Baldwin IV of Jerusalem
King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, called the Leper King, ruled the Kingdom of Jerusalem for over ten years from the death of his father, King Amalric, in 1174. His power fluctuated and he ruled with the assistance of his mother, uncle, and various baillis, or regents; not because of weakness of character, but on account of both his extreme youth, and the crippling and incurable affliction that gradually overcame him.
Education and accession
Despite his mother's disgrace and divorce, young Baldwin was acknowledged as legitimate by all, and brought up as befitted a royal prince, the King of Jerusalem's sole male heir. His education was entrusted to the greatest scholar and historian in the realm, William, Archbishop of Tyre. In 1174, Archbishop William made a terrible discovery about his charge. The boy and his noble playmates had been testing each other's tolerance for pain by pinching and scratching, and young Baldwin outstripped them all, not complaining or even seeming to feel any discomfort. His friends were impressed, but his tutor horrified. The learned man had recognised the primary first symptom of leprosy.
Not long after this fatal realisation, King Amalric died and his thirteen-year-old son ascended the throne. The late king's seneschal and favourite, Miles of Plancy, acted as his bailli (effective regent), but his fierce loyalty to his young master made him unwilling to appease the barons of the Kingdom through new grants of land, and he became dangerously unpopular. Within the year he was murdered, and the King's closest male kinsman in Outremer, Raymond III of Tripoli, assumed the regency instead.
Raymond used his brief regency to make peace with the Saracens and unite the fractious nobility by judicious distribution of rewards, but he kept the best for himself - the hand of the Princess of Galilee, Eschiva of Bures. As Baldwin's leprosy was now known, it was assumed that one of his sisters would succeed him beside her husband, but both princesses were kept unmarried for the moment. Two years passed, and then in 1176 Baldwin declared himself of age. Raymond did not protest, for despite his age and condition the King was able-minded and popular.
Baldwin readmitted his mother, Agnes of Courtenay - now married to Renaud Grenier and with the personal title of Countess of Sidon - to court, where she accrued power and patronage. Her daughter, Baldwin's full sister Sibylla, was considered to be the likely heiress. The Queen Mother also persuaded her son to commence a more aggressive foreign policy, taking the fight to Saladin again. Muslim reports referred to mother and son as 'the pig and the sow'.
Sibylla was wed to an Italian nobleman, William 'Longsword' of Montferrat, and Longsword co-operated with Reynald de Chatillon - a recently ransomed former Prince of Antioch - in leading the royal army. Longsword, though a gifted warrior, succumbed to the foreign climate and malaria, leaving Reynald as the principal royal favourite and war leader - and Sibylla pregnant with a future short-lived King, Baldwin V of Montferrat.
Philip, Count of Flanders - a close male relation of the King's through common Angevin blood - arrived in Outremer in 1177, and claimed first the regency, and then the right to marry Sibylla and Isabella among his vassals. King Baldwin rebuffed him firmly on both counts, supported by the Haute Cour and particularly the Ibelin family. Rumour had it that Baldwin of Ibelin desired Sibylla for himself.
In November that year, an army commanded by the King himself, led by both Reynald and the Ibelins, and mainly composed of the Military Orders destroyed the much larger invasion force of Saladin at the battle of Montgisard. This victory was to mark the peak of Baldwin's reign, and indeed, his life.
His step-mother Queen Maria Comnena married a hero of that battle, Balian of Ibelin, making Baldwin and his mother uneasy at the rise of the Ibelin family to power. When Saladin defeated the King's army at Jacob's Ford in 1179, the youthful and ailing monarch was saved by the constable, Humphrey II of Toron, at the cost of Humphrey's life. Baldwin used this debt of honour as an excuse to betroth his half-sister Isabella, a possible heiress, to the Toron heir, Humphrey IV. This removed Isabella from Ibelin control and sending her off to be brought up at Toron, Milly and Kerak, under the guardianship of Humphrey's step-father, the ever more powerful Reynald de Chatillon.
This left only his full sister Sibylla to be dealt with - the undaunted Ibelins had been suggesting that she marry Balian's brother, Baldwin. The Duke of Burgundy was approached but could not be persuaded to come to the east. In 1180 Baldwin and Agnes made the fateful decision to wed the heiress to their Constable Amalric's younger brother, Guy de Lusignan. He was handsome, physically valiant, descended from the water-fairy Melusine, and a vassal of the English crown (albeit a banished one). He was, above all, not an Ibelin.
But it was not the Ibelins who now usurped the weakening King's authority. Guy and Reynald, aggressive and adventurous westerners, made natural allies, and worked to undermine the precarious peace Baldwin had patched together with Saladin. Baldwin's condition had now deteriorated so far that he could barely see or walk. He allowed Guy to assume the regency in 1182. But when Saladin attacked Kerak during the wedding festivities of Isabella and Humphrey, in 1183, reports of Guy's cowardice so angered the King that he reversed his decision, dismissing Guy to Ascalon and reassuming power as best he could.
Final arrangements for the succession
The King had entirely changed his policy. Having for most of his life taken his mother's view that the Ibelins presented the most dangerous threat to his rule, he now regarded Balian as among his closest counsellors. He considered the succession of Guy and Sibylla to be a ruinous idea, which must be prevented by any means. Sibylla's son Baldwin of Montferrat was declared heir passing over her, with the full support of the Ibelins and other partisans of Isabella. King Baldwin even attempted to annul Guy and Sibylla's marriage in the Haute Cour and the church courts, without their consent. His mother Agnes was so horrified by this volte-face that she went into mortal decline and died in 1184.
Her leprous son did not long outlive her. In 1185, little King Baldwin V succeeded his uncle, with Raymond III of Tripoli his regent, even as he had been in the late monarch's own childhood. The tale had come full circle - but it would not rest there.