The Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1187)

The Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1187)

The central motive of the First Crusade was the liberation of the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. The importance of the city, a major place of pilgrimage long before it was taken in 1099, was central to Western Christians. It was therefore logical that the kingdom created around her as early as 1099 was the most important of the Latin states, and that its sovereign had preeminence (at least in theory and in will) over the other princes and counts. Yet the life of kingdom of jerusalem was not going to be easy, and not just because of the Muslims' desire to take over the city ...

Kingdom of Jerusalem: a feudal system

It makes sense that the lords who took possession of the Holy City imported their own systems for governing it, and for organizing the kingdom itself. Most of the masters of Jerusalem were, from 1099, barons from the north of France; they are certainly not of great lineage, but they nonetheless possess the codes and structures, those which were beginning to take shape and consolidate in the 11th century in the West, and more particularly in the Capetian kingdom.

It should be clarified immediately that the kingdom of Jerusalem certainly has a strong symbolic importance, that it is the largest of the Crusader States, but that on the scale of the West, it is not greater than a correct duchy. In addition, the modest origin of its lords also relativizes its influence, which is important in the relationship of the kings of Jerusalem with other great rulers, Western or even Byzantine.

It is, however, a veritable feudal system that is taking hold, at least at the highest levels. At the top, therefore, a king from Baudouin Ist (while Godefroy de Bouillon was, according to his own will, only "lawyer of the Holy Sepulcher"); it is a hereditary monarchy which, as in France, excludes women (even if they have their role, as we will see). The life of the sovereign is organized around a curia regis, without real administration, where all the vassals can be present, but where only the decision of the great lords and especially of the king is followed. It is within this court that all political, economic, legislative, military, etc. life is decided, that the fiefdoms are conceded, the rules of transmission enacted and the war "voted".

The king predominates thanks to the right of conquest, he derives his power only from God (through the anointing granted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem at the time of the coronation), and is therefore not himself vassal of a overlord of the West, or even of the Pope. However, in theory, the sovereign is all the same elected by the Big ones according to the will of Godefroy de Bouillon; but from Baudouin I, the monarchy therefore became hereditary in practice, even if the support of the Great remained important. Upon his coronation, he was declared as "chief lord", that is to say suzerain of other lords, and therefore at the top of the feudal pyramid. This system was in full operation until the 1150s, but it cracks quickly because of the first difficulties, to which we will come back. Also in the early days, the king claimed suzerainty over the other lords of neighboring states, thanks to the importance of Jerusalem. Apart from under the first two Baudouin, it is not really visible in practice ...

The kingdom itself is then divided into several main fiefdoms (eg those of Jaffa or Sidon), then into smaller seigneuries (such as Ibelin or Ascalon). According to the feudal system, the lords owe aid to the king (raise the host, ...) and themselves have rights of justice and the collection of taxes on their lands. In each seigneury, kinds of “mini curia regis” are formed, where the lord, his vassals, but also the bourgeois (non-noble) sit. The natives also have their own courses, organized around a raïs. Finally, there are commercial courts, and the so-called "foundation" court to settle cases involving Latins and Syrians.

At the executive level, apart from the king, powers are relatively limited: the constable commands the army, assisted by the marshal; the seneschal is in charge of financial management, while the chancellor, chosen from among the clerics, has less power than in the West. Finally, the chamberlain administers the royal residence.

Population and settlement

As we have seen previously, the Latin States were created in spite of the massive return of the first crusaders; the Latin population was therefore very small at the beginning of the 12th century. It is mainly concentrated in the cities, although there are more significant traces than was once thought in rural areas. On the eve of the fall of Jerusalem (1187), the Latin population is estimated at around 100,000 souls, gathered mainly in Tire, Acre and Jerusalem itself (around 20,000 for the latter); a population that could provide in the 2,000 knights and 20,000 infantry for the quasi-permanent wars of the time. This increase over almost a century is due to immigration from Europe. It can be classified into several waves, located mainly between 1100 and 1150. These populations therefore settle first in cities, but also to a lesser extent in rural areas, even creating a few Latin villages. A real system of colonization is organized, but it seems to have stopped with Amaury I (1163-1174).

It is Jerusalem which is the first to be repopulated: its population has partly been massacred or reduced to slavery, and in addition Jews and Muslims are forbidden to stay there (only a brief pilgrimage is allowed). Baldwin I therefore did not hesitate, from 1115, to "deport" Syrian Christians from across the Jordan to come and settle them in the holy city!

The proportion of Latins is about one inhabitant in four in the kingdom; the natives are mostly Muslims, but there are also significant minorities of Syrian Christians of different persuasions (Jacobites, etc.), or even Armenians, some Byzantines and of course Jews.

We will discuss in another “Deus Vult” the nature of the relations between these different peoples (as well as the role of the military religious orders), but we can already note that the contacts were relatively few between the Latins (including the Latins. “Colts”, born on the spot) and the “others”, but above all that the failure of colonization sounded the death knell in the medium and long term for the kingdom, and for the Latin States as a whole.

A conquering and offensive kingdom (1099-1174)

The reigns of Baldwin I (1100-1118) and Baldwin II (1118-1131) are those of the conquest and maximum expansion of the kingdom, despite the failures in Syria against Aleppo and Damascus. The difficulties begin with the advent of Zankî, but especially of Nûr al-Dîn, in a context of the disputed succession of Baudouin II; the latter would have transferred his power to a trio composed of his son-in-law Foulques d´Anjou, his daughter Mélisende (whose mother is Armenian) and his grandson Baudouin. This causes disputes and rebellions, but above all the creation of two factions opposing the two spouses, Foulques and Mélisende! This does not prevent the first from reigning, even if the second is considered more legitimate because the daughter of the deceased king; thus, Foulques consolidates the defenses in the South vis-a-vis the Fatimids, and in the North vis-a-vis Zankî of the claws of which it saves Antioch.

When he died (a hunting accident) in 1143, his son Baudouin III was too young and it was therefore Mélisende who ensured the regency. She showed great skill in relying on a few great lords (such as the Prince of Galilee, Elinard) and in creating an administration parallel to that of the king. Very quickly, she openly opposed her son, causing him to fail in her attempt to help Edessa (she took as vassals the main lords who could have helped her, enjoining them not to respond to Baudouin's call. III), and blames the failure of the Second Crusade, while Louis VII and Conrad III followed the advice of barons close to Mélisende, leading to the rout before Damascus! In 1150, it was at its peak, but it cut itself off from large families like the Ibelins; it also highlights her other son, Amaury, who becomes Count of Jaffa. It was a real civil war that shook the kingdom until 1152, but against all expectations it was Baudouin III who emerged victorious; he forced his mother to retire to Nablus where she died in 1161. The king managed for a time to contain Nûr al-Dîn, he even took Ascalon in 1153, but he then had to face conflicts between Latin lords, including the famous Renaud de Châtillon. Basileus Manuel I Comnenus does not need to be asked to appear as a mediator, then exercising a quasi-protectorate over the kingdom of Baldwin III, who married his daughter Theodora (the latter receives St-John of Acre as a dower) ...

Amaury succeeded his (possibly poisoned) brother in 1163, and Egypt was the center of his interest. From 1163, the king intervened in the quarrels around the Fatimid vizirate (facing a weakened caliphate), but he had to regain his kingdom under the threat of Nûr al-Dîn. In 1167, he saw with concern a man from Nûr al-Dîn, Shirkûh, establishing himself as the vizirate in Cairo, and he again decided to attack Egypt; if he fails before Alexandria (defended by Shirkûh's nephew, a certain Saladin), he still manages to obtain payment of a tribute from the Egyptians. However, despite this relative failure, Amaury I did not renounce the conquest of Egypt, which he considered to be the key to the Holy Land: he first tried to obtain the support of Byzantium (he also married a daughter of the emperor, Marie Comnenus), but he did not wait for the Greek fleet and failed again in 1168. The situation became complicated: Nûr al-Dîn threatened the eastern borders of the kingdom of Jerusalem, and in 1169 it was Saladin who takes the reins of Egypt… The latter becomes the main enemy of the Franks on the death of Nûr al-Dîn in 1174.

The fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem

A year later (after the regency of Raymond of Tripoli), Baudouin IV succeeds Amaury I who died of typhus in 1174, while he was preparing yet another expedition against Egypt, this time supported by the Normans from Sicily. The king is suffering from leprosy, which will mark his tragic destiny, but also make him enter into legend. Because his illness does not prevent him from being a great king: he first strives to contain the threat Saladin, which he manages to defeat at Montgisard in 1177. The Ayyubid sultan signs a first truce in 1180, but the provocations of Renaud de Châtillon in the following years force him to attack again, while unifying the Muslims after the capture of Aleppo from the sons of Nûr al-Dîn in 1183. Baudouin IV again manages to stop him and obtain a new truce, but he died of leprosy in May 1185.

It is in large part the succession crisis following the death of the Leper King that will explain the fall of the kingdom, and especially of its capital. Saladin launched his propaganda, extending the jihad of its predecessors, but focusing on the reconquest of Jerusalem. At the court of this one, we are divided into two main factions: the count of Tripoli, former regent, and the Ibelins support the young Baudouin V, nephew of the king. He was appointed by the latter during his lifetime, after a quarrel with Guy de Lusignan (who was supposed to succeed him first); he is thus at the head of the other faction, pushed by his wife Sybille, sister of Baudouin IV. Supported by the master of the Templars, Gérard de Ridefort, and the seneschal of the late king, Guy takes advantage of the early death of Baudouin V (the reasons for this are unknown) to be crowned with his wife. Raymond of Tripoli withdrew to Tiberias, and even went so far as to ask for Saladin's support.

The sultan quickly took advantage of the weakening of the kingdom, and took yet another provocation from Renaud de Châtillon as a pretext to attack! He defeats the crusaders at Hattîn in July 1187, where he himself kills Renaud and takes the king prisoner, then easily takes a Jerusalem emptied of its knights in October. Almost the entire kingdom then falls, with the exception of Tire, saved by Conrad of Montferrat. It is the end of the kingdom of Jerusalem as such. The other Latin states are also very weakened, but will be maintained for a time thanks to the Third Crusade.

The vain dream of a new kingdom

Despite the fall of his capital, the kingdom as such is supposed to still exist… Guy de Lusignan (freed by Saladin), king without a kingdom, takes advantage of the arrival of Conrad, but especially of the Third Crusade, to install the siege of the kingdom at St-Jean d'Acre (taken over from Saladin in 1191). He has the support of Richard the Lionheart, while his rival Conrad has that of Philippe Auguste; but by 1192, most of the barons sided with Conrad, and even the King of England had to let go of Guy. The latter recovers Cyprus, and Conrad de Montferrat becomes king of Jerusalem… in Acre! He did not have time to take advantage of it because he was assassinated the same year (we mention an order from Saladin).

The kingdom of Jerusalem then passed from hand to hand, from the Lusignan family to the Ibelin family, and we had to wait for the crusade of Frederick II (which we will discuss in a forthcoming "Deus Vult") for a time (between 1229 and 1244), Jerusalem be restored to the Latins by the Treaty of Jaffa. But the fall of the Ayyubids leads to the reconquest of the holy city by the Muslims. Frankish kingdom dies of slow agony, torn apart by internal tensions and the appetites of the Genoese, the Venetians and then the Angevins. It was without difficulty that the Mamelukes of Baybars completed it with the capture of St. John of Acre on May 18, 1291, thus marking the end of the Latin States.


- J. PRAWER, History of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, CNRS, 2007 (1time edition, 1969).

- M. BALARD, Les Latins en Orient, XIth-XVth century, PUF, 2006.

- G. TATE, L’Orient des Croisades, Gallimard, 1991.

- C. CAHEN, East and West at the time of the Crusades, Aubier, 1983.

Video: The Second Crusade: Kingdom of Jerusalem part 2.