Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom: Leo of Armenia

Although most of the plot in "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is speculation based on earlier or later developments, one of the most bizarre incidents described, the capture of Eschiva d’Ibelin by pirates, is recorded in the chronicles. While little beyond the name of the pirate (Kanakes/Canaqui) is known, the positive role played by Leo of Armenia gave me an excuse to introduce this fascinating man into the novel ― even if only briefly.

Leo (also Levon) was an Armenian prince who successfully defended and expanded his territories, gained a crown, and through his pro-Latin policies opened Armenia up to increased trade with the Italian city-states, thereby greatly increasing its prosperity.   

He was born in 1150, the younger son of Stephan, the son of Leo I, Lord of Armenian Cilicia. When just fifteen his father was murdered, apparently by agents of Leo’s paternal uncle, who whereupon made himself lord of Cilicia, while Leo and his elder brother Rupin sought refuge with their maternal relatives.

Another assassination, this time of the man who had killed their father, brought Rupin to the throne, with Leo, now 25, acting as his loyal and able lieutenant. In 1183, however, Rupin was taken prisoner by Bohemond III of Antioch. With his brother in captivity, Leo assumed control of Cilicia and set about raising the huge ransom demanded. Four years later, when Rupin returned, he chose (whether voluntarily or not is unclear) to retire to a monastery rather than resume the rule of his principality. Leo became the ruler of Cilicia.

It was, however, now 1187 and the powerful Sultan of Syria and Egypt, Salah ad-Din, had just made an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus. Leo concluded a treaty of expediency with Antioch, acknowledging Antioch’s suzerainty over Cilicia, and then took the offensive against the Seljuk Turks successfully. He also supported the Third Crusade, both by first providing men and supplies to Friedrich Barbarossa and, later, troops for the siege of Acre. He also loaned money to Bohemond of Antioch, although the latter supposedly did not repay it.

In 1191, when Salah ad-Din withdrew from the formerly Templar castle of Baghras, Leo sent troops to seize control of this vital fortress. This brought him into renewed conflict with Bohemond of Antioch, who considered the castle part of his principality. Leo invited Bohemend to Baghras to discuss the situation and promptly took him and his wife hostage. The tables reversed from the situation after his brother’s capture, Leo demanded that Antioch acknowledge Armenian suzerainty over Antioch. 

Bohemond quickly caved in and sent orders for the surrender of Antioch to Leo’s troops. The citizens of Antioch, however, were not prepared to surrender. A riot ensued that overwhelmed the Armenian troops. Bohemond’s eldest son Raymond seized control and was installed as regent until his father’s release could be secured. Raymond of Antioch also appealed to the King of Jerusalem, Henri de Champagne, for assistance. Henri duely undertook a diplomatic mission to Sis, Leo’s capital. In exchange for renouncing his claim to suzerainty over Armenia, Bohemend, his wife and entourage were released without further ransom payments.

At about the same time (the dates are very vague in the contemporary chronicles), Leo obtained a crown. He appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor, the Byzantine Emperor and the Pope, winning the support of the later by promising to submit the Armenian church to Rome. Although it is doubtful if this was anything more than a ploy, it was sufficient to win Leo a crown. Just like Aimery de Lusignan, he was crowned and anointed by the Imperial Chancellor of Henry VI Hohenstaufen and the Papal Legate, the Bishop of Mainz, in January 1198. Leo reigned until 1219, and much of his later life he was involved in a struggle to impose his great-nephew as Prince of Antioch, but that is long after the events described in The Last Crusader Kingdom and so beyond the scope of this post. 

What intrigued me about Leo beyond the fact that he played a positive role in securing the release of Eschiva d’Ibelin is the tantalizing possibility that he had known Eschiva’s father, Baldwin d’Ibelin.

Baldwin d’Ibelin, Balian’s elder brother, disappears from the history of the Holy Land in 1186, after dramatically refusing to do homage to Guy de Lusignan. He then renounced his titles and wealth in favor of his son and quit the kingdom. The Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, presumably based on the lost account of the Ibelin squire Ernoul, describes it this way:

After this [Guy de Lusignan] summoned Baldwin d’Ibelin and the other barons to a parliament at Acre…He requested that they pay him homage and fealty as vassals should to their lord… [He] summoned [Baldwin d’Ibelin] three times. But he, being a wise and stalwart man…replied: “My father never did homage to yours, and I will not do it to you…I will quit your kingdom within three days."

Then he took leave of Balian his brother and entrusted his son to him to look after until he reached his majority. After that he got on the road and, setting off with the other knights who had commended their fiefs, went to the Prince of Antioch.  When the prince of Antioch heard that Baldwin of Ibelin and so many knights were coming, he was delighted. He went out to meet them and received them with great joy. (Peter Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation, Ashgate, 1998, p. 28-29. The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, paragraph 21.)

And he is never heard from again.

To be sure, the chronicle sited above talks about the barons advising King Guy to send to Baldwin of Ibelin and the Prince of Antioch to come to the kingdom’s aid when Saladin invaded, but clearly neither of them did. The Prince of Antioch was soon fighting for his own survival, but we hear no mention of Baldwin d’Ibelin being at his side.

However, the chronicle tells us the following:

When Leo of the Mountain, who was lord of Armenia, came to hear of the outrage that had befallen King Aimery and his lady, he was deeply saddened because of the love that he had both for King Aimery who was his friend and for Baldwin of Ibelin whose daughter she had been.

But how, where and when had Leo of Armenia come to know Baldwin d’Ibelin?

There is no chance that Baldwin and Leo would have met prior to Baldwin’s self-imposed exile from the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1186. Thus, they could only have come to know and like one another after Baldwin left the Kingdom of Jerusalem, most likely during the short period of truce between Antioch and Armenia, 1187-1193. This was precisely the period in which Leo of Armenia was doing all he could to hold back the Seljuk Turks on one hand, and assist the crusaders and fellow Christian states in the East on the other.

Conceivably, Baldwin d’Ibelin escorted Leo’s brother Rupin back to Armenia after Rupin’s ransom was paid. As this coincided roughly with the Battle of Hattin, Baldwin’s absence in Armenia would explain why he did not follow any appeals sent him, presumably by his brother or former peers, to aid in the defense of his former kingdom.

If Baldwin was in Armenia when news of Hattin arrived, he might also have concluded that all was lost in Jerusalem (as he had allegedly predicted), and have offered his sword to Leo. Leo was about to undertake a daring strike with inferior forces against the Seljuks. And if Baldwin d’Ibelin fought with Leo in the years of his greatest peril, to die sometime thereafter, possibly in battle or of his wounds, it would explain why Leo of Armenia responded so vigorously when he learned of Eschiva’s kidnapping.

While this is mere speculation ― as with so much of The Last Crusader Kingdom ― it is not mere fantasy.  For Eschiva, I believe, it would have been a comfort to learn that her father had, after abandoning her in 1187, come to her aid from beyond the grave by bringing her the assistance of this remarkable prince in her hour of greatest need.

For more about Baldwin d'Ibelin see the Jerusalem Trilogy: 

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Last Crusader Kingdom: "Arrest for High Treason" - An Excerpt

The Last Crusader Kingdom

"Arrest for High Treason!"
An Excerpt

The men who forced their way inside were dressed in chain mail from head to toe. They wore skullcap helmets with heavy nose guards. Most terrifying of all, they wore surcoats with the arms of Jerusalem on them: they were the King’s men.

“Where’s Lord Aimery?” one of them barked at the stunned servants.

“I’m here!” Aimery called from the floor above. Without hesitation the four armored men pushed past the frightened servants to the stairs at the back of the vaulted room. They pounded up to the next floor, and as they emerged out of the stairway, they found the Constable of Jerusalem hastily donning his surcoat while a young squire held his sword ready for him to take.

“Hold that, boy!” one of the King’s men shouted, springing to put himself between the squire and the Constable. He pushed the squire backwards, pinned him against the wall, and wrenched the sword out of his hands with little trouble.

Meanwhile, the sergeant turned his attention to the Constable himself. “My lord, you are under arrest for high treason! Either you come with us willingly, or we have orders to take you by force.”

Aimery de Lusignan was a handsome man in his early fifties. His shoulder-length blond hair was somewhat disheveled and his face was sprouting the beginnings of a beard, but he had managed to pull on braies, hose, and a gambeson over his nightshirt. He stood with his shoulders squared and his head held high. “The charges are false and slanderous!” he told the sergeant firmly. “I will defend myself before the High Court.”

“Maybe. For now you’re coming with us!” the sergeant answered bluntly, ominously lowering his hand to his hilt.

“Where are you taking me?” the Constable asked gruffly.

“To the royal dungeon, where all traitors are held! Now, are you coming willingly, or must I use force?”

“Will you at least allow me to put on boots?” the Constable asked back in a voice edged with bitterness.

“No tricks!” the sergeant warned, drawing his sword for emphasis before nodding to Lord Aimery to get on with it.

The Constable walked across the room to where his knee-high boots were standing, the soft upper parts flopped over on their sides. He took the suede boots, sat on the nearest chest, and pulled them on one at a time. Then he stood and surveyed the room briefly; whether he was looking for a chance to escape or simply taking a last leave was unclear. The king’s men blocked the door, their swords drawn. They not only ensured he was trapped, they also kept his wife out. He could hear her anxious voice in the hall demanding an explanation. His squire was still pinned against the far wall, his eyes wide with shock and disbelief.

“John, get word to your father of what has happened,” the Constable ordered the youth before walking briskly toward the men sent to arrest him. He allowed them to close around him as he passed out of the door. They clattered down the stairs and out into the street, leaving John and Lady Eschiva standing on the upstairs landing in horrified paralysis.

“Treason?” Lady Eschiva asked the squire. “Did I hear correctly? Champagne has arrested my lord husband for treason? But that’s not possible!” she protested. 

The Last Crusader Kingdom is now available on B&N and amazon.  
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