Henry shared the historical stage with some of the most colorful and impressive figures of medieval history — Emperor Frederick II, John the “Old Lord” of Beirut, and King Louis IX of France, a Saint. These giants have dwarfed him, and he is largely forgotten or dismissed as unimportant. Yet under his reign, his island kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity. He fostered trade, defended the rights of his diverse subjects, and avoided squandering Cypriot resources in the defense of Syria. King Henry I of Cyprus deserves a reassessment.
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Monday, September 13, 2021
Monday, September 6, 2021
Henry I inherited his kingdom before he was a year old and was crowned at the age of eight, but as a child, he remained at the mercy of his guardians and regents. In the first eleven years of his life, these had protected Henry from two attempts to disinherit him. They furthermore ensured his own safety and the welfare of his kingdom and subjects in an exemplary manner. All that changed with the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor. Emperor Frederick II viewed Cyprus as a vassal state, and he came to extract his “due.” His actions set in motion a chain of events that nearly cost Henry his kingdom and his life.
Beirut dutifully took King Henry and his sons to meet the Emperor and was persuaded to attend a great banquet hosted by Frederick II. The guests went in court attire without weapons; Frederick II, however, smuggled some three-thousand armed men into the palace during the night. After all the guests were well into the meal, the Emperor's men sealed off the hall, the hands on their hilts and the Emperor demanded that Beirut surrender his fiefdom of Beirut and all the revenues of Cyprus since his brother had become baillie (e.g. the past eleven years).
Beirut answered that he would account for the revenues before the High Court of Cyprus and would only surrender his lordship after a judgment of the High Court of Jerusalem. When he did not back down even under threats of arrest and hints of worse, hostages were given for his appearance before the respective courts and Beirut — with nearly all the knights and barons of Cyprus — withdrew. (The details of the banquet are described in The Emperor’s Banquet.)
“Our lord the emperor sends you word, as one who is his vassal, that you dismiss and require to leave your land John d’Ibelin, his children, his nephews, and his relatives, for they have done wrong. Wherefore he sends you his orders and forbids you as his vassal to harbor or shelter him [John of Beirut] in your land.” 
The king … greatly marvels that your lord the emperor made such a command to him, for the lord of Beirut is his own uncle by his mother, and it is well known that he [and his kinsmen] are vassals, wherefore he cannot fail them…”
[Beirut] arose and stood — he had a habit of crossing his legs when he was standing — and, as he knew so well to do, he spoke loudly and to the point. He said: ‘Sire, … by me and by my family was your father lord and held the land; and if we had not supported him he would have been disinherited or dead. When God made his commandment of him you were but nine months old and we nourished you, you and your land, thank God, until this day; for had we not given you freely of our own, the duke of Austria would have disinherited you, and twice you have been in a bad state or worse… Now it has happened that the Longobards have taken my city and besieged my castle so closely that it is in danger of being lost, and ourselves and all our Syrian men disinherited. Wherefore I pray you, by God and by your honor, for our great services and because we are of one blood…that you come in person in all your power with me to succor my castle.
Henry crossed to Syria with his army in bad weather, arriving after what is described as a terrible crossing, making landfall at Puy du Constable in the County of Tripoli. Here the three former baillies (who had held the King in St. Hilarion but received full pardons at surrender) deserted the Cypriot army. They eventually joined the Imperial forces besieging Beirut. They justified their actions in terms of loyalty to the Hohenstaufen emperor, who was the overlord of Cyprus and by claiming that King Henry was a “captive” of the Ibelins and not acting of his free will.
Henry plays an important role in Dr. Schrader's current series, "The Rebels of Outremer":
Monday, August 30, 2021
He was called a “colorless personality” by historian George Hill, while the leading scholar on medieval Cyprus, Peter Edbury, says he “ruled Cyprus without ever… holding the limelight in the politics of the Latin East of his day.” Yet he was king for 35 years, and it was during his reign that Cyprus came to replace the Kingdom of Jerusalem as the “focus of Western culture in the Near East.” Furthermore, he threw off the yoke of the Holy Roman Emperor, establishing Cyprus as an independent kingdom. He undertook significant legal reforms, was a staunch supporter of his Greek subjects against encroachments by the Latin clergy, and maintained excellent relations with his own barons.
In short, Henry I may deserve a reassessment.
Monday, August 23, 2021
In the past, I've challenged the common myth about the peaceful reception of Guy de Lusignan on Cyprus. There is, however, another “myth” which needs re-examination: namely the late arrival of the Ibelins on Cyprus. Throughout the 13th Century, the Ibelins were the dominant family in Outremer, challenging the Holy Roman Emperor on both the mainland and on Cyprus. Significantly, they consistently enjoyed the favor of the Lusignan kings. I believe there is a reason for that, albeit one which cannot be proven given the scanty documentary evidence. Below is a summary.
Hugh, however, was only the son of a cousin. In a medieval society where almost everyone in the ruling class was related in some way or another, that tie does not seem compelling.
Even more difficult to understand in the conventional version of events is that the Ibelins became so powerful and entrenched that within just seven years (1217) of their supposed “first appearance” on Cyprus. It was in that year that an Ibelin was elected regent of Cyprus by the Cypriot High Court--that is the barons and bishops of the island who had supposedly been on the island "far" longer. The appointment furthermore jumped over closer relatives. This hardly seems credible if the Ibelins were not recognized as a "leading" family on Cyprus.
Furthermore, the conventional argument that Balian d’Ibelin died in late 1193 because he disappears from the charters of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at that date is reasonable -- but not definitive. The fact that Balian d’Ibelin disappears from the records of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1193 may mean that he died, but it could just as easily mean that he was occupied elsewhere. The Ibelin brothers of the next generation, John and Philip, for example, "disappear" from the records of Jerusalem from 1210 to 1217 too, but they were very much alive, active and powerful -- one in Beirut and the other apparently on Cyprus.
In short, Balian's disappearance from the records of Jerusalem could also have been because he busy on Cyprus. The lack of documentary proof for his presence on Cyprus is not grounds for dismissing the possibility of his presence because 1) the Kingdom of Cyprus did not yet exist so there was no chancery and no elaborate system for keeping records, writs and charters etc., and 2) those who would soon make Cyprus a kingdom were probably busy fighting 100,000 outraged Orthodox Greeks on the island!
But why would Balian d’Ibelin go to Cyprus at this time?
Because his wife, Maria Comnena, was a Byzantine princess. Not just that, she was related to the last Greek “emperor” of the island, Isaac Comnenus. She spoke Greek, understood the mentality of the population, and probably had good ties (or could forge them) to the Greek/Orthodox elites, secular and ecclesiastical, on the island. She had the means to help Aimery pacify his unruly realm, and Balian was a proven diplomat par excellence, who would also have been a great asset to Aimery.
If Balian d’Ibelin and Maria Comnena played a role in helping Aimery establish his authority on Cyprus, it is nearly certain they would have been richly rewarded with lands/fiefs on the island once the situation settled down. Such feudal holdings would have given the Ibelins a seat on the High Court of Cyprus, which explains their influence on it. Furthermore, these Cypriot estates would most likely have fallen to their younger son, Philip, because their first born son, John, was heir to their holdings in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. John was first Constable of Jerusalem, then Lord of the hugely important and wealthy lordship of Beirut, and finally, after King Aimery’s death, regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his niece. Philip, on the other hand, was constable of Cyprus and later regent of Cyprus for Henry I ― notably despite the fact that his elder brother was still alive at the time.
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