Post-classical history

Ralph of Merencourt (d. 1224)

Latin patriarch of Jerusalem (1214-1224) and papal legate.

Ralph originated from the village of Merencourt in Champagne, not far from Troyes. This place may be the same as the modern Saint-Benoît-sur-Vanne in the canton of Aux-en-Othe (dép. Aube, France). Having obtained a master’s degree, from 1187 to 1190 Ralph served as assistant to the legal chambers of Count Henry II of Champagne. In the summer of 1190 he went to the Holy Land as notary to Henry when the count went there in the course of the Third Crusade (1189-1192). With the appointment of Henry as lord of the kingdom of Jerusalem, Ralph rose to the rank of notary to the lord of Jerusalem, while retaining responsibility for all matters relating to Champagne (5 May 1192-10 September 1197). After holding various other ecclesiastical offices in Palestine, Ralph became archdeacon of Tyre (1204) and then dean of the cathedral chapter of Acre (1206). At some point before 1215 (possibly as early as 1202) he was appointed as chancellor of the kingdom, and he was evidently also made bishop of Sidon between 1210 and 1214, being first attested in this office in the context of the royal coronation of John of Brienne in October 1210.

Ralph’s abilities and his closeness to John of Brienne became evident when he traveled to the papal Curia on the new king’s behalf and successfully advocated the legitimacy of his rule against charges brought by opposition nobles. It was therefore no surprise that John designated his chancellor as successor to Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem, who died in 1214. Ralph of Merencourt participated at the Fourth Lat- eran Council (November 1215). He was ordained patriarch by Pope Innocent III and resigned his office as chancellor. Between May 1218 and autumn 1221, Ralph took part in the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) in Egypt.

After the defeat of the crusade by the Ayyûbids, the patriarch traveled to Brindisi with King John at the beginning of September 1222 to negotiate with the pope and Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily, about the future of the Holy Land, particularly the proposed marriage of Frederick to John’s daughter Isabella II, the heiress to the kingdom of Jerusalem. As early as February 1223, Ralph stayed at the imperial court at Capua and took part in the Congress of Ferentino, where the emperor’s forthcoming crusade and his marriage to Isabella were agreed upon. In May 1223, the pope appointed the patriarch as his legate for the patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the same year Ralph returned to the Holy Land. Ralph may have crowned Isabella II of Jerusalem, assuming that the coronation took place as early as 1224. He died the same year (before 15 December 1224).

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