JERUSALEM, ASCALON, ACRE, AND BETHANY, 1150–1161 Part I

Melisende

The failure of the Second Crusade was demoralizing for everyone involved. In its wake the Europeans searched for someone on whom to fix the blame. Some said that a traitor had been bribed to encourage the armies to attack at the wrong place. Others said that Raymond of Antioch, angry that Louis hadn’t agreed to his plans, had used his influence to cause the disaster. Bernard of Clairvaux was castigated for preaching the crusade; his reputation never recovered completely. As the news of the disaster spread west, the rumors grew. Many believed that it was the sinful behavior of the participants that caused their downfall. Conrad blamed the Jerusalemites. Gerhoh of Reichersberg was certain that all had been led astray by the Devil. None of these allegations were backed up with facts.

It didn’t help that a much less prestigious Christian army had invaded the Spanish peninsula and taken the city of Lisbon from the Moors. Their feat was celebrated in the West as the Reconquista of Spain continued. This made the contrast to the failure in the East all the more striking.

Before everyone left the Holy Land for Europe, Baldwin III made an attempt to convince the Crusaders to try again. This time they would attack Ascalon he insisted. He knew it would work. But no one was willing to make the attempt. The young king did not have the military prestige of his father and grandfather.

Although Melisende was at the council at Acre, we don’t know if she agreed with the decision to attack Damascus. Her father had tried more than once to take it and settled for tribute and truce. Of all the unconquered Muslim cities, it was the one that had always been most willing to compromise and arrange treaties with the Latins. But it was also a tempting prize. Whether she was for or against the attack, she was never accused of being part of any plot to thwart the crusaders.

The Muslims were cheered by the fact that the rulers of Europe were unable to defeat them, but this didn’t change the political dynamics of the region as much as some may have thought. The main result of the Second Crusade was that Nur ad-Din gained more influence in the region and, eventually, he was able to absorb Damascus into his lands.

The real disaster was the reaction of the faithful in Europe. The story of the failures and infighting among the leaders of the crusade disgusted many who might have donated to the cause or come to fight. Writing thirty years later, William of Tyre notes that fewer pilgrims of any sort came to Jerusalem even in his time, and “those who do come fear lest they be caught in the same toils [as the armies of Louis and Conrad] and hence make as short a stay as possible.”

In terms of manpower and funds for arms, the Latin States had always been dependent on frequent infusions from the West. Despite this uncertain support, the Franks continued to attempt to expand their power. But the attack on Damascus had triggered something that had been growing by fits and starts among the Muslims for several years. The opposing Sunni and Shi’ite sects and feuding families began to form serious non-aggression pacts and, even more, promises of mutual aid. So when, in June 1149, Raymond of Antioch set out to lay siege to the Aleppan fortress of Neva, Nur ad-Din wrote Damascus for help. The emir, Anar, was busy arranging for grain from the area to be brought for storage in Damascus, but he sent a battle-hardened lieutenant and army at once. It seems to have been enough to keep the emir of Aleppo content.

Raymond of Antioch may have made too many enemies among his own people, or, as William suggests, “he was a man of undaunted and impetuous courage who allowed himself to be ruled by the advice of no one in matters of this kind.” He didn’t bring enough soldiers to accomplish his mission and didn’t bother asking any of the other lords for help. Raymond and his outnumbered army met Nur ad-Din and the armies of Aleppo and Damascus on June 29, 1149. The Antiochenes were routed. Raymond was killed and his head and right arm sent to Baghdad as trophies. Antioch was once more left with a young woman and minor child in authority.

Raymond may have had character flaws, but his military reputation was impressive. Far away in England, William of Newburgh had heard of his valor and had a fond memory of hearing tales of his exploits from a monk who had once been in Raymond’s service.

Unlike her mother, Constance was the reigning princess. She was barely into her twenties and had already produced four children, two girls and two boys. After Raymond’s defeat, Nur ad-Din advanced to Antioch, camping outside the gates in the hope of starving them out. Constance had few defenders of the city since most of the forces of Antioch had gone with Raymond. It’s not certain how many soldiers returned, but not enough. She sent messengers to her aunt and cousin in Jerusalem asking for help. In the meantime, she organized the people to keep the enemy from breaking into the city.

Meanwhile Nur ad-Din scoured the area around Antioch and went as far as the sea, which he had never seen before. He raided monasteries and fortresses, gathering booty to pay his army and provisions to keep them during a siege of Antioch.

Constance and the Latin Patriarch Aimery, as well as most of the townspeople, prepared to defend the city, although they also sent offers of treasure to bribe Nur ad-Din to retreat to Aleppo and leave them in peace. Constance knew well what measures to take to save her city.

When he received word of Raymond’s death, King Baldwin III was called upon to go up to Antioch as his father and grandfather had done, to sort things out. But the young king wasn’t made of the same stuff. He did what he could, gathering what men he had available, and headed up to Antioch. In an effort to encourage the people of the city to take heart, Baldwin laid siege to the nearby Muslim fortress of Harim, hoping to draw Nur ad-Din from Antioch. But, “after spending several days there without success, he gave up and returned to Antioch.” Nur ad-Din eventually lifted the siege once he felt that he had depleted their supplies and will power, satisfied that he had crippled his nearest enemy. Antioch would not pose a threat to Aleppo for years.

It’s not clear if Baldwin assumed any formal authority in Antioch. William says that he “remained at Antioch until affairs were reduced to order as far as time and place permitted.” Constance, with the help of the citizens of Antioch, then took over governing the principality, but they were still very short of manpower.

Another casualty of Raymond’s death was Jocelyn II, former count of Edessa. The prince of Antioch would have been pleased that his old nemesis suffered as a result of his downfall. Upon learning of Raymond’s defeat, the sultan of Iconium, north of Edessa, decided to take advantage of the confusion and attack Jocelyn’s home of Tel Bashir, which he still held. In response to Jocelyn’s call for help, Baldwin, busy at Antioch, sent his constable, Humphrey of Toron, to assess the military needs there.

This action shows the first major crack in the joint rule of Melisende and her son. Manasses of Hierges was still Melisende’s constable in Jerusalem, but it appears that Baldwin was spending more time in Acre, setting up a rival court, which he took with him to Antioch. Now nearly twenty, the young king was tired of ruling only with his mother’s consent. But the defeat at Damascus and the young king’s failure in subsequent endeavors had not allowed him to gain the support he needed to take over on his own.

Since not enough help was forthcoming, Jocelyn managed to pay off the sultan with suits of armor and the return of prisoners taken in one raid or another. Afterward, the count went to Antioch to thank Baldwin personally for sending Humphrey and perhaps to see if his experience was needed in protecting the principality. Baldwin and Constance turned down his offer.

On his way home, Jocelyn was captured by Nur ad-Din’s men. Ibn al-Athir says that he was out hunting and a local Turkomen took him prisoner, knowing that Nur ad-Din would pay a high price for him.13 Michael the Syrian says that God caused a tree to grow where there had never been one before so that Jocelyn fell over the roots and was captured for his many sins. William, who disliked Jocelyn more than either of the others did, tells us that he was taken when he “turned aside to relieve the needs of nature.”

Taken to Aleppo in chains, Jocelyn eventually died in prison. His wife, Beatrice, was left to hold Tel Bashir as best she could, “far beyond the strength of a woman, she busied herself in strengthening the fortresses of the land and supplying them with arms, men and food.” Eventually, she would be forced to sell her estates to the Greeks in return for a pension to support herself and her children.

William laments the fact that the two remaining Latin States in the north were now under the control of women, “in punishment for our sins.”

Edessa was lost but in Antioch the archbishop, Aimery, took charge of the military, using his own money to pay mercenaries and to feed the regular guards until Nur ad-Din decamped. Constance assumed the civil power and governed with no known complaint from the Antiochenes.

Once things were less chaotic, the threat from Nur ad-Din over and daily life back to normal, the next important task was to find a new husband for Constance. Baldwin III and his counselors felt that it was essential to select someone who could defend the territory as well as remain loyal to the king, unlike too many of the other men who had controlled the principality. The emperor Manuel also felt he had a stake in whom the next prince would be. Since Raymond had been forced to submit to Manuel’s suzerainty to avoid invasion, Antioch was technically a vassal state of the Byzantine Empire.

They forgot that Constance was no longer a child and had ideas of her own.

The Assisses of Jerusalem, laws compiled in the thirteenth century but based on early customs, have a section that is unique. There is no parallel in Western Europe, Byzantium, or the Muslim world. I believe that it grew from the abundance of women in the Latin States who were in charge by default. It also may have had something to do with the number of them who refused to be treated as marriage pawns. This law states that an heiress must be offered three choices of a husband by the king. If none appeal to her, then the king must find three more men. If she refuses them all, she is allowed to choose her own husband.

That is just what Constance did. The king chose three men that he knew would be loyal to him: Ives de Nesle, Walter of Falkenberg, and Ralph de Merle.19 She turned them all down. The Emperor Manuel sent a certain John Roger to Antioch to marry Constance. She took one look at him and announced that he was too old. Poor John Roger returned to Constantinople and entered a monastery.

“The princess dreaded the yoke of marriage and preferred a free and independent life,” William of Tyre said with scorn. He believed that she was shirking her responsibilities, but I certainly don’t blame her. She had already been cast upon the altar of duty once. Like her mother and aunt, Constance may have been confident in her own ability to make decisions. No outside lord could understand her principality as well as she. Her first charter, made at Latakia, undid a gift her mother had unjustly made to Guarner of Burgo of land that belonged to Ralph Boer. Unfortunately, Guarner’s children had already sold the land to the Hospitallers. Constance, “who had the jurisdiction of this land,” decided how the case should be settled and “confirmed it with the seal of the principate.”

That doesn’t sound as if Constance was living a “free and independent life.” It sounds as if she was attending to her responsibilities as princess of Antioch.

Nevertheless, her cousin Baldwin and many others felt that she needed a man. The king called a council that met in Tripoli in 1150. Melisende attended, although by then there was an open break between her and her elder son. They had set up separate chanceries and were each issuing their own charters.

Aimery, Patriarch of Antioch, came to the council along with many other church officials. How he felt about Constance remaining single isn’t known, but a new prince would reduce the current power that the Patriarch was wielding. The assembly had many pressing matters to discuss, including Baldwin’s desire to invade the territory of the Fatimids and capture Ascalon. But the main goal of the meeting was to force Constance to come to a marriage decision. Jerusalem couldn’t concentrate on southern expansion if the northern border state of Antioch had no able military leader.

Constance held firm. “Neither the king, nor the . . . queen nor the countess of Tripoli, her two aunts, was able to induce her to yield and thus provide for herself and her land.” Brava Constance!

It’s possible that neither Melisende nor Hodierna tried very hard to make their niece marry against her will. Neither of them had found much joy in marriage, Hodierna was at that time at the point of leaving her husband, Raymond of Tripoli.

The council broke up, chagrined at the young princess and at a loss as to what to do next. Constance went back to Antioch. If she remarried, the choice would be hers. In 1153, she married a charming newcomer who had fought with Baldwin III. His name was Reynaud de Chatillon. He seems to have been disliked by most of the men he knew but women adored him.

After the council, Hodierna refused to stay any longer in Tripoli with her husband. No one seems to know what had happened between the couple. I’ve found no account that says what Raymond might have done. Hodierna would have known from the women around her that a husband’s adultery was not cause for a wife to leave. My guess is that it might have something to do with the ferocity that Raymond showed after his father, Pons, died. He may have had a temper that was let loose on his wife and children as well as Syrian villagers. But that’s only a guess. Melisende seems to have reconciled the pair somewhat, but it was decided that Hodierna would benefit from an extended time away from her husband. Raymond apparently made no effort to keep his wife in Tripoli.

Melisende offered to let Hodierna come live with her in Jerusalem. The count either rode with them for a while and turned back home or was out on another task. The two women were still on the road when a messenger raced after them with the news that Count Raymond of Tripoli had been murdered by a party of Assassins at the Tripoli city gates as he was returning with two friends, who died with him. This unexpected tragedy brought about a torrent of xenophobia in Tripoli, in which mobs of Franks “without discrimination put to the sword all those who were found to differ in language or dress from the Latins.”

SHARAN NEWMAN

 

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