Guy de Lusignan: Crusading


The First Crusade of 1099 was a remarkable success – well, not if you were an Arab or a Jew, both of whom were slaughtered in their thousands... nor if you were among the enthusiastic but untrained civilian crusaders, most of whom were killed or enslaved by Hungarians and Turks.  No, the success devolved on a small but astoundingly violent force of Norman, French and German knights who battled their way south from the Bosphorus and, almost to their own surprise, took possession of Jerusalem and the entire Holy Land.

So few and so inter-related were they that crusading could almost be called a family business: younger sons of chillblained Northern noblemen saw following the Cross as a way to trade on their military expertise to gain glory, riches, absolution of sins, and perhaps a kingdom in the sun-blessed, luxurious East. 

Guy de Lusignan was just such an adventurer, although by the time he arrived the spoils of the First Crusade had already been parceled out.  His method of achieving greatness was therefore more agreeable:  he married the heiress of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Sibylla.

Like many family businesses, the Kingdom had moved from relentless and single-minded growth to squabbling about assets, with various branches of in-laws hoping to place their candidates into advantageous positions.  Newcomers from Europe lusted after further conquests and regularly broke truce with the Arabs in hope of carving out fresh domains.  Such pernicious in-fighting had not mattered much while the forces of Islam were fragmented and demoralized, but now a new Muslim commander had appeared:  Saladin, a Kurd who combined the gifts of generalship and diplomacy. The times called for a Christian who could match Saladin's genius.

That Christian was not Guy de Lusignan.  As Saladin advanced, Guy continued to feud with his most prominent rival, Raymond of Tripoli, then suddenly reconciled with him and insisted on leading all their forces to relieve the Arab siege of Raymond's city of Tiberias – against Raymond's own advice.  The siege was, in fact, a trap laid by Saladin:  when Guy's armies appeared, the Arabs wheeled round to encircle them on a dry plateau, the Horns of Hattin, with no access to water.  As the contemporary Muslim commentator Bahā' ad-Dīn describds it:  "they were closely beset as in a noose, while still marching on as though being driven to death that they could see before them, convinced of their doom and destruction and themselves aware that the following day they would be visiting their graves."

On this day in 1187, Guy made his last frantic attempts to escape Saladin's noose.  Charge after charge of his knights down the hill failed to break through to a pond or stream; the Arabs had learned how to contain the shock of Frankish tactics.  When at last he surrendered, Guy was received by Saladin with a goblet of iced water – but the Holy Land was lost forever.

This article originates from the blog bozosapiens.blogspot.co.uk


Michael Kaplan