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The Kingdom of Heaven: A Review

by His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the September 2005, A.S. XL issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.

This is a movie that tells of the events prior to and precipitated the Third Crusade. As in any movie, historic events have been altered for dramatic effect. And the first half is purely fictional. But while many of the details have been altered, the events portrayed resemble the historic events. This essay will point out the differences from history as well as fill in the rest of the story.

The biggest omission the movie makes is leaving out all the intrigue that swirled around the court at Jerusalem. Besides the obvious succession problem, there was contention between: those attached to the family of the King, the native Barons, the adventures from Europe, and the Knightly Orders (Templars and Hospitallers). But it is easy to understand why the movie would skip over this as it is not easily summarized and makes daytime soap operas seem simple in comparison.

The hero of the movie is Balian d’Ibelin, a historic figure. However he was not illegitimate nor a blacksmith. He was a scion of the most prominent family of Jerusalem. In 1177 he married the Byzantine princess Marie Comnena, who was the second wife of Amalric I, the father of Balwin IV. In the movie he is given a speech arguing against taking the fight to Saladin. That argument was actually made by Raymond III of Tripoli. Instead of staying behind, Balian found in the rear guard of the army, and was among the few knights who were able to fight their way out of the trap at Hattin. He really did threaten to destroy Jerusalem to force Saladin to make favorable terms for surrender. After the fall of Jerusalem, Balian went to Tyre, which had not fallen. He joined the Third Crusade and helped negotiate the truce between Richard and Saladin. He died the following year. His immediate descendants were the Lords of Beirut.

The villain of the film is Reynald of Chatillon. Though the movie has him as the Master of the Templars (in reality that was the like minded adventurer Gerard of Ridfort) he was not even a Templar. He was an adventurer who in 1153 married the Princess Constance of Antioch. In 1160 he was captured and spent the next sixteen years in an Arab prison. Upon his release, a second marriage gave him the fortress Kerak, which sits on the south end of the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side overlooking the caravan route between Cairo and Damascus. Saladin attacked Kerak twice. Once casually in 1182, as he moved his army from Egypt to Damascus. More seriously in November of 1183, after Reynald attempt to take Mecca. He lifted the siege after a month upon the approach of the royal army. He remained a “loose cannon” until his death as shown in the film. The bit of dialog of Saladin telling Guy that it was Guy who gave Reynald a drink was to make clear that Saladin was not bound by the Arab custom of safety for anyone who had partaken any food or drink. Thus Saladin was still free to kill Reynald.

Second to Reynald has heavy was Guy of Lusignan. Though shown in a Templar tabard, he was not. He was yet another adventurer who came to Jerusalem at the invitation of his brother Amaury to marry Sibylla in 1180. While the move has her indifferent to Guy, in reality she was infatuated. After the fall of Jerusalem, she joined him in captivity. Though portrayed as a headstrong warrior, he has was weak-willed and better known for his looks then his abilities. Several times in the film he is referred to as the next king of Jerusalem, it was not that simple. First there was Sibyalla’s son from a previous marriage, a sickly child who died within a year of being crowned. Then there was Sibyalla’s half sister Isabella. The native barons attempted to head off Guy by advancing Isabella’s husband for the throne. His refusal collapsed the effort. Saladin eventually released Guy as a way to add further discord among the Crusaders. He first went to Tyre where he was refused entrance. He eventually gathered a small following and began to lay siege to Acre. While too small to actually take the city, it was strong enough to prevent its relief. Thus it became the seed for the military operations of the Third Crusade. In 1190 Sibyalla died, thus depriving Guy his main claim to the throne. And could not hold on to it in the intrigues that followed. As a consolidation prize, King Richard arranged for him to acquire Cyprus, which he had captured on the way to the Holy Land. He died in 1194. His brother inherited Cyprus, and in 1197, by marrying Isabella, became King of Jerusalem.

The tragic figure of the movie is Baldwin IV, the Leper King. Here he is an intellectual philosopher, who is above the passions of those who surround him. Actually he was very much a creature of his times. Until the leprosy incapacitated him, he was a very vigorous warrior. His attempts to cling to power as a way to cling to life created many of the intrigues that proved so fatal to the kingdom.

The Saladin of the movie is the Saladin of legend, though he had so little time on the screen that he could little else. The other two major characters of the film, the marshal Tiberus and the unnamed Muslim emir are totally fictional.

In the scenes of the Crusader army there can be seen a golden cross on a cart. This is the True Cross upon which Christ died. It was found in the early part of the fourth century, and except for a short time in the seventh century had remained in Jerusalem. After its capture at Hattin, it was sent to Baghdad where it disappeared.

The movie has Saladin moving on Jerusalem days after Hattin. That battle took place on July 4, 1187. Saladin then moved on to take the coastal cities. He did not begin to besiege Jerusalem until September 20. Balian really did knight a number of men for the defense of Jerusalem, though not as spontaneously as shown in the film. He knighted sixty sons of knights and city burgesses. The initial fighting took place on the west wall, then switched to the northeast corner. The breech in the wall was accomplished by undermining, not by trebuchets. This occurred at the same place the Crusaders had entered 1099. The city was formally surrendered on October 2. One aspect of the surrender not mentioned in the movie was the ransom for the city population, though it was not strictly enforced.

The refugees had two principle destinations. One was Alexandria where they eventually were able to take ships back to Europe. Others went north. They were refused entry into Tripoli and had to continue onward to Antioch before gaining refuge.

One of the main criticisms of the movie was that it seemed to inject the 21st century politically correct concept of everyone getting along into the 12th century of religious fanaticism. This is as much a misreading on the critic’s part as it is on Hollywood’s. The situation in the Kingdom of Jerusalem was much more complicated then these stereotypes. The native Crusaders were relatively tolerant of the Muslims as they were dependent upon them to handle the everyday tasks of civilization. The Catholic Christens formed only a quarter of the population of the Holy Lands, almost all of them in the cities. Secondly, the more thoughtful leaders understood the danger that Saladin represented. The kingdom was created and largely survived because of Arabic disunity, which Saladin removed. Therefore the reasoned strategy was to avoid provoking Saladin and await his death which would restore the disunity. Unfortunately, at the end, the ruling leadership was composed mostly of adventurers from Europe who could not comprehend the larger picture.

 

Bibliography

Benvenisti, Meron. The Crusaders in the Holy Land. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1970

Gabrieli, Francesco. Arab historians of the Crusades Trans. E. J. Costello. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1957

Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades. Trans. John Gillingham. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972

La Monte, John L. Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: 1100 to 1291 Cambridge: The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1932

Oldenbourg, Zoe. The Crusades New York: Pantheon Books, 1966

Prawer, Joshua. The Crusaders’ Kingdom: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages London: Phoenix Press, 1972

Richard, Jean. The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Vol. 11A. Trans. Janet Shirley. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1979.

 

Copyright © 2005 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.

 

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