Renaud Grenier is the old head of an old house of Jerusalem, fallen on lean times. He is a man of wide connections and dubious reputation.
The Pirate's Price
Gerard Grenier, lord of Sidon, relished and exploited his fief's natural advantages. It was a rich port with a well-protected harbour, and there this Frankish lord gathered a small but very swift squadron of pirate vessels. No creed or language was entirely safe from the exigent demands of his greed. Grenier took Italian, Tripolitan, and Arab traders quite indiscriminately. He made many enemies but none of them could catch him.
Until, that is, the year 1141, when the pirate prince chose his allies with less prudence as well as less scruple than usual. He accepted the offer of harbourage from Ascalon, then Muslim-held, in order to mount an attack on a Venetian argosy and divide the plunder with his infidel hosts. But when the lord of Sidon put in with his booty, the emir of Ascalon decided there was far greater value in Gerard himself than his ill-gotten cargo, and the Frankish freebooter was clapped in irons. Gerard was freed only after swearing a humiliating oath to forgo attacks on Muslim shipping, and especially that of Ascalon. But the Muslims knew well that, left to themselves, the Franks broke all oaths with those they considered heathen, and to give this undertaking a solid buttress, Gerard was not simply released, but exchanged for the elder of his two sons as a hostage.
So it was that, though still a young child, Renaud Grenier took ship to a new city, filled with strange tongues.
The Making of a Mosaic
Twelve years later, in 1153, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was at war - against enemies both within and without. The young King Baldwin III was trying to capture Ascalon - and also to vanquish the forces of his own mother Queen Melisende, assisted by the Temple and half the nobility.
That half included Gerard of Sidon. By siding with the Queen, he could avoid lending his ships to the blockade of Ascalon and risking his son's life. But by a strange irony, when the city at last fell to Baldwin III rumour said the Grenier hostage had been instrumental in suborning Ascalon's defenders. Renaud thus rejoined the royal court with considerable credit, not yet twenty and widely talked about.
Not all the talk was positive. Renaud was knighted by the king but no one forgot that the knighthood had been won by underhand intrigue, not in the field; nor that the heir to Sidon had been brought up among Saracens, and spoke Arabic better than any Frank ought. Besides Renaud's looks were unusual - repulsive, his enemies tended to put it - exotic, said his allies. His father Gerard avoided his elder son, now a lasting reminder of his own failures, on sea and on land; he plotted to name his younger, more conventional son Walter his heir. When Walter predeceased Gerard of a mysterious ague, the ugly talk hardly quietened.
Frank or Arab, hero or coward, knight or traitor, Renaud, it seemed, was maturing into a puzzling combination of all these parts.
The King's Leavings
For the next two decades Renaud kept out of his father's way and busied himself at court, becoming a fast favourite both of Baldwin III and his brother and successor Amalric. Throughout this period he avoided many rich marriages proffered as rewards by his royal patrons, preferring the comforts provided by a whole establishment of concubines, like the wives of a Turk. He was often employed, for his skill in far-off tongues, as the King's ambassador extraordinary to Damascus, Aleppo, Cairo, and even the Jebel-al-Sariya of the Assassins; and his defenders remarked that his harem made him pass as a more acceptable envoy among the infidel.
Then, just when all had assumed he was set in his ways, he took the last wife anyone had expected - Agnes of Courtenay, thrice married previously (or was it four times?), ill-reputed, barely still of childbearing years at thirty-four - and the divorced former spouse of King Amalric. Renaud himself had been among the barons who had pressed for Agnes's separation from the crown, but he was willing enough, it seemed, to pick her up some years after the King had dropped her.
Perhaps from the shock of his son's choice, Gerard at last, resignedly, died and Renaud and Agnes were lord and lady of Sidon (Agnes rejoicing in the superior title of Countess, a threadbare gain salvaged from her royal past).
The Pig and the Sow
Very soon Renaud's unconventional marriage proved its worth. In 1171, the year after his wedding to Agnes, King Amalric died. His son and Agnes's, Baldwin IV, was now king - a minor and, worse, a leper.
With the now Queen Mother and the lord of Sidon's backing, the regency went to Raymond III of Tripoli - but it was Agnes who now wielded most power by her inevitable influence over the King's person. Saracen chroniclers began to refer to Baldwin and his mother as 'the pig and the sow'.
Renaud too was high in favour, but his union with Agnes was a practical affair - he remained, in general, in Sidon with his seraglio, or travelling about to plead the King's cause at Muslim courts, while his wife never left her son's side. Often the lord of Sidon and the Countess Agnes were reunited amid much feasting, and it is possible that her two daughters Agnes and Fenie are Greniers in blood as well as name, but certainly rumour also suggests they could have been fathered by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Agnes's creature. Perhaps because neither of them was a son, perhaps because of his subtle, easy nature, Renaud never raised any protest, as long as he continued to enjoy riches, power and a high place in royal councils.
Both husband and wife were present at the victorious battle of Montgisard - Agnes looking on from the king's tent where the True Cross was displayed, Renaud commanding the royal rearguard. Renaud contrived with his usual circumspection to be absent at the kingdom's later defeat, Jacob's Ford, arriving late only in time to escort refugees to Sidon.
The politics of the marriage were now beginning to unravel - Agnes supported her daughter Sibylla's match with Guy of Lusignan, which Renaud, like his friends the Ibelins, bitterly opposed. Renaud and Raymond of Tripoli arranged that Sibylla's son, Baldwin of Montferrat, be named as heir over his mother and crowned. This political setback was too much for Agnes's health, and Renaud in 1184 found himself a widower.
The Fox of Beaufort
For all the safeguards of the 'Poulain' faction's making, the mortality of Baldwins IV & V propelled Sibylla and Guy to the throne. Renaud joined Balian of Ibelin in trying to broker peace between Raymond of Tripoli and Guy, but they were successful only too late. At the disastrous Battle of Hattin, the Poulain leaders, Raymond, Balian and Renaud, escaped the field and were accused by their many enemies of cowardice and even treachery.
Renaud was unable to hold his main ancestral fief of Sidon against Saladin's overwhelming invasion, and fell back to Tyre, which he was only prevented from surrendering in turn by the firm intervention of Conrad of Montferrat. Fired with new purpose, Renaud now resorted to his family's secondary and more defensible stronghold, Beaufort Castle. Here he kept the Saracens at bay by playing on his own ambiguous reputation, temporising by claiming to be considering conversion to Islam. Like his father, though, he pushed his trickery too far and was taken during a parley; Saladin had him kept in comfortable imprisonment at Damascus but dragged out occasionally to order Beaufort's garrison to surrender. He did so repeatedly, but in Arabic, urging further resistance in French. Eventually, though, the Sultan, by a finely judged and perhaps insincere threat of torture, induced Beaufort to give up the struggle as its lord's ransom.
Free but landless, Renaud became an adviser and envoy in the service of Conrad of Montferrat and the Ibelins, often acting as a go-between for Conrad and Saladin. He was rewarded with a second wife, Helvis, daughter of his old friends Balian of Ibelin and Maria Comnena and nearly half a century his junior, in 1190. He also saw his two daughters by Agnes, both older than his new wife, married into the old Outremer Saint-Omer family to ensure their adherence to Conrad.
After Conrad's murder brought reconciliation of a kind between the Crusader factions, Renaud was instrumental in the final negotiations at Ramla between Richard and Saladin. By their terms the Sultan conceded him Beaufort, but Sidon remained lost. It is a loss Renaud is unlikely to accept quietly for long.