The Leper King of Jerusalem

844 years ago today, in 1174, Baldwin IV became King of Jerusalem.  He was only thirteen years old and a regent, the Count of Tripoli, controlled the kingdom for two years before Baldwin reached his majority.

Not only did Baldwin have to control a sprawling kingdom, but it was–even in the 12th century–one of the most contentious pieces of land in the world.  It would have been a challenge for any man, but the fifteen year old king was also a leper.

Despite his challenges and disadvantages, Baldwin hammered out a peace agreement with Saladin, the leader of the Saracens, that lasted for years.

Baldwin also managed to live far longer than expected.  As he could sire no heirs, his sister’s son (also Baldwin) was appointed his heir, and the elder Baldwin fought to hold the throne until the boy was of age.

He didn’t manage that feat, however.  In his effort to maintain the fragile peace with Saladin, Baldwin rode and fought in the Battle of Montgisard, which seriously weakened him and hastened his decline.

The more interesting thing about that battle, though, was that Baldwin held his sword and fought with his left hand, as his right hand and arm were early victims of his disease.   As he was the leader of the “kingdom of Heaven”, I’m surprised this didn’t cause even more internal dismay and rebellion that was already tearing the kingdom apart.  Medieval fighters considered it unsporting to use the left hand, and the religious leaders considered it to be a sign of the devil.

But Baldwin won the battle, and preserved the peace for a little while longer…at least until he passed and the power-hungry leaders shredded the kingdom between them, making way for Saladin to take Jerusalem for himself.

The character of Baldwin in the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, is almost completely faithful to the known facts about him–including his courage and relentlessness.


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