Ancient history

Baldwin IV. the leper king

And it is false for several reasons. Firstly, because the fact that Balduino IV (reg. 1174-85) was a leper does not mean that he was incapable, or that his generals were. As for Saladin , we must remember that he had to sustain 30 years of constant wars to strengthen his power and create the necessary conditions for victory. The politics of the period are sometimes a bit complex and confusing, but it shows how well balanced the conflicting forces were, and allows us to see that, despite the king's terrible illness, for much of his reign over the The Franks [NEO:Muslim name for the Crusader states] posed a real threat to Saladin.

The beginnings of his reign

Baldwin IV was crowned King of Jerusalem on July 15, 1174, on the 75th anniversary of the conquest of the Holy City (see Desperta Ferro Antigua y Medieval nº. 20 :The First Crusade). His parents were Amalaric and Inés de Courtenay, a controversial relationship since it seems that she could have already been married, or at least betrothed, to Balián de Ibelín, a powerful nobleman. Amalric consciously ignored such compromises and had two children by her, although at the time of her brother Baldwin III succeeding to the throne in 1162, he had to renounce her marriage to Agnes. However, under the terms of the agreement, his sons Baldwin and Sibyl were considered legitimate and therefore possible heirs to the throne. But, despite the legal arrangements, this was not the best way for Baldwin IV to begin his reign in the Holy City when his father died in 1174. Being still a minor, only thirteen years old, he required a regent during the first years of his reign, a role that was played most of the time by Count Raymond III of Tripoli , the closest relative of Baldwin present in the Holy Land.

As Baldwin reached puberty, his illness only worsened. The bacterium causes inflammation and damage to the nerves and skin that leads to muscle weakness, numbness (symptoms described by his tutor, Guillermo de Tiro, who indicated that the boy did not suffer any pain after having fought with other children) and inability to sweat. The disease also causes wounds and ulcers, whose infection can destroy the bones, generally of the hands and feet, all of which in turn causes deformities. Over time the king's illness progressed:he lost his sight and the bacteria destroyed his nose. In such a trance it was evident that he had to look for a husband for his sister, Sibila , a decision of great importance considering that the chosen person would immediately become regent and successor to Baldwin.

In 1176 Raymond and the Jerusalem rulers pinpointed the perfect candidate, probably the most distinguished figure ever offered the hand of an heiress in the Levant. William of Montferrat (nicknamed Longaspata or "Long Sword"), son of the count of Montferrato (near Turin, Italy) came from a family of crusaders and was also related to the kings of France and Germany. He arrived in the Levant in October 1176 and married Sibyl almost immediately. Thus it seemed that, in the event that Baldwin died or became incapacitated, his succession to him was guaranteed . In July 1176, at the age of 15, Baldwin IV came of age, ending the regency of Raymond of Tripoli.

First confrontations with Saladin

To understand the reign of Baldwin IV we must also consider the situation in the Muslim world, for although the Franks had lost their king Amalric in the summer of 1174, only a A couple of months before, the Muslims had lost their great leader Nur al-Din . His death caused the political fragmentation of the Islamic world and broke the coalition between Egypt, Syria and Al-Jazeera (Upper Mesopotamia) that had been so carefully established. A Muslim author recounted that "confusion, discord and anarchy reign everywhere." However, thirteen years later the Holy City fell to Saladin. After Nur al-Din's death in May 1174, conflict broke out between his successors and Saladin, who proclaimed himself the true successor to Nur al-Din's legacy. He consolidated his authority in Egypt and, in October 1174, took control of Damascus and declared himself champion of Sunni orthodoxy. In the two years that follow he went from consolidating his power in Egypt and Syria to facing the Franks and their Muslim opponents in the north.

Saladin is famous for his magnanimity , and while his actions in Jerusalem in 1187 are well known, when his previous record is analyzed it becomes clear that he often preferred to spare the lives of the vanquished (often Muslims) in order to maintain continuity in rule and prevent future hostilities. .

In the summer of 1177 William Longsword died, with his pregnant wife Sibyl. When Baldwin fell ill again, the need to elect a new regent became evident, which led to the appearance of another highly relevant figure:Reinald of Châtillon , former prince of Antioch, who by this time also ruled in the strategically vital area of ​​Transjordan, the territory that divided the Muslim areas of Damascus and Egypt. Reinaldo was an extraordinary personality, capable of great cruelty but also of surviving a 15-year captivity at Muslim hands.

Meanwhile, Saladin was desperate to prove that he was the best candidate to lead the Muslim East. In November 1177 his hosts advanced and confidently crossed in front of Ashkelon, but at the height of Montgisard, near Ibelin, they were surprised by a small Frankish contingent led by Prince Reinaldo and, despite his illness, the King Baldwin. His participation in this campaign demonstrated the courage he put into fulfilling his role as sovereign. The Muslim army was put to flight and Saladin narrowly escaped. Many of his men were killed or taken prisoner, although the Franks themselves also suffered heavy casualties, which according to the chronicles amounted to 750 wounded who had to be taken to the hospital. the Hospitaller Order] of Jerusalem. Despite this, the great victory at Montgisard It was a great achievement for the young king. It was much flaunted in Europe, which, ironically, may have contributed to giving the false impression that the Franks' position was more secure than it really was, and thus disregarding their future calls for help.

As for Saladin, the events at Montgisard were a major setback. It is easy for us to think of Saladin only as the victor over Hattin and the conqueror of Jerusalem, but history tends to forget or overlook the terrible difficulties he went through earlier. The news of this defeat was initially hidden from the Egyptian people, such was its seriousness; and he certainly put Saladin on the defensive. The battle also showed that the forces of Damascus and Egypt were insufficient to defeat the Franks and their sick king.

Jacob's Valley

Encouraged by their victory at Montgisard, in the fall of 1178 the Christians took a very risky step:they began to erect a castle at Jacob's ford , on the Jordan River. The construction of this fortress, 55 km from Damascus, represented a clear threat to the Muslims. The fortification was designed on a large scale and with a huge budget. Demonstrating, once again, efficiency and leadership, Baldwin spent several months in the castle in the fall of 1178 and the spring of 1179. The intention was that the Templars would garrison it with 80 knights (not a small number) along with another 900 combatants. To counter this, Saladin repeatedly tried to bribe the Franks, even offering to reimburse the expenses of the project, but to no avail. It is evident that, after Montgisard's humiliation, Saladin felt gravely threatened. Fighting was the only solution.

In June he launched a full-scale assault on the fortress and five days later – before Baldwin arrived with a rescue army – the castle succumbed . The defenders were captured and the Templars and archers executed. The remains of five crusaders have been discovered in modern excavations of the castle. Several show multiple arrowheads lodged in their bones; one of them suffered the amputation of his arm just above the elbow –coinciding with the limit of his chain mail–, the amputation of the lower left half of the jaw, three arrow wounds in the neck and, finally, a traumatic wound that he severed his skull. Another of them shows an arrow in the pelvis that could have severed his artery and caused him to bleed to death. Such gruesome forensic details reveal the brutality of the war to an extent that literary descriptions are unable to reach; although of course we do not intend with this to deny that the same thing happens in modern combat. In any case, in the year 1179, Saladin could not exploit this victory because an epidemic broke out in his army, and he had to return to Syria.

Unrest in the realm

In the spring of 1180 the Kingdom of Jerusalem was in a state of great turmoil. Two years earlier Sibylla had given birth to Baldwin, the posthumous son of William Longsword. Once his period of mourning was over, he had to marry again. On this occasion Duke Hugo III of Burgundy was chosen, a nephew of the queen of France who in 1171 had visited the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, in 1180 he had not yet left for the Levant. In the meantime Raymond of Tripoli made his appearance in Jerusalem. King Baudouin was in a moment of great weakness due to his illness and it seems evident that he felt gravely threatened, perhaps even fearful of his dethronement and marriage of Sibyl to his former admirer and supporter of Raymond, Balian of Ibelin. . Encouraged by his mother, Agnes of Courtenay, and his uncle Joscelin (former Count of Edessa), the king moved quickly to try to retain his authority. Thus, Sibyl was married to Guido de Lusignan , whose presence in the kingdom was very recent, although her brother, Aimerio, was the royal constable [NdE:title corresponding to the general commander of the army of the kingdom]. Guido and Sibyl were married in Holy Week 1180, something totally unheard of. The key was, in this case, Baldwin's rejection of the candidate Count Raymond, a fact that led to the breakdown of consensus among the ruling families of the kingdom.

Hawks and doves

Other historians, such as Runciman, tended to treat this episode as a fight between “hawks” and “doves”. The doves would be the native barons who preferred peace with the Muslims, including Raymond of Tripoli, the Ibelin family, and Archbishop William of Tyre. The hawks (also known as the court faction) would be, on the contrary, newcomers and with a much more aggressive desire, among them Guido, Reinaldo de Châtillon, the mother of Baldwin (Inés) and Gerard de Ridefort, the master of the Templars. The historian Edbury, however, has shown the inconsistency of this interpretation. For example, on occasions, the pigeons staged aggressive acts and the falcons negotiated truces. The faction of newcomers included people like Agnes and Joscelin, who came from families settled in the Levant since the First Crusade. Actually, the correct division should be between Baldwin's maternal line (Ines) and his paternal line (his cousins, Raymond and Bohemond III).

Be that as it may, by the early 1180s the balance of power was shifting . William of Tire wrote:“a truce both on land and sea, for foreigners and locals, was agreed upon and confirmed by an exchange of oaths between both factions. The conditions were somewhat humiliating for us, since the agreement was reached on equal terms, without significant advantages for us, which is something that they say had never happened before”. In other words, that the Franks were treated as equals (in the eyes of William of Tyre), which meant lowering them from their position of pre-eminence that they had enjoyed to date. Meanwhile, on September 24, 1180, the Byzantine emperor Manuel Komnenos died, which meant the loss of one of the best external allies of the Franks.

The recent defeat at Jacob's Ford and the progressive inability of King Baldwin prompted the sending of a new embassy to Europe. Pope Alexander III he ordered a new crusade, in 1181, to the members of the Church and to the kings Philip II of France and Henry II of England. Alexander wrote that the Holy Land was being "trodden down by the incursions of the infidels." More important, if anything, was King Baldwin's assessment of him:he made clear reference to the absence of a clear leader in the kingdom, and explicitly criticized Baldwin. He explained the king's leprosy as divine punishment for the settlers' sins—a most unfortunate comment in the context of a plea for help, and little intended to incite support for the ruling dynasty in Jerusalem. We should not be surprised, therefore, by the limited success of this petition.

In the Kingdom of Jerusalem tensions between Guy and Raymond continued , although in the spring of 1182 some kind of reconciliation was reached, in the face of the threat of the end of the truce with Saladin. In July 1182 the Frankish and Muslim armies met in the vicinity of La Forbelet, in southern Galilee. Baldwin was present and the Frankish army, although smaller in size, was victorious.

Regencies and candidates for succession

By this time, however, the king's health was already badly broken. He could not see nor could he use his hands or feet, and yet he refused to abdicate and tried to reign as best he could. However, in the fall of 1183, his health deteriorated so much that he was forced to appoint a regent . He chose Guy of Lusignan, the husband of his sister Sibyl, a man who had hardly any experience as a commander in the Levant. Saladin was preparing his invasion and to confront it, Guido gathered all the military forces of the kingdom, to which he added troops from Antioch and Tripoli. He counted about 1,300 cavalry and 15,000 infantry. The Christians closely followed Saladin's army in Galilee, but no battle ensued. By mid-October Saladin was short of provisions and had to withdraw. From the Frankish perspective the campaign looked like a success:the Muslims had not gained any ground and the Christians had lost no lives. But failure to engage the enemy after such a conscription effort, damage to farmland, and a raid on the Orthodox monastery on Mount Tabor left Guido open to criticism for incompetence. His political opponents were adept at exploiting this, King Baudouin was convinced of the error of not engaging the enemy and withdrew Guido's regency . So, although physically decayed, by virtue of his right as Jerusalem's rightful king Baldwin was able to exercise his political will.

It was decided that the king's nephew, Baldwin, then 5 years old, should be crowned king along with his uncle. Moreover, in the summer of 1184, the weakness of Baldwin IV, the growing power of Saladin and the establishment of an anti-Latin regime in Constantinople prompted the Franks to again ask Europe for help . It was the highest category embassy sent to date, as it was led by Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem accompanied by the masters of the Templar and Hospitaller orders. The unprecedented decision to send the head of the Church in the Levant on an embassy emphasized the need to defend Christ's heritage and highlighted the seriousness of the situation. The embassy was received in Verona, in September 1184, by Pope Lucius III (1181-85). The pontiff issued a bull for a new crusade and the envoys traveled north, but failed in their attempt to persuade King Philip II of France or Henry II of England to take up the cross and go, at the head of their troops, in defense of the Holy Land.

Meanwhile, Saladin was involved in the prolonged siege of the Kerak fortress in Transjordan. Baldwin could no longer ride, so he was taken in a litter to the castle where, in the presence of the army he brought with him, he caused the Muslim troops to retreat. Given the evidence of the immediacy of his own death, Baldwin wanted to annul the marriage of Guido and Sibyl to prevent them from taking power after his death. His animosity towards Guido was already evident; Guillermo de Tiro wrote that "the rancor had arisen with violence". Guido refused to respond to the king's calls, but to avoid open conflict Baldwin had to allow him to continue administering his territories in Ashkelon and Jaffa. Early in 1185 Baldwin had to ask Raymond of Tripoli to take over the regency.

Although to date the king had resisted giving Raymond high public office, the need for an experienced military commander to deal with Saladin was the absolute priority. Baldwin was aware of his near death and asked his vassals to pay homage to Raymond, as well as to the boy-king Baldwin V, although the regency would be limited by a series of conditions that reflect the distrust that some felt for the ambitions of the count. .

Raimund insisted that he was not the legal guardian of the young king, in order to avoid problems in case Baldwin V (a sickly child) died. On the other hand, the royal castles would remain under the control of the military orders (i.e., beyond the reach of Raymond), and if Baldwin V died before coming of age, a committee of Western leaders (the pontiff and the kings of England, France and Germany) would decide which of his sisters, Elizabeth or Sibyl, would succeed him. That a kingdom was preparing to leave its destiny in the hands of foreigners, no matter how prestigious they were, shows the seriousness of the situation in the Levant in the mid-1180s.

Death and Legacy

Baldwin IV finally died in May 1185 , at the age of 23. He had bravely battled the disease and worked as hard as he could to make his legacy viable. He had prepared to make room for Henry of Burgundy and William Longsword, though he erred gravely by marrying his sister to Guido, lacking popular support. Despite his illness, no one refused to obey his orders, and both Christians and Muslims held him in high esteem. A contemporary wrote of him:“Despite [Baldwin's] illness the Franks were faithful to him, encouraged him, content as they were to have him as sovereign […] they tried by all means to keep him on the throne, paying no heed to him. to his leprosy.”

Baudouin can perhaps be criticized for not having abdicated, and it is true that his illness created the conditions in which political rivalries could flourish. However, it is evident that he enjoyed great charisma, and the combination of his determination to show himself on campaign whenever his health permitted with his position as monarch by legitimate right prevented his dethronement. It should be remembered that dethroning a king was something truly extraordinary at the time:removing a monarch was not an easy thing and for the young dynastic family of Jerusalem such an action would have given a disastrous image before the rest of Europe, in whose help they trusted.

After Baldwin's death, tensions between Raymond and Guido escalated and the fissures between the ruling families of Jerusalem only deepened. In the summer of 1186 Baldwin V died (at the age of nine) and Guy and Sibyl managed to secure their control of the crown. Saladin seized the opportunity; as Ibn al-Athir comments:“In this way their [the Franks'] unity was broken and their cohesion broken. This was one of the main factors that led to the conquest of their territories and the liberation of Jerusalem.” By the summer of 1187 he had assembled a coalition powerful enough to resume his conquest and seek battle with the Franks. The result, as we know, was the total victory and fall of Jerusalem; It was not, however, something that we can attribute to the brave young man who had previously held the crown for a decade.


  • Barber, M. (2012):The Crusader States, London.
  • Hamilton, B. (2000):The Leper King and his Heirs, Cambridge.
  • Phillips, J. (2009):Holy Warriors:A Modern History of the Crusades, London.

This article was published in Desperta Ferro Antigua y Medieval nº 27 as a preview of the next issue, the Ancient and Medieval Awakening No. 28:The Fall of Jerusalem (1187).

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