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Kingdom of Heaven

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Author Topic: Kingdom of Heaven  (Read 505 times)
Jennifer O'Dell
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Posts: 4546

« on: May 28, 2007, 02:24:30 am »

King Baldwin IV Of Jerusalem
Wednesday September 28, 7:00 pm ET
Doug Tsuruoka

The greatest of the Christian kings to rule Jerusalem during the Crusades began life as a hapless boy, who to all appearances, should never have ruled at all.
He was Baldwin IV, the so-called Leper King of Jerusalem. A stammerer as a young child, he contracted leprosy when he was 9. He was 13 in 1174 when his father died and Baldwin was crowned as his successor in the city's Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Historians marvel that Baldwin, for a time, overcame his sickness to become a wise and able ruler. He also proved an ace strategist who scored some of the kingdom's biggest triumphs against Saladin, the Saracen leader who had vowed to drive the Crusaders from the Holy Land.

It wasn't just Crusaders who admired Baldwin: he also won Saladin's respect with his strength of character. During Baldwin's reign, the two signed a truce that ushered in a rare period of peace before it fell apart.

A scion of one of France's royal families, Baldwin was descended from the Frankish knights who created a small kingdom after capturing Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade.

French chroniclers say Baldwin had bright eyes, an aquiline nose and blond hair that reached to his shoulders. He also had a thunderous laugh that was filled with life despite the incurable disease that was ravaging his body.

The kingdom's affairs couldn't have been worse when Baldwin took the throne. It was besieged on all sides by Muslim armies that were retaking the forts and cities won by the Crusaders a generation before.

Crowning a sickly boy at a time like this struck some as folly. But Baldwin proved to be the right man at the right time.

"He was the bravest, the most intelligent, the most understanding of the kings of Jerusalem ... he was kindly and solicitous toward others, he understood exactly what was demanded of him, and he was learned about all the affairs of the Levant, but what was most important about him during his brief reign was a certain style, a way of looking at life with eagerness and grace," wrote Robert Payne in his famous work on the Crusades, "The Dream And The Tomb."

What stood out about Baldwin was his realization from an early age that his life would be cut short by leprosy. As such, he wanted to make every moment count. He also seemed to know that he held the kingdom's fate in his hands.

His illness had been discovered when he was playing with a group of young boys. They were pinching each other's arms and legs to see who could bear the pain the longest. But when they pinched Baldwin, he felt no pain. People thought that odd.

Medical books were checked and the young prince was found to be suffering from early-stage leprosy.

Inner Strength

News of this sort would have crushed most children. But with Baldwin it had the opposite effect. He fought his disease, taking all the medicines against leprosy then known to science. Little could be done to halt it. But he had an inner strength that allowed him to bear his illness without complaint.

He resolved to make the best of the cruel cards fate had handed him. And when Baldwin fixed on a goal, nothing could stop him.

He acted as if he were healthy. He practiced his riding skills until he became an expert horseman. He mastered the use of the sword while still in his teens. And he absorbed the wisdom he heard from some of the finest minds of his day.

One of his tutors was the historian William of Tyre, who schooled him in letters and religion. Baldwin took both seriously and practiced them daily, becoming both an avid reader of Plato and a pious Christian.

The sincerity with which he embraced his faith made Baldwin a bit of an anomaly in a time when Crusaders and Saracens killed each other without pity. He was a foe of Islam, dedicated to defending Christian rule. But he committed none of the atrocities of earlier rulers.

Baldwin's stuttering had an unusual effect: it made him focus intensively on being well-spoken. He practiced little word games with his tutors to keep his stammering under control. And he learned to measure his words carefully. Payne says he did this "because he wanted to think carefully before he spoke, knowing that as a king his words would have special significance."

Trade flourished under Baldwin. He knew that vibrant bazaars and seaports kept the kingdom strong. And he was a chivalrous man deeply concerned with the welfare of his subjects. He often dispensed bread and other aid in hard times.

As a soldier, Baldwin had a contrarian approach to war: He turned disadvantage into advantage.

The heavy armor used by the Crusaders had vexed them in the searing heat of the Holy Land. The Muslims used lighter armor well-suited to the local climate.

But Baldwin knew that lightly armed soldiers were vulnerable to heavy cavalry armed with lances. He also knew a few well-trained knights could prevail against a numerically superior foe if the right tactics were used.

Baldwin used these points with good effect at Ramleh in 1177 when he won his greatest victory.

He personally led a charge of 200 Knights Templar against a much larger Muslim force. His attack cut Saladin's army in two and caused it to flee in wild disorder.

Baldwin was just 17 years old at the time, half-blind and wasted by leprosy. He refused to give in to his illness, however: He eagerly entered into other fights against Saladin, buying time for his beleaguered kingdom.

Integrity And Honor

Baldwin proved as skillful in peace as he was in war. Treachery often marred the treaties made by both sides in the Crusades. But Baldwin sealed a truce with Saladin and kept it. The Muslims also put aside their swords because they knew Baldwin was an honorable man.

When a famine struck, Baldwin sent food to Saladin and re-opened trade between Christian and Muslim towns in a gesture of peace.

He had no male heirs and spent his last days selecting a successor from among his quarreling relatives.

Baldwin was only 24 and completely blind when he died in 1185.

He was regal to the end. "When his face and features were no longer recognizable, when there came from him only halting whispers, and when he was carried on a litter because he could no longer walk, he was braver than any of his knights and more intelligent than any of his advisers," Payne wrote.

A renegade Crusader named Reynald of Chatillon broke the truce just before Baldwin died by seizing a Muslim caravan. Saladin retaliated and Jerusalem fell to his army in 1187.
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