Post-classical history

Baldwin IV of Jerusalem (1161-1185)

King of Jerusalem (1174-1185); known as the Leper King.

Baldwin was born in early summer 1161, the son of Amalric, then count of Jaffa, and his first wife, Agnes of Courtenay. Although Amalric’s marriage was annulled when he became king in 1163, Baldwin and his sister Sibyl were legitimized by Pope Alexander III. In 1170 the chronicler William of Tyre was appointed Baldwin’s tutor and observed that the prince suffered from a loss of feeling in his right hand and arm. Although leprosy could have been considered as a possible cause, there would have been no visible symptoms during Baldwin’s childhood, so no positive diagnosis could have been made then. When King Amalric died, Baldwin was thirteen, and he was crowned king on 15 July 1174. At first the seneschal Miles of Plancy ruled in Baldwin’s name, but when Miles was assassinated in October 1174, the High Court of the kingdom appointed Amalric’s cousin Raymond III of Tripoli as regent. Because of these crises in Jerusalem, Saladin, ruler of Egypt, was able to annex Damascus without any opposition from the Franks. In 1175 Raymond made peace with Sal- adin, thus leaving him free to make further gains in Muslim Syria. Consequently Outremer faced the prospect of encirclement by a single Islamic power.

Baldwin assumed direct rule in the summer of 1176 at the age of fifteen. He was beginning to show the symptoms of lepromatous leprosy, perhaps triggered by the onset of puberty: his hands and feet and face were disfigured by nodules. Because of his illness, Baldwin could not marry, and his mother, Agnes of Courtenay, took on the role of queen mother and became an influential member of his court. The king’s chief advisers were his uncle, Joscelin III of Courtenay, who was made seneschal, and Reynald of Châtillon, former prince of Antioch. Baldwin was alarmed by the growth of Saladin’s power and refused to renew the peace that Raymond III of Tripoli had made with him when regent. Whenever his health permitted, the king took an active part in the wars that followed. Despite his disabilities, he was a skilled rider, and he had been taught to fight left-handed. On 25 November 1177 his forces inflicted a crushing defeat on Saladin’s invading army at the battle of Mont Gisard, at which Baldwin was present, and during which he relied heavily on the military expertise of Prince Reynald.

In 1176 Baldwin’s sister Sibyl had married William Longsword, son of William V of Montferrat, a union arranged by Raymond of Tripoli while regent. However, William died a few months later, leaving his wife pregnant. Their posthumous son was called Baldwin after the king, and the succession was thus assured, but it was essential that Sibyl should marry again so that a new husband could take over the government when the king became too ill to rule. In 1179 Hugh III, duke of Burgundy, agreed (with the assent of King Louis VII of France) to resign his duchy to his son and come to Jerusalem to marry Sibyl. In Holy Week 1180, before Hugh’s arrival, the king’s cousins Bohemund III of Antioch and Raymond III of Tripoli invaded the kingdom with an army, intending to depose Baldwin and marry Sibyl to a husband of their choice. The king outwitted them by arranging Sibyl’s marriage to the French nobleman Guy of Lusignan, who was present in Jerusalem, before his cousins reached the city. This decision, made without consulting the High Court, caused resentment in the long term, but frustrated the attempted coup. Baldwin then arranged a two-year truce with Saladin and used the time to try to restore unity among the Franks.

When the truce expired in 1182, Saladin launched a series of attacks on the kingdom but met with determined opposition and withdrew his forces to campaign against the Zangid princes of Iraq. During his absence Baldwin led a raid on the desert city of Bosra, during which he recaptured the great cave fortress of Cave de Suète east of the Jordan. During 1183 his health deteriorated severely: the leprosy attacked his hands and feet so that he could no longer ride, but had to be carried in a litter, and he became functionally blind. Saladin returned to Damascus in August 1183 and prepared to invade Galilee. Baldwin mustered the host there but ran a high fever and could not accompany it, so he appointed his official heir, Guy of Lusignan, as his regent. The host under Guy’s command did not offer battle, and Saladin’s forces were free to plunder at will. Nevertheless, because the Frankish army was undefeated, Saladin had no option but to withdraw to Damascus, having made no territorial gains.

Although Guy’s strategy had been effective, Baldwin was informed that he had only adopted it because many of the crown vassals refused to obey his orders. The king considered this too dangerous a situation to tolerate, and he convened the High Court, dismissed Guy as regent, and resumed power himself. In order to bar Guy from the succession, Baldwin had his five-year-old nephew Baldwin (V) crowned as co-king. Saladin attacked Prince Reynald’s chief castle, Kerak, at this time, and the king accompanied the host in his litter to aid the defenders. As the royal army approached, Saladin’s forces withdrew. Baldwin then tried to have the marriage of Sibyl and Guy annulled, but they refused to cooperate and withdrew to Guy’s county of Ascalon, where they defied the king. For most of the year 1184, Baldwin lived in seclusion; his uncle, Joscelin the Seneschal, ruled in his name. Early in 1185 he developed a high fever that proved fatal. He summoned the High Court to his deathbed and on its advice appointed Raymond III of Tripoli as regent for the eight-year-old co-king, Baldwin V, to whom the crown vassals did homage. Baldwin IV died before 16 May 1185 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the foot of Mount Calvary, the most holy place in Christendom, which he had spent his life defending.

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