Post-classical history

Ibelins

A Frankish noble family in the kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus.

In 1141 King Fulk of Jerusalem granted to Barisan, the constable of Jaffa, the newly built castle of Ibelin (mod. Yavne, Israel), about 20 kilometers (121/2 mi.) south of Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel), and its lordship. It was from there that his descendants took their name. Barisan had been constable of Jaffa since before 1115 and came to prominence in about 1134 when he turned against his lord, Count Hugh of Jaffa, and sided with King Fulk when the two came into conflict.

Ibelin itself, part of a strategic ring of castles formed to put pressure on Muslim-held Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel), was never of any great significance, and later in the 1140s Barisan considerably enhanced his own standing and that of his family by acquiring the much more important town of Ramla, his wife’s patrimony. Barisan’s origins are unknown, although his name suggests he may have come from Genoa or thereabouts. He is the quintessential example of a successful seigneurial officer who rose to eminence by entering royal service and making a good marriage. He died in 1150.

Barisan had three sons, all of whom were to play an important role in the politics of the kingdom of Jerusalem during the second half of the twelfth century. In 1163 the eldest, Hugh, married Agnes of Courtenay, the divorced wife of King Amalric, thus bringing his family into the ranks of the highest aristocracy in the East. Hugh died childless around 1170. His next brother, Baldwin, thereupon inherited the lordship of Ramla, and at some point the third brother, Balian (a variant of the name “Barisan”), was provided for with Ibelin. Baldwin and Balian were leading figures among the nobility of Jerusalem in the time of King Baldwin IV. Both made good marriages, especially Balian, who in 1177 married King Amalric’s widow, Maria Komnene. More than any other single event, it was this marriage that laid the foundations of the family’s dominance in the thirteenth century. On the eve of the battle of Hattin (1187), Baldwin and Balian found themselves opposed to King Guy of Lusignan, so much so that in 1186 Baldwin preferred to go into exile than serve under him. Both were powerful figures: as lord of Ramla, Baldwin owed forty knights to the crown, while Balian owed ten as lord of Ibelin and eighty-five from his wife’s dower lands at Nablus.

With the collapse of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, the Ibelins lost most of their lands. Baldwin evidently died in about 1187, and his only son clearly failed to survive to manhood. At some point in the 1170s, however, his daughter Eschiva had married a young newcomer to the East named Aimery of Lusignan, and it was their descendants who were to rule as kings of Cyprus for the next three centuries. Balian survived Hattin and went on to oversee the Christian evacuation of Jerusalem later in 1187. He evidently lived until the latter part of 1193 and at the close of his life was a leading counselor of Henry of Champagne, who was then ruling as the husband of Balian’s stepdaughter, Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem.

Although Ibelin and Ramla remained under Muslim control after 1192, Balian’s children did well. His elder son, John, was made constable of Jerusalem, and then, at some point during his reign, King Aimery (1198-1205), who by now had married Queen Isabella, gave him Beirut, recovered from the Muslims in 1197. The king’s generosity is not surprising: John and his brother Philip were Aimery’s first wife’s first cousins and his second wife’s half-brothers. Apparently cold-shouldered by King John of Brienne after 1210, the brothers now took the lead among the nobility in Cyprus, where Philip became regent after the death of King Hugh I in 1218, while John steadily built up the importance of Beirut. The scene was now set for the showdown between John and Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily, who claimed royal power in the kingdom of Jerusalem through his marriage to Isabella II. By the time of his death in 1236, John had defeated his opponents in the civil war in Cyprus (1229-1233). He or his allies controlled most of the kingdom of Jerusalem, with the exception of Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) and Jerusalem itself.

The dominant position the Ibelins had now acquired was set to continue long after. John had four sons who survived to have children of their own, and a fifth branch of the family was represented by another John of Ibelin, the son of Philip. In the kingdom of Jerusalem, John’s eldest son, Balian, and his son, John II, were successive lords of Beirut, which then passed into the hands of John II’s two daughters in turn, who continued to possess it until it fell to the Muslims in 1291. Another of John’s sons held the lordship of Arsuf, and in 1246 or 1247 John son of Philip received the county of Jaffa and with it the lordship of Ramla, which had been restored to Christian control in 1229. What is more, between them the family effectively ran the government of the kingdom in Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) from the early 1230s until 1258.

In Cyprus all five branches of the family had estates. John of Beirut’s other two sons, Guy and Baldwin, were constable and seneschal, respectively, of Cyprus, and the links with the Cypriot royal house were reinforced when Guy’s daughter married the future King Hugh III (1267-1284). In the later thirteenth century as the Christian lordships in Outremer were conquered by the Mamlûks,the members of the other branches of the Ibelin family came to live in Cyprus. The senior branch, the lords of Beirut, failed in the male line in 1264, but the other branches all continued until the middle of the fourteenth century. At the beginning of the century King Henry II was accused of relying on the counsel of his maternal uncle, Philip of Ibelin, seneschal of Cyprus, to the exclusion of his other nobles, and in the political crisis of 1306-1310 members of all the branches of the family played leading roles. In the end it was descendants of Baldwin the Seneschal and the counts of Jaffa who suffered for their opposition to the king. The success of the family continued: both of the wives of King Hugh IV (1324-1359) were Ibelins, as was the bishop of Limassol between 1357 and 1367.

The final member of the family to have played a significant role was Philip of Ibelin, titular lord of Arsuf. In 1369 he was one of the assassins of King Peter I of Cyprus, and he was subsequently executed along with the other culprits in 1374. The last known man to bear the Ibelin name was a certain Nicholas of Ibelin who was taken to Genoa as a hostage at the end of the Genoese war with Cyprus of 1373-1374.

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