Foundation and Early History
The kingdom came into being with the Crusader capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the climax of the First Crusade. Godfrey of Bouillon refused, however, to take the title of King, saying that no man should wear a crown where Christ had worn his crown of thorns; instead, he took the title Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.
But Godfrey died the next year, and his brother and successor, Baldwin I, was not so scrupulous, having himself immediately crowned King of Jerusalem.
Baldwin successfully expanded the Kingdom, capturing the port cities of Acre, Sidon, and Beirut, and also exerted his suzerainty over the other Crusader States to the north – the County of Edessa (which he had founded), the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Tripoli.
He also saw an increase in the numbers of Latin inhabitants, as the minor crusade of 1101 brought reinforcements and a Latin Patriarch to the kingdom. The Italian city-states of Venice, Pisa, and Genoa also began to play a role in the kingdom. Their fleets assisted in the capture of the ports, where they were given their own autonomous trading quarters
Baldwin died without heirs in 1118, and was succeeded by his cousin, Baldwin of Le Bourg, the Count of Edessa. Baldwin II was also an able ruler, and though he was imprisoned by the Turks several times throughout his reign, the boundaries of the Kingdom continued to expand, with the city of Tyre captured in 1124.
Life in the Kingdom
As new generations grew up in the kingdom, they began to think of themselves as native, rather than immigrants. Thus, in many senses, they behaved and thought more like “orientals” (Syrians) than like Western-Europeans of their day. They often learned to speak Greek, Arabic, and other eastern languages, and married Greeks or Armenians and on rare occasions, Muslims. The kingdom was essentially based on the feudal system of contemporary western Europe, but with many important differences. First of all, the kingdom was situated within a relatively small area, with little agricultural land. Since ancient times it had been an urban economy, unlike medieval Europe; in fact, although the nobility technically owned land, they preferred to live in Jerusalem or the other cities.
As in Europe the nobles had vassals and were themselves vassals to the king. However, agricultural production was regulated by the Muslim equivalent of the feudal system (the iqta), and this system was not interfered with by the Crusaders. Although Muslims (as well as Jews and Eastern Christians) were persecuted somewhat in the cities (and were not allowed in Jerusalem at all), in rural areas they continued to live as they had before. The rais, the leader of a community, was a kind of vassal to whatever noble owned his land, but as the Crusader nobles were absentee landlords the rais and their communities had a high degree of autonomy. They grew food for the Crusaders, but owed no military service as vassals would have in Europe; likewise, the Italian city-states owed nothing despite living in the port cities. As a result, Crusader armies tended to be small, and drawn from the French families of the cities.
The urban composition of the area, combined with the presence of the Italian merchants, led to the development of an economy that was much more commercial than it was agricultural. Palestine had always been a crossroads for trade; now, this trade extended to Europe as well. European goods, such as the textiles of northern Europe, made their way to the Middle East and Asia, while Asian goods were transported back to Europe. The Italian city-states made enormous profits from this trade, and it influenced their Renaissance in later centuries.
Because the nobles tended to live in Jerusalem rather than an estate in the countryside, they had a larger influence on the king than they would have in Europe. The nobles formed the haute cour (high court), one of the earliest forms of parliament that was also developing in western Europe. The court consisted of the bishops and the higher nobles, and was responsible for confirming the election of a new king, allotting money to the king, and raising armies.
The problem of lack of manpower for armies was solved to some extent by the creation of the military orders. The Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller were both formed in early years of the kingdom, and they often took the place of the nobles in the countryside. Although their headquarters were in Jerusalem, they often lived in vast castles and bought land that the other nobles could no longer afford to keep. The military orders were under the direct control of the Pope, however, not the king; they were essentially autonomous and technically owed no military service, though in reality they participated in all the major battles. Some important sources of information about life in the Kingdom of Jerusalem are William of Tyre from the Christian perspective, and Usamah ibn Munqidh from the Muslim perspective.
Mid 12th Century
Baldwin II was succeded by his daughter Melisende in 1131, along with her husband Fulk. During Melisende’s reign Jerusalem exercised its greatest economic and artistic expansion, with the Melisende Psalter commissioned between 1135 and 1143. Fulk, a renowned military commander, was faced with a new and more dangerous enemy – the Atabeg Zengi of Mosul. Although Fulk held off Zengi throughout his reign, William of Tyre critized Fulk for not securing the borders. Fulk died in a hunting accident in 1143. Zengi took advantage of Fulk’s death by successfully conquering Edessa. Queen Melisende appointed a new constable, Manassas, to head the army after Fulk’s death, and a Second Crusade arrived by 1147.
Meeting in Tripoli in 1147, the crusading Kings of France and Germany decided to attack the friendly Emir of Damascus, seen as an easy target, despite a peace treaty between Jerusalem and Damascus. This was in direct opposition to the advice Queen Melisende and constable Manassas gave, as they and other Crusader states saw Aleppo as the main target that would allow the recapture of Edessa. The Crusade ended in defeat by 1148. Melisende ruled as queen regnant until her government was overthrown by her son Baldwin III in 1153, but Baldwin appointed her his regent and chief advisor the next year. Baldwin III conquered Ascalon from the Fatimids, the last Egyptian outpost on the Palestinian coast. At the same time, though, the overall crusader situation became worse, as Nur ad-Din succeeded in taking Damascus and unifying Muslim Syria under his rule.
Baldwin III died mysteriously in 1162, a year after his mother Melisende, and was succeeded by his brother Amalric I. Amalric’s reign was taken up with competition with Nur ad-Din and his wily some-time subordinate Saladin over control of Egypt. Although supported by Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus, Amalric ultimately failed in his bid to conquer Egypt. His and Nur ad-Din’s deaths in 1174 insured the dominance of Saladin. Amalric was succeeded by his young son, Baldwin IV, who was discovered at a very young age to be a leper. During Baldwin’s reign the Kingdom started to fall apart, as factions formed behind Baldwin’s cousin, Count Raymond III of Tripoli, and his incompetent brother-in-law, Guy of Lusignan.
Disaster and Recovery
Following Baldwin’s death in 1185, after the brief reign of his infant nephew Baldwin V, Guy took the throne. He proved a disastrous ruler. His close ally Raynald of Chatillon, the lord of Oultrejourdan and the fortress of Kerak, provoked Saladin into open war, and in 1187 the army of the Kingdom was utterly destroyed at the Battle of Hattin. Over the next few months Saladin easily overran the entire Kingdom, save for the port of Tyre, which was ably defended by the newcomer Conrad of Montferrat. The fall of Jerusalem shocked Europe, resulting in the Third Crusade. Due to the efforts of Richard the Lion-Hearted, most of the coastal cities of Syria, especially Acre, were recovered, and a treaty was signed with Saladin in 1192 after the Battle of Arsuf. Conrad of Montferrat was married to Isabella, daughter of Amalric I, and made King of this rump state, but he was killed by the Hashshashin almost immediately thereafter. Isabella was married again to Henry II of Champagne.
For the next hundred years, the Kingdom of Jerusalem clung to life as a tiny kingdom hugging the Syrian coastline. Its capital was moved to Acre and at best, it included only a couple of other significant cities (Beirut, Tyre), as well as overlordship over Tripoli and disputedly Antioch. A Fourth Crusade was planned after the failure of the Third, but it resulted in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the Crusaders involved never arrived in the Kingdom. Isabella and her last husband Amalric I of Cyprus died 1205 and again an underage girl became queen of Jerusalem. She was then married to an experienced sexagenarian knight John of Brienne who apparently succeeded in keeping the tiny kingdom safe. Schemes were hatched to reconquer Jerusalem through Egypt, resulting in a failed Crusade against Damietta in 1217. In 1229 Emperor Frederick II, who was King of Jerusalem by virtue of his marriage to the heiress, managed to recover Jerusalem by a treaty with the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil. The recovery was short-lived – not enough territory had been ceded to make the city defensible, and in 1244 the city was reconquered by the Ayyubids. The Seventh Crusade under Louis IX of France was inspired by this, but it accomplished little save to replace the cultured Ayyubids with the vicious and intolerant Mamluks as the Crusaders’ main enemy in 1250.
For the period from 1230’s to 1268, the monarch resided in Europe and usually had a bigger realm to pursue or take care of. Kings of Jerusalem were represented by their baillis and regents. The title of King of Jerusalem was inherited by Conrad IV of Germany, son of Frederick II and Yolande of Jerusalem, and later by his own son Conrad III of Jerusalem. (Already in this period the kingship was often simply a nominal position, held by a European ruler who never lived in Acre. A hundred years later, the model was perpetuated by several European monarchs using the title of King of Jerusalem.)
In their later years, the Crusaders’ hopes rested with the Mongols, who were thought to be sympathetic to Christianity. Although the Mongols invaded Syria on several occasions, they were repeatedly defeated by the Mamluks, who took their revenge on the practically defenseless Kingdom, taking its cities one by one until, in 1291, Acre, the last stronghold, was taken by the Sultan Khalil. In 1260´s already when selecting regents, and after Conradin’s execution in Naples, the kingdom faced grave disputes regarding the rightful line of succession. Despite the relatively small nature of the inheritance and the far more grave external threats to the kingdom, the heirs still devolved into infighting. The chief claimants were Hugh of Brienne, Hugh of Antioch who managed first to make himself the king of Cyprus, and Mary of Antioch. From 1268, the kingship was held by Hugh of Antioch and his heirs, the second Lusignan family, simultaneously kings of Cyprus. However, Charles I of Sicily had purchased the rights of Mary of Antioch in 1277. (Hugh of Brienne was denied by the Haute Cour when claiming the regency in 1264, and Mary of Antioch was denied by Haute Cour in 1269 when claiming the succession as queen-regnant.)
Antioch, having long recognized Byzantine suzerainty, fell 1268. In 1277, Acre changed hands between Latins: Charles I of Sicily and Jerusalem sent Roger of Sanseverino to the East as his bailliff. Roger captured Acre and obtained a forced homage from the barons. Roger was recalled in 1282 due to the Sicilian Vespers and left Odo Poilechien in his stead; his resources and authority was minimal, and he was ejected by Henry II of Cyprus in 1285 (just after king Charles had died) when he arrived from Cyprus for his coronation as King of Jerusalem. Soon Mameluks captured one by one Tyre, Beirut, and the rest of the cities, and destroyed the similarly weakened County of Tripoli in 1289. The final siege of Acre began on April 5, 1291 with king Henry present in the city. He escaped to Cyprus with most of his nobles, and the city fell on May 28 1291. Thereafter, the Kingdom of Jerusalem never existed in physical mainland Syria – Palestine. Cyprus had became the main place where Syrian crusader families settled. From Cyprus, plans were hatched for many decades to regain Holy Land.
Monarchs titled King of Jerusalem after the fall of the kingdom
For the next seven centuries, up to today, a veritable multitude of European monarchs have used the title of King of Jerusalem.
Arms of Kingdom of Jerusalem
The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which has gone through several different varieties of a cross or (gold) on an argent (silver) field, is a famous violation of or exception to the rule of tincture in heraldry, which prohibits the placement of metal on metal or colour on colour. It is one of the earliest known coats of arms.
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