King Amaury I of Jerusalem

Posted September 29, 2017 12:53 pm by Abigail Turner under Guest blogs History Volunteering

by Matthieu Isbell

Matthieu Isbell is an undergraduate student of Ancient and Medieval History and Culture at Trinity College Dublin, entering his final academic year. He has an especial interest in the Crusades. He has been volunteering at the Museum of the Order St John over the summer, researching and writing about kings of Latin Jerusalem.

Billon denier from the reign of Amaury I of Jerusalem LDOSJ JE66 Museum of the Order of St John and University of Birmingham 2016

Amaury I, born in 1136, was the second son of Fulk, former count of Anjou turned king of Jerusalem, and Melisende, daughter of Baldwin II.[1] William of Tyre had a close association with this king. It was Amaury who patronised his historical writings, who helped William ascend the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and who employed William to tutor his son Baldwin.[2] According to William, Amaury was an avid intellectual who read whenever he could in his free time, especially history.[3] However, he also suffered from a speech impediment and was taciturn, not as affable as his predecessor.[4] In part like his predecessor, however, he had a penchant for womanising.[5]

Manuscript illustration of the coronation of Amaury I, MS Francais 2754 folio 71, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

In the time before his accession, Amaury played a part in the power struggle between his brother Baldwin III and Melisende. In particular, Amaury supported the queen while she included Amaury in some aspects of the apparent joint-rule between herself and Baldwin. For instance, after Baldwin’s abortive incursion into the Hauran and Bosra in June 1147, Amaury’s consent was included in the earliest subsequent charter in July, which Mayer argues was an implication of sharing out power with Amaury.[6] In a later charter dated to 1150 donating a village near Acre to the Hospitallers, Melisende additionally referred to Baldwin and Amaury as her coheredes, including the latter son’s consent to the charter as well.[7] Furthermore, in that charter one infers his partisanship for Melisende because he is emphasised as the son of the queen as opposed to the brother of the king.[8] Most notable about Amaury’s career preceding his kingship was his being granted the county of Jaffa in 1151, probably intended by Melisende to secure her position in the kingdom by filling powerful governmental and noble offices with loyalists.[9] Amaury’s support for Melisende continued until Baldwin’s military takeover in 1152, after which Amaury was deprived of his county as punishment.[10] However, he was restituted his land in 1154, as well as being granted by Baldwin the city of Ascalon following its conquest in 1153, likely a move by Baldwin to ensure his younger brother’s loyalty.[11] This grant around the same time also saw various dispossessed Frankish nobles from the defunct county of Edessa enter Amaury’s service, as well as Joscelin II’s daughter Agnes de Courtenay marrying him in 1157.[12] This union bore Amaury a son, Baldwin IV, and a daughter, Sibylla.[13]

Manuscript illustration of the repudiation of Agnes de Courtenay, MS Francais 2825 folio 227v., Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Because Baldwin III passed away heirless, Amaury succeeded to the throne by hereditary right in February 1163.[14] However, this succession was not without controversy. An especial issue was Amaury’s marriage. He and Agnes were third cousins, which was prohibited by the Church, and so Amaury was forced to annul the marriage before he could be crowned.[15] Hamilton has mentioned another potential cause for concern about their marriage, that being that the Jerusalemite nobility feared Edessan nobles would gain greater influence in the kingdom because one of their own had connections to the king.[16] Regardless of the cause, the union was annulled, without any discounting of the legitimacy of Baldwin IV or Sibylla.[17] According to the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, significant debate occurred about whether Amaury was worthy of the throne, although ultimately the High Court recognised his accession.[18] According to William of Tyre, Amaury “was well skilled in the customary law by which the kingdom was governed – in fact, he was second to no one in this respect”, a quality inferable from his legislative activity as king of Jerusalem.[19] Firstly, Amaury created the Assise sur la Ligece, which demanded that all rear-vassals of a lord do homage to the king, which would have meant that in theory said rear-vassals would have to support the king against the lord should either of them come to conflict.[20] That law was also viewed by historians like La Monte as a way to curb the nobles’ authority by allowing rear-vassals to appeal to the king against their tenant-in-chief;[21] Loud, however, argues that the law was intended to try cases between a rear-vassal and tenant-in-chief in a more balanced way wherein the former could seek royal warranty, but emphasising that they owed homage to the tenant-in-chief.[22] Additionally, in the preface to the sections of the Assise de la Cour des Bourgeois related to maritime cases, Amaury is credited with establishing those laws.[23] A final indication of Amaury’s legislative influence on the kingdom of Jerusalem would be the fact that later Cypriot and Jerusalemite kings during their coronation had to swear to uphold the laws of the kingdom of Jerusalem, of King Amaury, and of King Baldwin IV.[24]

Manuscript illustration from William of Tyre, depicting messengers sent by Amaury I to Manuel Comnenus (top) and an assault on Pelusium (bottom), BNF MS Francais 2628 folio 205v, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

The kingship of Amaury was primarily concerned with the conquest of Egypt. While Baldwin III had facilitated a future campaign there through capturing Ascalon, fortifying Gaza, and rendering the Fatimids tributary, it was Amaury who led at least five campaigns into Egypt from 1163 to 1169.[25] When the Fatimids failed to pay the tribute in 1163, Amaury responded by attacking Pelusium, only for his army to withdraw from the assault due to the Nile’s flooding.[26] A year later saw Nur al-Din’s general Shirkuh attack Bilbeis when the new vizier refused to honour his agreement with the Zengids, leading to said vizier appealing to Amaury to intervene.[27] The Frankish force encircled Shirkuh in Bilbeis but soon had to withdraw on account of Nur al-Din having captured Harim, Banyas, Bohemond III and Raymond III.[28] As one correspondent explained to Louis VII, Amaury did not have the manpower to fight in Outremer and Egypt at the same time.[29] This insecurity of the crusader states was also the reason for Amaury’s continuous petitions to Western Europe for military support, sending repeated letters to Louis VII from 1163 to 1165.[30] For instance, one letter from September 1163 to Louis said that if France were to lend military help then Egypt could easily fall to the crusaders.[31] The embassies sent to the West additionally led to Pope Alexander III twice proclaiming crusades in 1165-6 and 1169.[32]

The third expedition was arguably the most successful of Amaury’s Egyptian wars. As before, Amaury stepped in at the behest of the Fatimid vizier Shawar to end Shirkuh’s invasion of Egypt in 1167.[33] Although Amaury was defeated by Shirkuh at al-Babayn, he managed, with naval assistance from the Pisans, to blockade and besiege the Zengid garrison at Alexandria, making Shirkuh negotiate a truce.[34] The details of the truce vary to an extent, with Ibn al-Athir saying Shirkuh was paid 50,000 dinars to withdraw while another account has both the Franks and Zengids paid 30,000 each to leave Egypt.[35] What did certainly happen was that Shirkuh surrendered Alexandria to the Franks, who then returned the city to Shawar, installed a garrison in Cairo and rendered the Fatimids tributary to them.[36] Amaury was also recorded as having been asked by Saladin to ensure the Fatimid government did not seek retribution against the Alexandrians for aiding the Zengids, in addition to his escorting of the Zengid garrison out by boat back to their lands.[37]

Billon denier from the reign of Amaury I of Jerusalem, LDOSJ JE47 Museum of the Order of St John and University of Birmingham 2016

A year later, the kingdom of Jerusalem broke their peace with the Fatimids by invading Egypt again. Amaury was said by Ibn al-Athir to have been reluctant to invade Egypt because it supplied them and because he did not wish to get Shirkuh to intervene, but in the end he led the invasion.[38] The expedition began with an assault on Bilbeis, which Amaury then sacked, engendering the resistance of the people of Cairo when the Franks approached there.[39] While Shawar tried to parley with Amaury after the latter marched on Cairo, Shirkuh assembled an army and marched south to interfere. Amaury lifted the siege to intercept the Zengid general, only for said general to circumvent him and reach Cairo.[40] Thus, the Franks had no choice but to withdraw in January 1169, while Shirkuh and his nephew Saladin shortly afterwards became the new viziers of Egypt.[41] A few months later, the Franks and Byzantines led a combined assault, involving 150 Byzantine galleys, on Damietta by land and sea, an expedition which turned out badly for the assailants whose navy ran out of supplies and was unable to enter the Nile, while the land forces were hindered by constant raining.[42] Finally, when reports came of an approaching Syrian army as well as Nur al-Din threatening the crusader states, the besiegers pulled out of Egypt.[43] Instead of a tributary state or even a state directly under Frankish control, Amaury’s reign saw Egypt get taken over by military officers of Nur al-Din, leading to a vizierate which posed further complications for the security of Jerusalem’s southern frontier as seen when Saladin partially sacked Gaza and conquered Frankish Ayla in Aqaba in 1170.[44] Despite the failures of the expeditions, Amaury would never stop trying to undermine Saladin’s control of Egypt. Ibn al-Athir even related a moment in April 1174 where Amaury sent emissaries to communicate secretly with courtiers conspiring against Saladin before their plot was exposed.[45]

Manuscript illustration of the marriage of Amaury I and Maria Comnene, Yates Thompson MS 12 folio 143, British Library, Public Domain.

Amaury maintained amicable relations with the Byzantine Empire, like Baldwin III, because they were a propinquitous and affluent power ready to assist.[46] Indeed, the Byzantines were likely seen by Nur al-Din as enough of a threat to deter the Aleppan sultan from invading Antioch too much in 1164 lest the Greeks were to intervene.[47] In 1165 Amaury sent an embassy to Manuel Komnenos to petition a marital alliance, to which Manuel responded in 1167 by sending back the embassy with his grandniece Maria as a bride for Amaury in addition to two Italian Byzantine envoys to discuss a closer alliance between Byzantium and Jerusalem.[48] Moreover, Amaury sent another embassy headed by William of Tyre before the fourth Egyptian expedition to negotiate a military alliance against Egypt.[49] Additionally, Amaury helped the Byzantines and Antiochenes in Mamistra, Adama, and Tarsus, against the Cilician Mleh in c.1170.[50] Finally, Amaury, the first Jerusalemite monarch to do so, personally visited the emperor’s court in Constantinople in 1171.[51] The details of the treaty concluded at that visit are uncertain, although John Kinnamos wrote that Amaury submitted to Manuel during the visit.[52] Amaury’s desire for close relations with the Byzantine Empire had equally a cultural impact on the kingdom of Jerusalem. Under Amaury, the coinage of the realm changed from depicting the Tower of David to depicting the Holy Sepulchre. According to Folda, the structure specifically shown in the coins is the Byzantine Anastasis Rotunda built in the 1040s.[53] Folda adds that Amaury encouraged more Byzantine ceremonial dress at his court.[54] A final example of Amaury’s close ties with Manuel signified by the material culture of Frankish Outremer would be the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a church important to the Byzantines, for which the two rulers commissioned mosaics to adorn the church interior.[55] Amaury’s Egyptian expeditions additionally helped pay for new construction projects in Jerusalem during his rule, such as the reconstruction of the royal palace as well as possibly a new Gothic room added to the Cenacle on Mount Zion.[56]

Map of Jerusalem made in Cambrai dated to the thirteenth century, Anonymous, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Amaury also held close connections with the Knights Hospitaller, particularly their master Gilbert d’Aissilly.[57] Gilbert was one of the envoys sent to western Europe to seek military assistance, their order also having been entrusted with various forts in the county of Tripoli during Amaury’s regency there in the absence of Raymond III.[58] It was this order which purportedly encouraged the failed campaign into Egypt in 1168, the Hospitallers having been promised control of lands in Egypt like Bilbeis in exchange for lending military aid in that expedition.[59] When Gilbert even decided to resign from his position as master of the Hospital in 1171, Amaury apparently warned the realm would suffer.[60] By contrast, Amaury’s relation with the Knights Templar was strained, likely on account of his close affiliation with the Hospitallers as the former order refused to participate in the 1168 expedition on account of the latter order having come up with the expedition.[61] Their relations were particularly badly affected after some Templars ambushed an Assassin embassy which offered to help Amaury against Nur al-Din in exchange for the abolition of a tribute the Templars imposed on them in 1169.[62] Amaury wanted to punish the attackers, but the master of the Temple wanted them tried by the pope. In response, he marched into Sidon and imprisoned the master, then asked the pope for the order’s dissolution.[63]

Amaury met his end in July 1174. Following the passing of Nur al-Din in May 1174, Amaury saw a chance to try reclaiming Banyas in June, that settlement his brother had so often saved and which Amaury lost early in his reign.[64] After pulling out of Banyas with an agreement of monetary payment from the defenders he contracted dysentery and returned to Jerusalem, where he died at the age of 38.[65]

Manuscript illustration from William of Tyre’s History and Continuation depicting the death of Amaury I (top) and the succession of his son Baldwin IV (bottom), BNF Richelieu MS Francais 2628, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.


Primary Sources:
Barber, Malcolm, and Bate, Keith, trans. and eds., Letters from the East (Farnham, 2010).
Ibn al-Athir, Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period, Part 2, trans. D.S. Richards (Aldershot, 2007).
William of Tyre, History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea Vol. II, trans. Emily Atwater Babcock and A.C. Krey (New York, 1943).

Secondary Sources:
Barber, Malcolm, The Crusader States (London, 2014).
Folda, Jaroslav, The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1098–1187 (Cambridge, 1995).
Hamilton, Bernard, ‘The Titular Nobility of the Latin East: The Case of Agnes of Courtenay’, in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Peter Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), p.197–203.
La Monte, John, Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1100–1291 (Cambridge, 1932).
Loud, G.A., ‘The Assise sur la Ligece and Ralph of Tiberias’, in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Peter Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), pp. 204–12.
Mayer, Hans Eberhard, ‘Studies in the History of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 26 (1972), pp. 93–182.
Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography (London, 2011).
Omran, Mahmud Said, ‘King Amalric and the Siege of Alexandria, 1167’, in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Peter Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), pp. 191–6.
Phillips, Jonathan, The Crusades, 1095–1204 (Abingdon, 2014).
Riley-Smith, Jonathan, The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070–1309 (London, 2012).
Runciman, Steven, A History of the Crusades, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1952).


[1] Hans Eberhard Mayer, ‘Studies in the History of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 26 (1972), p. 113.
[2] Ibid., p. 98; William of Tyre, History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, vol. 2, trans. Emily Atwater Babcock and A.C. Krey (New York, 1943), Bk. XX. 31; Malcolm Barber, The Crusader States (London, 2014), p. 234.
[3] William of Tyre, Bk. XIX. 2.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Mayer, ‘Melisende’, p. 124.
[7] Ibid., pp. 140–1.
[8] Ibid., p. 162.
[9] Ibid.
[10] William of Tyre, Bk. XVII. 14; Barber, Crusader States, pp. 196–7.
[11] Barber, Crusader States, p. 203.
[12] Bernard Hamilton, ‘The Titular Nobility of the Latin East: the Case of Agnes of Courtenay’ in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Peter Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), p. 198.
[13] Ibid.
[14] William of Tyre, Bk. XIX. 1.
[15] Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1952), p. 362.
[16] Hamilton, ‘Agnes of Courtenay’, p. 198.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., p. 199; William of Tyre, Bk. XIX. 1.
[19] William of Tyre, Bk. XIX. 2.
[20] Barber, Crusader States, p. 236.
[21] John La Monte, Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1100–1291 (Cambridge, 1932), p. 22.
[22] G.A. Loud, ‘The Assise sur la Ligece and Ralph of Tiberias’, in Crusade and Settlement ed. Peter Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), p. 205.
[23] La Monte, Feudal Monarchy, p. 21.
[24] Ibid., p. 20.
[25] Jonathan Phillips, The Crusades, 1095–1204 (Abingdon, 2014), p. 115.
[26] Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, trans. and eds. Letters from the East (Surrey, 2010), pp. 54–5.
[27] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 368.
[28] Ibid., pp. 369-71; Phillips, Crusades, p. 116; Barber, Crusader States, p. 240.
[29] Barber and Bate, eds. Letters from the East, pp. 60–1.
[30] Ibid., pp. 52-62; Phillips, Crusades, p. 116.
[31] Barber and Bate, eds. Letters from the East, pp. 54–5.
[32] Phillips, Crusades, pp. 116 and 120.
[33] Barber, Crusader States, pp. 242–3.
[34] Mahmoud Said Omran, ‘King Amalric and the Siege of Alexandria, 1167’ in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Peter Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), pp. 192–3; Phillips, Crusades, p. 118.
[35] Ibn al-Athir, Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the Crusading Period, Part 2, trans. D.S. Richards (Aldershot, 2007), p. 165; Omran, ‘King Amalric and the Siege of Alexandria’, p. 194.
[36] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, pp. 375–6.
[37] Omran, ‘King Amalric and the Siege of Alexandria’, p. 195.
[38] Ibn al-Athir, pp. 171–2.
[39] Ibid., p.172; Phillips, Crusades, p. 119.
[40] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 382.
[41] Ibid.; Ibn al-Athir, pp. 175–7.
[42] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, pp. 386–8; Phillips, Crusades, p. 121.
[43] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 387; Ibn al-Athir, p. 183.
[44] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, pp. 390–1; Ibn al-Athir, p. 194.
[45] Ibn al-Athir, pp. 218–9.
[46] William of Tyre, Bk. XX. 22.
[47] Barber, Crusader States, p. 241.
[48] Ibid., p. 246; Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 370.
[49] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 380.
[50] Ibid., pp. 389–90; William of Tyre, Bk. XX. 26.
[51] William of Tyre, Bk. XX. 22.
[52] Phillips, Crusades, p. 122.
[53] Jaroslav Folda, The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1098–1187 (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 333 and 336–7.
[54] Ibid., p. 333.
[55] Ibid.; Barber, Crusader States, pp. 246–8.
[56] Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (London, 2011), p. 239.
[57] Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070–1309 (London, 2012), p. 33.
[58] Ibid., p. 34; Phillips, Crusades, p. 116.
[59] Barber, Crusader States, pp. 248–9.
[60] Riley-Smith, Knights Hospitaller, p. 35.
[61] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 380; Barber, Crusader States, p. 249.
[62] Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, pp. 396–7.
[63] Ibid., p. 397; William of Tyre, Bk. XX. 30
[64] William of Tyre, Bk. XX. 31; Ibn al-Athir, pp. 225–6.
[65] Ibid.; Runciman, History of the Crusades, Vol. 2, p. 399.

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