beaverbrook asserted that Curzon had assured Asquith of his support, only to jump ship late on; Beaverbrook, not for the first or last time, was being less than honest.

Under Lloyd George, Curzon returned to the front rank. As lord president of the council, and leader of the House of Lords, he was a member of the war cabinet. He was never one of Lloyd George’s confidants, however. He disagreed with the Balfour declaration (the clause that promised to respect the rights of Arabs was his); he opposed Montagu’s plan to advance Indian self-government. Nonetheless, he remained a staunch supporter of the government, and the war.

In 1919, Curzon was given charge of the ceremonial remembrance of that war. The cenotaph, the last post and the burial of the unknown soldier all came under his aegis. Such was the public response, Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday became annual rituals, Curzon’s permanent legacy to our national life.

He was also given charge of the Foreign Office whilst Balfour, foreign secretary, was with Lloyd George at Versailles. It was a curious arrangement, and it was not fully resolved when Curzon took over from Balfour in October, 1919. As foreign secretary, He played second fiddle in all matters concerning Europe. Nonetheless, there was plenty to keep Curzon busy in the Middle East. Despite disagreements, especially over The Mandates (Curzon favoured Arab self-government under British tutelage), the arrangement worked well enough: Curzon got his way over a treaty with Persia, the government of Iraq and de jure independence for Egypt.

The relationship with Lloyd George would break over the issue of Turkey, just as Tory support for the coalition unravelled. In 1919, Curzon had maintained that whilst Turkey had lost its middle eastern territories, it should keep its territories in Anatolia. In particular, he opposed the handing over of Smyrna, Thrace and some islands to Greece; he also opposed the idea of stationing Allied troops in Asia Minor. Lloyd George was won over by the Greek nationalist leader, Venizelos: in the treaty of Sevres, the Greeks got what they wanted.

Curzon may have had a blind spot about Indian nationalism, but he was far more sensitive to the nationalism of the near and Middle East. He predicted that the settlement would prove unsustainable, and he was proved right. It helped provoke a Turkish nationalism that would see the rise of Mustapha Kemal and the .creation of modern Turkey: the Turkey that would ‘throw the Greeks into the sea’. Furthermore, the division of labour between Curzon and Lloyd George had its fault line in a Turkey that was both in Asia and Europe.

Curzon spent much of 1921 trying to persuade the Greeks that discretion was the better part of valour: that is, to try and hang on to Smyrna would be self-defeating. The Greeks were not minded to listen and then, for much of 1922, Curzon was ill. By the time he returned to work, the Turks were on the way to taking Smyrna.

That left a small allied force on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles, officially a neutral zone. Curzon, once more, advised discretion. Lloyd George went ahead and issued a press statement threatening the Turks. This was enough to persuade the French and Italians to withdraw, leaving a token British presence at Chanak. Curzon then went to Paris, and negotiated a deal with the French that promised, in effect, to give the Turks what they wanted after a decent interval. This, in turn, provoked a revolution in Greece. This led Lloyd George, backed by Churchill and Lord Birkenhead, to issue an ultimatum to the Turks: leave Chanak alone, or else.

It was a dangerous misjudgement: General Harington’s Force was tiny, Britain was isolated and there was no appetite for war at home, least of all among his Conservative cabinet colleagues. In the end, Harrington averted conflict by claiming he was unable to deliver the ultimatum, even that his code breaking apparatus had failed.

Once again, Curzon had been proved right. He went on to negotiate a solution along with the French which, in essence, gave the Turks what they wanted, but averted a humiliating British defeat. It also broke his relationship with Lloyd George. When Lloyd George made another public attack on the Turks, and Curzon learned that he had been talking to the Italians behind his back, he handed in his letter of resignation.


He needn’t have bothered. Lloyd George was all but finished. Already, the Chanak Crisis saw Bonar Law return to the fray, writing to The Times, to say that Britain should not aspire to be the ‘policeman of the world’. Curzon was one of those who now persuaded Bonar Law to turn against Lloyd George, and his own party leader Austen Chamberlain; when Bonar Law made his comeback at the Carlton Club, both were finished.

Curzon had been the only major figure to serve in Lloyd George’s cabinets from start to finish; he was the only senior coalitionist on the Tory side to turn against him and go on to serve in Bonar Law’s cabinet, the so-called 2nd XI. In the aftermath of a comfortable election win, the now Conservative foreign secretary negotiated the treaty of Lausanne, which finally resolved the Turkish issue.

As such, as the only one of the grandees still serving when Bonar Law’s throat cancer compelled his resignation in May 1923, Curzon must have believed himself to have been the obvious successor. 20 years earlier, he might well have made it to Number Ten. Now, it was political circumstance that conspired against him.

The recently deposed Austen Chamberlain had been undermined by his support for the coalition and his inability to win the support of backbenchers, many of whom were the cohort of 1918. The backbenchers had no role in choosing their leader, but their support mattered, as events at the Carlton Club the previous year had shown. Like Chamberlain, Curzon was a one time coalitionist, and a grandee without a following.

The leadership, given that Bonar Law was an incumbent prime minister, was in the constitutional gift of the king. In practice, the king took advice. Senior cabinet figures were sounded out, and great weight was given to the views of the outgoing prime minister. This time, Bonar Law gave no view. The man charged with taking soundings was the king’s secretary, Lord Stamfordham, who later confessed to being antipathetic to Curzon. Another Tory grandee, AJ Balfour, advised that it was no longer tenable for a prime minister to be in the Lords: the Commons were now where the real power resided, and the official opposition, Labour, had almost no representation in the upper house. Stamfordham gratefully took this advice, as well as misinterpreting Bonar Law’s silence as opposition to Curzon. The king, who no more wanted Curzon than Stamfordham, gratefully seized upon his secretary’s words.

Curzon was, famously, summoned to Downing Street, expecting to be told good news. When Stamfordham, instead of asking him if he would be a available to kiss hands (and thus become prime minister), asked him for his views on Baldwin, Curzon had to ask to be excused and retired to the lavatory to weep.


He considered retirement there and then, but stayed on. His primary task was to resist French attempts to use the Ruhr Crisis to break up Germany. He opposed Baldwin’s decision to go the country in 1923, an election that lost Curzon the Foreign Office, when Labour entered government in January 1924. When Baldwin won a landslide that same year, Curzon was not offered his old job, much to his bitter disappointment. He accepted the role of, once again, lord president of the council, which he held until his death in 1925.

Neither the political fates, nor many of his contemporaries were kind to Curzon. Even his high points were never unalloyed. And there were achievements. He was also often right, though he just as often failed to have his advice taken. As foreign secretary, he was in the shadow of Lloyd George, and then had his time cut short by the misjudgement of the man who had been given the prize he believed should have been his. As is often the way in politics, the most intelligent and perceptive voices can sometimes antagonise lesser minds; they can also appear arrogant, or even be so. If Curzon was, in some ways, the last of the Victorian grandees to grace the foreign office, he also deserves to be remembered as one of a rare species: an inter-war foreign secretary who got more right than he got wrong.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1918 and after Archive, Britain, First World War, The Foreign Secretaries