Balian of Ibelin
Balian of Ibelin, lord of Caymont and Ramla, is one of the most powerful men in Outremer, and the effective leader of the 'Poulain' faction at court.
The name of Balian of Ibelin's grandfather is unknown to history, and perhaps the Ibelins prefer it that way. His father, Barisan, began his career as hardly more than a mercenary, a fighter in the service of the Count of Jaffa, then Hugh Le Puiset. Barisan would in more successful days claim a blood connection with the Viscounts of Chartres in France, but it is more widely believed that he was by birth a citizen of Pisa.
Whoever he had been, Barisan knew well how to become someone else. He married an heiress, Helvis of Ramla, but did not rest from striving after his own domain. When his liege lord Count Hugh, who was said to be Queen Melisende's lover, rebelled on the Queen's behalf against King Fulk in 1134, Barisan betrayed him. Fulk rewarded the upstart knight with lordship of the castle of Ibelin, and from this recent grant, less than sixty years ago, his family derives its surname.
Balian was born the third son of this self-made lord, and so spent his youth as a landless knight at his brothers' command. His father had died when Balian was still young, and his mother remarried, to a royal cousin and favourite of Melisende, Manasses of Hierges, the Constable. Balian's elder brothers repeated their father's trick of resisting Melisende's influence, supporting Baldwin III against his mother as well as their own and her new husband. Baldwin III got his kingdom, the Constable was exiled, and Helvis entered a convent.
When Balian was about twenty-five, in 1169, his eldest brother also perished without heirs. The middle brother Baldwin preferred to retain their mother's fief, Ramla, and so Balian now became lord of Ibelin itself.
Even so, Ibelin was not a very important place - the sort of petty stronghold with which it pleased an Angevin monarch to reward a jumped-up Italian traitor - and Balian continued to pass unnoticed in the realm at large until 1177. His and his brother's conspicuous courage and skill fighting in the vanguard at the Battle of Montgisard were observed both by the brave but leprous boy-king Baldwin IV, and his adversary, Saladin.
There is some mystery about the nature of Balian's reward. Maria Comnena, the widow of the late King Amalric, had not witnessed the battle, after all, and why did she pick the younger of the two brothers who were its heroes? In any case, she decided that Balian would make the ideal protector and champion for her young daughter, Isabella. Her marriage to Balian finally made the Ibelin fortunes, as her dower was the lordship of Nablus, a fief that made Ibelin look like a mud hut.
Another advantage of marrying into royal relicts and Byzantine blood was almost immediately demonstrated, when Baldwin of Ibelin got himself captured by Saladin and Balian and Maria arranged for the Greek emperor to ransom him at once.
The marriage had its price, too, though, committing Balian to involvement in the perilous struggle around the throne. The Leper King had two sisters and heiresses, Sibylla and Balian's step-daughter Isabella, and his wife wished to press the claim of the latter after Baldwin IV's death. Maria and Balian aligned themselves with Raymond III of Tripoli, the sometime Regent.
A plan to neutralise Sibylla by marrying her to Balian's brother Baldwin came to nothing, foiled from an unexpected source. Two exiled brothers from Aquitaine, the de Lusignans, had begun to rise at court with Ibelin credit. The elder, Amalric, married Baldwin of Ibelin's daughter. The second, Guy, robbed Baldwin of his proposed bride, and married Sibylla. From now on, it was all but war between Ibelin and Lusignan.
Maria and Balian's hand was further weakened that same year, 1180, when Isabella was removed from their care by the King and betrothed to Humphrey IV of Toron. His family, by Baldwin IV's command, kept the Princess from her mother and step-father.
The winding way to Hattin
Guy de Lusignan soon proved so unacceptable as a successor that the Leper King - previously a stout partisan of his full sister Sibylla's right to his throne - changed his mind. Close to death, he now proposed to settle his crown upon neither of his sisters, but instead Sibylla's son by a previous marriage, Baldwin of Montferrat - with Raymond III as Regent. Balian carried the boy on his shoulder at the ensuing coronation. But neither King Baldwins lasted long, and though Raymond arranged for Isabella to succeed them, the Princess's husband Humphrey of Toron ruined everything by paying homage to Sibylla and Guy instead. Balian accepted which way the wind was blowing and followed suit; Baldwin of Ibelin, Guy's sworn enemy, did not. He left for Antioch and never returned.
Guy's reign was quite as disastrous as Balian's faction had always said it would be. Balian, Raymond, and another of their partisans Renaud, lord of Sidon, were all suspected of plotting with Saladin (in Raymond's case at least probably justly). The kingdom was irrecoverably divided, and disaster was inevitable. Balian attempted to reconcile Guy and Raymond, but before any pragmatic compromise could be affected, Saladin's forces defeated the Military Orders at the Battle of Cresson. After the catrastrophic loss at the Horns of Hattin, Balian, Raymond, and Renaud of Sidon were among the survivors to escape the field. Their enemies tarnished their names with accusations of cowardice. But Balian would soon seize the chance to redeem himself for all time from that charge.
Defender of Jerusalem
The victory of Saladin's 1187 invasion swept all before it, including both Balian's fief of Ibelin and his wife's town of Nablus. Queen Maria and her children were stranded in the now fatally vulnerable Holy City. Tyre, where Balian had fled, was held through the determination of a newly-arrived Italian nobleman, Conrad of Montferrat, uncle to the deceased little king Baldwin V. Balian asked permission from the Sultan to escort his family to neutral Tripoli. Perhaps remembering with cautious admiration the champion of Montgisard, Saladin consented, on condition Balian would leave Jerusalem with his family at once and swear not to take up arms against him again.
This Balian swore - and he broke his oath, which, the Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem was quick to remind him, was sworn to a heathen and no oath at all. Together with the Patriarch, Balian organised the city's defence, knighting all able-bodied youths to raise morale. He could not hold the city for long, but he swore to Saladin he would destroy the Muslim holy places unless its populace were spared massacre. This time, the Sultan knew Balian's oath was not idle. About half the inhabitants of the city were permitted ransom, though Saladin would not let Balian stand as hostage for the rest, who were enslaved. Under these terms, Balian surrendered the Holy City, and reunited with his family - whom the Sultan had chivalrously had escorted to Tripoli despite Balian's broken word.
A New King
Balian and Maria's energies were now concentrated on winning what remained of the Kingdom for Isabella. Saladin had released Guy of Lusignan, rating him of more harm than use to the Franks; but his stature was weakened when Sibylla and her daughters succumbed to the disease rife in the camp at the Siege of Acre. In 1190 the Ibelin faction, assisted by another newly arrived nobleman, the Count of Champagne, arranged Isabella's seizure and divorce from Humphrey of Toron, and her wedding to the enterprising saviour of Tyre, Conrad of Montferrat, and pressed his claim to the Kingdom.
They won the support of the King of France, but the fierce opposition of Richard of England, who had once been Guy's overlord. King Richard developed an antipathy verging on detestation for Balian in particular, perhaps envying him his gallant role at Jerusalem. Eventually, in 1192, the English faction had to admit Conrad's claim. Richard's nephew Henry of Champagne had also been Balian and Maria's friend and accomplice in Isabella's divorce; he was chosen to carry the news of the agreement and two days later to help with the coronation. On this second visit, he was thus the first great noble on the scene of Conrad's enigmatic murder by the sect of the Assassins.
Henry then wed the pregnant Queen himself, apparently, for some reason, with the consent, or at least tolerance, of the Ibelins, though not that of the Haute Cour. This had the happy effect of sealing a precarious peace between 'Poulains' and 'Incomers', and by autumn Balian himself was to be found fighting at Richard's side to defend Jaffa.
Balian and Maria's lost possessions have been compensated with a new lordship, Caymont, conceded at the Treaty with Saladin signed at Ramla - the only Ibelin hold not to fall. But Balian himself is now said to be falling into a grim and relentless sickness...