King Baldwin III of Jerusalem

Posted August 24, 2017 4:30 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.

Manuscript illustration of the coronation of Baldwin III and Melisende of Jerusalem.
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Baldwin III was born in 1130 to Fulk, former count of Anjou turned king of Jerusalem by his marriage to Queen Melisende, daughter of Baldwin II. According to Archbishop William of Tyre, on his deathbed Baldwin II granted full power of rulership to Fulk, Melisende, and their son Baldwin in 1131, though Baldwin would only be crowned king on Christmas Day 1143 following the passing of his father during a riding accident.[1] He was the first king of Jerusalem born in Outremer.[2] Because he had not reached majority before his coronation, his mother took over as regent, although La Monte believed that the charters from 1144–1152 suggest that that period was less a regency and more a joint rulership of Baldwin and Melisende.[3] Melisende would remain in power until 1152, seven years after Baldwin III had attained the age of majority.[4] The only reason the regency ended was on account of Baldwin having taken over by force.

As a youth, William of Tyre described Baldwin as being highly erudite in legal, religious, and historical matters, as befitted a man who would be king, equally interested in discussing such matters with learned men.[5] According to the archbishop, Baldwin was favoured by the clergy for his deep respect for the Church, as well as by the populace for his high sociability to such an extent that he purportedly never refused an audience when it was requested of him, and though he was quick to jest about people’s faults even in public, he did so amicably and did not hesitate to take criticism.[6] In terms of vice, William related Baldwin’s fondness for gambling and womanising, though such inclinations died down as he grew older.[7] Baldwin certainly reflected his respect for the Church’s authority after the 1159 papal election following Hadrian IV’s death. Although at first expressing neutrality his government eventually recognised Alexander III and opposed the antipope backed by Frederick Barbarossa.[8]

Manuscript illustration of the coronation of Baldwin III from a fifteenth-century manuscript of William of Tyre, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Francais 68, folio 233.
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Important to note about Baldwin’s life is that even before he reached the age of majority he led armies into battle, with the earliest recorded case being in 1144 (Baldwin by then being around 14 years old) when he suppressed a revolt at the fortress in Wadi Musa, won by his threatening of the fortress’ copious olive groves on which it depended.[9] He additionally led an army in 1147–8 to take Bosra in the Hauran (whose governor surrendered the city to the Jerusalemites for a price) from Damascus, a city with which Jerusalem had had a truce since the time of Baldwin II.[10] Despite being offered compensation by the vizier of Damascus to withdraw from the expedition, Baldwin III proceeded with the expedition which ended disastrously, as the Jerusalemites had notified Damascus of the invasion before it began, allowing the Damascenes to strengthen Bosra against the Franks and appeal to Nur al-Din for aid.[11] Despite the unwisdom of the expedition, Baldwin purportedly chose not to abandon the rest of his army when such an opportunity was offered by his generals.[12] It was also during his co-rulership with Melisende that Baldwin began solidifying Frankish control of the southern territories bordering Egypt, best seen in 1149–50 when he fortified the city of Gaza with a castle that he then entrusted to the Templars, not only providing a strong border with the Fatimids but also checking the Fatimid fortress of Ascalon to the north of Gaza.[13]

The first half of Baldwin’s reign can be best described as a competition for power between himself and Melisende. The latter had been consolidating her position as queen through connections with prominent nobles and landholders such as the Ibelins, Philip of Nablus, and Prince Erard of Galilee, as well as appointing loyalists to crown offices like her cousin Manasses of Hierges to the position of constable.[14] The nobility did not so quickly recognise Baldwin’s authority, as seen in 1150 when most of them refused his summons to form an army to stop Nur al-Din and the Seljuqs attacking what remained of the county of Edessa.[15] Although not inexperienced in warfare, Baldwin was also prevented by Melisende from marching north with Manasses of Hierges and the Jerusalemite relief force to help retake Edessa from the Mosul atabeg Zengi, purportedly because it risked an undermining of her authority if Baldwin in that campaign were to become a standard around whom the nobility and army could gather.[16]

Depiction of the 1148 Council of Acre in a fifteenth-century manuscript of William of Tyre, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Francais 68, folio 251v.
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

However, that would not explain why Baldwin was allowed to fight in the abortive Second Crusade. Not only did the king participate in the council at Acre in 1148 when it was decided to besiege Damascus, but he even led the vanguard, according to William of Tyre.[17] He was furthermore involved in the disputes over to whom Damascus would belong once it had been captured, supporting Thierry of Flanders’ claim to it as a quasi-independent fief over the demands of Melisende, Manasses, and the rest of Jerusalem’s nobility that it go to the lord of Beirut, likely causing a greater rift between the king and his aristocracy.[18] Melisende’s power however suffered in the early 1150s, with her constable apparently becoming unpopular among the nobility in addition to her faction’s seeming loss of favour with the Ibelins when Manasses married Helvis of Ramlah and so acquired the landed inheritance originally meant for her sons by a previous marriage.[19] In 1152 Baldwin had even more greatly consolidated his power by getting Melisende to partition the kingdom so that he could gain Acre and Tyre, while also having Manasses replaced as constable by his own supporter Humphrey II of Toron.[20] This rise to power culminated in Baldwin’s defeat of Manasses at Mirabel, then capturing Nablus from Melisende and forcing her faction’s surrender at the Tower of David in Jerusalem.[21] After that, Baldwin allowed her only to rule Nablus.[22] Meanwhile, Baldwin secured his own position by various means. He had some supporters of Melisende like Manasses exiled.[23] In other cases however, such as his brother Amalric and Philip of Nablus, he seems to have taken an approach of winning their favour by grants of land. In 1153 Baldwin granted Amalric the county of Ascalon. Meanwhile Philip of Nablus in 1161 was given the expansive lands of the Transjordan in exchange for Nablus, a move that additionally granted Baldwin greater control of central lands in the kingdom.[24] Coinage was another means by which Baldwin consolidated his rule, as he was the first Jerusalemite king to initiate such  numismatic reform that saw a recalling of the predominating Italian coins in the kingdom to be recast as new billon coinage, he may have also legislated against local coinage minted by barons.[25]

Coin of Baldwin III, 1143 – 1163 LDOSJ JE10

A year after his becoming the preeminent monarch in Jerusalem, Baldwin continued with his designs on expanding Jerusalemite power in the southern Levant by besieging Ascalon for nine months. On one hand, this endeavour increased Frankish control of the Levantine coast to the extent that they could intercept a prominent fugitive of the Fatimids and sell them back to Egypt for 60,000 gold coins.[26] The siege additionally reflected Baldwin’s designs on Egypt during his rule, designs further noted in a diploma dated to 1157–9 promising a large fief in Egypt to a certain Jonathan Pisellus.[27] Baldwin furthermore initiated an arms embargo against the Fatimids with Pisa in 1156.[28] This desire to conquer Egypt likely influenced the later campaigns of Baldwin’s successor Amalric. On the other hand, the conquest of Ascalon had put Baldwin into heavy debt.[29] Because of financial complications such as that, Baldwin violated his truce of 1156 with Nur al-Din after raiding Bedouins protected under the truce because he needed to fiscally support his kingdom.[30] As William of Tyre described it, Baldwin was a man “burdened by debt and held fast by many obligations which he had no  means of satisfying”.[31] This led to Nur al-Din’s siege of Banyas in 1157, which Baldwin then came to lift, only for Baldwin to be defeated by an ambushing of his forces at Jacob’s Ford in which, though he narrowly escaped capture or death, he lost 87 Templars and around 300 knights.[32] Baldwin however compensated for this defeat by lifting another of Nur al-Din’s sieges on Banyas. Moreover, in 15 July 1158 Baldwin would avenge himself against Nur al-Din by defeating him in open battle.[33]

Manuscript illustration of the Siege of Ascalon from Les Passages d’outremer faits par les Francais contre les Turcs depuis Charlemagne jusqu’en 1462, by Sebastien Mamerot, 1474–5.
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Baldwin’s kingship saw a recurring need to intervene in and secure the Latin states to his north, whose rulers were repeatedly humiliated and defeated. Nur al-Din in the summer of 1149 assaulted the principality of Antioch, killing Prince Raymond in the process, an assault that was lifted when Baldwin marched north in response, he additionally remained in Antioch to secure the state for a time.[34] The Jerusalemite king additionally sought possible suitors for Raymond’s widow Constance as well as approving her marriage to Reynald de Chatillon.[35] After Count Raymond of Tripoli was assassinated in 1152, it was Baldwin who managed to gain the nobility’s recognition of the count’s wife and their son Raymond III.[36] Baldwin’s authority in Outremer was such that not only did Reynald submit to his demands for the restitution of the Antiochene Patriarch Aimery de Limoges, but Baldwin even left the patriarch in charge of Antioch after November 1160/1 when Reynald was taken prisoner during an assault on Aleppo’s lands.[37] Moreover, in 1158, he took part in the failed siege of Shaizar and the successful siege of Harim, as well as reinforcing the Bridge of Iron fortress in the Antiochene principality in 1161.[38] In addition to the Aleppine threat posed to the northern crusader states, Baldwin contended with the increasing influence of Manuel Komnenos on Antioch. On the one hand, Baldwin saw the utility of having close relations with the Byzantine Empire, as seen when he married Manuel’s niece Theodora, with which marriage he also received an exte

Manuscript illustration of the death of Baldwin III and Amalric I’s coronation, MS Francais 2628, folio 192.
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

nsive dowry totalling 114,000 hypereroi, alleviating his aforementioned fiscal difficulties.[39] Gregory the Priest further reported that Manuel promised to personally aid the crusader states.[40] Baldwin additionally marched in Manuel’s triumph through Antioch, and was seated next to the emperor. [41] Furthermore, Baldwin acted as mediator during Manuel’s conflicts with Reynald and Thoros II of Cilicia, managing to get the Armenian prince to submit to the Byzantines.[42] At the same time, Baldwin tried to ensure Manuel’s involvement in Antiochene affairs only went so far, as best seen by his attempts to offer him a bride related to Raymond III because he did not want Manuel to marry the daughter of Constance of Antioch, a move which would solidify the Byzantine control over the Frankish principality, though he did not openly oppose it lest such compromise his relations with the Byzantines, who had previously given him an additional subsidy of 22,000 hypereroi.[43]

Baldwin III met his end without an heir in February 1163, after falling ill in Antioch in 1162, and ultimately passing away at Beirut, with his body brought back in a funeral procession to Jerusalem. [44] His death was seen as a disaster for the crusader states, as Baldwin had been a crucial bulwark against Nur al-Din. As Amalric explained in a letter to Louis VII in September 1163, Baldwin’s passing was the culmination of a series of disasters experienced by the crusader states which included earthquakes ravaging the Antiochene principality.[45] According to him,

After God he was the unique hope and guarantee of safety for the Eastern Church and Kingdom of Jerusalem in particular… the most Christian of Kings. His death is all the more brutally disheartening, painfully dispiriting, because God had made him the ready source of help for all Christians everywhere, the remedy for each and every trouble.[46]

So well remembered was he that William of Tyre even related an instance in which Nur al-Din refused to attack the kingdom while it mourned the loss of it monarch.[47]


Primary Sources:

Barber, Malcolm, and Bate, Keith, trans. and eds., Letters from the East (Farnham, 2010).
Dostourian, Ara Edmond, trans. and ed., Armenia and the Crusades (London, 1993).
Tyerman, Christopher, ed., An Eyewitness History of the Crusades: The Second Crusade (London, 2004).
William of Tyre, History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea Vol. II, trans. Emily Atwater Babcock (New York, 1943).

Secondary Sources:

Baldwin, Marshall, ‘The Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I, 1143–1174’, in A History of the Crusades, Vol. 1, ed. Marshall Baldwin (London, 1969), pp. 528-562.
Barber, Malcolm, The Crusader States (London, 2014).
La Monte, John, Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100 to 1291 (Cambridge, 1932).
Mayer, Hans Eberhard, The Crusades, trans. John Gillingham (Oxford, 1965).
Montefiore, Simon Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography (London, 2011).
Payne, Robert, The Dream and the Tomb (London, 1986).
Richard, Jean, The Crusades, c.10711291, trans. Jean Birrell (Cambridge, 2001).
Runciman, Steven, A History of the Crusades, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1952).



[1] William of Tyre, History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea Vol. II, trans. Emily Atwater Babcock (New York, 1943), Bk. 13.28; Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (London, 2011), p. 233.
[2] Robert Payne, The Dream and the Tomb (London, 1986), p. 150.
[3] John La Monte, Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100 to 1291 (Cambridge, 1932), pp. 15–16.
[4] Marshall Baldwin, ‘The Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I, 1143-1174’, in A History of the Crusades, Vol. 1, ed. Marshall Baldwin (London, 1969), pp. 534–5.
[5] William of Tyre, Bk. 16.2.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Malcolm Barber, The Crusader States (London, 2014), p. 216.
[9] William of Tyre, Bk. 16.6.
[10] Payne, Dream and the Tomb, p. 152.
[11] William of Tyre, Bk. 16.8.
[12] Ibid., Bk. 16.10.
[13] Ibid., Bk. 17.12; Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, p. 534.
[14] Barber, Crusader States, pp. 176–7.
[15] Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades, trans. John Gillingham (Oxford, 1965), p. 112; Barber, Crusader States, pp. 195–6.
[16] Barber, Crusader States, p. 180.
[17] Christopher Tyerman, ed., An Eyewitness History of the Crusades: The Second Crusade (London, 2004), pp. 258–65.
[18] Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1952), p. 283.
[19] Mayer, Crusades, p. 113; William of Tyre, Bk. 17.13–4.
[20] Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, p. 535.
[21] William of Tyre, Bk. 17.13–4.
[22] Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, p. 535.
[23] Barber, Crusader States, pp. 196–7.
[24] Ibid., p. 217.
[25] Ibid., p. 218.
[26] Ibid., p. 204.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid., p. 210.
[30] Jean Richard, The Crusades, c.1071–1291, trans. Jean Birrell (Cambridge, 2001), p. 175; William of Tyre, Bk. 18.12–3.
[31] William of Tyre, Bk. 18.11.
[32] Richard, Crusades, p. 176; William of Tyre, Bk. 18.14.
[33] William of Tyre, Bk. 18.21; Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, p. 539.
[34] William of Tyre, Bk.17.10; Barber, Crusader States, p. 194.
[35] Mayer, Crusades, pp. 114–5.
[36] Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, pp. 535–6.
[37] William of Tyre, Bk. 18.30.
[38] Ibid., Bk. 18.19 and 18.32; Barber, Crusader States, pp. 211–2.
[39] Barber, Crusader States, p. 212.
[40] Gregory the Priest’s Continuation of Matthew of Edessa’s Chronicle, in Armenia and the Crusades, trans. Ara Edmond Dostourian (London, 1993), III.38.
[41] Barber, Crusader States, p. 213.
[42] Richard, Crusades, p. 178.
[43] Mayer, Crusades, p. 118; Barber, Crusader States, p. 213.
[44] Barber, Crusader States, p. 217; Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, p. 547.
[45] Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, trans. and eds., Letters from the East (Surrey, 2010), pp. 53–4.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Baldwin, ‘Latin States under Baldwin III and Amalric I’, p. 547.

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