The rulers of the Crusader kingdoms are difficult to track through this period without careful focus, although they helped by reliably naming the heir of Tripoli “Raymond,” of Antioch “Bohemund,” and of Jerusalem “Baldwin.” Lifespans were short, due not only to battle dangers, but also to diseases like malaria that were rampant in the Near East. The women who survived disease and childbirth were married to two and three men, since they also carried inheritance rights that needed to be protected. Few of the girls married by choice; husbands were imported from Europe, bringing fresh strength, money, and feudal ties to powerful kings.
In 1177, the current King Baldwin was a teenager with leprosy. He had been trained as a knight, so he had fighting skills as long as he could fend off the progressive crippling symptoms. He fought left-handed, guiding his horse with only his knees, since his right arm had become crippled first. Doomed to die painfully in any case, he was a bold fighter who tried to challenge Saladin’s gradual encirclement of his kingdom. In his most notable battle of November 1177, he was trapped with some Templars in Ascalon while Saladin’s army raided southern Palestine. Then he decided to sally out and attack; it was such an unexpected move that Saladin’s army, reduced by sending out raiding parties, could not regroup when they were suddenly attacked while crossing a river. Both Baldwin and Saladin survived, but Saladin recalled it as his most frightening defeat.
Baldwin had a sister Sibylla and a much younger half-sister Isabella (whose grandfather was the Byzantine Emperor). Both girls were fated to be married as young as possible, since it was unclear if Baldwin would live long, and leprosy made him infertile.
In 1177, Sibylla was a teenage pregnant widow. Luckily she at least had a boy (named Baldwin), but now they had to start over. Everyone argued about what to do with her next. They wanted another wealthy European knight, like the first one (cousin to King of France), but matches kept falling through, probably sabotaged by political factions. Finally, young Baldwin chose the newly-arrived brother of his Constable. He was not as high-ranking as they’d have liked, but was vassal to the King of England and a skilled knight. So Guy of Lusignan entered the family in 1180. Guy and Sibylla had two daughters, but so far, little Baldwin V looked healthy.
Baldwin the Leper King came to detest Guy of Lusignan. He realized that they had brought into the family a wily schemer, but the schemer stayed one step ahead of Baldwin. As Regent for Baldwin when he had become blind, Guy permitted things Baldwin opposed, for example…and not a minor example…Guy allowed a powerful knight named Raynald de Chatillon to rob Arab caravans traveling through Outrejourdain (basically, the “West Bank”). The Jerusalem kingdom received a fair amount of tax money through its castles that guarded the caravan routes, but Guy and his friend double-dipped by also robbing those they should have guarded. Jerusalem had a truce with Saladin at the time, but Raynald claimed it didn’t apply to him.
The Leper King, now blind and clearly dying, had his nephew Baldwin V crowned, with Raymond of Tripoli appointed as regent. He wanted to bar Guy from making Sibylla the Queen, so he stipulated that only the European kings could choose which of his sisters should inherit in the event of the little boy’s death. Then he died. Sadly, the little boy died the following year, the last Baldwin. Of course, faced with uncertainty, the High Council recognized Sibylla as Queen, and she immediately crowned her husband as King Guy. Little sister Isabella had been married off to a local lord, but he too swore allegiance to Sibylla and Guy.
The Muslim caravan owners complained to Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Emir of Damascus, about the robberies committed by Crusader knights. They had put in a claim for compensation from Jerusalem (due to the truce), but Raynald and Guy refused it. Some legends say that Saladin’s sister had been traveling with the caravans and was also injured. Up to now, Saladin had had his own battles with Baldwin’s knights, winning some and losing some, but always turning back to his Muslim rivals. Now with his sights set on winning the Caliph’s approval, Saladin turned his full energies to the Holy Land.
The Countess of Tripoli was at Tiberias, by the Sea of Galilee, when Saladin’s forces besieged it. The Count of Tripoli had a truce with Saladin (almost an alliance, so much did he hate King Guy), but reluctantly, he broke this off and sided with the other Crusaders. Once again, the united knights of Tripoli, Antioch and Jerusalem, with the Hospitallers and Templars, acted as a single Crusader army. They rode to Tiberias with the largest army they could muster, to meet Saladin’s force.
The Battle of Hattin, near Tiberias, was a complete disaster. The Christians lost the battle worse than they ever imagined. Saladin’s army even captured the relic of the True Cross! Both King Guy and little Isabella’s husband were captured, as was the scoundrel Raynald who had started the trouble. A small group of lords, including the Count of Tripoli, had escaped from the battle by making a charge at some Arab forces who just moved aside to let them pass.
Saladin executed Raynald but spared Guy and the other nobles, taking them to Damascus to await ransom. However, he had a mass execution of the captured (and locally hated) Hospitaller and Templar knights, and he sold into slavery the lower-ranking knights who would not bring in a good ransom. Saladin could now mop up the remaining Crusader fortresses and towns left essentially undefended.