Post-classical history


The Latin States

The principalities created by the western invasion of Syria and Palestine shared characteristics of both east and west. The Near East was familiar with culturally and religiously alien elites indifferent or hostile to indigenous peoples, content to rule a heterogeneous society by means of absentee landownership, control of trade and military coercion. As exploiters, not proselytes or social engineers, Levantine rulers forged contacts across communal divisions from convenience, not conviction. The Latins, or Franks as they were more usually called by onlookers, were no different. Their new aristocracy and settlers could not ignore their neighbours; as one of them remarked in the 1120s, a lingua franca combining many languages soon emerged, at least in the cities.1 Yet the political idiom of Latin rule remained severely western, as did the laws they applied to themselves and the vocabulary of government. Consequently, the vision of Outremer is bifocal. Twelfth-century Latin accounts portray a political society apparently hermetically sealed from its immediate environment, a western drama played out in exotic surroundings, whereas contemporary Arabic chronicles emphasize the normality and familiarity of Latin behaviour, one parvenu military governing elite among many.


Nowhere was Christian dependence on the politics of Islamic neighbours more obvious than in the fortunes of the county of Edessa, the first Latin principality established in the Near East, by Baldwin of Boulogne in March 1098. Isolated far in the interior, the county relied upon possession of fortified towns such as Turbessel (Tell Bashir), Ravendan and Edessa, from where the fertile countryside of the Euphrates basin could be exploited and the sensibilities of the Armenian lords influenced. As a bastion defending the eastern flank of Antioch and even a potential base for assaults into northern Iraq, the county assumed great strategic importance, which was also the source of its vulnerability. For warlords from Mosul or Mardin to the east or Aleppo to the south, Edessa presented a tempting target in itself as well as a staging post on any more concerted attack on the Christian holdings towards the coast. The county’s survival depended on unity among its Frankish nobility; cooperation with local Armenian lords, some of whom looked to Byzantium to guarantee their status and authority; alliances with Antioch and some, at least, of its Muslim neighbours; and, crucially, disunity among the rulers of northern Syria, the Jazira and Iraq.2

In 1100, when Baldwin of Boulogne succeeded his brother Godfrey as ruler of Jerusalem, Edessa devolved on to his cousin, Baldwin of Le Bourcq, who did homage to the new king for the county. After consolidating his position by marrying a local Armenian princess, Morphia of Melitene, in 1102, the new count was joined by another cousin, Joscelin of Courtenay, a veteran of the count of Nevers’s crusade of 1101, to whom he gave all the county west of the Euphrates around Turbessel as a fief, thus making him almost a partner. Over the next two years, while Mosul battled with Mardin after the death of Kerbogha and further internecine feuding distracted the Seljuks of Baghdad, Joscelin as much as Count Baldwin campaigned successfully to extend Frankish rule northwards towards Armenian Marasch and south in the direction of Aleppo. In 1104, this aggression was abruptly ended when Soqman of Mardin joined with his erstwhile enemies of Mosul to crush a substantial combined Edessan/Antiochene force attempting to capture Harran, south-east of Edessa. Both Count Baldwin and Joscelin were captured. The dangers of Muslim unity were starkly underlined.

During Count Baldwin’s captivity (1104–8), Edessa was ruled first by Tancred and then, after Bohemund’s departure for the west in 1105, another Hauteville relative, Richard of Salerno. Tancred, busily extending the principality of Antioch in his uncle’s absence, clearly hoped to annexe Edessa; it made strategic sense.3 Consequently, on Baldwin’s release, relations between Edessa and Antioch were strained beyond breaking, with Tancred trying to assert a spurious legal claim to over-lordship over the county. In 1108–9, both sides to the dispute probably called on Muslim military aid, Baldwin from his former captors at Mosul, Tancred from Aleppo. Baldwin’s relations with the increasingly independent Joscelin of Courtenay also deteriorated. Joscelin was arrested and exiled, Baldwin I of Jerusalem characteristically promptly recruiting him to the lordship of Galilee. However, the major invasions by Mawdud of Mosul each year between 1110 and 1113 and Tancred’s death in 1112 engineered a reconciliation between Antioch and Edessa, sealed by the marriage of Count Baldwin’s sister to Tancred’s successor, Roger of Salerno. At the victory of Tell Danith over Bursuq of Hamadan in 1115, Count Baldwin fought side by side with the Antiochenes. Edessa’s position relative to Antioch improved further after the accession of Count Baldwin to the throne of Jerusalem in 1118, due partly to the intrigues of Joscelin of Courtenay who, despite his exile in 1113, was rewarded with the county of Edessa itself. After Roger of Antioch’s defeat and death at the battle known to westerners as the Field of Blood in 1119, when Baldwin II, as king, assumed the regency of Antioch, Joscelin emerged as the strongest Frankish leader in northern Syria, probably even on occasion acting as regent of Antioch himself. Although briefly held captive by Balak of Aleppo in 1123, Count Joscelin commanded a combined forced from all four Latin principalities in the same year in an attempt to free King Baldwin, who had suffered a similar fate shortly after the count. Until the king’s release in 1124, Joscelin cut the leading secular figure in Outremer. Thereafter he continued to play a prominent role, joining with Baldwin II in attacking Aleppo in 1124–5 and Damascus in 1129. This did not prevent him from asserting his rights against fellow Christians by force, if necessary, or, as in 1127 during a dispute with the new prince of Antioch, Bohemund II, with the assistance of the Turks. The story of Joscelin’s death in 1131 provided Outremer with one of its epic tales. Infuriated by his son’s cowardice in the face of an attack from Anatolia, Joscelin, seriously ill and bedridden, insisted on leading out his troops borne on a litter. Seeing this, the invaders hurriedly withdrew. On receiving the news, Joscelin, ordering his litter to be put down on the road, died giving thanks to God.4

The failure of the Franks to take Aleppo in 1125 opened the way instead to the new atabeg of Mosul, Imad al-Din Zengi, to resolve the anarchy in the city by occupying it in 1128. The settled union of Mosul and Aleppo posed a serious threat to Edessa, especially after the Franks’ failure in 1129 to take Damascus, which now attracted Zengi’s attention. Although primarily concerned with affairs further east and the politics of the Seljuk Baghdad sultanate, Zengi steadily increased his hold on the eastern frontiers of northern Outremer. In 1137 he captured the Frankish castle of Montferrand (Ba ‘rin), the important Muslim city of Homs in 1138 and the strategically significant town of Baalbek in the Biqa valley in 1140, where he installed as garrison commander a Kurdish mercenary, Naim al-Din Ayyub, Saladin’s father. The failure of an uneasy Byzantine/Antiochene/Edessan army to capture Aleppo and Shaizar in 1138 removed Greek intervention in Syria for a generation but allowed Zengi a free hand, with Damascus compelling its ruler Unur to arrange a treaty with King Fulk of Jerusalem in 1139. This increased concentration on the south left Edessa vulnerable.

Joscelin II, no great general, continued his father’s active diplomacy with Muslim and Armenian neighbours, but his county appeared fair game for Turkish raiders from north, east and south. The adverse economic effect of this on the county weakened Joscelin’s political hold on his Syrian and Armenian subjects and his capacity to sustain mercenaries. The political chaos in Antioch in the 1130s and the loosening of the intimate ties with Jerusalem on the death of Baldwin II in 1131 left Edessa further exposed, its viability depending more than ever on external military aid. It is perhaps significant that the Franks of Edessa, few in number and reliant on non-Frankish subjects and allies, appear not to have begun a substantial programme of stone castle building. The evidence from the Frankish stronghold of Turbessel is inconclusive, but at Edessa itself existing fortifications seem to have sufficed with local modifications. In 1122, the Armenian governor of the city, Vasil, constructed a new tower, round after an Armenian design.5 The absence of new fortifications did not mean that the counts of Edessa were defenceless, rather that, unlike their peers elsewhere across Outremer, they lacked the wealth to undertake new building projects.

Yet the downfall of the county resulted from an opportunist raid rather than systemic collapse, although it occurred through Latin weakness and Edessan diplomacy. The kingdom of Jerusalem was embroiled in internal difficulties following the sudden death of King Fulk in 1143. Antioch, although spared a fresh Byzantine invasion by the death of John II Comnenus in 1143, remained preoccupied, relations between Joscelin II and Prince Raymond of Antioch later described as being of ‘insatiable hatred’.6 Joscelin II’s alliances with Muslims opposed to Zengi gave the atabeg an excuse to attack the eastern frontier of the county in the autumn of 1144 when the count was away from Edessa on campaign towards Aleppo. Edessa itself held out for a bare four weeks before falling to Zengi on Christmas Eve 1144. Despite cursory attempts at reconquest, the county east of the Euphrates was lost. Joscelin retained the western half, based on Turbessel, where his father had begun forty years earlier. Despite the murder of Zengi in 1146, the failure of the Second Crusade (1146–8), civil war in Jerusalem and the defeat and death of Raymond of Antioch at Inab in 1149 left the rump of the county exposed. In 1150, Joscelin was captured by troops of Zengi’s son Nur al-Din and imprisoned for the remaining nine years of his life in Aleppo, allegedly having to endure regular torture. His wife read the signs and sold her remaining forts to the Greek emperor Manuel I in 1150. These were overrun by Nur al-Din the following year. The Christian bulwark to the east that had posed a potential threat to the heartlands of Turkish power was lost for ever, a sign that the political chaos of the early twelfth century that had permitted, even encouraged, the political opportunism of the first two Baldwins and Joscelin I was giving place to an ominous and growing Muslim unity in Syria that challenged all Latin Outremer.


Like the county of Edessa, the principality of Antioch owed its creation to the secular impulses of the First Crusade. Any talk of Antioch as the first see of St Peter tended to be suppressed by a jealous papacy. Like Edessa, too, politics and society in Antioch followed indigenous patterns: Greek, Armenian and Muslim. Formed out of the ambitions and rivalries of the great western army of invasion in 1097–8, the principality survived by adapting and exploiting local conditions to forge a more pluralist polity than elsewhere in Outremer, embracing Greek and Sicilian institutional practices, in which marcher lords, vassals, tenants and administrators were western European, Armenian and even Muslim. Antioch’s vigorous independent identity sat uneasily between regular Byzantine claims to overlordship and the repeated need for the kings of Jerusalem to rescue the principality from succession crises as prince after prince proved extraordinarily accident-prone and unlucky. Although its politics, self-image and strategic position allied its fortunes with the Holy Land, Antioch could not escape its ties with Byzantium nor its interests in Cilicia, its enforced acceptance of Byzantine suzerainty in 1137, 1145 and 1158–9 in many ways ensuring its autonomy from Jerusalem.7

Bohemund’s establishment of his control over Antioch in 1098–9 seemed to offer the prospect of the recreation of the pre-1084 Byzantine administrative region, or theme, based on the city. However, he confronted stern obstacles. In Cilicia his influence faced challenge from the Byzantine emperor and the local Armenian nobility keen to win independence by playing off Greek against Latin. On the Syrian coast and to the south and east of Antioch towards the frontier with Aleppo, Raymond of Toulouse and the Byzantines competed for dominion. By the time Bohemund was captured by the Danishmends in August 1100 attempting to relieve Melitene, he had lost control of Cilicia and Lattakiah to the Greeks and failed to exert clear authority over al-Bara and Ma ‘arrat. Thereafter, its charismatic founder exercised very little influence on the formation of the principality. In a Danishmend prison between 1100 and 1103, disastrously defeated at Harran in 1104, Bohemund left the east for good early in 1105 to chase his destiny against Byzantium.

The real founder of the principality of Antioch was Bohemund’s nephew, Tancred of Lecce, regent 1101–3 then effectively prince 1105–12. Despite numerous reversals, by the time of his death Tancred had recovered Cilicia; extended Antiochene overlordship over Armenian princes to the north; incorporated the Ruj valley and the Jabal as-Summaq after defeating the Aleppans at Artah in 1105; effectively annexed Edessa between 1104 and 1108; occupied the ports of Lattakiah, Baniyas and, briefly, Jubail; pushed Antiochene frontiers east of the Jabal Talat and south to Apamea to threaten Aleppo and Shaizar respectively, both cities at various times paying tribute to the princes of Antioch. Despite his failed attempt to defy King Baldwin I over Edessa in 1109–10 and coming off worse in the succession dispute in Tripoli in 1109, Tancred’s Antioch dominated northern Syria, sufficiently strong to withstand the invasions of Mawdud of Mosul (1110–13); he was confident that the tactic of avoiding pitched battles would not destroy the inner cohesion of his territories. A network of marcher lordships strung along the borders afforded protection to the central areas of the Orontes valley, even when the frontiers themselves were breached. After one such incursion in 1115, Roger of Salerno won a crushing victory at Tell Danith over Bursuq of Hamadan, commander of an army sent by the sultan in Baghdad, to resecure the vulnerable south-eastern frontier. Lasting security received attention with Prince Roger’s capture of the castles at Saone, Balatonos and Marqab. In 1119, Roger’s luck ran out when Il-Ghazi of Mardin annihilated the Antiochene army at the Field of Blood. However, even this revealed the principality’s strength. Roger had foolishly not waited for reinforcements from the south before equally rashly seeking a pitched battle. Yet Baldwin II contrived to retrieve the situation through the continued resistance of the frontier garrisons buying him time and the efficiency of the general mobilization he ordered at Antioch, and not, as some contemporaries suggested, because the victorious Il-Ghazi was an irredeemable bingeing sot.8

The survival of Antioch after the disaster of 1119 revealed the character of the regime built by Tancred and Roger. The administration displayed continuities with its Byzantine predecessor, as in the office of duke, dux, in the city of Antioch, while the princely household offices – chancellor, seneschal, chamberlain – were reminiscent of similar positions in southern and northern Norman courts in the west, perhaps unsurprisingly as many of the lords enfeoffed in the principality can be traced to Normandy or southern Italy and Sicily. Some may have gathered around Tancred during his adventurous career on the First Crusade and his territorial forays in Judea and Galilee. Others may have been supporters of Bohemund in 1098. Most importantly, the Antioch baronage appeared consistently loyal to their princes in the formative period of Frankish rule and thereafter to the principality’s independent integrity. In 1135, the barons rejected overtures made to Byzantium by the wilful dowager Princess Alice. In 1161–3 they forced her flighty daughter Constance to install her son Bohemund III as prince.9 The constant threat of invasion and dispossession; the vigorous personal support provided by the princes; and the lack of central interference in the workings of their lordships encouraged baronial loyalty. Rainald Masoir built up a strong lordship in the south of the principality, centred on Baniyas and Marqab. Despite the uncertainties and chaos after 1119, he associated himself with the regency government of Baldwin II and, after the arrival of the young Bohemund II in 1126, rose in princely favour to become constable in 1127, uniquely as a substantial landowner holding a household office. In the early 1130s, after the death of Bohemund II in battle (1130), Rainald acted as regent for a few years. The rewards were obvious. Rainald’s origins are obscure, yet his son was considered grand enough to marry the daughter of the count of Tripoli and his wife, Cecilia, was the widow of Tancred and illegitimate daughter of King Philip I, the Fat, of France.10

Just as they relied on cooperation with the prince, Antiochene marcher lords, as elsewhere in Outremer, could not afford to adopt an inflexible siege mentality towards their Muslim neighbours. Robert FitzFulk, known as the Leper, held, among other properties, the fortress of Zardana on the frontier with Aleppo. Unsurprisingly, he established alliances with those Muslim rulers hostile to Aleppo, including Il-Ghazi of Mardin and Tughtegin, atabeg of Damascus, joining them in a military compact in 1115. Tughtegin was even remembered as being Robert’s friend, although this did not prevent him personally decapitating Robert in 1119.11 Less fraught were relations between Alan, lord of al-Atharib, another frontier fort between Antioch and Aleppo, and his Muslim physician, the chronicler Hamdan Ibn Abd al-Rahmin (c.1071–1147/8) whose reward for healing Alan was the grant of a village and its revenues. Hamdan assisted in regional administration, at one point presiding over the diwan (writing office) at Ma ‘arrat al-Nu ‘man. However, Hamdan’s opportunism matched that of any Frank. In 1128, he transferred his allegiance to Zengi at Aleppo, returning to administer the same border region he had previously managed for the Christians after its conquest by his new master.12 Hamdan was unusual but not unique. In 1118, Prince Roger granted three villages to a local Muslim sheikh.13 The rhetoric of holy war, so favoured by clerical observers such as the Antiochene chancellor Walter in his account of the vicissitudes of Prince Roger, concealed inter-faith cooperation and mutual self-interest, as in the joint campaign by Prince Roger, Tughtegin of Damascus and Il-Ghazi of Mardin against the Seljuks in 1115.14

Internally, the non-Latin Christian communities presented not dissimilar problems and opportunities. Unlike further south in Outremer, the Muslim peasantry under Antiochene rule was probably in a minority. Greek influence was strong in language, custom, identity and religion, especially in the city of Antioch itself. However, accommodation between Latins and Greeks was complicated by the Byzantine claim to overlordship, which may have precipitated the departure of the Greek patriarch of Antioch, John IV the Oxite, in 1100. The Latin ecclesiastical hierarchy in the principality acted as a central institution of Frankish authority, led by the formidable former chaplain of Adhemar of Le Puy, Bernard of Valence (patriarch 1100–1135) and his successor Aimery of Limoges (1140–93), both of whom supplied political as well as spiritual leadership at moments of crisis, such as 1119, 1123, 1130, 1149 and 1161. Division between the secular and ecclesiastical powers weakened each, as during the turbulent patriciate of Ralph of Domfront (1135–40) or when Prince Reynald turned on Patriarch Aimery in a dispute over exactions from the church to pay for the prince’s wars. Aimery, a scholar of international repute, fluent in Greek as in Latin, translator of parts of the Bible into Castilian (the first such translation into any Romance language), was beaten up by Reynald’s thugs and left chained out in the sun for a whole day, his bleeding head smeared with honey for the enjoyment of local insects. Unsurprisingly, on being released, Aimery left Antioch for the less barbarous surroundings of Jerusalem, only returning when Reynald had been captured by Nur al-Din in 1161.15 Such internal squabbles aside, the imposition of a Latin hierarchy in northern Syria followed political conquest and matched the subordination and exploitation of the native Greek-speaking population. The political as well as economic dimension of this subjugation are clearly indicated by the contrastingly less hostile relations the Latin church enjoyed with the Jacobite and Armenian churches, both of which represented no political threat.16

The hostility towards the Greeks reflected Antioch’s delicate international position. Although Alexius I failed to make good his claim to the city, it was over a decade before Lattakiah was finally wrested from his grasp, before which he had formally extracted recognition of his rights in Antioch from Bohemund under the treaty of Devol in 1108. Bohemund’s campaign against Byzantium in 1107–8 in the Balkans, despite widespread support mainly in France, papal authority, indulgences and the declared object of assisting Jerusalem, proved a very damp squib. A long, costly, futile siege of Durazzo ended in a negotiated agreement under which Bohemund accepted tenure of a severely truncated Antioch as Alexius’s vassal for life, without the prospect of hereditary reversion, the Norman being compensated with some vague promise of hereditary lands further east. The patriarch of Antioch was to be a Greek Orthodox. To rub salt into the wound, among the witnesses on behalf of the emperor were Italian Normans in Byzantine service, including relatives of Bohemund and veterans of the First Crusade.17 In fact, the treaty was a dead letter. Bohemund’s refusal to return east and Tancred’s rejection of the treaty were matched by Byzantine inertia. Apart from tentative moves towards establishing a dynastic alliance in 1119, until the late 1130s Greek action concentrated in Cilicia, although in 1135 the dowager princess of Antioch, the ambitious and meddlesome Alice of Jerusalem, unavailingly proposed another Greek marriage between her daughter, the heiress, and the emperor’s son as a means of preserving her own power. Only when the emperors turned their attention and armies towards northern Syria, John II in 1137–8 and 1142 and Manuel I in 1158–9, did Byzantine sovereignty aspire to practical politics, compelling Prince Raymond to perform homage in 1137 and 1145 and Prince Reynald in 1159.18 For the princes of Antioch, the Greek claim provided an irksome context for their actions; for Outremer possibly a missed opportunity. The running tension over Antioch’s disputed status, as well as the internal discrimination against Greeks and the Orthodox church within the principality, inhibited the Latin rulers further south from taking advantage of what remained the most potent twelfth-century Christian power in the eastern Mediterranean. This only changed with the diplomatic rapprochement of the 1160s signalled by the splendid theatre and political insignificance of Manuel I’s entry into Antioch in 1159 and his marriage to Bohemund III’s sister, Maria of Antioch, in 1161. Where Alexius I and John II sought active control over Antioch, Manuel, worried lest aggression lose him allies in the west, contented himself with acceptance of a distant, benevolent, essentially impotent overlordship. Perhaps he was making a virtue of necessity.

The Byzantines were not alone in their concern with Antioch. Repeated dynastic dislocation inevitably attracted the gaze of other western powers. After Prince Roger’s death in 1119, the regency of Baldwin II of Jerusalem secured the succession for Bohemund II, then being brought up in Apulia. On arrival in 1126, Bohemund was married to Baldwin’s daughter Alice in a deliberate attempt to consolidate Jerusalem’s influence. After Bohemund’s death in battle in 1130, apart from his infant child Constance, the nearest Hauteville relative was Roger II of Sicily, first cousin of Bohemund I and a persistent enemy to the Byzantine emperors, who feared Antioch becoming a hostile Sicilian outpost. The new king of Jerusalem, Fulk of Anjou, assumed the traditional role of regent, ensuring neither a Greek nor a Sicilian succession by choosing a Frenchman, Raymond of Poitiers, son of the former crusader William IX of Aquitaine, to marry the Antioch heiress Constance in 1136. Raymond’s western affiliations lay with Henry I of England, whose daughter Matilda was married to Fulk of Jerusalem’s son Geoffrey. Roger II of Sicily tried to prevent Raymond reaching the east by closing the southern Italian ports to him, the future prince having to resort to disguise and subterfuge to evade capture.19Raymond’s vigorous rule marked the end of the Norman period in Antioch’s rule and effectively the end of direct western interest in the Antioch succession.

Although administratively and tenurially autonomous, Antioch’s survival repeatedly depended on interventions by the kings of Jerusalem to prevent the principality succumbing to internecine chaos or Muslim conquest. Baldwin I (in 1109–10, 1111 and 1115), Baldwin II (in 1119–26 and 1130–31), Fulk (in 1131–2 and 1133) and Baldwin III (in 1149, 1150, 1152, 1157, 1158 and 1161) ruled or installed rulers. Formal jurisdictional ties between Antioch and Jerusalem remained confused, complicated by relations of both with Byzantium. However, a presumption of Jerusalem overlordship informed the arbitrations of northern affairs by Baldwin I in 1109 and Baldwin III in 1150, as did the consistent policy of fraternal aid, which, while serving the interests of both parties, revealed a central feature of Outremer’s political mentality. The pages of the Antioch chronicler Walter the Chancellor early in the twelfth century and the great Jerusalem writer William of Tyre towards the end of it were alike shot through with the sense of one shared Christian political community stretching from the Cilician mountains to the deserts of Arabia. The importance of Antioch within that community received backhanded recognition in 1130 when Bohemund II’s embalmed head was sent by the Danishmend emir as a present to the caliph in Baghdad, a macabre precedent repeated when Nur al-Din delivered Prince Raymond’s head and severed arm to the caliph after the battle of Inab in 1149.20 Antioch was by no means the sick man of the Levant. Each prince conducted vigorous and often successful policies of expansion. Despite its grisly conclusion, Raymond’s aggression was continued in the 1150s by his widow’s second husband, the adventurer Reynald of Châtillon, who took on both Muslims and, in raiding Cyprus in 1156, Greeks. Yet each prince met an untimely end. Tancred died relatively young. Roger, Bohemund II and Raymond were killed in battles of their own choosing. Reynald’s opportunism led to sixteen years in an Aleppan prison. Their fates and the survival of their principality unconquered for another century serve as a paradigm for Christian rule in Outremer, at once fragile and tenacious.


The existence of the county of Tripoli owed everything to the determination and tenacity of Raymond of Toulouse; its continued identity to the interests of the kings of Jerusalem, the wider strategic needs of Outremer and the ambitions of Raymond’s squabbling Provençal heirs. Having been forced out of Antioch (1098–9), Jerusalem (1099) and Lattakiah (1102), Raymond, accompanied by veterans of the 1101 crusades, looked further south, capturing Tortosa in 1102. From 1103, he focused on Tripoli, then the major port for Damascus, as the centre of a new lordship, laying siege to the city. Raymond built a large castle on a ridge a couple of miles from the port called Mount Pilgrim, known in Arabic to this day as Qal’at Sanjil, the castle of St Gilles. Raymond of St Gilles, count of Toulouse, so often thwarted by his contemporaries, might have been content with this demotic accolade of posterity. His castle of Mount Pilgrim was to stay in Christian hands continuously from 1103 to 1289, longer than any other in mainland Outremer.21

When Raymond died in 1105, Tripoli still uncaptured, his followers chose as their lord his cousin, William-Jordan count of Cerdagne, despite the presence at Mount Pilgrim of the count’s infant son, Alfonso-Jordan, and the existence of a bastard son, Bertrand, who had been ruling Toulouse for a decade on his father’s behalf. William-Jordan’s succession reflected a common problem in Outremer, where presence and possession perforce constituted the law. In Jerusalem in the early days after the conquest, absence or occupation determined ownership (the so-called assise de l’an et jour). Just as absentee landlords were useless to settlement and defence, so too were absent rulers, a powerful incentive to ignore strict rules of inheritance (if any existed), in Tripoli in 1105 as in Jerusalem in 1118 or Antioch in 1111 (on Bohemund’s death in the west) and 1112 (the death of Tancred). Habits in the west were less cavalier. Alfonso-Jordan and his mother departed for Toulouse, which they reached in 1108, posing an awkward problem for Bertrand, whom the church regarded as illegitimate. The same year, Bertrand left his half-brother in nominal charge of the family Provençal lands to try his fortune in the east. It is notable that no twelfth-century ruler contemplated combining eastern and western lordships to form a cross-Mediterranean empire. Although some, like Bohemund and Raymond of Toulouse, retained their old titles, others, such as Fulk V of Anjou and then king of Jerusalem, did not. This wholly pragmatic principle seems also to have applied to settler barons and seigneurs of less exalted status.

Bertrand’s arrival in Outremer provoked an acrid succession contest. While William-Jordan sought the help of the dominant figure in Christian northern Syria, Tancred of Antioch, Bertrand, backed by a substantial army and a large Genoese fleet, offered homage to the equally acquisitive Baldwin I of Jerusalem, who used his royal prestige and military clout to impose a partition on the county in 1109. Shortly afterwards William-Jordan died amid rumours of murder. Meanwhile, Tripoli itself surrendered to Bertrand, Baldwin and the Genoese. The Muslim garrison was spared, but the city was plundered, its renowned library destroyed: ‘the books… exceeded all computation’ lamented Ibn al-Qalanisi from Damascus.22

Bertrand (d. 1112) controlled the coast from Maraclea in the north to the Dog river above Beirut in the south. At its height, the county stretched inland to Crac des Chevaliers and the Orontes valley towards Homs and northwards to Montferrand (Ba ‘rin) on the road to Hamah. Although the count owed homage and fealty to the king of Jerusalem, who in times of crisis, such as the assassination of Raymond II (1152) or the captivity of Raymond III (1164), acted as guardian or regent, the county of Tripoli, unlike the not dissimilar-sized and resourced lordship of Galilee, remained outside the kingdom. The king of Jerusalem held no direct tenurial, legal or patronage rights over the count’s vassals or fiefs within the county. Its ecclesiastical hierarchy maintained, against papal instructions, its allegiance to the patriarchate of Antioch, not Jerusalem, in part a result of the close political relations established between the county and principality by Bertrand’s son Count Pons (1112–37). The county was divided into separate lordships based on ports such as Jubail and Tortosa and castles in the interior, with the count holding as his own domain the coastal strip around Tripoli and the eastern frontier region around Montferrand, whose loss in 1137 reduced comital resources. The vulnerability of the county led to devolution of power. In 1144, partly to counter the Assassins newly established in the Nosairi mountains and partly as defence against Homs, Raymond II granted the Hospitallers large tracts of the east of the county, including much of the Buqai’ah plain, the area towards Montferrand and the fortress of Hisn al-Akrad. In the 1150s, the Templars acquired Tortosa. Both military orders proceeded to construct major castles, the Templars at Tortosa, the Hospitallers at Hisn al-Akrad or, as it was now called, Crac des Chevaliers. The Genoese role in the county’s foundation was rewarded with a quarter of Tripoli and, among other properties, the port of Jubail, which Count Bertrand gave to the Genoese admiral Guglielmo Embriaco. His descendants became vassals of the count as lords of Jubail in their own right until the last years of the thirteenth century, when, embittered by their treatment at the hands of the count of Tripoli, they briefly held Jubail as vassals of the sultan of Egypt.23 In devolving power and responsibility, the counts of Tripoli revealed a structural weakness in their county and their resources. When Raymond III exerted influence and authority outside Tripoli, acting as regent of Jerusalem in the 1170s and 1180s, this depended not on his position as count but on his family relationship, as a great-grandson of Baldwin II and grandson of Queen Melisende, and on his marriage to the richest heiress within the kingdom, Eschiva of Galilee.

This weakness was exacerbated by rumbling succession problems, murder and captivity. During the Second Crusade (1146–8) Alfonso-Jordan of Toulouse, Raymond I’s son, born at Mount Pilgrim, arrived in the east clearly possessed of a stronger formal claim than the incumbent, Raymond II, grandson of Raymond I’s bastard. While Alfonso-Jordan died suddenly in Palestine in 1148, to the usual accompaniment of rumours of foul play, his own illegitimate son, Bertrand, backed by Toulousain troops, challenged Raymond’s authority in 1149 by seizing the fortress of Arimah on the road to Tortosa and Homs. According to Arabic sources, Raymond dealt with this unwelcome threat by inviting Nur al-Din and Unur of Damascus, enemies only a year before during the crusaders’ siege of Damascus, to dispose of his troublesome relative. Arimah was taken, razed to the ground and returned to Raymond. Bertrand was led captive to Aleppo, where he languished for the next ten years, his fate a fine tribute to the political eclecticism of Outremer politics.24

Another was the murder of Raymond II by Assassins in 1152. The Assassins derived from an Isma’ili sect known as the New Preaching founded in north-western Iran in the late eleventh century. Isma’ilis differed from Shi’ites in recognizing the succession of seven instead of twelve imams, heads of the Islamic community, descended from Caliph Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet, murdered in 661. An offshoot of the Persian Isma’ilis based at Alamut near the Caspian Sea, after a blood-chequered career in Aleppo and Damascus, from 1132 the Syrian Assassins established bases in the Nosairi mountains near Tortosa, at once a religious and political community. From 1169 to 1193 they were ruled by Sheikh Rashid al-Din Sinan, known as ‘the Old Man of the Mountains’. The Assassins distinguished themselves from other Islamic sects and religio-political groups by their use of murder as a political weapon, largely to compensate for their lack of military strength. Fear, extortion and impregnable strongholds in the hills secured for the Assassins notoriety and, in the thirteenth century, some political respectability. Although occasionally available to perform others’ dirty work, the Assassins possessed their own idealism, the restoration of radical Isma’ili rule over Islam. Thus their targets tended to be orthodox Sunni Muslims. Their invariable weapon was the dagger. Their nickname, common to Arabic and western sources, derived from the hashish the killers allegedly took before committing what they viewed as a pious act, seeing themselves as religious devotees prepared to face martyrdom for their faith. Raymond II was their first recorded non-Muslim victim, the reasons for his murder unknown. The consequences were severe, leading to another regency, by Raymond’s widow, Hodierna, sister of Queen Melisende and aunt of Baldwin III. The immediate reaction to Raymond’s murder exposed a latent racism in the Franks, who massacred the eastern indigenous population of Tripoli regardless of religion. ‘In this way it was hoped that the perpetrators of the foul deed might be found.’ They were not.25

Despite the success of Nur al-Din of Aleppo in uniting Muslim Syria in the quarter-century before his death in 1174, and Raymond III’s decade in captivity (1164–74), the county maintained its precarious hold on the coast. Yet, unlike Antioch and Jerusalem, it is hard to detect much of a coherent, distinctive political culture. The very existence of the county of Tripoli, by the 1150s a loose association of semi-independent lordships, pointed to the haphazard political structure of Outremer. The creation of four separate principalities, while reflecting their respective histories and local geography, indicated a lack of strategic understanding by most of the western invaders, at least until the successes of Nur al-Din and Saladin concentrated minds. The habit of seeking immediate gratification of ambition, opportunity or claims appeared impervious even to the warnings of events and observers in the 1170s and 1180s. The pattern of building castles augmented the impression of myopia, the emphasis being on individual seigneurial administration rather than frontier defence. Perhaps only the military orders, with possessions in all principalities and fealty to none, acquired the perspective to introduce some strategic planning to their castles and campaigns. Otherwise, unity in Outremer flowed usually from the kings of Jerusalem: Baldwin I imposing a settlement in northern Syria in 1109–11; Baldwin II using the marriages of his daughters – Alice to Bohemund II of Antioch and Hodierna to Raymond II of Tripoli. Dynasticism prevailed. The childless Raymond III was succeeded as count of Tripoli by Bohemund IV of Antioch, Raymond’s mother’s great-great-nephew.


For a kingdom whose adherents regarded it as founded by God, the kingdom of Jerusalem exhibited disappointing fragility and disunity. It was never entirely free from the menace of invasion; civil war erupted or was threatened in 1133–4, 1152, 1182 and 1186. Its rulers, including a bigamist homosexual and another who married a bigamous wife, conspicuously failed to produce healthy male heirs. The dynastic line faltered alarmingly and damagingly. Actively disputed in 1100, 1118, 1163 and 1186, no succession went entirely uncontested, although much the same could be said of twelfth-century England. Only twice in eighty-eight years did son succeed father, in 1143 and 1174. On both occasions the heir was a minor, on the second he proved to be a leper as well. Minors inherited on three occasions. Inevitably, factional jostling and feuding marked the regime, the intimacy of political action in and around the royal court compounded by the small geographical extent of the kingdom and the lack of economic or fiscal necessity for barons to spend time of their estates. Visiting western grandees found the local political scene poisonously rebarbative and introspective.26 Jerusalemites gained a reputation in the west, certainly from the Second Crusade, for shiftiness and decadence, in contrast to Arabic contemporaries, who noted their bellicose nature and lack of personal hygiene. Yet Jerusalem in the twelfth century remained the emotional, political and strategic heart of Outremer. Its ideology infused by militant Christianity; its rulers thoroughly acculturated to the demands of the east, four of them – Baldwin I, II, III and Amalric – marrying Armenian or Greek princesses; its fate an issue for western rulers no less than churchmen, pilgrims, settlers and crusaders, its history was already a matter of epic and legend.27 It says much for the material foundations of the kingdom that this was so.

When Godfrey of Bouillon died in Jerusalem on 18 July 1100, only quick action by his followers prevented the newly installed patriarch, the former papal legate Daimbert of Pisa, from asserting his claims to ecclesiastical rule over the tiny enclave in Judea.28Desperate for military aid, the previous December Godfrey had agreed to be invested with Jerusalem by Damibert, who had just arrived in the Holy City with his ally Bohemund and Baldwin of Edessa to fulfil their vows. Armed with the power of his Pisan entourage and wealth, Daimbert had subsequently forced Godfrey to concede to him ownership of Jerusalem and Jaffa, with the duke retaining only a life interest. The departure of the Pisan fleet and the arrival of a Venetian one strengthened Godfrey’s hand before he died. Afterwards, the fortuitous absence of Daimbert from Jerusalem allowed the duke’s military household to launch a coup d’état, seizing the Citadel and sending urgent messages to Godfrey’s brother, Baldwin of Edessa, to assume the inheritance. On this news, Daimbert and Tancred, fresh from conquering Galilee and Haifa and long an enemy of Baldwin, looked to invite Bohemund to come south, but he had left Antioch to campaign in the north, where he was captured by the Danishmends in August. In the event, Baldwin had to secure Antioch before in October leaving Edessa in the hands of his cousin, Baldwin of Le Bourcq, to march south. Defeating a Damascene army at the Dog river, Baldwin reached Jerusalem in November. With Tancred withdrawing to Galilee, then assuming the regency of Antioch in the new year, Daimbert was compelled to submit. Whereas Godfrey merely continued with his own title of duke and allowed others to describe him as the Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre, with Baldwin, an educated lapsed cleric himself, no equivocation over titles or authority was permitted. On Christmas Day 1100, tactfully perhaps, pointedly certainly, in the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem rather than in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Baldwin was crowned by Daimbert as, in his later phrase, ‘king of the Latins in Jerusalem’.29

Baldwin of Boulogne created the kingdom of Jerusalem. Always a man on the make, the youngest son of Eustace II of Boulogne, originally destined for the church, Baldwin abandoned the cloth in search of secular success, although all his life maintaining a slightly ecclesiastical air in dress and manner.30 Married three times for worldly advancement, once bigamously, he was probably homosexual, one of his more exotic intimates being a converted Muslim who later tried to betray him during the siege of Sidon in 1110. Apparently they were inseparable, even while the king relieved himself.31 Failing to secure a niche in the lucrative Anglo-Norman nobility through his first marriage to Godechilde of Tosni, who died at Marasch in 1097, Baldwin used the First Crusade to better his status. He matched boldness with a single-minded concentration on personal advancement, in Cilicia in 1097, where he enlisted Muslim assistance to get the better of Tancred, and at Edessa in 1098, when he showed no compunction in sacrificing his patron Thoros. His second marriage, to the Armenian Arda, served a similar function to his first, providing Baldwin with a political stake of his own. Summoned to rule Jerusalem, he proved an outstanding military leader and, unlike his somewhat supine brother Godfrey, a cunning, clear-headed politician. Constant aggression towards his neighbours, a policy of strategic conquest, and the firm imposition of royal authority over his lay and ecclesiastical vassals formed the basis of successful kingship. Not even his own chaplain, Fulcher of Chartres, claimed Baldwin was pious, nor did his later eulogists. Instead Baldwin was his people’s ‘shield, strength and support; their right arm; the terror of his enemies’.32

The early years of the reign saw the conquest of the coastal ports interrupted by some desperate defence against Egyptian invasions in 1101 and 1105, on which the survival of the kingdom depended. Damascus, the army of which Baldwin had defeated on his way south in 1100, stood aloof, not wishing to assist a Fatimid reconquest of Palestine. However, as Frankish success increasingly denied them free access to the coast, the Damascenes contested the fortification of Galilee by Baldwin’s vassals and sought allies from Iraq. Between 1109 and 1115, Baldwin’s attention was regularly occupied in the north, in 1109 settling the squabbles between Antioch, Edessa and Tripoli and thereafter providing military assistance against repeated attacks from Mosul. In 1113 Mawdud of Mosul, in alliance with Damascus, attacked Palestine, defeating Baldwin at es-Sinnabra in Galilee but failing to capture any towns or fortresses. Mawdud’s murder by Assassins the same year produced a diplomatic rapprochement with Tughtegin of Damascus, who, as fearful of Seljuk domination as of Fatimid, reckoned the Franks served a useful purpose in balancing power in the region. With northern pressure reduced, Baldwin realized that his kingdom’s security would be enhanced by extending his influence over the Bedouin and the desert trade routes between Egypt and Syria. Twice reconnotring the region south of the Dead Sea in 1100 and 1107, in 1115 and 1116 he imposed Frankish authority east of the Wadi Araba, penetrating to Petra and south to the Gulf of Aqaba. Two castles were built, at Montréal (Shawbak) in Edom and Li Vaux Moise, near Petra, although in the 1140s the centre of what became known as the lordship of Oultrejourdain was transferred north to Kerak in Moab, closer to the eastern shore of the Dead Sea and, on a clear day, within sight of the Mount of Olives. These forts allowed the Franks to tax commerce and the pilgrim traffic on the road from Syria to Mecca and Medina in the Hijaz and to impede hostile militiary activity. However, aggression from Egypt via Ascalon persisted, threatening Jerusalem (in 1113) and Jaffa (in 1115). To counter this, Baldwin led a raid in the Nile in 1118, presumably hoping to coerce the Fatimids into peace. Instead, he fell mortally ill, dying on the return journey at el-Arish on 2 April 1118.

Baldwin I’s achievements were startling. He established a stable kingdom with defined and defensible borders from Beirut to Beersheba and beyond, controlled by a new, coherent political community whose power rested on exploiting existing resources of rural and commercial wealth. If he relied on force of personality and circumstance rather than law or constitutions, his idiom of authority was understood by his followers and clients. However, his career was hardly unique. From the chaos of late eleventh-century Syria, Iraq, Anatolia and Egypt, Baldwin was not alone in carving out a kingdom that survived its creator. Similar events and aptitude plotted the careers of fellow Latins Bohemund and Tancred, the Seljuk Kilij Arslan, the Mosul atabeg Zengi and his son Nur al-Din ofAleppo, and, later, the Kurdish mercenary Saladin. For each, legitimacy derived not from long inheritance or tradition but from military force, the leadership of loyal warbands and the wealth generated by employment, plunder and tribute. They all shared the justification of religion.

In the Near East, determined use of violence, diplomacy and patronage allowed small, often tiny groups, no larger than an extended military household of a few score or hundreds of warriors, to assert authority over large, settled civilian populations largely through control of the economically and politically dominant cities. The structure of Near Eastern society rested on myriad communities, variously defined by religion, culture and ethnicity in town and country. Rural wealth was exploited by absentee landlords who also controlled the commerce that flowed though urban centres. Cities and towns dominated the rural population; military warlords dominated the cities and towns. The Franks were unusual in massacring or expelling urban populations, a habit that ceased after the capture of Sidon in 1110. Yet the importance of cities to the political economy was well understood. Baldwin I and II made strenuous efforts to attract local Christians to Jerusalem. Frankish authorities tolerated racial and religious diversity in the great ports of Acre, Tyre or Tripoli. Baldwin I’s kingdom, like those of Tughtegin at Damascus or Kerbogha at Mosul, revolved around personal loyalty of a well-rewarded inner circle into whose hands power and wealth were bestowed; successful war and diplomacy; and the ready exploitation of the economy of the indigenous population. A characteristic feature of Muslim Near Eastern patronage was the grant of an iqta, an assignment of revenues from designated land, not its ownership. In Latin Palestine the equivalents were grants of rents and money-fiefs. While Baldwin’s conquest of Palestine found parallels in Robert Guiscard’s in southern Italy, Rodrigo Diaz’s in Valencia or even William the Bastard’s in England, it chiefly mirrored local conditions. While inevitably employing western language, customs and mentalities, Baldwin acted as a Levantine potentate. The contrast found visible expression in the mourners following his funeral bier as it wound its way up the Valley of Josaphat to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 1118. Grieving beside Baldwin’s shocked protége, the corrupt old stager Patriarch Arnulf, and the Latin community were Syrian Christians and passing Muslims.33

The main legacies bequeathed by Baldwin I to his cousin Baldwin II included tight control over the disposal of lordships and fiefs; mastery of the church of a sort frowned upon in fashionable circles in the west; an understanding of the importance of maintaining the diplomatic balance between Aleppo, Damascus and Egypt; and practical over-lordship and protection over the northern territories. Military generalship remained fundamental to a royal power that rested at the heart of the legal and political structure. Modified over time and reduced by dynastic failure and faction, the essence of Baldwin I’s system of royal hegemony survived until 1187.

Behind the territorial conquests, the king created fiefs for his leading vassals, including the lordships of Caesarea, Arsur, Sidon, Jaffa, Hebron and Oultrejourdain. Fealty and homage were insisted on from the princes of Galilee after Tancred’s show of independence under Duke Godfrey. Jerusalem was one frontier where private enterprise operated only within a clear hierarchical system centred on the crown, which retained its ability to manipulate the structure and disposition of the major fiefs in the kingdom.34The kings kept as their domain Judea and Samaria (with the centres of Jerusalem and Nablus) and the vastly lucrative lordships of Acre (1104) and Tyre (1124). In their domain, as the great lords in theirs, the king exercised jurisdiction through viscounts and collected or farmed taxes on trade and industry (e.g. sugar production), as well as the poll tax on Muslims. Formal relations with his tenants-in-chief, major vassals holding lands directly from the king, were conducted in the High Court (Haute Cour) attended also by leading ecclesiastics, including the heads of the military orders, and the occasional grand visiting crusader. By the reign of Amalric, the assise sur la ligece provided for rear-vassals (i.e. vassals of the king’s vassals) to swear oaths of direct liege-homage to the king, thus, in theory, opening access to the Haute Cour to them and their litigation. Amalric also claimed the right to oaths of fealty from freemen. The desire for direct relations between the crown and free tenants finds an echo in the contemporary legal reforms of Amalric’s nephew, Henry II of England. However, effective legal authority, in England or Jerusalem, depended on material wealth. Apart from income derived from his domain, the king enjoyed the profits of coining, customs and tolls in his ports, tribute from the Bedouin, highway dues, and the right of wreck. Special taxes for war and defence were agreed by the Haute Cour or wider assemblies in 1167 and 1183, perhaps a sign that ordinary revenues were being over-stretched, a phenomenon that may explain why, increasingly, secular lords passed lands to the church and the military orders. Baldwin I’s successors, despite concessions agreed at the Council of Nablus in 1120s, asserted a de facto control over appointments to the episcopacy and the masterships of the military orders.

However, royal power was neither autocratic nor absolute. Baldwin I’s pious but equally energetic successor, Baldwin II, sustained his authority at a price. Formal complaints about his regency in Antioch in 1119 were voiced by the Jerusalem nobility. At the Council of Nablus in 1120, the king and secular lords relinquished control over ecclesiastical tithes and accepted a range of penalties for breaches of the law, sexual misconduct and miscegenation. By the end of his reign, the royal habit of disposing of the inheritance of fiefs at will rather than by customary rules had begun to give way to a presumption of hereditary succession, often, given the rapid extinction rates of families in the direct male line, widely interpreted. Nonetheless the crown retained considerable authority. The cohesion of the kingdom survived Baldwin II’s captivity in Aleppo (1123–4), affairs being conducted by his constable and the patriarch, including the important capture of Tyre. More generally, moves towards seigneurial hereditary succession were to be expected in the generation after the initial conquest: England after 1066 and Sicily after 1092 provided parallels. Confiscations continued for contumacious malcontents. At no time before the fall of the kingdom in 1187 were kings unable to interfere in the composition and structure of fiefs or in the disposition of unmarried heiresses. So far from consolidating territorial or jurisdictional power, many of the chief vassals – perhaps fewer that a dozen families – subdivided their fiefs or granted stretches of them to religious houses or military orders. Legally, Baldwin II managed to insist on the penalty of confiscation for prescribed offences against his rights and position both as feudal overlord and king (theEstablissment dou roi Baudoin), although it is uncertain whether conviction and punishment lay with the king or trial in the Haute Cour. In practice, it probably made little difference as no monarch could proceed without the support of his barons. In 1133/4 Hugh count of Jaffa rebelled against King Fulk. By refusing to appear to answer in court charges and then inviting armed help from the Muslim garrison at Ascalon, Hugh’s treason was not in doubt, even to his own vassals. Yet, instead of having his fiefs confiscated, he was exiled for three years with the promise of subsequent restoration of his property. Politics, in this case Fulk’s unpopularity and baronial sympathy for Hugh, prevailed over law.35

The case of Hugh of Jaffa arose as a consequence of the personal and dynastic, not constitutional, consequences of kingship. The main weakness of the regime created by Baldwin I lay in the chance circumstances of succession, which would have undermined any Latin monarchy of the time. Baldwin I left no children. He had repudiated his second wife, possibly on the spurious grounds of her having been raped by a Muslim. His bigamous marriage to Adelisa of Sicily (1113–16), which had offered the prospect of a Sicilian succession, ended in divorce and a promise from Baldwin to his barons not to remarry. On his death in 1118, a powerful faction in his household invited Baldwin’s elder brother, Eustace of Boulogne, to succeed but, by the time he reached Italy, news came that a rival group had installed Baldwin of Le Bourcq as king. Even so, Baldwin II’s position was only formally recognized in 1119 by coronation at Bethlehem. Pons of Tripoli had to be forced to acknowledge his overlordship in 1122. During Baldwin II’s captivity (1123–4), supporters of the house of Boulogne toyed with replacing him with Charles count of Flanders. As late as 1128, the pope had to declare Baldwin’s legitimacy.36

Happily married, Baldwin II fathered only daughters. To secure his dynasty, he arranged for the eldest, Melisende, to marry Fulk V count of Anjou. A veteran pilgrim from 1120, Fulk arrived in Jerusalem in 1129 possessed of very grand western connections. In 1128, he had arranged the marriage of his son Geoffrey to Matilda, only surviving legitimate child and heiress of Henry I of England and his Anglo-French dominions. Henry’s interest in the east was further demonstrated when a member of his household, Raymond of Poitiers, was recruited as prince of Antioch in 1133 (although he only reached Syria in 1136). As with Henry I’s dispositions for his throne, Baldwin insisted on the rights of his daughter to the succession. However, Fulk expected to become king. In 1131, on his deathbed, Baldwin II complicated matters further by associating his infant grandson, later Baldwin III, as well as Melisende and Fulk in the succession, again echoing Henry I’s insistence on the ultimate inheritance by his grandson, the future Henry II. As in 1118, dynastic interests created political feuds, the rights of Melisende becoming identified with those of the existing baronage resentful of the parvenu Fulk. Relations cannot have been eased by Fulk’s genuine or affected amnesia for people’s names or faces, even among his household and protégés, a distinctly unsettling trait, deliberate or not, in a political universe revolving round personal contact and favour.37

Given the lack of male heirs, the dynastic issue mattered. In 1118, a western stranger was almost imposed on Jerusalem. It occurred in Tripoli in 1109 and Antioch in 1136. In 1131, the Angevin connection in Jerusalem proved double-edged. While securing immediate stability, potentially it provided claims for Fulk’s European heirs, who also happened to be the ruling dynasty of the greatest empire in western Europe. The circumstances of 1118 and 1131 in fact left a number of other western ruling families – such as Boulogne, Blois and Flanders – with dynastic interests in the east, especially as Melisende’s succession had confirmed the cognatic principle of inheritance (the rights of any relative, male or female, to inherit, not just males in the male line). The protection of Baldwin’s dynasty exerted a powerful influence. It was of practical as well as symbolic importance that, as was later reported, Melisende was crowned and consecrated beside Fulk in 1131, now in the church of the Holy Sepulchre not, as previously, in Bethlehem.38Patronage was at stake as much as who ruled. Baldwin II’s accession in 1118 and his regime can be seen as depending on a close family nexus of his own kin, whose power the invitation to Fulk was designed to protect by excluding existing rivals. Fulk’s subsequent confrontation with Hugh of Jaffa, prominent in Baldwin II’s own Rethel/Montlhéry family mafia, reflected his desire for independence and his own men, thereby challenging the vested interests of Hugh and Melisende’s other relatives.39 Despite exiling Hugh, Fulk was forced to share authority with Melisende, as Baldwin II intended.

Although this ensured a smooth inheritance for Baldwin III on his father’s death in 1143, another victim of the medieval nobleman’s obsession with hunting, Melisende’s autonomous power created further tensions. In contrast with the unconsecrated Matilda of England, who relinquished her claims on her son’s majority, Queen Melisende continued to insist on her rights long after Baldwin III was old enough to wield power. His mother built up her own administration and support, including her cousin Manasses of Hierges, constable since 1143, and her second son Amalric. It took Baldwin’s victory in a civil war in 1152 to save the integrity of the kingdom.

Factional instability, punctuated by political assassination, continued. Baldwin III died young, without children, in 1163. His brother Amalric succeeded only after putting aside a possibly bigamous marriage. His descendants loaded the rules of inheritance to breaking. Baldwin IV was a leper; his nephew Baldwin V a sickly child of nine; his sister Sybil married an unpopular foreigner, Guy of Lusignan, whom she spatchcocked into the kingship in a manner wholly unlike Baldwin II’s careful arrangements. Only in extremis, in 1184–5, with the leper king dying, his child-heir weak, his sister and brother-in-law in disgrace and his more distant eastern relatives eyeing up the royal prize lasciviously, did some in Jerusalem appear willing to contemplate a change of dynasty.40 The tenacity with which the ailing royal line of Jerusalem clung to power and respect owed much to the baronage. In 1163, while forcing Amalric to annul his marriage to Agnes of Courtenay, publicly on the grounds of consanguinity but probably because she was a bigamist, the barons and prelates illogically confirmed their children as legitimate. The alternatives – the European Angevin sons of Henry II of England, the count of Flanders, great-nephew of Baldwin I and Godfrey of Bouillon, or, more credibly, the descendants of Queen Melisende’s sisters, Raymond III of Tripoli or Bohemund III of Antioch – offered greater prospects of untoward intrusion into the familiar political round. After all, the Jerusalem barons could describe Amalric, a former count of Jaffa-Ascalon, as ‘one of us’.

The sleaziness of Jerusalem politics was not new, with leading politicians subject to accusations of sexual impropriety and risking the murderer’s knife; Hugh of Jaffa survived in 1134; the unscrupulous Miles of Plancy, accused of usurping power in the early days of the minor Baldwin IV, was not so lucky in 1174. To support this crumbling edifice, a redeeming myth of the special moral virtue of the dynasty appeared. The 1180s Historia of William of Tyre, Jerusalem-born, protégé of Amalric I, tutor to Baldwin IV, who may well have seen King Fulk in person, promoted an image of an almost sacred dynasty descended from the saintly Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin I and Baldwin II, the unimpeachable veterans of the First Crusade.41 By a sleight of literary skill, William argued for the legitimacy of Baldwin II’s succession even while admitting it breached immutable laws of inheritance. Their descent from Baldwin II was central to William’s portrayal of the later kings. Melisende, who transmitted Baldwin’s blood to her successors, assumed a pivotal position. Instead of the disruptive, ambitious and, some might argue, graspingly selfish, unsuccessful political menace of history, Melisende emerged from William’s obituary of her as ruling wisely with her husband and son, a fount of active wisdom. As a dynastic progenitor, Fulk receded into oblivion, along with his awkwardly powerful (and healthy) western relatives. Fittingly, the carved ivory cover of the famous psalter probably written for Melisende in Jerusalem c.1135 shows scenes of the life of King David, the model of divinely inspired monarchy and of kings in the Holy City.42

All political systems require defining ideas to provide identity and purpose, whether related to reality or not. The ideology of kingship in Jerusalem centred on the person of the king, as the monarchy had been an almost parthenogenic creation. In practice the result of political opportunism and military conquest, in description the consequence of especial divine favour, the Jerusalem kingship existed without any prior tradition or contemporary authority outside the practical choices of worried men in Jerusalem in 1099 and 1100. Only subsequently did the papacy acknowledge its existence. The monarchy’s survival and flourishing supplied its own legitimacy, a unique status among the new Christian monarchies of the time, all the rest of which sought the imprimatur of popes or emperors, from Hungary and Poland in the tenth and eleventh centuries to Armenia and Cyprus in the twelfth. Politically, legally and militarily, the importance of the kingship, if only to legitimize the ambitions of the baronage, remained conspicuous.

The way Baldwin IV, who died in 1185 aged only twenty-four, was portrayed by his old tutor William of Tyre reinforces this image. William’s Baldwin overcame his leprosy to provide vigorous political and military leadership almost to the end of his life of a quality that would have been admirable in a ruler of maturity and health. William wrote of Baldwin’s effective dealings with his nobles and household and of his battlefield leadership, even when carried in a litter. The portrait was unashamedly and deliberately heroic, perhaps to counter the damaging conclusions of those who saw in the king’s leprosy, in Pope Alexander III’s pointed words, ‘a just judgement of God’.43 Yet the truth was almost certainly less glamorous. Throughout the reign administration and military command were delegated. Baldwin undoubtedly appeared in council chamber and battle. Yet his disease prevented him from fighting, his experiences of horses bolting under him and being carried on a soldier’s back or in a litter suggesting his presence in counciland war, though astonishingly courageous, physically humiliating and painful, was iconic rather than active. Even William of Tyre admitted that some of Baldwin’s most fateful decisions were due to the influence on a sick man of his mother, Agnes, and her brother, Joscelin III, titular count of Edessa and seneschal of Jerusalem.44 The king was necessary to the cohesion of the political process. Repeatedly Baldwin’s attempts to retire failed as successive schemes for regents or replacements foundered. The king was indispensable even if only as a tragic figurehead.

The reign of Baldwin IV demonstrated how the polity of Latin Jerusalem had developed since the desperate pioneer days of 1099–1102. Kings were still expected to be great warriors. Guy of Lusignan’s failure to engage Saladin in 1183 cost him the regency.45However, by then the kingship no longer comprised the qualities of a bandit chief. Although politics not law determined relations between monarch and baron, these relations were increasingly described in legislative acts such as the assise sur la ligece. In common with the rest of western Christendom, royal, seigneurial and ecclesiastical administration adopted an increasingly bureaucratic mode, as in the use of written charters to record property transactions, even if the Jerusalem royal chancery remained relatively rudimentary, especially in comparison with contemporary western practices. The baronage of the kingdom assumed greater corporate identity whilst at the same time finding it harder to sustain its territorial power intact as fiefs were subdivided, partitioned, granted away or sold off. One excuse for the bitter court feuding of the 1170s and 1180s lay in the authority and patronage of the crown, not its decadence; there was something to fight for. The kingdom was not falling apart, even if a decline in resources forced the crown to appeal for a war tax in 1183. Yet this tax was granted by a national, representative assembly and conducted after a national census, indications of institutional sophistication.46 Above all sat an ideology of rule forged from the regime’s definition of itself as a garrison state protecting the Holy Places, in trust for Christendom.

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