Post-classical history

Amalric of Jerusalem (1136-1174)

King of Jerusalem (1163-1174) and the younger son of Queen Melisende and Fulk of Anjou.

Amalric seems to have been less well educated than his elder brother Baldwin (III), although he had an outstanding grasp of law and history. Baldwin III made him count of Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) in 1151; Amalric seems to have lost these lands in 1152 because he sided with Melisende in the civil dispute between king and queen mother. The brothers evidently became friendly again by 1154, for at that time Baldwin III restored Jaffa and also made Amalric count of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel). In 1157 Amalric married Agnes of Courtenay, daughter of Count Joscelin II of Edessa. She bore him two children, Sibyl (before 1161) and Baldwin (in 1161). Amalric succeeded to the throne in 1163 when his brother died childless, but the magnates and patriarch of Jerusalem, fearing that Agnes’s family would grow too powerful, insisted that he divorce her before he could be crowned. Amalric agreed to do so on the condition that their children remain legitimate.

The king’s policies aimed at strengthening the Crown legislatively and financially. In judicial matters, his most famous achievement was the Assise sur la ligèce, which determined that all fief-holders in the kingdom had to take an oath of homage to the king. Amalric may have hoped to strengthen royal power through these connections with the lower nobility. In fact, after 1198 court decisions based on this assize favored the upper nobility rather than the Crown. The same held true of Amalric’s fiscal ambitions: his campaigns in Egypt, though creatively financed, ultimately ended in military and economic losses.

Fātimid Egypt made a tempting target after Amalric’s accession, owing to its immense wealth and shaky political situation where two viziers vied for control. Nûr al-Din, the ruler of Muslim Syria, might intervene there if Jerusalem failed to do so, but equally, he could not allow the Franks to dominate Egypt. In 1163 Nûr al-Din sent his general Shirkûh to assist one of the viziers,Shāwar, who, however, soon sought military aid against him from Amalric. The king invaded Lower Egypt, and Nûr al-Din countered with campaigns against Christian Syria. He captured Prince Bohemund III of Antioch and Count Raymond III of Tripoli while seizing Harenc, Banyas, and parts of the principality of Antioch in 1164. Expeditions in 1167 turned the tables. Nûr al-Din sent Shirkûh back to Egypt, which meant that Amalric also had to launch a campaign. The king summoned the High Court but could not convince his nobles to support an attack outside the kingdom. He obtained finance through a 10 percent tax paid by the church and vassals who would not go to Egypt. Shāwar greeted the Frankish army with 400,000 dinars in exchange for an alliance. They besieged Alexandria until Shīrkūh came to terms, and he and the Franks withdrew from Egypt. Amalric’s agreement with Shāwar remained in force: Amalric would offer assistance as long as Shāwar paid an annual tribute of 100,000 dinars. The royal treasury benefited from this arrangement, and as long as Amalric remained content with a nominal protectorship over Egypt, Nûr al-Dīn probably would not have reacted.

The king, however, dreamed of conquering Egypt with Byzantine help. In 1167 Amalric cemented his alliance with Manuel I Komnenos by marrying the emperor’s niece, Maria. The following year, Amalric planned a joint assault on Egypt in which the Byzantine fleet would blockade Mediterranean ports while the Franks invaded by land. The king moved too quickly, though, and marched out before the Byzantine navy could provide backup. He could not convince the Templars to join him, despite the inducement of rich lands. Shāwar turned to Nûr al-Dīn for help, and Shīrkūh returned to Egypt for the last time. Although Amalric won some important victories at first, he could not take Cairo and finally withdrew. Shīrkūh then marched in, killed Shāwar, and installed himself as vizier. He died two months later, to be succeeded by his nephew Saladin, who quickly built up a strong government in the name of the Fātimids. Amalric marched into Egypt once more in 1168, this time waiting for Byzantine ships to support his attack on Damietta, but withdrew without having received Byzantine support and having gained nothing. Once back in Jerusalem, Amalric patched up his relationship with Manuel Komnenos, culminating in a state visit to Constantinople in 1171.

Saladin was able to topple the Fātimids in 1171, restoring Sunnī Islam in Egypt, and Nûr al-Dīn’s death in May 1174 allowed Saladin to move into Syria. The military orders were increasingly acting as free agents within Outremer, negotiating or overturning truces with Islamic powers. Amalric died on 11 July 1174. His heir, Baldwin IV, came to the throne as a minor suffering from leprosy, and Baldwin’s sisters Sibyl and Isabella (Maria’s daughter) became pawns in the hands of rival factions at court.

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