King of Jerusalem (1145-1163) and the eldest son of Queen Melisende and King Fulk.
Baldwin was still an infant when his grandfather Baldwin II died in 1131, having arranged that Fulk would have to share power with his wife and son. As a minor, Baldwin III seems to have done nothing beyond consenting to some royal charters. The chronicler William of Tyre noted that he was well educated in history, law, and war, as befitting a future king.
When Fulk died in 1143, Baldwin III was still a minor and Melisende became his regent. Clearly Melisende wanted to retain the power she had wielded since Fulk’s reign, but she could not lead troops into battle, whereas military success would strengthen Baldwin III’s hand. In 1144 the young king led his first campaign, at Wadi Musa in Transjordan. Yet at the end of that year, whenZangī, ruler of Mosul, besieged Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey), Melisende did not allow her son to head north. Instead, she sent men loyal to her, including the constable Manasses of Hierges. The queen had already built up a party of great lords by dispensing lands, offices, and other privileges. Now these men could help her circumscribe Baldwin III’s independence, even though they could not prevent Zangī from taking Edessa. Zangī’s victory eventually prompted the Second Crusade (1147-1149), led by Conrad III of Germany and Louis VII of France. When these rulers arrived inOutremer in 1148, Baldwin III convinced Conrad to attack Muslim Damascus, a plan approved by the crusade leaders and Jerusalem’s High Court in June of that year (although it is not clear that Melisende agreed to the proposal). The campaign failed miserably, and Damascus increasingly turned toward Nûr al-Dīn, Zangī’s younger son and lord of Aleppo from 1146. Nûr al-Dīn became the foremost enemy of the Franks of Outremer, unifying Muslims under the banner of jihād (holy war).
Nûr al-Dīn’s success contrasted markedly with power struggles in Jerusalem. Although Baldwin III had attained his majority in 1145, Melisende continued their joint rule with the support of her younger son Amalric, the higher clergy, and several great lords. Baldwin had some lesser nobles on his side, and he had to help both Antioch and the last Christian strongholds in Edessa. From 1149 until 1152, Outremer had to face the problems posed by Nûr al-Dīn and essentially separate governments in Jerusalem run by the queen mother and the young king. Matters came to a head at Easter 1152, when the king forced Melisende to give up her formal role in government and retire to her lands in Nablus. In the following years, according to William of Tyre, Baldwin became undisputed overlord of all Outremer. Count Joscelin II of Edessa was captured by the Turks in 1150, Count Raymond II of Tripoli was murdered in 1152, and Princess Constance of Antioch, widowed in 1149, did not remarry until 1153. The king headed north when danger threatened, simultaneously trying to prevent attack from the south by building a castle at Gaza. In 1153 he was finally free to besiege Ascalon. His victory after a nine-month siege brought vast amounts of plunder into the kingdom and toppled the last Fātimid stronghold in Palestine.
Baldwin III now set his sights on Egypt, although Nûr al-Din’s annexation of Damascus in 1154 and his subsequent attacks on the kingdom prevented an Egyptian campaign. Yet it seems likely that the king did not give up his designs there. He came to terms with the Byzantine emperor Manuel Komnenos after Reynald, the new prince of Antioch, and T‘oros of Armenia attacked Byzantine-controlled Cyprus in 1156. By 1157, the rulers agreed that Baldwin III would allow Manuel to punish Reynald, while Manuel would lend aid against Nûr al-Din. Manuel also provided his niece Theodora, along with a rich dowry, as queen; the marriage took place in 1158. Manuel himself traveled to Antioch, where he humbled Reynald and treated with Baldwin III. Then Manuel made a truce with Nûr al-Din. These arrangements among Jerusalem, Byzantium, and Aleppo changed the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. Nûr al- Din no longer had to fear an imperial attack and in return promised to aid Manuel against the Saljûq Turks. Manuel also managed to exert influence over northern Syria for about twenty years, which would not have been possible if Nûr al-Din had not threatened the Latin Christians. In this new situation, neither Christians nor Muslims could wipe the other out.
Despite heightened imperial claims over Antioch, the status quo did not change, at least for the chronicler William of Tyre. For him, Baldwin III was still undisputed sovereign over allOutremer, and the chronicler carefully preserved this portrait. William’s description of the meeting between Baldwin III and Manuel at Antioch demonstrated that they were equals. Thus when Manuel sought a wife in 1161, but ultimately rejected the candidate named by Baldwin, William downplayed the incident. Even in death, the king stood alone. Taken ill in Tripoli, he insisted on being carried within his own borders before he died childless on 10 February 1163. He was succeeded by his brother Amalric, count of Jaffa and Ascalon.
William of Tyre described Baldwin’s funeral in more grandiose terms than he employed for any other king of Jerusalem. William of Tyre’s magnificent narrative provides more information about Outremer than any other extant source, yet the chronicler’s fundamental purpose—the successful continuation of holy war—greatly shaped the way he represented Jerusalem’s kings and their activities. William depicted Baldwin III as the focal point of power amongst all of the Frankish states in Outremer; he also saw Baldwin III as the greatest king Jerusalem ever knew. However, this meant that later kings could only represent a decline. Neither Amalric nor Baldwin IV could match Baldwin III, and someone from outside the royal family would have to step in if Outremer were to survive. The pattern William imposed on kings of Jerusalem required him to jettison the royal line in the end, since he cared more about Outremer’s existence than about its ruling family.