The Six Kings of Jerusalem

This part of my series is an exercise in self-indulgence, reflecting my passion for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1100-1187 CE) and the crusader kings in all their colorful personas. They included a bigamist homosexual, an unbeliever, and a leper who dissolved defiantly before the eyes of his subjects. These sovereigns had their hands full constantly, not only with Muslims on the border but with troublemaking Christians at home. I have a place in my heart for all of them. So without further ado, here are their bios.

1. Baldwin I (1100-1118). Ambitious and cunning, the most militant of the six kings. Married three times, once bigamously, but never having any kids. Actually homosexual, one of his favorite lovers being a converted Muslim who accompanied him everywhere (even to the toilet). Marked his reign by an impressive conquest of the coastal Palestinian ports and territory south of the Dead Sea, both necessary for control of the kingdom. Died on a military expedition in Egypt, in the 18th year of his reign. Proclaimed on his tombstone as a “second Judas Maccabeus” whom everyone dreaded.

2. Baldwin II (1118-1131). A cautious, systematic administrator, nicknamed “the Goad”. Dutifully chaste, faithful to his wife to the end of his days. Overly pious, at his prayers so often that his knees were covered with calluses. Captured and imprisoned by the Muslims until released a year and a half later for a ransom. Having only daughters, married his eldest Melisende to Fulk of Anjou (who had come to Palestine in 1120). Tried conquering Damascus twice to no avail. Died of typhus in Jerusalem in the 13th year of his reign, the second and last of the kings to have fought in the First Crusade.

3. Fulk (1131-1143). Quick and decisive, the most intelligent of the six kings. Resented at first by those who had grown up in the holy lands since the First Crusade. Battled continually against Zengi of Aleppo, who was slowly getting a jihad under way. Eventually cemented an alliance with Unur of Damascus (who feared Zengi more than the Christian crusaders). Died on a hunting accident in Acre in the 12th year of his reign, leaving two children, Baldwin (age 13) and Amalric (age 7).

4. Baldwin III (1143/53-1162). A statesman and scholar in equal measure, the most loved of the six kings. Had the gift of command tempered with kindness. The first king born in the holy lands and to cultivate Oriental ways of thinking. Under the regency of his mother, Queen Melisende, aided/led the Second Crusade after Edessa fell to Zengi in 1144 (which ended in embarrassing failure). Wrested control of the kingdom in 1153 from his mother. Died in Beirut from being poisoned in the 19th/9th year of his reign. So admired, even by his Muslim foes, that Zengi’s son Nur al-Din refused to attack the kingdom during Baldwin’s funeral processions, saying, “We should pity them, for they have lost such a prince as the world no longer knows.”

5. Amalric (1162-1174). A lecher and unbeliever, with none of the ease and affability of his brother (Baldwin III). Full of self-importance, with a princely air, and rarely at ease with people. The most reflective of the six kings, with an insatiable curiosity about Muslim culture. Scoffed at the doctrine of the resurrection. Militarily preoccupied with Egypt, sometimes as an enemy, other times as an ally against Nur al-Din, until finally Nur al-Din’s general Saladin crushed the Fatimids, bringing Egypt under Sunni rule (1169-1171). Died of dysentery in Jerusalem in the 12th year of his reign, succeeded by his son Baldwin (age 13).

6. Baldwin IV (1174-1185). “The Leper King”. The bravest of the six kings, fighting impossible odds throughout his life — the Muslim world gaining an upper hand under Saladin, backbiting within the royal family, and his own disease. Defeated Saladin’s army once, outside Ramleh in 1177, but never afterwards. Toward the end of his reign, had to be carried on a litter into battle. Died in Jerusalem in the 11th year of his reign — blind, faceless, and with his hands and toes eaten away, yet regal to the very end. A Muslim chronicler wrote that “the leper child knew how to make his authority respected”.

Robert Payne says that the leper king “was the last of his dynasty and of his kind; after him, the little men came out from under the stones” (The Dream and the Tomb, p 196). He’s right. Jerusalem fell to Saladin two years later (1187), calling forth the Third Crusade and a fervent desire in Europe to take back and preserve the crusader states. But the Kingdom of Jerusalem would never be re-established. Richard the Lionheart regained some coastal territory (1191-92), and there was more taken back in 1197, but the future “kings of Jerusalem” proved to be ineffectual parodies of the above six, ruling from the city of Acre — until the crusaders were finally expelled for good in 1291.

In the next post, we’ll look at how the crusades evolved over the centuries, particularly through canon law.

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