death of King Baldwin I, 1118

In 1115, King Baldwin I sent a general invitation to Syrian Christians to come resettle in Jerusalem. The city’s economy was very thin, since the Crusaders had killed so many of the residents in their original assault. The ensuing years of wars and threats had not made it seem an inviting neighborhood, to say the least. The city’s tax base had collapsed. Now, it looked like the Fatimids had given up on recapture; they no longer set out with a field army every spring. The Muslims to the east and north were still very much occupied with their civil wars. Life could go back to something like normal.

In that cluster of years, it looked like Baldwin I had found a good solution to his childless state. With Arda in a convent, he had married a woman who already had children. She was the widowed Countess of Sicily, whose young son had just taken his own governing. In the marriage contract, her son Roger II of Sicily was established as Baldwin’s heir. If Baldwin I had died in 1115, Roger would have traveled to Jerusalem with fresh reserves of gold and silver, knights, and optimism.

However, as you know, Baldwin I believed that God was striking him down for his sin of bigamy so he annulled the contract and sent the Countess home after two years of marriage.

He didn’t die from that illness, but he died soon after, in 1118. He had an old battle wound from his first months as king, when a Turkish hunting party had speared him. He had lived for many years after, but apparently, sickness and internal injuries just caught up with him. He was probably about 60. The king was on campaign in Egypt, near El-Arish, when he died. He left instructions for his cook to bury his guts nearby, but to salt and spice his body thoroughly. The expedition carried him in this semi-mummified state back to Jerusalem. There, he was buried in state at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The sudden death of Baldwin I created a dangerous power vacuum. Bohemund and Tancred had predeceased him, but there were always ambitious Normans around. Would Roger II of Sicily try to press his claim? He was bitterly angry at his mother’s being sent home in shame. Someone sent for the oldest brother Eustace of Boulogne, who reluctantly agreed to take up the duty if he must, but he was even older than Baldwin, and someone needed to take faster action. Not only was there danger from Norman rivals, there was also the very immediate danger that the king’s death signaled weakness to surrounding kingdoms. They had come to respect Baldwin I’s tenacity at survival and resistance.

Sir Joscelin of Tel Bashir, a follower of the younger Count Baldwin II, pressed for the Count to inherit from his cousin. After all, he had already been chosen to inherit Edessa, so in a way, he was already the legal heir. He was right there in Edessa, he was in good health, and he had a family. (Besides, then Sir Joscelin could become Count of Edessa.)

King Baldwin II was crowned on Easter Sunday in Jerusalem, with Morphia as Queen.¬†Within days, the kingdom was invaded from the south by Fatimids, and from the east by Seljuk Turks! The new king and his allies scrambled as many knights onto the field as they could. Apparently, both invasions were more in the nature of probes. Had the city been easy to capture, they’d have fought. It’s also possible that both Muslim armies were dismayed by the presence of the other. They may have been racing to be the first one to invade, only to arrive simultaneously. As it happened, both invasion forces chose to leave.


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