Henry of Champagne
Henry of Champagne is the current ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in right of his wife Queen Isabella, though he has not sought election or anointment as king. He is a dashing, glamorous, and rich young prince, as yet untarnished by too much experience of leadership in peace or war.
The Court of Love and the Champagne Fair
Henry was born in 1166 to one of the most famous and noble couples in all France.
His father, Count Henri 'the Liberal' of Champagne, was one of those rare rulers who find a way to appear generous while enormously profiting themselves. An exceptionally farsighted man, Count Henri I had picked Champagne from a choice of patrimonies (some, like Blois and Chartres, on the face of it better prospects) and nurtured it until it was among the richest and most puissant domains in France. His establishment of the Champagne Fair made him a byword for fair dealing among French merchants, while none of his fellow noblemen could fault his chivalry, his piety - or his choice of wife.
Marie of France was the daughter of King Louis VII by his first wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, renowned and notorious according to various points of view. The match had been arranged by Count Henri I's sister Adèle, herself Queen of France and mother of Philip II. The younger Henry was thus both first cousin and (half)-nephew to his King. He was also, in an ambiguity that would define his career, similarly nephew to the Princes of England, among them the future king Richard 'the Lionheart'.
But Marie brought her husband and her son more than merely the exalted blood in her veins. Along with her mother, she was at the centre of the extraordinary cultural development of 'Courtly Love'. At Marie's bidding, courts of ladies stood in judgment over noble troubadours professing undying, impossible love and pleading for mercy. Count Henri I, while bemused by these goings on, lived up to his name and let them be. Marie became the patroness of Andreas Capellanus, the priest who drew up the laws of courtly love, and Chrétien de Troyes, perhaps its supreme poet. Her children grew up to regard these distinguished literary figures with some of the affection they usually reserved for their dwarves, jesters, and favoured hounds.
Marie's loyalty to her husband was never seriously called into question for all the troubadourial activity that resonated about her, but she was occasionally suspected of interest in the Cathar heresy, unlike her conventionally and conspicuously religious husband.
The Shadow of the Cross
Despite being so pragmatic and wise a Count, Henri I was not without a considerable streak of ascetic, romantic religious feeling. He was easily convinced to follow his King (and brother-in-law) Louis VII on the disastrous Second Crusade as a young man, and was deeply impressed by the severe preaching of St Bernard of Clairvaux. With his County running superbly, two sons to succeed him and an intelligent if eccentrically cultivated wife to rule till they were of age, Henri I decided the Holy Land needed him more than Champagne did and left for the East in 1179. He did not return. Captured by the Turks, he was ransomed by the Byzantine Emperor - an old acquaintance - but never recovered and died in 1180, far from the land he had allowed to prosper. Young Henry was now Count of Champagne at fourteen.
Marie's regency lasted eight years, from her husband's departure to her eldest son's undoubted majority. In the summer of 1187, Henry the younger turned twenty-one, and in autumn Jerusalem fell to Saladin. Henry immediately announced his intention to go to its aid as his father had done.
The Kings' Crusade, or, Various Uncles
In 1190, after raising a heroic quantity of money, ruinous for almost anywhere but Champagne, Henry left his younger brother Theobald as his heir, and his mother (who else?) as regent. He reached the siege of Acre well ahead of either of his maternal uncles vowed to the Crusade, the Kings of France and England.
That siege was a grueling apprenticeship to war indeed. Dozens of noble relatives of Henry's were among the dead (such as his paternal uncles Counts Theobald of Blois and Stephen of Sancerre), and as many succumbed to the camp's pestilence as the garrison's resistance. Henry himself was wounded in November 1190, in a rash attempt to force a breach by assault; he recovered but learnt a lesson in caution.
The long-awaited arrival of Henry's royal uncles in 1191 helped to bring about the city's fall in July, but involved him in the complicated power game between the two Kings. Henry was Philip of France's cousin as well as nephew, and a born Frenchman, but his feelings about Philip were mixed; the French king had robbed him of his rich affianced bride, Isabella of Hainault, when he was a child, and had even plundered his own mother's (Henry's aunt's) property. Richard of England, on the other hand, was his mother's favourite brother.
At first Henry inclined to the side of his natural liege lord, the King of France. This aligned him with the 'Poulain' nobility, the Hospital, and Conrad of Montferrat, against Richard, the Temple, the Lusignans and other western arrivals. As such, he assisted in the kidnapping of Queen Isabella from Humphrey of Toron, her then-husband, so that she could marry Conrad instead.
The actions of King Philip, however, in abandoning the Crusade after Acre's fall, appear to have disgusted young Count Henry - unless he merely decided to cleave to the most powerful protector left to him. In any case, he neither left with Philip, nor bolstered the French faction now led by the Duke of Burgundy, but changed sides to become one of the favourite lieutenants of his other uncle, King Richard.
The Strange Case of the Pregnant Widow
Henry served the English King well on and off the field, and in 1192 he was dispatched to inform Conrad of Montferrat and Isabella, resident at Tyre, that Richard would finally accept their claim to the throne of Jerusalem.
Two days later, in Tyre to assist at Conrad's coronation, Henry was the first among the princes to reach the scene of the almost-King's murder by the sect of the Assassins. The exact sequence of subsequent events are mysterious, but without consulting the Haute Cour, Henry was betrothed and soon married to Queen Isabella, even though she was by now heavily pregnant with Conrad's child.
Henry seems to have taken Conrad's fate to heart, and has avoided seeking any formal recognition of his new position. It remains to be seen if that will be enough to stave off bad luck. As de facto king, Henry has so far shown favour to Richard's faction, but perhaps after the overpowering Lionheart's departure he may tread a more balanced path.