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Baldwin IV the leper, king of Jerusalem (1174-1185)

Son of the king of Jerusalem, Amaury I, Baudouin IV succeeded his father from 1174 to 1185. His reign was remarkable in more than one way: first thanks to Baudouin IV himself, very early on suffering from leprosy, but who succeeded with courage and a certain political and military skill to hold the kingdom for more than ten years; by the context then, a kingdom of Jerusalem under siege, which must face the rise in power of Saladin. The tragic end of Baudouin IV, who died at the age of twenty-four, symbolically precedes the fate of Frankish Jerusalem and of the Latin kingdom as a whole.

A sacrificed youth

The exact date of Baudouin IV's birth is not known, but it is estimated to be around 1161, during the reign of his uncle Baldwin III. The place of his birth is also unknown, we speak of Ascalon or Jaffa. He is the son of the Count of Jaffa, Amaury, and Agnès de Courtenay, daughter of the Count of Edessa (the county has, however, fallen into Muslim hands since 1146); He is therefore a foal, a Frank born in the Holy Land. His origins, through his father and mother, go back to the Ardennes, Anjou and Gâtinais, but also in the East itself, Armenia being the land of two of his ancestors. Sibylle is his older sister.

The early childhood days of Baudouin IV are happy; his godfather is the King of Jerusalem himself, Baldwin III, and his father Amaury keeps him very close to him, determined to cultivate him. Thus, he gives him as master William of Tire. Unfortunately, the young Baldwin sees his mother forced to leave him when he is only two years old: the barons of the kingdom of Jerusalem do not want her as queen, seeing her as fickle and their consanguineous marriage.

They demand that Amaury repudiate her in order to elect her king and thus succeed Baldwin III; the count complies, Agnes leaves the court. Amaury I did not remarry until 1167, with Marie Comnène.

However, another and much more serious misfortune fell on Baudouin when he was not yet ten years old. It was William of Tire himself who noticed that the young boy seemed insensitive to pain when he played with his comrades and very quickly the doctors, including Arabs, had to face the facts: Baudouin had leprosy ...

King of Jerusalem at thirteen

Baudouin's youth was short and cut off, but he was educated as a future king, including in the military, and more than ever cherished by his father. The latter, warrior king, must manage an increasingly tense situation for the kingdom of Jerusalem, despite tensions among Muslims because of the growing rivalry between Nûr al-Dîn and Saladin, the latter being firmly established in Egypt. It was just while he was organizing an expedition against Cairo with the Normans of Sicily that King Amaury I died, probably of typhus! It is July 11, 1174, and a few months before it was his enemy Nûr al-Din who died, paving the way for Saladin's ambitions.

The news is tragic, for his family but also for the kingdom. His successor must be his young son Baudouin, but he is young and above all affected by this shameful and incurable disease, leprosy. He is still elected by the barons, who decide to find a good husband for his sister Sibylle to already prepare his succession; the choice fell on Guillaume “Longue Epée” from Monferrat. Baldwin IV was crowned king of Jerusalem on July 15, 1174.

Too young to reign, young Baudouin IV needs a regent up to the task, especially given the situation; indeed, the Normans have just failed in their raid on Alexandria, and the Saladin threat is becoming clearer… Under the influence of William of Tire, it is finally Raymond III of Tripoli who is chosen, for his power, his experience and his loyalty.

The first campaigns of Baudouin IV (1175-1176)

Since the advent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and apart from the major campaigns around the Second Crusade, relations in the Holy Land have alternated between truces and rides, or raids. The situation in the lands of Islam is no simpler than in Jerusalem after the death of Nûr al-Din, when Saladin intends to succeed him and claim his possessions in Syria. He thus entered Damascus in October 1174.

These divisions are the perfect opportunity for the Franks. They accept the request for help from Aleppo, a city that refuses Saladin's tutelage, and whom Saladin besieges at this time. The Frankish expedition was led by Raymond of Tripoli from Crac, and the very real danger forced Saladin to abandon the siege of Aleppo. A few weeks later, it was Baldwin IV himself, barely fourteen, who took the lead in a ride, this time from Jerusalem; the target of the raid is the region of Damascus. It's a success, the loot is important. Saladin, entangled in his troubles with the Zengids, calls for a truce to be signed.

The following year, summer 1176, the army in Jerusalem began to move again, once again with the leper king at its head. Joined by the cavalry of the Count of Tripoli, it plundered northern Syria with the same success as the region of Damascus a few months earlier. The first campaigns of Baudouin IV are therefore a real success.

The Battle of Montgisard (November 25, 1177)

The victorious rides of the Franks during the years 1175-1176 are due to a real opportunism, motivated by the problems of Saladin. When the latter begins to gain the upper hand over his rivals, the difficulties are not far for the kingdom of Jerusalem.

In addition, the kingdom still benefits from its image and attracts knights from the West, who want to be pilgrims but who are above all hungry for glory. Among them is Philippe de Flandres, who has a lot of ambition but little political skill. His arrogance and his interventions in the politics of the region made the Latin kingdom lose the possibility of alliance with the Byzantine Empire, weakened after the debacle of Myriokephalon (September 1176). King Baudouin, plagued by disease, can do little against this turbulent ambitious, who threatens the very equilibrium of the region. The young monarch is also an orphan of Raymond III, who left the court under mysterious circumstances. The Count of Flanders eventually persuaded the barons to follow him on an expedition to the North, which was to be joined by the Count of Tripoli. The kingdom of Jerusalem then found itself deprived of many of its knights and troops.

This is the perfect opportunity for Saladin, who recently returned to Egypt. The south of the Frankish kingdom is totally stripped, and the sultan launches his army on Gaza. Very quickly, he reached Ascalon and began to plunder the region. In Jerusalem, there is panic because we are aware that what remains of the army is not enough to stop Saladin. King Baudouin IV, "half dead" according to a chronicler, then had the courage and the audacity to summon what remained to him of knights and to rush south. He takes advantage of the fact that the sultan did not besiege Ascalon to take refuge there. Saladin then commits a decisive error: rather than siege the city, he decides to charge north, right on Jerusalem, without leaving a rear guard. Baldwin IV took advantage of this, he left Ascalon and was joined by other troops, then he rode in pursuit of Saladin.

Some five hundred Frankish knights founded the Muslim army, which struggled to maneuver because of the surprise. King Baudouin himself takes part in the fray, throwing himself into it in the second wave. Saladin, threatened directly, must give the order to pick up the hook. The victory is total for Baudouin IV; he is barely seventeen, and he defeated the mighty sultan ...

In the North, the situation is different. The great army of the Count of Tripoli and Philippe of Flanders attacks northern Syria, still shaken by divisions and over which Saladin has failed to definitively get his hands. Despite their number, the Franks fail before Hama; they then turn to Hârim, a Muslim stronghold which is only about thirty kilometers from Antioch. This is yet another failure. In March 1178, a truce was signed with Aleppo, when Saladin, back in Egypt after Montgisard, decided to win Syria again.

The fortification of the kingdom of Jerusalem (1178-1179)

The great victory of Montgisard allowed the Latin kingdom to breathe a little, Saladin having had to fall back in Egypt to reconstitute his forces. Baldwin IV decides to take advantage of this lull to launch a major program of fortifications, mainly in the north and east of the kingdom, as well as in Jerusalem itself.

In a few months, fortresses sprouted everywhere on the fringes of the Frankish kingdom, mainly the Chastel-Neuf de Hunin and the Gué de Jacob (or Chastellet). Saladin sees the construction of the latter as a provocation and a violation of truces, vowing to raze it to the foundations. The Sultan has cause for concern because, in mid-1179, the Franks strongly reinforced their defensive network, by the construction of these new fortresses, the renovation of others and the redeployment of their forces; thus, the Chastellet is entrusted to the Templars.

The first difficulties (1179-1182)

Confidence by the fortifications, the host of Jerusalem headed north for a few rides and plundering, but was surprised in Paneas by Farrûkhshâh, nephew of Saladin. It was a crushing defeat, which saw the death of Constable Onfroi de Toron (April 1179). This also has the consequence of waking up Saladin, who also decides to attempt a few raids on Frankish land. Thus, he besieges Chastel-Neuf, but it is a failure. The sultan, however, does not renounce looting, as he had done two years earlier in the Ascalon region, forcing the king of Jerusalem to retaliate.

The royal army went to the plain of Sidon and there surprised a Muslim cavalry, quickly defeated. Too confident, the Franks are not in battle order when Saladin himself surprises them between Marj ‘Uyûn and Beaufort! This is the rout! The Count of Tripoli and Baudouin himself are almost broke, and the Master of the Templars, Eudes de Saint-Armand, is taken prisoner - he will die in Saladin's jails ...

This Frankish defeat marks a period when the kingdom is again in great danger. Saladin carries out his threat by besieging the Chastellet; August 29, 1179, the castle of the Templars is taken, then razed, and its occupants all killed or sent to the prisons of Damascus. The Sultan continues his momentum by raiding the regions of Tire and Beirut. It was not until the beginning of the year 1180 that he finally accepted a truce, eager to turn to Mosul.

However, the problems are not over for the Franks. King Baudouin is more and more ill, and some are already thinking of his succession, or even of forcing him to abdicate. The plot is tied around his sister Sibylle, widow of Guillaume de Montferrat since 1177, not without having had a child by him, Baudouinet. Sibylle, influenced by her mother Agnès de Courtenay, sets her sights on a certain Guy de Lusignan, whom she marries at Easter 1180. Baudouin IV cannot do anything about it, even if he hardly agrees, and he could not count on the support of William of Tire on a diplomatic mission in Constantinople. The opportunity is too good for the Queen Mother to impose on the Patriarchate of Jerusalem her favorite Heraclius, despite his reputation very unworthy of a man of the Church, when William was the legitimate contender for the post.

The king of Jerusalem therefore lived in the year 1181 in solitude and illness, quite incapable of taming the ambitions of the barons and his entourage, including family. Fortunately for the kingdom of Jerusalem, Saladin was occupied elsewhere and he did not return to the Holy Land until the following year. He takes the pretext of Renaud de Châtillon's raids (we will come back to this) to attack again, Beirut this time, of which he is siege. Despite the heatwave, Baudouin IV took the head of his army, heading for Acre. He brings out the fleet to break the blockade of Beirut, then heads for the latter. Saladin, knowing he was not yet ready, relinquished the siege and retired when the army arrived from Jerusalem. This is, for the moment, the end of the danger for the Franks.

The Renaud de Châtillon problem, the Elephant

Impetuous knight turned baron, having spent more than fifteen years in the jails of Aleppo, always quick to fight and plunder, Renaud de Châtillon turned into a real problem for Baudouin IV at the beginning of the 1180s.

Acting alone, not hesitating to disobey his overlord, he tries to satisfy his hatred of Islam with increasingly megalomaniac projects. In 1182, taking advantage of the ideal position of his castle of Kerak, he tried outright to plunder the Muslim holy places, Medina and Mecca! He makes it to the Teima Oasis, but must give up and turn around due to the threat of an attack on Kerak. He still stunned Muslims, headed by Saladin, who swears to have his head.

However, Renaud de Châtillon is not giving up on his plans, on the contrary. He first embarrasses King Baudouin by plundering a caravan passing near Kerak; to the sovereign's injunction to release the captives and return property, the baron responds with contempt! The leper king is then unable to be obeyed, provoking the anger of Saladin, even more resentful towards Renaud ...

Regardless, this one has a raid in the Red Sea as a new project! He had galleys built in his castle at Kerak, then had them transported in pieces by camels, in the greatest secrecy, to the Gulf of Aqaba. The small fleet sets sail for the Egyptian coast, where it begins its plunder. Then, it crosses the Red Sea, sinking in the passage a ship of Muslim pilgrims, then disembarks not far from Jeddah, plundering the region there too. There is a great stir among Muslims, and Saladin is too far away, busy subduing Aleppo. Fortunately, his brother al-Âdil is still in Egypt and he is organizing the counterattack. Renaud's troop of looters (they say he was already gone) are mercilessly hunted down and chastised in the Arabian desert, knights being slaughtered like animals to punish them for their sacrilege.

Renaud de Châtillon however succeeded in its effect, terrorizing Muslims. It is nicknamed by these last "the Elephant", in reference to the invasion of Mecca by the Abyssinian king Abraha (of which it is the nickname) in 570. But the hatred of the Frankish baron only intensified that of Saladin ...

The vain courage of Baudouin IV

During the year 1183, Baudouin went blind. It is now transported in litter. Yet he did not stop ruling, even launching a major tax reform throughout the kingdom. He knows that the danger is more present than ever because Saladin has finally succeeded in defeating his rivals and uniting the umma behind him, for the jihad against the Christians and for the reconquest of Jerusalem. The king sends an expedition to Sinai, but it fails.

He then had to face Guy de Lusignan's ambition and, too weakened, he entrusted him with the regency by making him promise not to seek the crown during his lifetime. Guy, very confident in his abilities, decides on a raid in the Galilee but is countered by Saladin despite his numerical advantage. The barons begin to look with a negative eye on this ambitious man, and they are very happy that Baudouin, having recovered some semblance of health, withdraws the regency from him and makes his nephew Baudouinet the successor to the throne. Guy de Lusignan is obviously furious.

The king must then manage, with the help of Raymond of Tripoli, the incursions of Saladin, determined to punish Renaud de Châtillon. Twice, in 1183 and the following year, the Sultan laid siege to Kerak but had to give up under pressure from the King of Jerusalem.

Baldwin knows that it is only a postponement, and he decides to ask for help from the West by sending embassies there, to the Pope and to Henry II Plantagenêt. The disease gnaws at him, he worries about his succession and for the life of young Baudouinet. Guy de Lusignan took the opportunity to attempt a rebellion at the beginning of 1184, but the king submitted him again to Ascalon. Baudouin IV ended the last months of his bedridden life, leaving Raymond of Tripoli to govern, while the vultures bided their time. . He died of leprosy on March 16, 1185, at the age of twenty-four.

Raymond of Tripoli's skill and Saladin’s respect for the leper king enabled the signing of a two-year truce. The nephew of the deceased becomes king of Jerusalem under the name of Baldwin V, he is only six years old. But the curse is still there: the young king dies the following year.

This is the moment long awaited by Guy de Lusignan who, at the hands of Sibyl, becomes king of Jerusalem, to the great despair of the Count of Tripoli. It only took a few months for Guy to attract, with the help of Renaud de Châtillon, the wrath of Saladin. This one walks on the kingdom of Jerusalem. In July 1187, it was the debacle of Hattîn: the king was captured, Renaud de Châtillon beheaded by the very hand of Saladin. On October 2, 1187, the Sultan entered Jerusalem.


- P. Aubé, Baudouin IV of Jerusalem, the leper king, Tempus, 2010 (reed).

- A-M. Eddé, Saladin, Flammarion, 2008.

- J. Phillips, A Modern History of the Crusades, Flammarion, 2010.

- J. Prawer, History of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, CNRS, 2007 (reed).

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