THE REIGN OF GUY DE LUSIGNAN (1186-1213)
Part IV: The False Emperor and False Friends
The Grand Third Crusade called by the Pope never materialized. All of the great kings of Europe pledged to go on the Pope’s new Crusade but then promptly did not. Henry II of England claimed that a bad bout of pneumonia prevented his departure, and Philip Augustus of France excused himself on the basis of his prolonged wars with Henry! The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa gathered an enormous host from across his vast domain to fight Saladin, but then died accidentally by drowning along the way. The Pope was disappointed and the leading clergymen from England and France were terribly embarrassed. The papal edict remained in effect, in case any of Europe’s princes decided they wanted to go to heaven after all.
The Royal Court burst into jubilation in June of 1189, for Queen Sibylla gave birth to a healthy son! He was named Godfrey after the illustrious Godfrey of Bouillon, founder of the Kingdom, in the hopes that one day he would bring renewed greatness and vitality to Jerusalem.
As a celebration for the birth of the new prince, King Guy once again called the great nobles to Jerusalem for a magnificent feast and a royal council. Reynald, Raymond, and Bohemond all arrived with their usual entourages. Gerard excused himself on imperative Templar business – Saladin’s men were encroaching somewhat on the Templar lands at Ascalon. Balian of Ibelin was accompanied by his firstborn son, Balian the Younger, who had newly come of age. In all things the two exactly resembled each other. They could have been twin brothers, excepting the great difference in age.
The tension was palpable as the king sat at table facing his disgruntled vassals. Guy tried to alleviate the stress a little by asking the lords what it was they desired most of him. This was not a good idea.
Raymond of Tiberias sits in council at the king’s court.
“Edessa!” blurted Reynald immediately, gulping down a huge mouthful of venison, “It hangs next to our realm like an overripe plum! Allow me simply to pluck it, and we will all dine on the luscious fruit together!”
“No!” shouted Raymond and Bohemond, almost in unison. “That would most assuredly destabilize the already precarious northern marches,” continued Raymond, “Tripoli and Antioch have enough difficulties fighting off Mesopotamian raiding parties as it is! By the blood of our sons are your lands kept safe. Peace is such a fleeting thing, and you would jeopardize it on a whim?”
“Not a whim!” Reynald snarled, “The Will of God!”
“And what do you say, Lord Balian?” asked Guy, growing uneasy.
The ordinarily reticent Balian sat with his chin resting contemplatively on one hand. At the king’s question he sat upright in his chair, looked Guy in the eyes and said simply, “I think your Majesty should invade Cyprus.”
“What?” Reynald shouted. Tiberias raised an eyebrow. Guy’s jaw actually dropped. That suggestion had been unexpected. The court sat riveted on Balian, awaiting an explanation of such a bizarre suggestion.
“Cyprus is a focal point for trade in the eastern seas,” said Balian, “By bringing it into the kingdom, we would guarantee the enrichment of the royal treasury.”
“Good,” thought Guy, “Money is always the best place to start.”
“What is more,” continued Balian, “The Island of Cyprus is ruled by Isaac Komnenos, a rude, irascible fellow, and a rebel claimant for the Byzantine throne. By deposing him, we would curry favor with the Emperor, which is always good to have here in Outremer. In addition, Cyprus lies on the main sea route that new Crusaders take to reach Jerusalem. Eliminating the nagging fear of Cypriot pirates removes another excuse the complacent nobles of the west use to postpone fighting the infidel. So, my king, my request is simple: invade Cyprus.”
“A splendid idea!” said Guy, “We shall prepare ourselves, and then next year we invade the Island of Cyprus! Now who will go with me to wrest this little trifle from the hands of Prince Isaac?”
“Another needless war with our fellow Christians when we should be defending our realm from the infidel Saracens,” said Raymond melancholically, rising to his feet, “I cannot participate. Tripoli is in too much danger from the Emir of Erzerum.”
“N-n-nor sh-sh-shall I,” stammered Bohemond, “I must d-d-defend Antioch.”
Reynald de Chatillon just growled and stormed out of the room without saying anything further at all.
“I will go,” said the shrewd Balian as he caught the king’s eye once again, “I will take Cyprus myself if these my fellows are otherwise detained.”
“Then it’s settled,” said Guy, with a smile on his face that seemed inappropriate considering the dire mood of the council only moments before, “The hosts of Jerusalem and Jaffa will sail for Cyprus, and I’m sure Grandmaster Gerard could spare a few of his Templar Knights for such a noble venture.”
The nobles left the council chamber without further discussion. As Guy followed the last man out of the room, the waiting Reynald pulled him aside. “Listen,” he said breathlessly, “I can see there’s no convincing you to leave off invading Cyprus. I know how you get when your mind is set on something. But please, my lord, do not give Cyprus to Balian of Ibelin!”
“Why shouldn’t I,” asked Guy, “If he takes it in honorable battle?”
“Because Balian would be too strong!” said Reynald, “He wants your crown! A blind man with his face in a donkey’s behind could see it! Mark my words, if you give him Cyprus, you give him your throne.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Guy, “But I trust you’ll bring your men along to ensure his loyalty?”
“Hmph,” said Reynald, “If that’s what it takes to keep the crown in the hands of its rightful owner. You know we are friends, my King. You can trust me -- just don’t throw it all away.”
Several months later, and after a treacherous journey across the seas, the army of Jerusalem sat poised to storm the walls of the Cypriot port of Famagusta. Gerard had brought 750 knights, a rather small contingent, but considering the danger Ascalon was in, it was generous indeed on the part of the Knights Templar. No doubt Gerard wished to convince Guy that he still cared as much about the fate of the kingdom as Reynald or Balian. The Hospitallers of Roger de Moulins had also joined the ranks, fresh from a grand victory at Menorca, which was now a dominion of the Knights.
The gates of the city opened, and a man bearing the white flag came out to parlay with the lords of Outremer. “My Lord Isaakios, of the Imperial Family Komnenos, True Emperor of Byzantium and Lord of Cyprus, desires to know why it is that his brother-in-Christ, the King of Jerusalem, has brought his entire host to visit his realm,” began the exceedingly long-winded messenger, “He desires to know whether there was some great tournament, the likes of which have surely never before been seen in Christendom, which was scheduled for this day. If so, my lord has most surely forgotten it. He asks—“
Isaac’s messenger’s words were cut short as Reynald brought his mace crashing down on the man’s iron helmet. The force of the blow was enough to knock the man unconscious, though it didn’t kill him. “There’s your answer!” said Reynald, leaning over from atop his warhorse to contemptuously spit on the recumbent man below. He then raised his arm to signal his catapults to commence the assault.
It’s clobbering time!
Jerusalem had the benefit of surprise -- there had been no formal declaration of war as chivalry demanded. Thus, the bombardment lasted only a short time before breaking through the walls; the Greeks of Famagusta were not quite as well-prepared as the Hashishin of Masyaf had been. As their fortifications crumbled, well-armed Byzantine swordsmen poured through the breach to confront Jerusalem’s sergeant footmen.
Preparing to enter the battle, Lord Balian reverently kissed his battle-worn broadsword as was his habit, and crossed himself, softly speaking the words of a Latin prayer under his breath.
His prayer concluded, Balian roared his battlecry as he led his knights in a magnificent charge: “Christus Invictus!” The Knights of Jaffa met the counter-charge of the Byzantine lancers with a spectacular crash.
As Balian thundered past, the treacherous Byzantine infantry threw Greek Fire at the brave sergeants of Jerusalem to scorch them, utilizing peculiar brazen dragons. Those who eluded the deadly flames burst upon the Cypriot infantry with a maddened frenzy. The noblest of knights and sergeants fought alongside the Pisan and Genovese sailors who had ferried them to Cyprus.
Meanwhile, inside the breached fortress, Isaac Komnenos waited with his elite retinue of Kataphraktoi for the opportune moment to turn the tide. Jerusalem’s host was not at full strength with the absence of Tripoli, Antioch, and most of the Templars, and an excellent opportunity could present itself favoring the Cypriots…
Isaac and his cataphracts wait to attack.
The opportunity indeed presented itself when some of the Knights Hospitaller broke through one of the city gates. Isaac’s men lured them deeper into the city and into a waiting ambush by the Kataphraktoi, which inflicted very heavy casualties on the Knights.
In the meantime, the soldiers of Guy and Reynald were being pushed back by the Cypriot counter-assault. Gerard and his Templars displayed great courage, but the odds now seemed against them. Who would have suspected that such a seemingly insignificant island nation could have such fury in their hearts and swords? The din of the battle increased to a roar as the implements of death: swords, axes, maces, fell again and again.
The Knightly Orders display their bravery.
At the point when it seemed the crusaders were about to break, they were bolstered by the timely arrival of Raymond and Bohemond with a modest detachment of reinforcements. The two northern barons had managed to sign a white peace with the Emir of Erzerum, and had come to do their duty to the crown by saving their beleaguered countrymen. The tables soon turned and the Cypriots were steadily pushed back.
A stray projectile from one of the catapults struck the dome of the city church, which collapsed in on itself, much to the dismay of the locals. The crusaders took at as a sign of God's favor for them and fought with renewed vigor.
Balian of Ibelin heroically managed to penetrate the defenses of Famagusta’s fortress and the forces of Jaffa poured into it. As he placed the Banner of the Golden Cross atop the highest rampart of the keep, Balian called down to the brave crusaders assembled in the courtyard below, “Victory, for Guy, Jerusalem, and Our Lord Jesus Christ! Victory!”
A resplendent cheer arose from the embattled Franks, echoed by a woeful cry of despondency from the Greeks. The Jerusalemites had won the day! At that moment, Prince Isaac and his Cataphracts arrived, fresh from the slaughter of Hospitallers, and bearing the white flag of truce.
“I would speak with the king!” he called out in a loud voice to the watching soldiers.
Guy soon emerged from the midst of the crusaders, and rode out to Isaac. The two rulers met at a point halfway between their respective armies, and conveniently out of earshot.
“Great King,” said Isaac, his face contorted in what seemed to be his attempt at a smile, though it really appeared more of a rictus, “You held the field, and crushed my army. The day is yours, surely. But surely also the bitterness of death is past?”
“What do you mean?” asked Guy.
“You have assuredly taken my port of Famagusta. It is now yours by right. But Cyprus is a large island. My men will fight to the death rather than submit to the humiliation of surrendering to the Franks, and that means many long and bloody battles for you. My own firstborn son commands the garrison in the grand fortress of Limisol, and I can guarantee that many of your brave warriors will die in taking it. So what I propose is this…” said Isaac.
“I’m listening,” responded Guy.
Isaac continued, “Recognize my right to rule all of Cyprus as its Prince. I will swear fealty to you as king, pay you homage. You wanted access to the wealth of Cyprus, well it’s yours. I’ll give you a fourth… no, a third of what my men take in, eh, ‘tolls’ from passing ships. You can tell the world that Cyprus is a loyal part of your kingdom, and you won’t have to hand my domain over to one of those bloodthirsty dogs you call your vassals. Consider the possibilities of a loyal Cyprus!”
“A cunning plan,” said Guy, remembering Reynald’s words about Balian after the feast months earlier, “But it will take some doing to convince my nobles that I’m not handing away a perfectly good victory.”
Isaac prostrated himself on the ground and kissed Guy’s boot, calling out in a loud voice, “I, Isaakios Komnenos, of the House Komnenos, Prince of Cyprus, and by rights, Byzantine Emperor, do now swear fealty to Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, as my lawful overlord, to honor his commands, pay him a third of my lawful increase, and defend his kingdom!” After years at the Byzantine court, it appeared Isaac had developed a taste for the theatrical. “Was that a good enough demonstration of my loyalty, oh king?” Isaac asked in a low voice.
“Very good,” said Guy, thinking himself incredibly clever, “Though I suppose I should ask you for an immediate tribute of some sort, just for appearances’ sake.”
Isaac pulled a handful of gold coins out of the coin purse at his belt. “Is this enough?” he asked with a smirk.
As Guy rode back to his lines, Balian walked out to him. “Why does that cowardly swine still have his head?” he asked, “Kill him! Kill that treacherous snake now!”
“Prince Isaac has sworn fealty to me as his overlord,” Guy said smugly, “And as an honorable king, I must protect his rights, mustn’t I? I could no sooner take his head than I could take yours!”
“But Cyprus, my lord!” groaned Balian, “Why did you give him back Cyprus? I don’t care about Famagusta! Give it to whomever you want, give it to your baby son, give it to your dog for all I care, as long is it isn’t back to Isaac Komnenos!”
“Cyprus is his,” said Guy, “As Jaffa is yours. You’ll have to learn to live with that.”
“Words cannot even describe the incredible folly your majesty has just undertaken,” said Balian. He angrily walked back to his knights, shaking his head. “Idiot,” he said, just loud enough so that his son and a few others could hear.
And so it was that in the Year of Our Lord 1190, Cyprus became an integral part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the elder Balian of Ibelin began to hate his liege lord for his unabashed stupidity.
Witness the Storming of Famagusta – 1190
With Cyprus now in the fold, the kingdom settled again into its usual routine, though most of the nobles no longer held much respect for Guy de Lusignan.
The most noteworthy event in the Year 1191 was the arrival at the Royal Court of the King’s brother, Geoffrey, and the Lady Orengarde, the widow of the eldest de Lusignan brother, Hugh. They were lately arrived from France in self-imposed exile due to a regime change in Lusignan.
The news was dire: both France and England were indeed in turmoil. England’s King Henry, a distant relative, was at war with his sons Richard and John, the one based out of Aquitaine, and the other out of Ireland. Orengarde’s son, Hugh the Younger, had recently inherited his father’s title of Count of Lusignan, but had made himself such a nuisance to both King Henry and Duke Richard that both of them had officially revoked his title, despite being at war with each other. Henry had wanted to grant the title to one of his faithful vassals, but since Lusignan was in Richard’s sphere of control, it went to a beautiful, easily-influnced teenage girl from the ducal court.
Rather than submit to be ruled by such a silly young tart, Geoffrey and Orengarde had, under the nominal excuse of a pilgrimage, sought asylum in Jerusalem with their last relative of any importance: King Guy. Hugh the Younger had stayed behind in Lusignan, ostensibly to find a way to reclaim his title, but Geoffrey and Orengarde had scarcely left the country when they heard that Hugh had married the strumpet, and only a few days after his previous wife he died at the hands of an unknown assassin!
Guy at once took these long-lost relatives in, providing them with every needful thing that nobles of high status required. He even provided them with important court positions, clearing out the dull-witted Steward Raoul and even his own brother Chancellor Amaury the Hunchback in order to make room for the prestigious and skilled newcomers.
The gruesome twosome.
The indecency of Hugh the Younger’s licentious marriage was compounded further by the nuptials of his uncle and mother only a month into their stay. Patriarch Guillaume was offended and condemned their union on grounds of consanguinity, so they got a priest fresh from his ordination to perform the ceremony. The day after the wedding, rumor spread around the Royal Court that Count Hugh the Elder had not died a natural death, a suggestion with some very nasty implications for the happy couple, Geoffrey and Orengarde.
Their refined manners and fashionable dress may have won over many in the court, but Queen Sibylla did not trust either of them in the slightest. Neither did Grandmaster Gerard. The former Chancellor Amaury de Lusignan in particular was quite dismayed at handing over his high position to the Lady Orengarde, who was now twice his sister-in-law. Experiencing their daily presence at court was not an easy thing for any even-tempered, moderately pious courtier to stomach. Sibylla especially objected to the presence of such a formidable and dangerous rival; her primary focus now was insuring that her children would survive to have a healthy future.
Alix was quickly developing into quite the young prodigy. Her brilliance made the Queen wish that her daughter could inherit the throne as sole ruler, without having a husband to reign over her as King-Consort. As it was, the Princess could only hope to be the power behind the throne to some fortune-blessed king.
Yet there was still hope that young Godfrey would grow up to be a worthy man, despite Guy’s plan to personally oversee the child’s upbringing, which was especially galling to Sibylla. Yes, a worthy son, despite his father; that was a goal that Sibylla would give her all to achieve. It had always been obvious that Guy could not provide adequately for the children, so Sibylla began to initiate friendships with men of influence who could, men like Gerard de Ridefort, like Raymond of Tiberias, and like Balian of Ibelin…