A 12th Century Game of Thrones: the Dynastic Politics of the Kingdom of Jerusalem


It is possible to view the history of the crusader states as one in which power often devolved down to Italian maritime powers, military orders or local lordships. It is also possible to see the history of the various rulers of those states, and their nobles, in the context of a history of the region centered on rapidly rising (and falling) warlords, among whom the kings of Jerusalem could be counted. The rulers of the crusader states were also, however, western European nobles, with dynastic links and political rivalries which had their origins in France, England, the empire, Italy and Norman Sicily. Increasingly, there came to be created a distinctly crusader dynastic politics, centered on the rulers of the kingdom which saw itself, and often was, the natural overlord of the crusader states, Jerusalem; there was, however, always a European context too. And just as back in Europe, dynastic politics and succession crises were never far away,

So, hold on to your hats for a 12th century Game of Thrones. For now, we’ll stick to the kingdom of Jerusalem itself.


Outremer, meaning the land beyond the sea, and its four states: the kingdom of Jerusalem itself, the county of Tripoli, the principality of Antioch and the county of Edessa.

The creator of the dynasty, after a fashion, was Godfrey of Bouillon (1099-1100), the man who led the taking of city itself in 1099.


Godfrey was the second son of Eustace II of Bolougne. He never took the title of king of Jerusalem, believing that to be Christ’s. He died without an heir, and thus the story of the kingdom of Jerusalem technically starts with his brother, Baldwin I (1100-1118), previously known to us as Baldwin of Bolougne, and Baldwin I of Edessa. In the words of Fulcher of Chartres, and in the manner of most heirs to medieval thrones, he ‘grieved somewhat over the death of his brother, but rejoiced more over his inheritance’.


The remarkable Baldwin had only 300 knights in his company in 1100: from that he built on his brother’s work and made a kingdom. Baldwin was the epitome of the younger Frankish son on the make. He was destined for a career in the church, but then abandoned the church for worldly affairs. He may well have been homosexual, his inseparable companion as king was a young converted Muslim man. He was also married three times. After the death of his first wife in 1097, he married an Armenian princess, Arda, to help secure the county of Edessa he created in 1098; he later repudiated her, claiming she had been raped by a Muslim, but really to secure a third, politically advantageous  marriage to Adelisa of Sicily. That marriage ended in 1216 when it was declared bigamous. Baldwin promised not to remarry, but he had no children. Thus, a succession crisis loomed. There was a plot to summon Baldwin’s older brother, Eustace of Boulogne, from France. But France was along way away, and Baldwin’s cousin took the throne in what amounted to a palace coup.


Baldwin II (1118-31) had previously been known as Baldwin le Bourq; he was then Baldwin II of Edessa, having been granted the county by Baldwin I.

Baldwin’s title remained contested, however. He was not crowned until 1119. When he was a captive in 1123-24, the same Boulogne faction thought of replacing him; he did not receive papal recognition until 1128.

As proactive warlords and astute politicians the two Baldwins served their kingdom well. As breeders, they were less successful. The thrice and unsuccessfully married Baldwin I left no heir.  Baldwin II. married to Morphia, an Armenian princess. When he became king of  Jerusalem, his nobles encouraged him to get rid of her and make a more politically useful match, and ideally one that could produce sons. As it was, it seems that Baldwin genuinely loved Morphia. This meant though, that there was no male heir, as Baldwin died leaving only daughters. Baldwin II’s daughters were to be of no little importance in the subsequent history of the other crusader states, thanks to the marriages he arranged. Dynastic politics counted.

MelisendaIronically, as so often in an age where it was often supposed only men could rule, one of those daughters would prove the key figure in the politics of both her kingdom and dynasty after her father’s death. She was his eldest daughter, Melisende. Badwin II’s solution to the dynastic conundrum was to marry her to the grandly connected Fulk V of Anjou.  Fulk had already arranged the marriage of his eldest son, Geoffrey, to Matilda, the only surviving legitimate child of Henry I of England.  That marriage would create the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England from 1154.  and would do until until Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth Field in 1485.

First of all, the fact that Fulk was willing to hand over Anjou to his son, and take the crown of Jerusalem says much for the allure of the crown of Jerusalem. This reflected the close intertwining of Outremer’s nobility its Frankish origins, and with the English crown. Indeed, Raymond of Potiers, prince of Antioch from 1136, was from Henry I’s household.

The marriage negotiations between Baldwin II and Fulk were fraught and complicated; Fulk was ever insistent that it should be him that took the crown. After seeming to agree to this arrangement, and once the couple were safely married, Baldwin reframed the succession. Fulk (1131-43) would reign jointly with Melisende (1131-52), and their infant son, Baldwin. In turn, he would inherit as Baldwin III. Melisende and Fulk were thus jointly crowned in 1131, the first rulers of Jerusalem to be crowned in the church of the Holy Sepulchre itself, rather than Bethlehem.


After Baldwin’s death, Fulk asserted himself in true Angevin fashion, excluding his wife from effective joint rule. This lead to a revolt, led by Hugh of Jaffa, a relative of Melisende’s. This was a result of the resentment of the growing influence of Fulk’s Angevin family. Hugh was tried for treason, and an attempt was made on his life. Perhaps in repentance for that, or simply out of realism, Fulk accepted that Melisende would rule jointly thereafter. When Fulk was killed a hunting accident in 1143, Melisende’s rule  continued seamlessly.

Baldwin_III_of_JerusalemIn fact, so effectively did she wield power, that after Baldwin III (1143-63) came of age in 1152, he had to wrest it from his mother in what amounted to a small scale civil war. Once more, Baldwin III had political successes, but failed in one key duty: procreation. He died childless, and his brother Amalric was the obvious successor. Unfortunately, he was married to Agnes of Courtenay, daughter of Joscelin II of Edessa.. That marriage was very controversial. In the first place, the previous patriarch had objected to the marriage on the grounds that they shared a great grandfather. Now, politics mattered more. According to William of Tyre, such was the hostility to her that Amalric was forced to secure the annulment of his marriage as the price of the throne. William of Tyre may well have exaggerated the hostility, however: in later years she had the key role in denying the see of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, Amalric did have the marriage annulled.


Amalric (1163-74) married the great niece of the Byzantine emperor, Manuel I. However, whilst Maria Comnena was queen, Amalric and Agnes’s children retained their legitimacy, and their place in the succession.

British Library - Yt  12   152v

It was a complicated succession. Baldwin IV (1174-85) was a leper, a fact established by William of Tyre when he was the boy’s tutor. In some ways, when well, he was a pretty effective ruler. Nonetheless, there would be no long reign, and no son. To make matters worse, his heir and his nephew, Baldwin V, was himself as a sickly child of nine. Thus Jerusalem was in the midst of a prolonged succession crisis.

Maciejowski Bible, ca. 1250Baldwin V’s mother was Sybilla, the older of Baldwin IV’s sisters; the other sister was Isabella. Two factions circled around the women, seeing them as a vehicle to win control.  Raymond III of Tripoli, Amalric I’s cousin, had been Baldwin IV’s regent when he was a child. He now tried to secure control by making Sybilla marry his preferred candidate, Baldwin of Ibelin. There was another faction, however. With Amalric’s death, Agnes of Courtenay had returned to court.  As mother to Baldwin IV, Sybilla and Isabella, and thus grandmother to Baldwin V, she began to wield great influence once more. She also had the support of her brother Joscelin (with the title, if not the lands, of Joscelin III of Edessa). They were determined to frustrate Raymond of Tripoli.

Baldwin_V_of_JerusalemBeing closer to the throne, Agnes  won the first round when Sybilla was married to Guy of Lusignan, who was closely connected to the Angevin family and Henry II, king of England. When Baldwin IV became increasingly incapacitated by his leprosy, Guy became de facto regent. However, after he and his ally Raymond of Chatillon provoked an attack by Saladin in 1183, the nobles turned on him and Sybilla could not defend him. Guy was replaced as regent by Raymond of Tripoli. When the infant Baldwin V (1185-86) was crowned, he was carried on the shoulders of Raymond’s ally, Balian of Ibelin. Raymond was in the ascendant.

It didn’t last. The crisis point came when the boy king Baldwin V died in 1186. By then, Agnes of Courtenay was dead, and the question of the succession remained to be settled. Guy’s reputation was such that the nobles of the kingdom would only allow Sybilla the crown if she annulled her marriage. She agreed, but only if it was agreed that she could, as her mother Agnes of Courtenay had done, chose her next husband. Then, when she had been crowned, she chose Guy of Lusignan.


Thus, Guy of Lusignan (1186-92) was now king, jointly with Sybilla (1186-90), in the same manner as Fulk had been. It would prove a disaster for the kingdom. It was Guy that lost Jerusalem, along with his ally Reynald of Chatillon. When they were captured, Reynald was killed, but Guy was allowed to return to his wife. His authority was shot, however.

Saladin’s motive in releasing Guy was hardly an unalloyed humanitarian gesture. The kingdom of Jerusalem was all but lost to the Christians. The last city holding out was Tyre. When Conrad of Montferrat had arrived in Tyre, after the fall of Jerusalem, the city’s leaders had been on the verge of making terms of surrender with Saladin. Instead, Conrad led the city’s defence so vigorously that twice Saladin laid siege to it, and twice gave up.

Conrad of Montferrat was from one of Europe’s great noble families, and was a cousin to both Frederick Barbarossa, the emperor, and Louis VII of France. Guy of Lusignan

Richard the Lionheart was able to compensate him well with the crown of Cyprus, but his credibility as king of Jerusalem was shot. The kings of Jerusalem kept the title, through the many marriages of Amalric’s younger daughter Isabella I (1192-1205), but  these kings were de facto kings of Acre, of Jerusalem only in name. The game of thrones now had only half a throne to play for.

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