It was a measure of Ibelin’s increased status that no one objected to him summoning a session of the High Court. Technically, only the seneschal of the kingdom could do that, but Edessa had also died. The surviving members of the Court seemed relieved by Ibelin’s initiative and hastened to comply with his summons. The barons and bishops took over the church of St. Helena, and their knights guarded the entrances and the streets around. In addition to Ibelin himself, representing not just Ibelin but his brother’s baronies of Ramla and Mirabel and his wife’s dower of Nablus, the secular lords present were the Prince of Galilee and the barons of Haifa, Sidon, Scandelion, Caesarea, Sebaste, and Hebron. Conspicuously absent were Toron and Oultrejourdain (both baronies held in personal union by Humphrey), Tripoli, now held by Bohemond of Antioch, Caymont, which was vacant, and Beirut and Nazareth, whose lords had remained at the siege of Acre after the other barons left.
It was the lords of the Church, however, that had the greater role to play if Isabella was to be freed of Toron and allowed to remarry. With the Patriarch dead, the senior churchman of the Kingdom was the Archbishop of Tyre, but he was still in the West. The Archbishops of Caesarea and Nazareth were at the siege. The slaughtered Bishop of Acre had not yet been replaced, and this left the Bishops of Lydda, Bethlehem, Hebron, Sebaste, and Sidon to represent the heads of the Latin Church in Jerusalem. That was five of the nine bishops, but the absence of all three archbishops meant they did not represent a majority of the ecclesiastical lords on the High Court—unless the Archdeacon of Tyre’s claim to represent his Archbishop was accepted.
After the Bishop of Bethlehem had led them in prayers, begging the Almighty’s grace and blessings on their deliberations and decisions, Ibelin opened the proceedings by reminding his peers of the death of their Queen and her daughters. He then asked if there was agreement on who her heir was. Isabella was named at once, but Lydda noted that Guy had been anointed King and would therefore have the right to reign until he died, arguing that Isabella was the heir apparent, not the Queen.
This view was immediately challenged by the secular lords, who unanimously rejected Guy. “He should never have been King in the first place!” Haifa insisted, backed forcefully by Tripoli’s stepson William of Tiberias, now nominally Prince of Galilee. The fact that Guy had been crowned without the approval of the High Court was brought up next, followed by the reminder that Sibylla had lied to most of the bishops in the room about her intention to set Guy aside and take another consort. All these painful past defeats ignited new indignation. When Hattin was mentioned, immediately followed by descriptions of Lusignan’s equally terrible leadership in the siege of Acre, the mood became so hostile to Lusignan that the Bishop of Sebaste felt compelled to remind the assembled lords that they were here to discuss the succession, not indulge in diatribes against Lusignan.
“The point, my lord Bishop,” Ibelin noted into the ensuing pause, “is that the secular lords are not prepared to acknowledge Guy de Lusignan as King of Jerusalem. He ruled by right of his wife only, and she is dead. Her half-sister Isabella, the daughter of King Amalric, is the rightful Queen of Jerusalem.”
This time no one contradicted him, but the Bishop of Hebron pointed out, “In that case, Humphrey of Toron is by right of his wife the next King.”
This provoked a roar of indignant contradiction and protest, particularly from those who had been imprisoned with him, including Haifa, Hebron, and Galilee. As Ibelin had predicted, the barons were just as unanimous in rejecting Humphrey as they had been in rejecting Guy. The notion of taking oaths of fealty to Humphrey was compared to lunacy, heresy, and treason.
But the bishops were troubled by the fact that Humphrey had been recognized as Isabella’s husband for eight years. Marriage was a sacred vow, they reminded the assembled lords, and it was for life. Much as they sympathized with the reluctance of the barons to bind themselves to a man unlikely to lead them well, the laws of the Church were sacred—and explicit: a man could not set aside his wife, nor a woman her husband, for any reason whatsoever—not infidelity, nor infertility, nor even heresy and sorcery. “Unless you can demonstrate that Isabella was not rightfully married to the Lord of Toron in the eyes of the Church, her marriage cannot be dissolved,” The Bishop of Hebron declared solemnly.
This statement was greeted with sullen silence. The men in the room knew this was Church law, and they resented it bitterly; it stood in the way of their desperate need to find a competent man capable of leading the Kingdom in its hour of need.
“Isn’t consent a condition of marriage?” Ibelin spoke into the silence.
“Of course,” the bishops agreed almost in unison.
“What is the age of consent for women?” Ibelin asked next.
“Twelve,” came the answer from several voices at the same time. By now, however, half the barons were sitting up straighter in the choir seats they had taken; their frustration was already giving way to anticipation.
“Isabella was eleven when she was wed to Toron,” Ibelin reminded them.
Suddenly everyone seemed to be speaking at once, going back into their memories aloud, calculating Isabella’s age on their fingers. Her marriage had been infamous because it took place at the Castle of Kerak in the middle of a siege by Salah al-Din. The feudal army that would normally have gone to the relief of Kerak had refused to march until Baldwin IV removed Guy de Lusignan as regent. Guy was dismissed, but the march was further delayed by Baldwin IV’s decision to crown his nephew co-monarch to ensure no future interregnum. Most of the men in the room had been in the army that eventually marched to the relief of Kerak, arriving almost a month after the wedding had been celebrated in the besieged castle. They knew the date: November 1183. Isabella, however, had not been born to King Amalric until 1172. She could not yet have turned twelve.
The mood among the barons turned jubilant, but the bishops responded with chagrin. Such a marriage should not have been allowed at all. The Bishop of Lydda turned on Ibelin. “So why did you let this fraudulent marriage take place? Why did you stage this mockery of a holy sacrament?” he asked indignantly.
“Because,” Ibelin answered steadily, his eyes fixed on the bishop but his voice pitched for the entire room, “I was not there.” He paused to let this sink in, and then reminded them, “I was in Jerusalem—with most of the rest of you. Isabella, on the other hand, was being held prisoner in Kerak—as she had been for three years. Her mother and I had nothing to say about this marriage. Furthermore, her marriage to Toron, who had turned fifteen, was her only chance to escape the clutches of Reynald de Châtillon!”
Châtillon’s reputation was dark enough for this answer to subdue even the bishops. Châtillon had once tortured the Patriarch of Antioch into giving him money—money he used to finance a raid on the peaceful Christian island of Cyprus. Châtillon was a man of violent tempers, insatiable greed, and infamous brutality. No one doubted that he could impose his will on a child.
The matter of Isabella’s non-marriage to Toron settled in their minds, the High Court turned its attention to who would be the most suitable candidate for Isabella’s next husband. Ibelin brought forward the new Count of Tripoli, the heir to Antioch, and Montferrat, and then sat back to listen to the debate. Within a half-hour it was clear that Montferrat’s unquestioned capabilities as a fighting man and commander gave him the edge over his younger rivals. No one had anything negative to say about the sons of the Prince of Antioch—but Montferrat was here, he was proven, and he had put in his bid. Perhaps most significant of all, it would take time to send to Antioch or Tripoli and inquire if the young men in question were willing to marry Isabella of Jerusalem. A positive answer was by no means assured, because with Isabella came responsibility for her occupied and beggared country. A bird in the hand ...
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