Post-classical history

CHAPTER II

THE SECOND GENERATION

They have begotten strange children.’ HOSEA V, 7

On 14 September 1131, three weeks after King Baldwin II had been laid to rest in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the same church witnessed the coronation of King Fulk and Queen Melisende. The succession of the new sovereign was celebrated with joyful festivities.

But while the barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem accepted King Fulk without demur, the Frankish princes of the north were less ready to admit him as overlord. Baldwin I and Baldwin II had acted as suzerains of all the Frankish states because they had had the power and personality to do so. But the juridical position was by no means clear. In the case of Edessa Joscelin I had, like Baldwin II before him, paid homage to his predecessor when his predecessor became King of Jerusalem and personally bequeathed him the fief. Did the arrangement make Joscelin’s heirs the vassals of Baldwin II’s? At Tripoli Count Bertrand had submitted to Baldwin I’s suzerainty in order to protect himself against Tancred’s aggression; but his son Pons had already tried to repudiate Baldwin If s rights and had only recognized them because he was not strong enough to defy the King’s forces. At Antioch Bohemond I had considered himself a sovereign prince; and Tancred, though he had only been regent, not prince, refused to regard himself as the King’s vassal except for his principality of Galilee. Though Roger and Bohemond II had recognized Baldwin II as overlord, it could be argued that they had been wrong to do so. The position was complicated by the rights that the Byzantine Emperor legitimately claimed over Antioch and Edessa, through the treaty made between the Princes and the Emperor at Constantinople during the First Crusade, and over Tripoli because of the homage paid by Count Bertrand to the Emperor.

Fulk’s accession raised the whole question. The opposition to his overlordship was led by Alice, his sister-in-law. She had submitted to her father, King Baldwin, with a very bad grace. She now reasserted her claim to be her daughter’s regent. It was not ill-founded, if it could be maintained that the King of Jerusalem was not overlord of Antioch; for it was usual, both in Byzantium and in the West, for the mother of a child-prince to be given the regency. Joscelin I’s death, barely a month after Baldwin’s, gave her an opportunity; for Joscelin had been guardian of the young Princess Constance, and the barons at Antioch would not install Joscelin II in his father’s place. Disappointed, the new Count of Edessa listened to Alice’s blandishments. He, too, was doubtless unwilling to accept Fulk as his suzerain. Pons of Tripoli also offered her support. His wife, Cecilia, had received from her first husband, Tancred, the dower-lands of Chastel Rouge and Arzghan: and through her he was thus one of the great barons of the Antiochene principality. He realized that the emancipation of Antioch from Jerusalem would enable Tripoli to follow suit. Alice had already won over the most formidable barons in the south of the principality, the brothers, William and Garenton of Zerdana, Lords of Sahyun, the great castle built by the Byzantines in the hills behind Lattakieh; and she had her partisans in Antioch itself. But the majority of the Antiochene lords feared a woman’s rule. When they heard rumours of Alice’s plot, they sent a messenger to Jerusalem to summon King Fulk.

Map 3. The Kingdom of Jerusalem in the twelfth century.

Fulk set out at once with an army from Jerusalem. It was a challenge that he could not ignore. When he reached the confines of Tripoli, Pons refused him passage. The Countess Cecilia was Fulk’s half-sister; but Fulk’s appeal to the duties of kinship was made in vain. The army of Jerusalem had to proceed by sea, from Beirut to Saint Symeon. As soon as he landed in Antiochene territory the King marched southward and defeated the rebel allies at Chastel Rouge. But he was not strong enough to punish his enemies. Pons apologized to him and was reconciled. Alice remained unharmed at Lattakieh, in her dower-lands. The brothers William and Garenton of Sahyun were forgiven, as was Joscelin of Edessa; who had not been present in the battle. It is doubtful whether Fulk obtained an oath of allegiance from either Pons or Joscelin; nor did he succeed in breaking up Alice’s party. William of Sahyun was killed a few months later, in the course of a small Moslem raid against Zerdana; and Joscelin promptly married his widow Beatrice, who probably brought him Zerdana as her dower. But for the meantime peace was restored. Fulk himself retained the regency of Antioch but entrusted its administration to the Constable of the principality, Reynald Mazoir, lord of Marqab. He himself returned to Jerusalem, to take part in a terrible drama at the Court.

1132: Hugh of Le Puiset and Queen Melisende

There was amongst his nobles a handsome youth, Hugh of Le Puiset, lord of Jaffa. His father, Hugh I of Le Puiset in the Orleannais, a first cousin of Baldwin II, had been the leader of the baronial opposition to King Louis VI of France; who in 1118 destroyed the castle of Le Puiset and deprived him of his fief. Hugh’s brothers Gildoin, abbot of Saint Mary Josaphat, and Waleran of Birejik had already gone to the East and, as Baldwin had recently become King of Jerusalem, Hugh decided to follow them with his wife Mabilla. They set out with their young son Hugh. As they passed through Apulia the boy fell ill; so they left him there at the Court of Bohemond II, who was Mabilla’s first cousin. On their arrival in Palestine they were given by Baldwin the lordship of Jaffa. Hugh I died soon afterwards, whereupon Mabilla and the fief passed to a Walloon knight, Albert of Namur. Both Mabilla and Albert soon followed him into the grave; and Hugh II, now aged about sixteen, sailed from Apulia to claim his heritage. Baldwin received him well and handed his parents’ fief over to him; and he was brought to live at the royal Court, where his chief companion was his cousin, the young Princess Melisende. About 1121 he married Emma, niece of the Patriarch Arnulf and widow of Eustace Gamier, a lady of mature age but of vast possessions. She delighted in her tall, handsome husband; but her twin sons, Eustace II, heir of Sidon, and Walter, heir of Caesarea, hated their stepfather who was little older than themselves. Meanwhile Melisende was married to Fulk, for whom she never cared, despite his great love for her. After her accession she continued her intimacy with Hugh. There was gossip at the Court; and Fulk grew jealous. Hugh had many enemies, headed by his stepsons. They fanned the King’s suspicions, till at last Hugh in self-defence gathered round him a party of his own, of which the leading member was Roman of Le Puy, lord of the lands of Oultrejourdain. Soon all the nobility of the kingdom was divided between the King and the Count, who was known to have the sympathy of the Queen. Tension grew throughout the summer months of 1132. Then one day in the late summer, when the palace was full of the magnates of the realm, Walter Gamier stood up and roundly accused his stepfather of plotting against the life of the King, and challenged him to justify himself in single combat. Hugh denied the charge and accepted the challenge. The date for the duel was fixed by the High Court; and Hugh retired to Jaffa and Walter to Caesarea, each to prepare himself.

When the day arrived, Walter was ready at the lists, but Hugh stayed away. Perhaps the Queen, alarmed that things had gone too far, begged him to absent himself, or perhaps it was the Countess Emma, appalled at the prospect of losing either husband or son; or perhaps Hugh himself, knowing his guilt, was afraid of God’s vengeance. Whatever its cause might be, his cowardice was read as the proof of his treason. His friends could support him no longer. The King’s council declared him guilty by default. Hugh then panicked and fled to Ascalon to ask for protection from the Egyptian garrison. An Egyptian detachment brought him back to Jaffa and from there began to ravage the plain of Sharon. Hugh’s treason was now overt. His chief vassal, Balian, lord of Ibelin and Constable of Jaffa, turned against him; and when a royal army came hastily down from Jerusalem, Jaffa itself surrendered without a blow. Even the Egyptians abandoned Hugh as a profitless ally. He was obliged to make his submission to the King.

His punishment was not severe. The Queen was his friend, and the Patriarch, William of Messines, counselled mercy. The King himself was anxious to smooth things over; for already the dangers of civil war had been made clear. On 11 December, when the royal army had been summoned to march against Jaffa, the atabeg of Damascus had surprised the fortress of Banyas and recovered it for Islam. It was decided that Hugh should go for three years into exile; then he might return with impunity to his lands.

1132: Attempted Murder of Hugh

While awaiting a boat for Italy, Hugh came up to Jerusalem early in the new year to say good-bye to his friends. As he was playing dice one evening at the door of a shop in the Street of the Furriers, a Breton knight crept up behind him and stabbed him through his head and through his body. Hugh was carried off bleeding to death. Suspicion at once fell upon the King; but Fulk acted promptly and prudently. The knight was handed over for trial by the High Court. He confessed that he had acted on his own initiative, hoping thus to win the favour of the King, and was sentenced to death by having his limbs cut off one by one. The execution took place in public. After the victim’s arms and legs had been struck off but while his head remained to him he was made to repeat his confession. The King’s reputation was saved. But the Queen was not satisfied. So angry was she with Hugh’s enemies that for many months they feared assassination; and their leader, Raourt of Nablus, dared not walk in the streets without an escort. Even King Fulk was said to be afraid for his life. But his one desire was to win his wife’s favour. He gave way to her in everything; and she, thwarted in love, soon found consolation in the exercise of power.

Hugh survived his attempted murder, but not for long. He retired to the Court of his cousin, King Roger II of Sicily, who enfeoffed him with the lordship of Gargano, where he died soon afterwards.

It was no doubt with relief that Fulk turned his attention once more to the north. The situation there was more ominous for the Franks than in Baldwin II’s days. There was no effective prince ruling in Antioch. Joscelin II of Edessa lacked his father’s energy and political sense. He was an unattractive figure. He was short and thick-set, dark-haired and dark-skinned; his face was pock-marked, with a huge nose and prominent eyes. He was capable of generous gestures, but was lazy, luxurious and lascivious, and quite unfitted to command the chief outpost of Frankish Christendom.

1133: Fulk rescues Pons of Tripoli

The dearth of leadership among the Franks was the more serious because the Moslems now had in Zengi a man capable of assembling the forces of Islam. As yet Zengi was biding his time. He was too heavily entangled in events in Iraq to take advantage of the situation among the Franks. The Sultan Mahmud ibn Mohammed died in 1131, leaving his possessions in Iraq and southern Persia to his son Dawud. But the dominant member of the Seldjuk family, Sanjar, decided that the inheritance should pass to Mahmud’s brother Tughril, lord of Kazwin. The other two brothers of Mahmud, Mas’ud of Fars and Seldjuk-Shah of Azerbaijan, then put in claims. Dawud soon retired, supported neither by Mustarshid nor by his subjects. For a while Tughril, armed by Senjar’s influence, was accepted at Baghdad; and Mas’ud was forced by Sanjar to retire. But Sanjar soon lost interest; whereupon Seldjuk-Shah came to Baghdad and won the Caliph’s support. Mas’ud appealed to Zengi to help him. Zengi marched on Baghdad, only to be severely defeated by the Caliph and Seldjuk-Shah near Tekrit. Had not the Kurdish governor of Tekrit, Najm ed-Din Ayub, conveyed him across the river Tigris, he would have been captured or slain. Zengi’s defeat encouraged the Caliph, who now dreamed to resurrect the past power of his house. Even Sanjar was alarmed; and Zengi as his representative once again attacked Baghdad in June 1132, this time in alliance with the volatile Bedouin chieftain, Dubais. In the battle that followed Zengi was at first victorious; but the Caliph intervened in person, routed Dubais and turned triumphantly on Zengi, who was forced to retire to Mosul. Mustarshid arrived there next spring at the head of a great army. It seemed that the Abbasids were to recover their old glory; for the Seldjuk Sultan of Iraq was now little more than a client of the Caliph. But Zengi escaped from Mosul and began relentlessly to harass the Caliph’s camp and to cut off his supplies. After three months Mustarshid retired.The Abbasid revival was cut short. During the next year the Seldjuk prince Mas’ud gradually displaced the other claimants to the Sultanate of Iraq. Mustarshid vainly tried to check him. At a battle at Daimarg in June 1135 the Caliph’s army was routed by Mas’ud and he himself captured. He was sent into exile to Azerbaijan and there was murdered by Assassins, probably with Mas’ud’s connivance. His son and successor in the Caliphate, Rashid, appealed to the Seldjuk claimant Dawud and to Zengi, but in vain. Mas’ud secured Rashid’s deposition by the cadis at Baghdad. His successor, Moqtafi, managed by lavish promises to seduce Zengi away from Rashid and Dawud. Fortified by fresh titles of honour from Moqtafi and from Mas’ud, Zengi was able, from 1135 onwards, to turn his attention to the West.

While Zengi was engaged in Iraq, his interests in Syria were cared for by a soldier from Damascus, Sawar, whom he made governor of Aleppo. He could not afford to send him many troops; but at his instigation various bodies of freebooting Turcomans entered Sawar’s services, and with them Sawar prepared in the spring of 1133 to attack Antioch. King Fulk was summoned by the frightened Antiochenes to their rescue. As he journeyed north with his army he was met at Sidon by the Countess of Tripoli, who told him that her husband had been ambushed by a band of Turcomans in the Nosairi mountains and had fled to the castle of Montferrand, on the edge of the Orontes valley. At her request Fulk marched straight to Montferrand; and on his approach the Turcomans retired. The episode restored cordial relations between Fulk and Pons. Soon afterwards Pons’s son and heir Raymond was married to the Queen’s sister, Hodierna of Jerusalem; while his daughter Agnes married the son of Fulk’s constable at Antioch, Reynald Mazoir of Marqab.

Having rescued the Count of Tripoli, Fulk moved on to Antioch. There he learnt that Sawar had already successfully raided the Edessene city of Turbessel and had assembled an army to use against Antioch. After a cautious delay of several days Fulk advanced towards the Moslem camp at Qinnasrin and made a surprise attack on it by night. He forced Sawar to retire and to abandon his tents; but the victory was far from complete. In subsequent skirmishes the Moslems annihilated several detachments of Franks. But Fulk made a triumphant entry into Antioch before he returned to Palestine in the summer of 1133. As soon as he was gone, Sawar’s raids on Christian territory recommenced.

1135: Zengi before Damascus

Apart from such frontier raids the year 1134 passed peaceably enough. Next year the Moslem world was weakened by revolutions. In Egypt the Fatimid Caliph al-Hafiz had attempted to curb the power of the vizierate by appointing his own son Hasan as vizier. But the young man showed himself to be almost insanely ferocious. After forty emirs had been beheaded on a trumpery charge, there was a revolt. The Caliph only saved himself by poisoning his son and handing over the corpse to the rebels. He then appointed as vizier an Armenian, Vahram, who was more interested in enriching his friends and fellow-Christians than in aggressive action against the Franks. Damascus was equally rendered impotent. Toghtekin’s son Buri died in 1132 and was succeeded as atabeg by his son Ismail. Ismail’s rule began brilliantly with the recapture of Banyas from the Franks and Baalbek and Hama from his rivals; but soon he began to combine a tyrannous cruelty with oppressive taxation. His behaviour provoked an attempt to murder him, which he punished with wholesale executions, even walling up alive his own brother, Sawinj, on the faintest of suspicions. Next, he planned the elimination of his father’s trusted counsellor, Yusuf ibn Firuz. His mother, the dowager Princess Zumurrud, had borne the death of her son Sawinj with equanimity; but Yusuf was her lover. She plotted to save him. Ismail became aware that he was unsafe even in his own palace. In alarm he wrote to his father’s old enemy Zengi, offering to become his vassal if Zengi would maintain him in power. If he would not help him, then Ismail would hand over Damascus to the Franks. It was inconvenient for Zengi to leave Mosul with the Abbasid Caliph Mustarshid still unbeaten. But he could not ignore the appeal. He received it too late. He crossed the Euphrates on 7 February; but six days previously Zumurrud had achieved the assassination of Ismail and the succession of her younger son, Shihab ed-Din Mahmud. The new atabeg, with the support of his people, gave a polite refusal to the envoys that Zengi sent to him asking for his submission. When Zengi advanced on Damascus, receiving the surrender of Hama as he came, he found the city in a state of defence. His attempt to storm the walls failed. Soon supplies ran short at his camp; and some of his troops deserted him. At that moment an embassy reached him from the Caliph Mustarshid, courteously requesting him to respect Damascene independence. Zengi gratefully accepted an excuse that enabled him to retire without dishonour. Peace was made between Zengi and Mahmud; and Zengi paid a state visit to Damascus. But Mahmud did not trust Zengi sufficiently to pay a return visit; he sent his brother in his stead.

The episode, coinciding with the weakness of Egypt, offered a rare opportunity for recovering Banyas and taking aggressive action. But Fulk let the chance go by. Zengi, having extricated himself from Damascus, employed his forces in an attack on Antiochene territory. While his lieutenant Sawar threatened Turbessel, Aintab and Azaz, preventing a junction between the armies of Antioch and Edessa, Zengi swept up past the fortresses of the eastern frontier, Kafartab, Maarrat, Zerdana and Athareb, capturing them one by one. Fortunately for the Franks, he was then obliged to return to Mosul; but the frontier defences were lost.

These disasters brought Fulk again to the north. He was still nominal regent of Antioch, but authority there was represented by the venerable Patriarch Bernard. Bernard died in the early summer. He had been an able statesman, energetic, firm and courageous, but strict towards the Frankish nobility and intolerant towards the native Christians. On his death the populace acclaimed as his successor the Latin Bishop of Mamistra, Radulph of Domfront, who assumed the Patriarchal throne without waiting for a canonical election. Radulph was a very different man, handsome, despite a slight squint, a lover of pomp, open-handed and affable, not well educated but an eloquent persuasive speaker, and, behind a gracious facade, worldly, ambitious and sly. He had no wish to be dominated by the King and the King’s men; so he opened negotiations with the dowager Princess Alice, who was still living on her lands at Lattakieh. Alice saw her opportunity and appealed to her sister Queen Melisende. Fulk arrived at Antioch in August for a short visit. He did not feel strong enough to protest against Radulph’s irregular election, and he could now refuse his wife nothing. Alice was allowed to return to Antioch. Fulk remained regent, but the power was shared in an uneasy alliance between the dowager and the Patriarch.

1136: Raymond of Poitiers summoned to Antioch

Radulph soon quarrelled with his clergy; and Alice was left mistress of the city. But her position was precarious. Her main support came from the native Christian population. As her intrigues with Zengi had shown, she had little regard for Frankish sentiment. She thought now of a better scheme. At the end of 1135 she sent an envoy to Constantinople to offer the hand of her daughter the Princess Constance to the Emperor’s younger son Manuel. Her action may have been, as the horrified Crusaders declared, due to the caprice of her ambition; but in fact it offered the best solution for the preservation of northern Syria. The Greek element was strong in Antioch. The Moslem menace was growing under Zengi; and the Empire was the only power strong enough to check it. A vassal-state ruled under imperial suzerainty first by the half-Armenian Alice and then jointly by a Byzantine prince and a Frankish princess, might well have served to weld Greek and Frank together for the defence of Christendom. But the Frankish nobles were aghast; and the Patriarch Radulph saw himself displaced in favour of a hated Greek. It seems that during his visit to Antioch King Fulk had been consulted by the barons about a suitable husband for Constance. Now a messenger went secretly to him to say that one must urgently be found. After reviewing all the French princes of his acquaintance, Fulk decided upon the younger son of Duke William IX of Aquitaine, Raymond of Poitiers, at present in England at the Court of King Henry I, whose daughter had recently married Fulk’s son Geoffrey. A knight of the Hospital, Gerard Jebarre, was sent to England to fetch him out. The greatest secrecy was observed. Alice must know nothing; nor would it be safe even to inform the Queen. Another danger lay in the hostility of King Roger of Sicily, who had never forgiven the Kingdom of Jerusalem for the insult done to his mother Adelaide and whose Mediterranean ambitions would never let him offer free passage to a claimant for the hand of the greatest heiress in the East. Gerard reached the English court, and Raymond accepted the proposal. But King Roger learnt of the secret; for the Normans of England and of Sicily were always in close touch with each other. He determined to arrest Raymond, who could not find a ship for Syria except from a south Italian port. Raymond was obliged to divide up his company and to disguise himself sometimes as a pilgrim, sometimes as a merchant’s servant. He managed to slip through the blockade, and in April 1136 he arrived at Antioch.

His arrival could not be kept hidden from Alice. He therefore at once went to see the Patriarch. Radulph offered him help on terms. Raymond must pay him homage and defer to him in everything. On Raymond’s agreement Radulph demanded an audience with Alice to tell her that the glamorous stranger had arrived as a candidate for her hand. The story was convincing, for Raymond was aged thirty-seven, Alice was under thirty, and Constance barely nine. Then, while Alice waited in her palace to receive her future betrothed, Constance was kidnapped and taken to the cathedral, where the Patriarch hastily wedded her to Raymond. Alice was defeated. Against the lawful husband of the heiress a dowager had no rights. She retired once more to Lattakieh, to remain there disconsolate for the remainder of her short existence.

1136: War with the Armenians

Raymond was in the prime of life. He was handsome and of immense physical strength, not well educated, fond of gambling and impetuous and at the same time indolent, but with a high reputation for gallantry and for purity of conduct. His popularity soon awed the Patriarch, whose troubles with his own clergy continued, and who found himself treated with deference but in fact shorn of power. The nobles solidly supported Raymond; for indeed the situation was too serious for them to do otherwise. The principality was losing ground. Not only were the eastern defences gone. In the south, in the Nosairi mountains, a Turcoman adventurer captured the castle of Bisikra’il from its owner, Reynald Mazoir, in 1131, and early in 1136 he was with difficulty prevented from taking Balatonos. Bisikra’il was recovered soon afterwards. Farther to the south, where the Franks had acquired the castle of Qadmus in 1129, in 1131 it passed back to the Moslem emir of Kahf, Saif ed-Din ibn Amrun, who next year sold it to the Assassin leader Abu’l Fath. In 1135 the Assassins bought Kahf itself from Saif ed-Din’s sons; and in the winter of 1136 they captured Khariba from the Franks. Cilicia had already been lost. In 1131, soon after Bohemond II’s death, the Roupenian Prince Leo, protected in his rear by an alliance with the Danishmend emir, descended into the plain and seized the three cities of Mamistra, Tarsus and Adana. His brother and predecessor Thoros had already a few years before ejected the small Byzantine garrisons from Sis and Anazarbus, farther inland. In 1135 Leo captured Sarventikar, on the slopes of the Amanus, from Baldwin, Lord of Marash. But the Armenian hold over Cilicia was weak. Bandits found refuge there, and pirates hung about its coasts.

The county of Edessa was no better off. Timurtash the Ortoqid had recently annexed some of its territory in the east. To the north the Armenian Prince of Gargar, Michael, unable to maintain himself against the Turks, ceded his lands to Count Joscelin, who rashly handed them over to Michael’s personal enemy Basil, brother of the Armenian Catholicus. A civil war between the two Armenians broke out. Joscelin was obliged to garrison Gargar himself, but could not prevent the countryside from being ravaged by Armenians and Turks in turn. Sawar raided the district of Turbessel in 1135, and in April 1136, about the time of Raymond of Poitiers’s arrival in the East, his general, Afshin, not only broke his way through Antiochene territory to Lattakieh in the south, burning and pillaging the villages as he passed, but afterwards turned northward past Marash to Kaisun. The chief vassal of the Count of Edessa, Baldwin, lord of Marash and Kaisun, was powerless to defend his lands.

Raymond decided that his first action must be to recover Cilicia. His rear must be protected before he could venture to oppose Zengi. With King Fulk’s approval he marched with Baldwin of Marash against the Roupenians. But the alliance was incomplete. Joscelin of Edessa, though he was Fulk’s vassal and Baldwin’s suzerain, was also Leo’s nephew; and his sympathies were with his uncle. The King of Jerusalem’s authority was no longer sufficient to reunite the Frankish princes. With Joscelin’s help, Leo drove back the Antiochene army. Triumphant, he agreed to have a personal interview with Baldwin, who treacherously made him prisoner and sent him off to captivity in Antioch. In Leo’s absence his three sons quarrelled. The eldest, Constantine, was eventually captured and blinded by his brothers. But meanwhile the Franks derived no profit. The Danishmend emir, Mohammed II ibn Ghazi, invaded Cilicia, destroyed the harvests, then moved on into Baldwin’s lands, which he ravaged as far as Kaisun. Shaken by these disasters, Leo bought his freedom by offering to give up the Cilician cities to Raymond; but on his return home he forgot his promise. A desultory war broke out again, till, early in 1137, Joscelin patched up a truce between the combatants, who were terrified by news from the north, news that showed Princess Alice not to have been so foolish after all.

1137: Accession of Raymond II of Tripoli

King Fulk had not been able to give any practical aid to his friend Raymond. He had to face dangers nearer home. The government of the young atabeg Mahmud of Damascus had been dominated by the peaceful influence of his mother’s lover, Yusuf; but one spring evening, in 1136, as the atabeg was walking on the maidan with Yusuf and a mameluk commander, Bazawash, the latter suddenly stabbed Yusuf to death and fled to his regiment at Baalbek. From there he threatened to march on Damascus and depose the atabeg, unless he was made chief minister. Mahmud yielded to his wishes. At once the Damascenes took up an aggressive attitude against the Franks. Early next year they invaded the County of Tripoli. The local Christians, who felt no loyalty towards the Franks, guided them secretly through the passes of the Lebanon into the coastal plain. Count Pons was taken by surprise. He came out with his small army to meet them and was disastrously defeated. Pons himself, who fled into the mountains, was betrayed to the Moslems by a Christian peasant, and was instantly put to death. The Bishop of Tripoli, Gerard, who was captured in the battle, was fortunately not recognized and was soon exchanged as a man of no importance. Bazawash captured one or two frontier castles, but did not venture to attack Tripoli itself. He soon retired to Damascus laden with booty.

Pons had ruled over Tripoli for twenty-five years. He seems to have been a competent administrator but a feckless politician, always anxious to throw off the suzerainty of the King of Jerusalem but too weak to achieve independence. His son and successor, Raymond II, was of a more passionate temperament. He was now aged twenty-two, and had recently married Queen Melisende’s sister, Hodierna of Jerusalem, to whom he was jealously devoted. His first act was to avenge his father’s death, not on the mamelukes of Damascus, who were too powerful for him, but on the disloyal Christians of the Lebanon. Marching on the villages suspected of helping the enemy, he massacred all their men-folk and took the women and children to be sold as slaves in Tripoli. His ruthlessness cowed the Lebanese, but it made them no fonder of the Franks.

Bazawash’s activity was not to the liking of Zengi. He was unwilling to attack the Franks with an independent and aggressive Moslem state on his flank. At the end of June he marched on Homs, which was held for the atabeg of Damascus by an elderly mameluke, Unur. For about a fortnight Zengi lay before the city, when news came that a Frankish army from Tripoli was approaching. Whatever Count Raymond’s intention may have been, his move caused Zengi to raise the siege of Homs and turn on the Franks. As Raymond retired before him, he advanced to besiege the great castle of Montferrand, on the eastern slopes of the Nosairi hills, guarding the entrance to the Buqaia. Meanwhile Raymond sent to Jerusalem to ask for help from King Fulk.

Fulk had just received an urgent appeal from Antioch; but a Moslem threat to Tripoli could not be ignored. He hurried up with all the men that he could collect to join Raymond, and together they made a forced march round the Nosairi foothills to Montferrand. It was a difficult journey; and their army soon was in a pitiable state. Zengi had moved away on their approach, but, hearing of their condition, he returned and closed in round them as they came out of the hills near to the castle. The weary Franks were taken by surprise. They fought bravely, but the battle was soon over. Most of the Christians lay dead on the field. Others, including the Count of Tripoli, were taken prisoner, while Fulk with a small bodyguard escaped into the fortress.

Before Zengi could move up to invest Montferrand, the King sent messengers to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to the Count of Edessa and to the Prince of Antioch, begging for immediate help. All three, ignoring other risks, answered his appeal; for the capture of the King and all his chivalry might well mean the end of the kingdom. The Patriarch William gathered together the rest of the militia left in Palestine, and led it, with the Holy Cross at its head, up to Tripoli. Joscelin of Edessa, forgetting his local worries, came down from the north, and on his way was joined by Raymond of Antioch, who could ill afford at that moment to leave his capital. Fortunately for Palestine, bared as it was of every fighting man, its neighbours were not in the mood to be aggressive. Egypt was paralysed by a palace revolution, which had replaced the Armenian vizier Vahram by a violent anti-Christian, Ridwan ibn al-Walakshi, who was fully occupied in slaying his predecessor’s friends and in quarrelling with the Caliph. The garrison of Ascalon carried out a raid on Lydda, but no more. The mameluke Bazawash of Damascus was more dangerous; and as soon as the Patriarch had left the country, he permitted himself to ravage it as far south as the open city of Nablus, whose inhabitants he put to the sword. But he was too fearful of the consequences to Damascus should Zengi enjoy too complete a victory to wish to press the Franks very far.

1137: The Surrender of Montferrand

At the end of July the relieving force assembled in the Buqaia. Meanwhile in Montferrand the King was growing desperate. He was cut off from news of the outside world. His supplies were running out; and day and night Zengi’s ten great mangonels pounded at the walls of the castle. At last he sent a herald to Zengi to ask for his terms. To his incredulous joy, Zengi demanded only the cession of Montferrand. The King might go free with all his men. Moreover, the leading knights captured in the battle, including the Count of Tripoli, should be set at liberty. No ransom would be charged. Fulk accepted at once. Zengi kept to his engagement. Fulk and his bodyguard were brought before Zengi, who treated them with every mark of honour and presented the King with a sumptuous robe. Their comrades were restored to them; and they were sent peaceably on their way. In the Buqaia they met the relieving army, much nearer than they had thought. Some of them were vexed to find that had they held out longer they might have been rescued; but the wiser were glad to have escaped so lightly.

Indeed, Zengi’s forbearance has never ceased to astonish historians. But Zengi knew what he was doing. Montferrand was no mean prize. Its possession would prevent the Franks from penetrating into the upper Orontes valley. It was also admirably situated to control Hama and the Damascene city of Homs. To obtain it without further fighting was well worth while; for he had no wish to risk a battle with the Frankish relieving force so near to the frontiers of Damascus, whose rulers would at once take advantage of any check that he might suffer. Moreover, like his Frankish enemies, he was disquieted by news from the north.

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