The Crusader States have sometimes been thought culturally barren, ruled by military men with limited horizons. This does them an injustice. They included both men of true piety, anxious to adorn sacred sites captured in early years at great sacrifice, and the secular-minded, aware of the value of pageantry and display for attracting pilgrims and impressing both allies and enemies. The states lay at a crossroads between the Byzantine Empire and Eastern Churches, long divided but brought into contact and sometimes reconciliation through the needs of settlers and the interests of queens. Queens had great patronage and the marriage policies of kings of Jerusalem and the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus (1143–1180), intent on developing friendship with the settlers to establish ancient Byzantine claims, issued in the arrival in the kingdom of an Armenian as queen and a Byzantine princess, who attracted craftsmen from far and wide, ready to exercise their skills on sites of international renown. Their work reflected a pot-pourri of interests and traditions. Sculpture, mosaics, working of copper and illustrated manuscripts all flourished and a significant number of fine buildings were erected and embellished, especially in and near Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had pride of place as the object of pilgrimage, overflowing in the season and quiet in the winter. Pilgrims brought income to the burgesses and to the ports. At times of political and economic crisis, during famines and outbreaks of plague, refugees sought help, and not in vain. Kings and patriarchs had a well-deserved reputation for feeding and succouring them. In the 1070s, when Jerusalem was still in Muslim hands, men from Amalfi obtained permission to open a hospital, a place of refuge where pilgrims could recover from the hardships of their journey and those expecting to die in the Holy City could be looked after and given the sacraments. After the crusaders’ conquest it began to expand on a site south of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Capable of holding a thousand patients, it tended Christians and Muslims alike: pregnant women, for example were cared for and temporary arrangements made for looking after their children. Only lepers were denied entry. There were individual beds, coverlets and slippers. The diet was of a standard normally available only to the rich, with meat three times a week, pork and mutton for the stronger, chicken for the weaker and white bread.

The most important centre of all was the Sepulchre, transformed into a pilgrimage church designed to carry visitors through ambulatories and chapels to the Sepulchre itself under a Byzantine rotunda; a splendid Byzantine representation of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ was moved, then reassembled on the ceiling of the choir. This rescued and refurbished church was re-consecrated by the patriarch at dawn on the morning of 15 July 1149, the fiftieth anniversary of the capture of the city. In the entrance to the Dome of the Rock, thought to be Solomon’s Temple, an iron grille was set up by the crusaders; a beautiful creation of an original delicate fleurde-lys design, it would have captivated the eye when the rows of candles lit up the interior of the building.

Inside the city Queen Melisende built a beautiful Gothic church dedicated to St Anne; outside, she created an abbey at Bethany for her sister Iveta to be abbess, reworking an ancient building and adding a church over Lazarus’s tomb. Around the city, shrines were created or repaired to provide a full experience of visits, prayers and memories. At Hebron a happy discovery of the remains of the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made possible the conversion of a mosque into a basilica visited by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians.

The scriptorium of the Church of the Sepulchre had a distinguished history. According to tradition, the Melisende Psalter was the fruit of reconciliation between Fulk and his queen after a serious political and matrimonial conflict, taking the form of a presentation to the queen for her private devotional use. Ivory covers of Byzantine workmanship illustrated two aspects of kingship: David, warrior and psalmist, on the front with medallions of virtues and vices in conflict; and on the back a Byzantine-costumed figure performing the classic works of mercy, also shown on medallions. The warrior defends his city; the ruler on the back uses his power to look after the weak and helpless. The inclusion of English saints in a calendar within suggests the influence of the English prior of the Sepulchre, William, and its colouring reveals Armenian influence. There were other beautiful manuscripts: a sacramentary for use at Mass and illustrated gospel books.

Bethlehem had a Byzantine church where Baldwin I was crowned on Christmas Day 1100. Here a tomb was created for Joseph of Arimathea and a series of mosaics initiated to commemorate the marriage of King Amalric with the Byzantine princess Maria of Antioch, carrying forward Manuel’s project of drawing together Christian churches against the Muslim menace while disregarding points of difference and, in the case of the Western Church, not standing pat on the vexed question of the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Manuel and Amalric were recorded together as sponsors and the work was carried out by both a Byzantine churchman and a Melkite. At Nazareth there was a church of the Annunciation and a grotto dedicated to the visitation of the Archangel Gabriel. Sculptured capitals were prepared to adorn its walls. The Mamluk Sultan Baybars destroyed the building but capitals were buried, presumably in hopes of better times and, discovered in 1908, were revealed as attractive and graceful work in the style of the French Romanesque.

One scholar of note gave his life to the kingdom. William of Tyre was born in Jerusalem about 1130, most probably a son of one of the city’s burgesses. He studied at the school attached to the Sepulchre, then went for some twenty years to immerse himself in the best schools of the day, following liberal arts and theology at Paris and Orléans and civil and canon law at Bologna. Unlike others of non-aristocratic origins who broke the glass ceiling of the time and went on to make careers in the West, William chose to come home to the Holy Land to serve king and Church until his death, probably in 1184. He wrote his History of Jerusalem to stimulate Western churchmen of his own stamp to much greater efforts to exhort the faithful to preserve Jerusalem. He started with eight books on the First Crusade, then others, turn by turn, on the kings. No reader can fail to be gripped by the memorable passages on, for example, his discovery that King Amalric did not believe in the resurrection of the body or the moment when, as tutor to Baldwin the Leper, he realised that his pupil had a fatal disease. He also shows an awareness of just acts carried out by Muslims – not a common feature of Western writing. It is one of the finest chronicles of the twelfth century. Not only that, but William also wrote an account, tragically lost, of the Muslim princes from the time of Muhammad. What is most significant is his patriotism. The kingdom he served had its fair share of adventurers and opportunists and squalid disputes. It was loosely multicultural, a very imperfect unity. And yet it could make this very able man into a true patriot. Given more time, William might have had more successors with the same emotions, providing a vital glue for this fighting society.

The multicultural aspect worked tolerably. In his utilitarian fashion Baldwin I invited into Jerusalem Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians from beyond the Jordan to make up for those lost in the massacre of 1099. A Latin episcopate ruled, but it did not matter much for relations with other Churches, since the Orthodox episcopate was accustomed to the position of dhimmis under the Muslims. They kept their own courts, albeit always subordinate to the Franks, and were free to worship in Jerusalem at their own churches. Monasteries were undisturbed and Armenians and Jacobites (Nestorians), condemned by the Byzantine Church, had greater freedom under the Franks. Trade helped. In market courts at Acre witnesses swore on their own sacred books: the Quran for Muslims, the Torah for Jews, the Gospel for Christians. There were always Bedouin, ever unmanageable, and there were resentful Muslims and Muslim slaves. But by and large the divisions, ethical and ecclesiastical, of a crossroads kingdom did not work against kings’ interests; some actually helped them.


Superiority in naval power was crucial for the Crusader States. It was the one point where the Muslims of Egypt were at a disadvantage because of their lack of timber for shipbuilding. They could and did win naval battles at times, but could never commit their ships without inhibition. The climate made it imperative to have the opportunity for crews to obtain fresh water at frequent intervals, and in consequence they were perennially in an awkward, even dangerous, situation because of their lack of secure sources for water supply.

The obtaining of ports, ships and watering-sources along the littoral had been seen as an imperative need by the kings of Jerusalem and it is in this light that one should look at the treaties which they made with Italian cities. The Genoese made a critical contribution via the timber supplies they made available in 1099. They, and their rivals from Italy, were vital for securing the littoral of the Holy Land and its ports.

The treaties Baldwin I made with the cities to secure Arsuf, Caesarea and Acre in his early years were rents in the unity of jurisdiction of the kingdom but the concessions thus made cemented its security, giving a general maritime domination to the Crusader States and ensuring the passage of warriors and pilgrims from the West as the land route was given up. In the 1170s during the sailing season there might be as many as seventy pilgrim vessels at anchor in the harbour at Acre – and pilgrims were a source of reward to kings as well as to the Italians, because of the profits from royal markets and the taxes which kings could levy at the ports. Baldwin I bequeathed to his successors demesne in Judaea and Samaria and drew rewards from his domination of the great caravan route from Egypt to Damascus. He built at speed a castle by the route at Shawbak on a ridge near the plateau of Edom, acting as a focus for Christian settlement with its productive hinterland and water cisterns. In the following year he built two more fortresses, creating a line stretching down to Aqaba; only Shawbak remained for his successors. In 1142 Pagan the Butler, who had become lord of Transjordan, refortified Kerak in Moab, farther north of Shawbak and 10 miles to the east of the end of the Dead Sea, continuing the menace to Muslim caravans.

The military orders were of great importance to the kings with their perennial shortage of money. The West’s passion for sustaining Jerusalem issued in the foundation of these orders, combining, not without some controversy, the role of monk and warrior. Pilgrims travelling along the vulnerable road from Jaffa needed protection from banditry; the Hospitallers seem to have started hiring fighters to escort them. The notion of the monk-knight evolved from this and was so valuable and so popular that it came to be more important than the care of the sick – still not neglected, but given second place. In chivalric style, patients were referred to as ‘our lords, the sick’, but the Knights took the spotlight. They took vows, as monks did, and sustained a modified Benedictine liturgy while devoting their lives to fighting, castle guard and castle-building, giving kings the immense value of a standing army, a dedicated, highly trained body, fine horsemen with a musculature and control of weapons to match anything the Muslims could offer. In the West they received many donations, legacies and endowments, providing the resources to sustain the Knights and sergeants indefinitely, and they took on the distinctive uniform for the Knights in action: a white cross on a red surcoat and the Maltese cross on capes. Their takeover in 1142 of an Arab castle in Syria, which became Krak des Chevaliers, was crucial as it protected the north-east flank of the County of Tripoli and blocked access of Muslim forces to the coast.

The Templars grew out of an initiative of a knight who was a vassal of the count of Champagne; like the Hospitallers, they were charged to protect pilgrims and developed from what was a very small initiative to a substantial enterprise through the eloquence of St Bernard of Clairvaux, his personal contacts and the encouragement of Baldwin II. To the patriarch’s anger, both orders were exempt from his jurisdiction. On the Second Crusade the Templars helped save the day in an ill-conceived land expedition, showing their calibre in war, in knowledge of the terrain and in the ready availability of their treasure. The elite Knights and the sergeants who served them were never numerous: they worked with auxiliaries and mercenaries. In medieval style, Templars and Hospitallers were great rivals. Yet this drawback was far outweighed by the professional quality they brought to castle and battlefield.

At an early stage kings established an unusual degree of control. A dispute over succession to the County of Tripoli after the death of Raymond of Toulouse in 1109 was used by Baldwin I to establish the king’s authority in a territory where he was not, strictly, overlord. He had become the arbiter of Outremer. Temperamentally out of kilter with the Gregorian reformers, the bishops who served in the Crusader States were of a kind well adapted to serve kings and barons and looked back to an earlier style of episcopal action, working closely with secular authority. Baldwin II had his residence at the southern end of the Haram. He was impressed by the activities of the Templars, saw a vital need for more trained manpower and so gave them space. The al-Aqsa mosque became their headquarters and they constructed great stables in vaults below. The belief that they were on the Temple site gave the Templars their title. The earliest bishops were chaplains of the crusaders; subsequently, recruitment generally came from clergy who had originally come from the West and might well have family connections with the settlers, rather than from the younger sons of aristocrats in the Holy Land, who were needed for military service. William of Tyre himself, although he became archbishop of Tyre in 1175, served as chancellor from 1174 to 1183. It was the proper business of the episcopate, it was felt, to aid leaders with their charters and their records. Frederick, William’s predecessor as archbishop, came from Liège, was an Augustinian canon at the Temple of the Lord who became bishop of Acre and had a career as a secular administrator, a peacemaker and a diplomat, representing in Rome both the patriarch and the king of Jerusalem. William described him as ‘a nobleman from Lorraine. He was extremely tall and although he was not very well educated, he took great pleasure in warfare.’

Another duty of the episcopate was to carry the True Cross to battlefields. This was above all the duty of the patriarch of Jerusalem but it could be carried by bishops. The kingdom also attracted men with a strong sense of liturgy, seeing a prime duty in ensuring that rites were performed to a high standard in the multitude of shrines welcoming pilgrims, and those who had a practical, outgoing piety, looking after the sick and poor and organising their care.

The assembly of Nablus, summoned in 1120 by Baldwin II, an avaricious but devout king known for the hard skin on his knees created by hours of prayer, was designed to avert the wrath of God on his kingdom by a series of decrees repressing immoral behaviour and to ensure that tithes were not sequestrated by barons but paid to the Church. It included a blunt clause permitting clergy to engage in warfare – a decision that went beyond anything officially permitted hitherto in the Western Church but characteristic of the general role of clergy in the kingdom.


Between 1115 and the mid-1160s the armies of the Christians, not the Muslims, were the aggressors. Once Baldwin I had secured the position of the Crusader States, the armies of the settlers, sometimes reinforced by crusaders from the west, sometimes not, generally ruled battlefields and maintained military superiority with their cavalry charges and their insistence on seizing the initiative. Of course, there were set-backs. Antioch soon became a worry. It lay as far away from Jerusalem as Edinburgh lies from London, and it was subject to pressures both from Byzantium and from Muslims. Normans ruled in Antioch but in one catastrophic episode in 1119, known as the Field of Blood, in an act of impetuous folly Roger of Salerno, regent for Bohemond’s young son, did not wait for settler reinforcements from Tripoli and Jerusalem, and, with his own limited resources, took on a Muslim attacker, Il-Ghazi the Artuqid, once co-governor of Jerusalem. Roger and all his knights were lost. Baldwin II rose to the occasion, used all the powers of decision which the kings had acquired, distributed the widows and saw that Antioch stayed a Christian bulwark. But he had to spend time in the north and so did his successor, Fulk, causing resentment among Jerusalem barons.

In the south the initiative remained with the Christians until the rise of a counter-force on the Muslim side based on Mosul and Aleppo later in the century. The Israeli historian Ronnie Ellenblum argues that Frankish rule achieved a level of security in its key lands which the Levant had not had for generations and permitted a hitherto unsuspected peaceful agricultural settlement on certain sites. This attracted fresh craftsmen who enjoyed friendly working arrangements with local Christians, probably underpinned by intermarriage between Franks and Eastern Christians, echoing at a lower level the marital arrangements of kings.*

It is clear that historians have underestimated the peaceful survival in parts of the Holy Land of Christians who lived on as dhimmis, did not succumb to the long-term pressure to convert to Islam and thus avoid the tax imposed on them. The work of Ellenblum has fleshed out this hypothesis. He has looked more closely at the nature of fortification in these areas and concludes that the so-called ‘castles’ were often simply fortified manor houses, widespread in western Europe as the vogue grew for these structures, designed to assert a lord’s power and give focus to a settlement, rather than guarding against some armed threat. Records of boundary disputes imply that Franks in these settlements took a close personal interest and were not distant absentees dependent on a dragoman, in the manner of the absentee lairds in the Highlands of Scotland or the Protestant Ascendancy in southern Ireland with their harsh local representatives.

Where records allow, they reveal another surprising fact – that the economic migrants who made the long journey from the West to work in these small settlements came not from northern France but from central and southern France, Catalonia and Italy. The truly enterprising in the Middle Ages, as Marc Bloch long ago taught us, were willing to travel great distances to earn well and improve status. Magna Mahumeria, north of Jerusalem, gives us a picture of the pattern of skills within that settlement. Here were construction workers, carpenters, gardeners, vineyard workers, metalworkers, butchers and bakers, clearly freemen with skills, willing to travel and make new lives where local shortages had forced better pay for their talents.

Significantly, the settlements had adapted to the conditions of Near Eastern agriculture, such as thinner soils, locusts and much greater aridity. They had developed the technology needed to cope with problems of climate and pests and were practising terracing, making irrigation canals and using oil presses. This is likely to have involved co-operation with Muslims and small farmers. Ibn Jubayr, who travelled through the Holy Land in 1184 as Saladin threatened the Crusader States, noted Christians and Muslims working the land in co-operation and he concluded that some Muslims, badly treated by their co-religionists elsewhere, had come to prefer Christian-occupied territory. On Ellenblum’s map various indicators – the burgus, the manor house, the church or the monastery – guide the reader towards the sites of these settlements while a set of numerals act as keys to the detailed information on which Ellenblum’s reconstruction is based. At a glance one can see a conglomeration of settlements clustering north of Jerusalem, another cluster farther north round Neapolis (Nablus) and a line of others by the coast and near Acre. There are a few west of Galilee,† and Ellenblum reminds us that Christians there were at peace and not exposed to Muslim attack until as late as 1169.

In and around Jerusalem churchmen carried on the quiet work of consolidation and improvement of rents and holdings, characteristic of many a monastic house in western Europe. So, for example, the canons of the Holy Sepulchre contracted in 1132 with a widow in Jerusalem to provide her with an annuity and food from their kitchen for life, specified as a loaf of bread per day, half a litre of wine and a cooked meal, a meat meal or whatever the canons ate on Sundays and great feast days. They also made immediate repairs to her property and in return gained possession of her orchard and the reversion of her house on her death. The cartulary of the Sepulchre is a full one in good preservation; no doubt similar quiet economic advances, less well recorded, took place elsewhere.

The Fatal Flaw

The Crusader States were not weak and artificial entities, fragments of western Europe in an alien world doomed to a short life, as has been commonly believed. Step by step, building a case within his narrative of events, Malcolm Barber in 2012 destroyed this view.‡ The Crusader States were viable and their weaknesses surmountable. They could have lasted a lot longer, Jerusalem remaining Christian, but for one major flaw: the lack, generation after generation, of a male heir of full, fighting age. ‘Woe to the kingdom when the king is a child!’ In the medieval world that could easily be disastrous.

The genealogy of the kings shows their misfortune. Baldwin I left no child at all. His cousin Baldwin II was happily married to the Armenian Morphia but had only four daughters. A suitable husband was found for Melisende in Fulk V Count of Anjou, a warrior and a pilgrim who knew the kingdom well. They were married in 1129 and had two sons, Baldwin and Amalric. After Fulk’s early death Melisende was crowned together with her thirteen-year-old son Baldwin III. They ruled together until Baldwin, after some struggle with his mother, insisted on ruling alone. He married Theodora, niece of the Emperor Manuel, who gave a handsome dowry. But she was only twelve years old and after over four years of marriage there were no children. She and Baldwin died young and the crown descended to Melisende’s second son, Amalric, albeit not without controversy. Amalric’s first marriage to Agnes of Courtenay was annulled. With Agnes he had a son, Baldwin, and a daughter, Sibylla; by his second marriage to Maria Comnena, great-niece of the Emperor Manuel, he had a daughter, Isabella. Amalric, in the tradition of both Baldwin I the Conqueror and Baldwin III, aimed at extracting tribute or land from Egypt or even achieving outright conquest with the aid of Byzantium. He worked hard at the project but failed to break through and in 1174 died of dysentery.

There followed a succession disaster. Baldwin IV, the eldest son, was a leper who led in battle and in council as best he could, winning one important victory, but he was doomed to an early death and could never sire a son. Which of the daughters would succeed? Sibylla or Isabella? It turned out to be Sibylla. In a bad case of romantic love triumphing over duty, she insisted on marrying as her second husband Guy of Lusignan, an aggressive, insecure adventurer, outwitting opposition in the kingdom. Unhappily aware that hereditary right could bring in as heir the leading baron Raymond of Tripoli, a descendant of Baldwin II’s daughter Hodierna, Guy succumbed to the slanderous suggestion that Raymond was seeking to discredit him, made a fatal decision to fight and in three days lost the kingdom’s field army. The kingdom never recovered. Its promise of future prosperity and vitality was snuffed out.


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