Guy de Lusignan is rightly remembered as the king who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by his incompetent leadership in 1186-1187. He has accordingly received considerable attention in both serious histories of the crusader kingdoms and fictional treatments of the period. But Guy was not the only Lusignan to make his fortune in the Holy Land. On the contrary, he was following in the footsteps of his older brother Aimery, and it was Aimery, not the feckless Guy, who founded a dynasty.
The Loyal Brother
Aimery de Lusignan was the third son of Poitevan nobleman, Hugh VIII de Lusignan, a troublesome vassal of the Dukes of Aquitaine. The Lusignans had been lords of Lusignan since the early 10th century and Counts of La Marche since 1091, but in 1166 they were in revolt against their liege lord (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and siding with the Capets against the Plantagenets. It was in this period that the “Lusignan brothers” — some sources say Geoffrey and Guy, the second and fourth sons of Hugh VIII — attacked and killed the Earl of Salisbury while he was escorting Eleanor of Aquitaine. Since Salisbury was unarmed, unarmored and stabbed in the back, it was a notorious act, which according to some sources forced Guy to flee the continent as persona non grata. Curiously, Aimery’s name is never linked to the murder of Salisbury, yet it was Aimery who first went to the Holy Land.
Aimery was following in the footsteps of generations of young noblemen who sought their fortune “overseas” — in Outremer, and his own family had a distinguished crusading record. Hugh VI had come to the Holy Land in 1101 and died at the Battle of Ramla a year later. Hugh VII took part in Louis VII’s Second Crusade, and Aimery’s own father, Hugh VIII, had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1163, taken part in the Battle of Harim, been captured by Nur ad-Din and died in a Muslim prison. In short, Aimery would have heard a great deal about the Kingdom of Jerusalem from his family and their retainers long before he ever set out. Very likely, there were also many men in Outremer who would have remembered his father and grandfather.
Sometime before 1174, Aimery de Lusignan arrived in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and, like his father before him, promptly got himself captured by the Saracens. Fortunately for him, King Amalric was prepared to pay his ransom. This suggests either that the King felt responsible for the young nobleman – or perhaps just badly that his father had died in prison. It also suggests that Aimery was an agreeable enough young man not to have alienated the knights and barons of Jerusalem.
This assessment is reinforced by the fact that, despite being a younger (third) son, he succeeded in marrying into one of the most important and influential of the local baronial families, the Ibelins. This was not the usual case of a Western adventurer seducing a widow as his bride. Eschiva was probably only a young girl at the time, and the marriage was concluded with her father. Furthermore, although at the time of this marriage Eschiva d’Ibelin was not yet her father’s heir, the marriage would have been considered advantageous nevertheless as it made Aimery brother-in-law to the Baron of Ramla, Ibelin and Mirabel, a combined barony holding 80-some knights’ fiefs.
By 1180, Aimery had been named to the immensely powerful and important post of Constable of Jerusalem, succeeding the important local baron Humphrey II of Toron, who had died of wounds received at the Battle on the Litani in 1179. This promotion occurred in the reign of Baldwin IV and according to the Chronicle of Ernoul it was attributable to the influence of Agnes de Courtney, the king’s mother, with whom — again according to Ernoul —Aimery was having an affair. If Aimery was married to a child, there would have been nothing so unusual about him having an affair with an older woman, but this was also the year in which his younger brother Guy arrived in Jerusalem and married Princess Sibylla in great haste.
There are a number of versions of Guy’s marriage to Sibylla incidentally, one of which includes Aimery travelling to France to fetch Guy for the purpose of seducing Sibylla. This can be dismissed as nonsense simply because at the time of Aimery’s alleged trip, Sibylla was betrothed to the Duke of Burgundy — not the kind of man a Lusignan would risk alienating. Alternatively, Baldwin IV married his sister to the wholly unsuitable Guy to forestall a coup d’etat planned by Raymond of Tripoli, Bohemond of Antioch and Baldwin d’Ibelin, an equally implausible thesis, in my opinion, because it imputes treasonous intensions to three barons who repeatedly risked their lives as vassals of Baldwin IV and had many other opportunities to conduct a “coup,” if that had been their intentions, but did not. The most plausible explanation of Sibylla’s wedding is quite simply that she fell in love with/was seduced by Guy, and her brother King Baldwin didn’t have the heart to punish her and her lover. Instead he let them marry despite the fact that in alienated many of his vassals. With Guy married to the heir to the throne, however, Aimery’s future appeared secure, and it is most probable that he was appointed constable due to the influence of his brother rather than that of Agnes de Courtney — whether he was her lover or not.
Regardless of how he came to the post, Aimery acquitted himself well as constable. He would have been the effective commander of the feudal army at the Battle of La Forbelet, because Baldwin IV was by this time confined to a litter. In short, although the King was “in command” and making the strategic decisions, it was his Constable, Aimery de Lusignan, that rode with the royal banner and actually led, rallied, held, inspired and corralled the royal forces. We know he did this effectively because the Christians forced the Saracens to withdraw after La Forbelet — and any failure on Aimery’s part would have been duly noted.
One year later, during Saladin’s invasion of 1183, when his brother Guy managed to earn the enmity and contempt of the entire feudal leadership of his future kingdom, Aimery was the only commander who successfully engaged the Saracens. When Saladin tried to seize control of the important springs of La Tubanie, Aimery — supported by the Ibelins — successfully beat-off the attack. It is notable, that the Ibelin brothers, who were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, are seen here cooperating closely with Aimery. Aimery was, Guy or no Guy, still Baldwin d’Ibelin’s brother-in-law and ties of blood and marriage were very strong in this period.
Unsurprisingly therefore, Aimery is listed as one of his brother’s closest allies and supporters during Guy and Sibylla’s coup d’etat in 1186. It was in his interest to do so and any other behavior would have been highly abnormal. It does not imply, however, that he thought highly of his brother or his brother’s leadership. This was simply a matter of family loyalty.
And it took him to the Horns of Hattin, humiliating defeat and captivity. He was with his brother when King Guy surrendered, and went with him into Saracen captivity. As the Lusignan brothers and most of the other barons of Jerusalem moldered in a Saracen prison, the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem fell city by city and castle by castle to Saladin until only the city of Tyre and isolated castles still held out. There was now no kingdom from which to raise a ransom, and Aimery’s wife had also lost her inheritance to Saladin’s forces.
As 1188 dawned, Aimery de Lusignan must have expected he would suffer his father’s fate and die in Saracen captivity. It would have been very hard for him to envisage that one day he would be a king and found a dynasty that would last roughly 300 years.
King of Cyprus and Jerusalem
With almost all of what had once been the Kingdom of Jerusalem under his control, Saladin released the Lusignan brothers in 1188. Guy promised never to take up arms against Saladin again, and he may also have promised to deliver the remaining strongholds of his former (nominal?) kingdom to the enemy. Whatever the terms were, Guy did not respect them, and we can assume that Aimery followed his lead.
Guy and Aimery (in the company of the Templar Grand Master Gerard de Ridefort) went to Antioch, the only Crusader kingdom that was still more or less in-tact and there raised some 700 knights and 9,000 other ranks to continue the fight against Saladin and re-capture his lost Kingdom. Meanwhile, Guy and Aimery’s older brother, Geoffrey, had arrived from the West and was in Tyre. Guy, naturally, headed for the last free city of his kingdom with his new force of knights and men. However, the man commanding the defense of Tyre, Conrad de Montferrat, refused to admit him. Guy de Lusignan was persona non grata in his own kingdom!
Geoffrey de Lusignan, however, knew that a major Western force under the command of the Kings of England and France was collecting in the West and would eventually arrive. He advised Guy to “take action.” It was obvious to Guy’s elder brothers, both Geoffrey and Aimery, that Guy would lose the last shreds of respect and support if he did nothing. So Guy went with his knights and men to lay siege to Acre — the most important port of his former kingdom, which had been surrendered without a fight by Joceslyn de Courtney after the Battle of Hattin.
It was an apparently futile gesture, but one that attracted the support of almost any fighting man who was not prepared to accept defeat and every armed Christian who was not prepared to abandon the Holy Land. Holding on to Tyre was critical for survival, but it was too defensive for many men’s tastes — and there was only so much anyone could do there. So although Guy started his siege of Acre with roughly 10,000 men, the Christian camp around Acre grew steadily, swollen by “armed pilgrims” that set out from the West to recover the Holy Land without waiting for the organized crusade. Guy’s forces soon reached an estimated 30,000 men of which 2,000 were mounted (knights, squire and turcopoles). Key to Guy’s success was support from the Pisan fleet and, later, Danish and Frisian ships as well, which enabled the besiegers to retain lines-of-communication and supply with the West and Antioch.
On Oct. 4, 1189, the Christians made an assault an Acre when Saladin himself was in the city assessing the situation. In a day long battle close to 5,000 Christians were killed including (finally) the Templar Grand Master Gerard de Rideford, who shared much of the blame for the disaster at Hattin. Yet while they failed in their objective, they also convinced Saladin that his forces were too weak to drive them away either, and an 18 month stalemate ensued — punctuated by sporadic attacks. Whenever the Christians attempted to take Acre, the Saracens surrounding them would attack from the rear, forcing them to return to their camp and trenches.
Meanwhile, conditions in the Christian camp deteriorated and morale plummeted. In 1190, disease took the lives of Queen Sibylla and her two daughters by Guy — their only off-spring. With them died Guy’s sole claim to the throne of Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Third Crusade was approaching, led by Richard I of England and Philip II of France. Despite past frictions between the Plantagenets and Lusignans, Richard the Lionheart threw his weight behind Guy de Lusignan’s — now weaker than ever — claim to the throne, and (predictably) Philip II of France backed Guy’s rival, Conrad de Montferrat, who had married Sibylla’s younger sister, Isabella, and claimed the crown of Jerusalem through her.
With the forces of the two kings and Richard the Lionheart’s leadership, the siege of Acre was brought to a successful conclusion: the Saracen garrison surrendered and the Christians re-occupied the city. Philip of France then promptly sailed back to France (to make trouble for Richard), but the barons and burghers of Outremer remained vehemently opposed to Guy. By 1192 Richard the Lionheart was forced to admit that Guy was untenable as King of Jerusalem any longer. He recognized Isabella as the rightful Queen of Jerusalem and her husband (first Conrad de Montferrat and then Henry of Champagne) as King.
But this is where things get interesting for the Lusignans. On his way to the Holy Land, Richard I had conquered Cyprus. This immensely wealthy island which had long been part of the Byzantine Empire had been seized by a self-proclaimed “Emperor,” whose tyrannical policies had so alienated his subjects that they welcomed and cooperated with Richard of England. Intent on rescuing the Holy Land, however, Richard not wanted to retain the island for himself and had instead sold it to the Knights Templar. They, however, had proved such oppressive and unpopular overlords that by April 1192 the entire island was in rebellion against their rule. The Templars, recognizing that they did not have the resources to subdue the island and fight for the Holy Land, returned the island to the King of England.
By now Richard knew that his younger brother John and the King of France were scheming to rob him of his inheritance in England and France. He had no more time for or interest in Cyprus than the Templars did. So he sold it to Guy de Lusignan!
That was all very well for the King of England, but the fact was that with the entire population now up in arms against the rule of the crusaders, Guy first had to conquer the kingdom he had bought. He set off with what few supporters he still had. Curiously, at this stage his brother Aimery did not accompany him. Aimery remained behind in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where he was still technically Constable. It was a bad move. The new king, Henry of Champagne, was clearly suspicious of his loyalty and when he sided with the Pisans, who Henry suspected of plotting against him, he was promptly imprisoned.
According to Peter Edbury in his history The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191 – 1374, Aimery’s arrest “evoked protests from some prominent figures in the kingdom….” This supports my earlier these that — in contrast to Guy who seems to have been singularly adept at making enemies — Aimery was still popular among his adopted countrymen. The fact that King Henry gave in to the protests and released Aimery on the condition that he surrender the office of Constable suggests that Aimery’s supporters were very influential indeed. I can’t help but suspect that they included Balian d’Ibelin, who was King Henry’s de jure father-in-law (he was married to Queen Isabella’s mother). Balian was the leading baron in Henry of Champagne’s kingdom — and Aimery’s wife was Balian’s niece. Aimery duly surrendered his office of Constable of Jerusalem and promptly went to Cyprus to assist his brother Guy in taking control of his new lordship.
Less than two years later, Guy de Lusignan was dead. Notably, he designed his elder brother Geoffrey — not Aimery who had been with him so long and through so much — as his heir. The record is far too sketchy to know why, but there may have been tension between the brothers all along. Aimery’s support of his brother, as I noted before, was not necessarily indicative of genuine approval of his policies or actions but rather the imperative of family loyalty and self-interest. Fortunately for Aimery, Geoffrey de Lusignan had no interest in Cyprus. So Guy’s vassals chose Aimery as his successor.
Within three years of becoming the Latin/crusader overlord of Cyprus, Aimery had established peace on the island, set up a Latin ecclesiastical hierarchy alongside the Orthodox one (evidently following the model in the earlier crusader states that allowed the inhabitants to follow their own faith but giving the Latin clergy valuable properties), and raised Cyprus to the status of a kingdom. Thus while Guy de Lusignan was “Lord of Cyprus,” Aimery was “King of Cyprus.” He obtained the dignity of kingship by offering to do homage for Cyprus to the Holy Roman Emperor. This was to cause trouble for his successors and lead to a bloody civil war a generation later, but Cyprus remained a Kingdom for nearly 300 years — ruled by the direct descendants of Aimery de Lusignan
Nor was that the end of his astonishing life. In 1197, his first wife, Eschiva d’Ibelin died having given him six children, three of whom had lived to adulthood. The eldest son of this marriage, Hugh, was now his heir apparent and would in due time inherit the King of Cyprus. When Henry of Champagne died in the same year, however, Aimery was selected as her fourth husband, allegedly with the “almost unanimous” support of the barons and bishops of the rump-state of Jerusalem.
Aimery promptly used his Cypriot resources to help strengthen his new kingdom. In the same year that he assumed the crown of the kingdom his brother had squandered, he recaptured the key coastal city of Beirut from Saracen control with the support of German crusaders as well as his Cypriot forces. The following year, he concluded a five year truce with the Saracens that gave the kingdom much needed breathing space to retrench and consolidate itself. It was also the year in which he named Balian d’Ibelin’s son John to his old position of Constable of Jerusalem — an exceptional mark of favor for a young man not yet 20 and one presumes more a gesture of gratitude to his father than a mark of confidence in one so young. (John was later to swap the constableship for the lordship of Beirut.)
In 1204, with the Fourth Crusade diverted to Constantinople, Aimery concluded a new truce with a six year duration. This gave his kingdom the peace it needed for economic recovery, but he did not live long enough to enjoy it. In February 1205, his son by Queen Isabella — the only son she ever had — died, and Aimery followed him to the grave within two months, Isabella shortly afterwards. The crown of Cyprus passed to his son Hugh, and the crown of Jerusalem to Isabella’s oldest surviving child, her daughter Maria of Montferrat.
Aimery de Lusignan was King of Cyprus for eleven years and King of Jerusalem for eight — twice as long as his brother Guy had been. To both kingdoms he had brought stability and peace. His reign was looked back upon by subsequent generations as one of justice and prosperity — in both kingdoms.