Susan B. Edgington
(Routledge, 2019) 204 pp. $140.00
The third book in the Rulers of the Latin East series investigates the dawn of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The life and career of Baldwin, Godfrey of Bouillon’s younger brother, and the first Latin ruler to bear the title of king, had lately only been object of specialised inquiry within Murray’s larger investigation of the early dynastic history of the kingdom of Jerusalem (2000), and thus was due for a closer look. Edgington’s work, with a philological approach to the sources and a careful disentangling of Baldwin’s complex rule, brings a concise but thorough offering to the debate.
The work is articulated first according to a linear, and then a thematic structure: the first four chapters follow Baldwin’s life chronologically, from his birth as the third son of Bouillon-Ardennes kin group, to his accession to the throne of Jerusalem. Baldwin, initially earmarked for the clergy, later left the habit to train as a knight. Edgington effectively frames this within the debate surrounding Godfrey’s unmarried status: she carefully gathers evidence supporting the possibility that Godfrey had in fact taken a vow of chastity, and in consequence decided to put forward his younger brother as his heir apparent. The author highlights the several occasions in which Baldwin was shown to be Godfrey’s deputy within the Lotharingian expedition on the way East, and the growth of Baldwin as a leader in his own right.
This segues into the second chapter, in which Baldwin’s independent exploits into Cilicia and the taking of Tarsus and other cities are explored. This is also the first occasion to explore Baldwin’s budding rivalry with Tancred, Bohemond’s nephew, who first conquered the cities Baldwin then demanded from him. Edgington here first introduces two recurring themes of the work: on the one hand, Baldwin’s enduring antagonism with Tancred, which would later play important part in the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and on the other his ‘ruthless streak’, a military ability and enterprise which, combined with political ambitions, contributed to make Baldwin the ‘right man at the right time’ for the formation of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The second chapter also showcases one of the book’s greatest strengths: its willingness to explore in close detail a wide variety of sources, reconciling together confused or divergent timelines and accounts through an attentive approach, which makes the biography a valuable resource for the early military history of the crusader states as well. This brings us to the third chapter, the establishment of Baldwin as count of Edessa: while acknowledging the difficulties of reconstructing exactly what happened (and the lingering suspicion that Baldwin bore a share of responsibility for the death of the Armenian count Thoros) Edgington investigates and subverts a few long-acquired expectations about this event, and discusses the possibility of an overarching ‘Armenian grand strategy’ to ground the establishment of Latin rule in the East through the acquisition of Armenian lands to support and root it.
The fourth chapter debates Godfrey’s death, and the complex interplay of the ambitions of Baldwin, Tancred, and patriarch Daibert of Pisa as the succession to the rule of the Holy City. Here Edgington’s thorough knowledge of Albert of Aachen, in addition to the use of lesser-known sources such as Bartolf of Nangis, whose usually little-used text is here effectively employed throughout the work, builds a complex and persuasive picture of the ‘crisis in Jerusalem’ and the birth of Baldwin’s royal rule. Particularly interesting is her examination of the motivations of Daibert, a shadowy and complex figure within the early history of the crusader states. Edgington’s exploration of liturgy (such as the political implications of the ceremony of the Holy Fire), and discussion of the intersection of pious, military and political elements in Baldwin’s choices characterise chapter 5, with a debate of the coronation in Bethlehem and its parallels with Charlemagne’s crowning, and the further exploration of the rivalry between Baldwin and Tancred. The uneasy agreement reached at Tancred’s departure for Antioch further shows the precarious nature of the foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Chapter 6, 7, 8 and 9, then, investigate thematically separate elements of Baldwin’s reign, amounting eventually to a rounded portrayal of his itinerant rule, which rooted, financed, expanded and upheld what Murray had termed a ‘robbing principality’, a definition which Edgington both embraces and deepens. Chapter 7 focuses on the ecclesiastical affairs of the newborn kingdom, tracing the evolution of its policies and relationship with the papacy through the succession of the influential Jerusalemite patriarchs. Following to its end the complicated career of Daibert, Edgington then proceeds to further chart Baldwin’s evolving choices in patriarchs that would serve his interests, principal among them Arnulf, effectively characterised as the king’s ‘stalking horse and scapegoat.’ Chapter 7 tracks the conquest of the littoral of Palestine, exploring Baldwin’s choice to follow Godfrey’s policy in making truces with the coastal cities only to slowly pick them off one by one as he gained the manpower to do so.
Edgington’s philological, painstaking use of the sources is particularly valuable in disentangling the complex military policies of the early years of the reign, exploring alternatives and crafting a plausible timeline. Closeness to the letter of the text appears to engender the author’s choice to refer to the non-Turkish adversaries of Jerusalem by the term ‘Saracens’. Given the debate surrounding the term, especially in light of Morton’s recent (2016) discussion of its loaded history (a debate which Edgington duly acknowledges) a deeper explanation for this choice could have been relevant: while an automatic translation of the term ‘Saracen’ into ‘Muslim’ would be in itself quite problematic, in light of the flexible associations of the term as a catch-all for the non-Christian ‘other’ in the sources, the author’s deep familiarity with the primary material could here have given us further valuable insights into the tackling of the term.
Chapter 8 brings us close to Baldwin’s policy towards his neighbours, with the author’s thorough exploration of the skirmishes, battles, and fluxes of fortune which characterised the early establishment of the Kingdom (chief among them the repeated battles at Ramlah, in 1101, 1103, and 1105). Particularly effective here is the weaving together of Latin and Arabic sources, which clearly convey the shifting allegiances of the Kingdom’s closest adversaries, and the intense, ceaseless military activity which characterised Baldwin’s reign, and made him notorious to both his subjects and his enemies. Chapter 9 instead, through its investigation of ‘The army, administration and allies’, explores the internal issues and resources of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, debating manpower, recruitment, the creation of money fiefs, and difficulties in negotiating with Jerusalem’s nominal subjects, chief among them the ever-troublesome Tancred. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the Sicilian marriage to Adelaide, mother of Roger II, and the way this was received by the crusader aristocracy and the papacy, given the issue of bigamy.
Chapter 10 then concludes the exploration of Baldwin’s life, by portraying vividly his death in Egypt, and the salting of his body on his orders to return it to Jerusalem in the sweltering heat, and his reputation among contemporary and later sources of the crusades, thus concluding a detailed exploration of his life, and a thoroughly sourced presentation of his reign and its issues. Through close reading of the primary material, and an in-depth analysis and reconciliation of differing accounts, Edgington clarifies and consolidates our knowledge, and obtains a new, thorough portrayal of the first, ambitious, tirelessly enterprising king of Jerusalem.
Leverhulme Study Abroad Scholar
Università di Roma 2 Tor Vergata