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Friday, 27 July 2012

Why Saladin the Great Opposed the Strange Leper King of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV 16-year-old leper king at Montgisard

This blog is about Saladin the Great’s defeat, before his great victory that echoes throughout eternity. It is not derogatory of the great warrior Sultan but tells the story of a gigantic incident that might have conditioned him better for future conflict. Many people of Europe know of the Crusades, but we fantasise and glory only in the victories and regard the Islamic forces in a dark and sinister light. However, it appears upon greater reflection, that the Crusaders and their Christian Holy war caused great mayhem and slaughter of life. There were heroes and antiheroes on both sides of the Crusader wars and much is viewed from bigoted perspectives on both sides. Let us pretend that all men are good and can be corrupted and amid such turmoil and confusion. Some people try hard to be good before God in who, they believe. This could be said of many in the Crusader wars on either side of the colossal conflict that Islam eventually won.

Saladin the Great
Saladin the Great is a monument of Chivalry in Middle age history among many Europeans, even though he was an enemy of Europe’s Christian Crusader Kingdom. This is with good reason, of course as the Fatimid Caliphate that governed Jerusalem fell to the European Crusader Christians in 1099. This event drove a wedge through an Islamic territory of the Fatimid Egyptian-ruled Caliphate that stretched across North Africa into Egypt, up through areas of Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and parts of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It should be noted that over 70,000 Muslims and Jews were massacred by the Christian Crusaders and the violence of the fall of Jerusalem in 1099 AD was horrendous. Many of these wicked slayings were blamed upon Christian Franks.

Perhaps, for this reason – 88 years later, Saladin would not free the Franks that he captured when he retook Jerusalem in 1187, despite the pleas of Balian of Ibelin and the Patriarch of the defeated Crusader Christians. All others were given safe conduct to the ports, while the Franks went into slavery. These are of course things that happened before and after the first of Saladin’s conflicts, as Sultan, with the Crusader Kingdom’s celebrated leper King.

For many centuries, before the Western European Christian Crusaders came; there had been wars with the Byzantine Empire and Western Muslim Caliphates and Eastern Muslim Caliphates. All were wrestling for over dominance of the Holy land territories. Everything was mixed and confused within the Middle East – in other words; business as usual in the Holy Land.

When Saladin the Great was born in 1137 or 1138, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem had existed for around 39 years – a rule of European immigrant Christians. This newborn Islamic boy noble would one day become a great man and his name was Yusuf. The Muslim land of his birth bordered this conquered land where Christian Crusaders ruled and continuously tried to expand its Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Young Yusuf (Saladin the Great) grew up among a virtuous Islamic family of the eastern Caliphate ruled by Ayyubids. His birth place was Tikrit in Iraq. He would go through a great many periods of learning as a youngster and also was involved in political turmoil before he became Sultan of Egypt and Syria in 1174 aged about 36 or 37. This growing up and coming of age period was full of many notable events in the life of Saladin the Great. He would have been used to all the finery of a Royal Muslim within the finest and highest courts of the world of Islam – resplendent and gloried with fine architecture throughout the lands of the Middle East.

By the same example – yet in Christian courts, another young man was crowned King of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1174 and this Christian King would become an arch enemy, yet a respected foe. This strange young leper king would prove a worthy opponent of Saladin the Great as the new Sultan had to constructively come to terms with the difficulty that the Christian Crusader Kingdom presented to the new Ayyubid Caliphate. From the perspective of the Islamic Caliphate; the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was an extremely aggressive and temperamental unwanted neighbour that had stolen territory.

At this time of 1174 AD, the young Crusader Christian King of Jerusalem was just 13 years of age. He had been born in the Kingdom of Jerusalem but was a European Christian coloniser begot by Christian Crusader parents. His name was Baldwin and the young King was crowned King Baldwin IV. Many of the Crusader Christians of Jerusalem were extremely radical and fanatic in their Christian belief and found it difficult to compromise with any credence outside of their own. Part of their doctrines believed in humility and humbleness before God, which led to all sorts of twisted ways of regarding people – sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, depending on which perspective these Holy fighters choose to look at a circumstance.

Therefore it is possible that this 13-year-old boy, who was very well educated, could be revered by zealot Christian warriors in a Holy way. These people who believed in the poverty and humbleness of their divine Jesus Christ looked at this blighted young 13-year-old boy and regarded him as something special within the kingdom of Jerusalem. He was not expected to reign for long, but then many of the Holy men of Christendom had died young and supporting great Christian beliefs. The Crusaders looked at their 13-year-old king stricken with leprosy and thought him divine before God and their Holy war and somehow fitting in the new Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Thus the confrontation was set, between the Islamic Sultan of Egypt and Syria – Saladin the Great and the young Crusader Christian King Baldwin IV (The Leper King). The new name that the Sultan was given ‘Saladin’ was an epithet bestowed upon him for his own rightness and devotion to God. His Islamic warriors and people looked upon the Christian leper king’s blight in a very different way to the Crusader Christians. To many, it was a terrible judgement bestowed upon the Crusader kingdom through their young king.

For some time there were tensions and cross-border raids, this was usual – even a planned naval attack with allied forces of the Byzantine Empire against Saladin in Egypt but nothing came of this. It was all just theory, plan and speculation. Then in 1177 word came to the court of the now 16-year-old King Baldwin that Saladin was to launch an invasion from Egypt.

King Baldwin set out to meet Saladin suffering from the aggressive stages of leprosy that slowly ate away at his limbs and flesh, leaving hideous disfiguring deformities. Much of this unsightly blight was hidden beneath a knight’s attire of armour. It is also believed that he wore an elaborate mask too. He had a small number of devoted Templar knights and the leadership of his forces by the unhinged and testing Templar knight, Raynald of Châtillon who had just been released from 16 years of captivity in Syria. This man was supposed to be a fearsome monster of a Crusader warrior and is portrayed in a more cruel light in this day and age, though he was respected and revered by some Crusaders. To others – Crusader and Muslim alike; he was un-chivalrous, cruel and without charity of any kind. However, he was a fearsome opponent as many Muslims warriors had found out to great cost and just the man for the type of challenge that lay before the army of Jerusalem’s Crusader Kingdom.


Saladin the Great would not have earned the ‘Great’ part of his name at this time and his ill-deserved confidence on this occasion did little to show such promise of the great nemesis of the Crusaders, he would one day become. The Sultan led his army towards Jerusalem attacking various places on route. He knew of the young leper king and the small Crusader army of Templars that had been mustered, but he paid scant attention to the possibility of a threat because his army was vast and overwhelmingly outnumbered the Templar knights. He did not suppose they would pursue nor have the audacity to attack him. Saladin allowed his army to spread out over a wide area and this was to prove a very big mistake indeed. It is often known that great men learn by their mistakes and become tempered by such things. Perhaps this makes them better prepared for future trials and tribulations and maybe this was so of Saladin when he came upon the young Crusader leper king and his Templar knights at the Battle of Montgisard.

Saladin was unaware of the rapid pursuit of the Crusaders along the coast. He had spread his army out into small groups to pillage and attack scattered locations and the small force he thought he needed to confront the leper king Baldwin IV was inadequate. At a place, sometimes known as Mons Gisardi, the Battle of Montgidard took place.

Saladin’s force was spread out and not in proper formation when the leper king’s Crusader army formed before them under a giant relic of a cross. In the desert heat and by the rolling sea of the coast, the Muslim army began to panic and hurriedly tried to form into battle order.

Among the Templar army of the Christian crusaders, the sick leper king, Baldwin IV was helped down from his horse where he knelt before the relic of the true cross and prayed for a victory. The 16-year-old king’s leprosy was in aggressive and advanced stages, but he was seen by his Templar knights and put back on his mount. He ordered and rode with the charge upon the disorderly Ayyubids army of Saladin.

It is believed that the Templar army numbered around 500 knights with several thousand foot soldiers, while Saladin's army was 26,000. This might not have been the entire amount that was present at Montgisard, because many had been dispersed over a wider area and would be raiding and pillaging elsewhere. The Crusaders fell upon the Muslim host with fierce violence and hacked and killed a great many. Amid the turmoil and confusion the young leper king fought fiercely with his bodyguards about him. His limbs were bandaged to hide the wounds and sores eating away at his blighted flesh and his armour would hide the disfigurement of his confounded condition.

Saladin began to see his bodyguards dwindling as they were systematically dispatched by the fanatical Crusaders. He only avoided capture with moments to spare when he managed to escape by swiftly retreating. The whole affair was a disaster for Saladin and his great Islamic army. His losses were estimated at 23,000. If this is all from the entire battle of Montgisard or perhaps including the mopping up of scattered raiding parties later, one can’t say for sure. However, it is believed that Saladin returned to Egypt with only 10% of his invasion force because 90% perished and most of these would have fallen at Montgisard.



The young Leper King Baldwin IV was propelled to divine status among the Templars of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He was the darling boy king, stricken by leprosy yet still able to win victories and do God’s work in the eyes of all Christians that flocked to the Holy land on, what they believed a sacred cause. This was the leper king’s glorifying moment in eternity and he would come up against Saladin again in the remaining eight years he had to live, for he would die from his illness in 1185. With his passing the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem would meet its demise in two years’ time when Saladin – wiser and cautious would reverse the tables and become the nemesis of the Crusader’s at the fall of Jerusalem in 1187.


Saladin would, prior to attacking Jerusalem, kill his arch enemy; Raynald of Châtillon after capturing the man at the Battle of Hattin. Saladin’s chivalry was highly regarded among many knights – Christian and Muslim alike, but he could be fierce and unmerciful to those who he decided were unworthy -   Raynald of Châtillon was one such person.

Eventually, Saladin's monument overshadowed that of the strange leper king – champion of the extinct Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Even in Western Europe where today, Saladin is widely known yet, the leper king is like the vanquished Crusader kingdom - dust in the desert winds. Baldwin IV the leper king is probably better known among Muslims of the Middle East then he is by Europeans.   


  


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