Monday, 26 September 2022

Story of Monarchy: Latin Jerusalem, Part III

The final instalment of the story of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the apex of the feudal hierarchy of the Crusader States.

From The Mad Monarchist (7 December 2012)

...continued from Part II

Guy de Lusignan finally agreed that if he could retain the crown of Jerusalem during his lifetime he would pass it on to Isabella and Conrad after his death. King Richard, however, wanted no loose ends left behind before he returned to England and demanded a final decision. In 1192 the nobility elected Conrad as the one, true King of Jerusalem; however, he died only a few days later. Guy de Lusignan purchased the island of Cyprus from the Knights Templars and ended his days as master of that land which his descendants carrying on the line for some time. As for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem he had once claimed, without the Holy City upon which it was founded, it slowly withered on the vine though the titled continued to be passed on for some time. King Henry I was elected in 1194 and following him was King Amalric II of Lusignan, brother of Guy, former constable of Jerusalem and fourth husband of Queen Isabella. When the Fourth Crusade, called by the mighty Pope Innocent III, diverted from the Holy Land to Constantinople, he was forced to make peace with the Muslims for five years, possible mostly because Saladin was having family problems to deal with.

Rather than his daughter the Jerusalem nobility elected the daughter of Isabella and Conrad of Montferrat as Queen Mary I of Jerusalem. King Philip Augustus of France was asked to provide a husband for her and his choice was John of Brienne, who was also regent of the Latin Empire in Constantinople and rather reluctant to take the job but finally did so after receiving considerable support from the pope in the hope of initiating another crusade. The resulting Fifth Crusade was launched against Egypt, as Innocent III had intended the fourth to be, but met with defeat and John was forced to return to Europe in the hope of obtaining more foreign assistance. He met Pope Honorius III, the kings of France and England but most significantly the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of the powerful Hohenstaufen family. Frederick II was probably an atheist and no great friend of the Church, but he was a force to be reckoned with and was known as Stupor Mundi; the Amazement of the World. The Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights arranged a marriage with John between his daughter Yolanda and Emperor Frederick II.

After the two were married in 1225, Frederick demanded that John give up his kingly title and his new wife assumed the status of Yolanda or Queen Isabella II and he began calling himself King Frederick of Jerusalem as well. However, Frederick did not impress his devout Catholic subjects with his lifestyle nor did he seem to care much for the kingdom other than adding the glory of the title to his long list. It was not until he came under extreme pressure, after being excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX, and after the death of Isabella II, that he declared he was off to fulfill his duties and lead a crusade to retake Jerusalem. He landed in the Holy Land in 1228 but achieved no military glory. Claiming illness he decided to negotiate rather than fight and after making a deal with the Sultan of Egypt he entered the Holy City of Jerusalem and took the crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher though, significantly, without a religious, sacramental coronation. He then promptly named Balian of Ibelin regent and returned to Europe.

To most people in Christendom the whole expedition frankly stunk. Frederick had embarked on a crusade while being an excommunicate, to claim a crown that; following the death of his wife the Queen, he no longer had right to, made a deal with the Muslims and crowned himself without the Patriarch even being present. Later, Frederick sent Field Marshal Richard Filangieri to take over the regency of Jerusalem, but he met with little success and in 1243 the nobles finally declared they had had enough of the regency of the hated Emperor Frederick and declared that Conrad, his young son by Isabella II, should assume the throne. However, King Conrad II proved to be no great improvement. Queen Alix of Cyprus assumed the regency as the nearest relative of Isabella II and Conrad died an excommunicate after invading southern Italy only to be defeated by the Pope who then offered Sicily to the son of the King of England.

King St Louis IX of France

His son succeeded as Latin King Conrad III of Jerusalem, but by this time the kings of Jerusalem had ceased to play any role whatsoever in the Holy Land. After the death of Alix in 1244 her son, Henry of Lusignan, the King of Cyprus, claimed the regency but it did not matter much as Muslim forces took the Holy City in September of the same year. The magnificent King St Louis IX of France attempted another crusade in 1250 through Egypt but met with defeat and although hopes held out for some time, Jerusalem was never to be regained by the forces of Catholic Christendom. By 1291 the last remaining Christian cities along the coast were captured by the Mamelukes and the last vestiges of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem were destroyed. The title continued to be fought over and passed around for some time, and at least as late as the reign of Pope St Pius V Rome held out hope of retaking the country but no Christian army was to set foot in the Holy City until World War I when British troops seized it from the Ottoman Turks. Today a number of royal families still claim the title of King of Jerusalem, though the King of Spain is the only reigning monarch to still maintain it on his list of titles.

Today, the Kingdom of Jerusalem is not very commonly remembered. The Crusades which gave it life tend to be portrayed, nowadays, as a shameful act of aggression on the part of Christians against a peaceful, Muslim population. There were undeniably atrocities on the part of both sides but it should not be forgotten that the Crusades were defensive wars meant to take back lands that were originally Christian and had been conquered by the Muslims coming up from the south out of Arabia. It was a remarkable feat of skill and endurance that during the Middle Ages the armies of Europe were able to travel such distances, sustain armies in inhospitable areas and survive despite being constantly surrounded and outnumbered by massive Muslim forces. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was also extremely tolerant for the time, officially Roman Catholic, but allowing various rites, Eastern Orthodox, Jew and Muslim to all live and practice their religion peacefully. The Crusader states were, in a way, the first effort of European colonization and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem has often been called the purest example of feudalism in action. Its history also dispels a number of myths about the Christendom of the Middle Ages. There was religious tolerance, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and it was not an aribtrary monarchy but a kingdom where the rule of law was supreme and where what power the king did have was balanced by the High Court as well as the Latin Patriarch who was the second most powerful figure in the country. Orders such as the Knights of St John, the Teutonic Knights and the Knights Templar also provided a greater decentralization of power as these were all independent organizations. It is also noteworthy that the Kingdom of Jerusalem was able to have a larger budget than most European governments of the time and this was possible almost exclusively because of customs duties (managed by Arabic bookkeepers) and caravan tolls rather than on heavy taxation of the populace.

Following the end of the British mandate in Palestine, the area which had once been the Kingdom of Jerusalem was restored to the Jewish nation and the independence of the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. This was immediately followed by the Arab-Israeli War in which virtually every neighboring Muslim country joined forces to crush the new State of Israel. In a stunning victory the tiny Israeli Defense Force soundly defeated the combined might of the Arab nations and secured her independence. However, lasting peace has proven rare, even after Israel returned conquered lands and agreed to the land for peace program with the Muslim Palestinians of the country. Although Israel has ceded land they have received precious little peace in return and Muslim-Jew violence continues with many seeing no hope for an end. Over the years, because of this, there has been an exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, despite the heroic efforts of the Christian remnant there.

In light of the sad recent history of the Holy Land, it is particularly timely to give the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem a second look. During the era of the kingdom the world saw, however briefly, perhaps the only occasion in which Christian, Jew and Muslim lived together peacefully. We should also remember, and defend against those who would spread disinformation, that the founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not an aggressive action but rather a defensive action taken in response to Muslim aggression. The Christians did not initiate the Crusades but rather they were an effort to defend Christian lands and to take the battle to the enemy. Although the Christians did not hold Jerusalem and its surroundings indefinitely; it is remarkable that they did for so long considered the distances involved from their bases of support in Europe as well as the vast Muslim forces arrayed against them. Many modern minds, a great deal of them propagandists, focus on the real or invented negative aspects of the Crusades and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, their arguments should be countered with the truth: that the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was founded in self defense, not aggression; that it was cosmopolitan and not xenophobic and that it was a kingdom of decentralized power, not one of royal absolutism. For all of these reasons the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem illustrates a great many things we would do well to emulate today.

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