Since any movie with swords garners my immediate attention, Kingdom of Heaven was on the top of my list to see when it came out a few years ago. Starring Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, and Liam Neeson, and directed by Ridley Scott, what could go wrong?
Confession: I love this movie. That doesn’t mean it deserves five stars, because it doesn’t. Maybe 4 on a good day, but I still love it. I love the character of Balian (played by Bloom), I’ll watch Jeremy Irons in anything, even slumming in Eragon, and all the medieval crusade material makes my mouth water.
That said, the history is terrible, and for the purposes of this blog, that’s what I’m going to talk about.
First, the good: The Kingdom of Jerusalem did have a King Baldwin who gained the throne as a young man and suffered from leprosy. He did have a sister named Sibylla. She married William of Montferrat, who died a year later, leaving her a son, Baldwin V. This is alluded to in the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven, which I recommend for clearing up some oddities in the screen version of the movie.
Then things kind of fall apart for accuracy. Sibylla was in line to the throne with a co-heiress, Isabella, the daughter of her father’s second wife, Maria Comnena. Sibylla married Guy de Lusignon (as in the movie) whom Baldwin favored to take the throne until he removed him from the line in 1183. He then crowned Sibylla’s son, Baldwin, as his co-ruler, passing over Sibylla’s rights, and “went so far as to offer the overlordship of the kingdom to the kings of France and England.” (The Crusades, Jonathan Riley-Smith, 2005:101).
Then Baldwin IV died in August of 1185, after which Baldwin V (Sibylla’s son) also died, in August 1186.
Saladin invaded in 1187. “Just before it occurred, the political crisis came to a head. After Baldwin V’s death . . . Raymond of Tripoli, the regent-elect, lord of Galilee through marriage and leader of the claimant Isabella’s partisans, was persuaded to go to Tiberias while the little king’s body was sent to Jerusalem in the care of the Templars. Acre and Beirut were seized in Sibylla’s name, while she and her knights hurried to Jerusalem, where they were joined by Reynald of Chatillon, the lord of Transjordan. Sibylla, who also had the support of the master of the Templars and the patriarch, was crowned in the Church of the Holy Spulchre and she herself then crowned her husband, Guy of Lusignan.” (Riley-Smith p. 109).
Here is where it gets (more) complicated, especially in light of the movie. Raymond of Tripoli had already made a treaty with Saladin in April 1187 (as was his right as regent) and allowed a Muslim reconnaissance force to enter Galilee. At the same time, Guy sent a mission to the same place, led by Balian of Ibelin, who was the second husband of Maria Comnena (Isabella’s mother, Sibylla’s step-mother). “Despite Raymond’s warning to stay behind the walls of the castle of ‘Afula until the Muslim troops had left the area, the Templars and Hospitallers rashly attacked them and were cut to pieces” (Riley-Smith p. 110).
As in the movie, Reynald de Chatillon was incredibly aggressive towards the Muslims and attacked a caravan traveling from Cairo to Damascus, engendering Saladin’s ire and caused him to marshal one of the largest armies every put together: 30,000 men.
The Christians managed to put together an army of 20,000 to counter him at Tiberias. They camped 6 miles away from the city. When Raymond of Tripoli recommended that Guy not move his troops and let Tiberias fall, Guy ignored him. They ended up surrounded, far from water, at the ‘Horn of Hattin’. Guy was captured, along with the True Cross, which was “paraded through Damascus fixed upside down on a lance” (Riley-Smith p. 111).
Balian and Raymond of Tripoli escaped.
Saladin stormed through Palestine and Syria, finally taking Jerusalem on 2 October 1187, after a two week seige countered by Balian who “had taken charge of its defense . . . [he] resorted to the knighting of all noble boys over sixteen years of age and thirty burgesses” (Riley-Smith p. 111).
So, sadly, no blacksmith-turned-knight in this story. Still. 4 stars