Balwin IV was the teenage king who reigned over Jerusalem while tackling leprosy. In history, Baldwin is most famously known for his intelligence and leprosy stricken kingship.
In this article, we explore the life of Baldwin IV, his childhood, teen years, his fight with leprosy, and his legacy.
King Baldwin IV
Baldwin IV was the King of Jerusalem (1174 – 1185). In his reign, he fought with Saladin, the Ayubid sultan, made his monarch strong and took in the steps of his father. Baldwin’s life was a tale of ups and downs, insubordination and selfishness loomed around him. But he pulled through and even as being the King of Jerusalem for a short period, he left a mark on the world.
To understand the life and death of King Baldwin IV and how King Baldwin get leprosy, we first dive deep into his childhood days, his family, his personality, and then his kingship.
Baldwin IV: Childhood
Baldwin was born to the Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, Amalric, and his first wife, Agnes of Courtenay in 1161. Amalric and Agnes had two children only, Baldwin and Sibylla. Amalric became the King of Jerusalem in 1163, two years after Baldwin was born. And as most ascensions go, Baldwin was next in line to Amalric.
At the time when Baldwin was born, Jerusalem was under the reign of Franks. Franks were the french-speaking catholic crusaders who came down from Western Europe to the Levant. They carried out crusades and took the flag of Christianity wherever they went. The Catholic states of the Mediterranean looked up to King Amalric as he was the king of Jerusalem and more importantly King of Jerusalem with leprosy.
Amalric spared no expense in the upbringing of his son, Baldwin. Baldwin lived like a prince and everyone was under him. At the age of nine, Baldwin was sent to William of Tyre. William was the Archbishop of Tyre. Baldwin was sent to him so that he may learn the skills and essence of the simple life.
The First Signs of Leprosy
William of Tyre let Baldwin and other boys play on the grounds of the church. William noticed that Baldwin didn’t cry when he was pinched or fell as the other boys did.
After a check-up from the physician, it was diagnosed that Baldwin does not feel any sensation or pain in his right arm. This was the first sign of leprosy seen in Baldwin.
The physician did not diagnose Baldwin with leprosy at this stage, as there were no apparent signs but warned that the disease would probably develop and progress. When Amalric found out about Baldwin’s condition, he buried the news.
One of the reasons for hiding Baldwin’s condition was that Baldwin was next in line for the throne. The enemies of the throne might revolt and stage a coup if they found out that the next King was unfit.
The Order of Saint Lazarus
Another reason for hiding the condition of Baldwin was that if people knew he had leprosy, he would be sent to the Order of Saint Lazarus or commonly known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists.
This group was formed exclusively for knights and important nobility who had leprosy. Leprosy-ridden knights would be taken care of and given full medical attention here.
Even though the order sounds good for people with leprosy, Amalric feared that his ascension to the throne would be impossible once Baldwin was openly diagnosed with leprosy. Historians now claim that if Amalric had let Baldwin go to the order, Baldwin might have lived a long life, and the quality of his survival would have been better.
Baldwin and His Leprosy
Leprosy slowly drains the infected off of his muscular control and nerve function. When Baldwin came to know of his condition, that he would probably be diagnosed with Leprosy and it would be the death of him, he showed utmost courage. He refused to be treated differently and took up any challenge that a normal boy his age would do.
Nevertheless, Baldwin was treated the same by his father and loved even more. He received the best education as anyone could at that time. Secretly, Amalric hired the Arabs to start his treatment. Baldwin had sensation only in the left arm. So with his left arm, he learned all the tactics of warfare.
One of the most amazing achievements of Baldwin was that he learned to ride a horse only with the use of his left hand. Horse riding was essential to learn for any man of good standings at that time. So Baldwin learned to steer the horse and ride it proficiently using his left arm and knees.
Ascension to the Throne
Amalric was ruling Jerusalem as the King. He had many trusted advisers that stayed with him through thick and thin. One of such advisers was Raymond III of Tripoli. He was a friend of Amalric and also a trusted distant relative. When Amalric came down with dysentery, he feared that his last days had come.
Baldwin was just a teenager and was not fit to rule a kingdom. Amalric appointed Raymond of Tripoli as the regent of the throne. In 1174, Amalric died, leaving his throne to his son.
By that time, Baldwin had begun to show some alarming signs of leprosy. The High court committee sat down to appoint the next King of Jerusalem.
Because the high court was aware of Baldwin’s health, they looked for other options. The other children of Amalric included only two daughters, Sibylla and Isabella. Isabella was from Amalric’s second wife, Maria Comenan.
Both daughters were very young at that age and could not be crowned. Baldwin’s cousins were selfish, divergent, and in no state to rule Jerusalem.
The court had to side with Baldwin. On 5th July 1174, Baldwin was crowned the King of Jerusalem in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. At that time, Baldwin was around 14 years old. Because of his young age, Raymond of Tripoli, the regent appointed by Amalric, took charge on Baldwin’s behalf.
The Teenage Leper King of Jerusalem
After two years of coronation, Baldwin took control of Jerusalem. He had an exceptional personality. His warfare skills and tactics were commendable.
He was sharp-minded like his father and surrounded himself with only the most trustworthy and efficient advisors. Like at the time of his father’s rule, Raymond of Tripoli was now an advisor to Baldwin IV.
The first major step Baldwin took was a planned attack on Egypt to fight off Saladin’s Army. Saladin was an Ayyubid sultan who took the Christian cities one by one. Baldwin asked for help and aid from different Christian kingdoms. Some of them agreed to participate in what was going to be Baldwin’s first war.
This was also the first offense against Saladin from a Christian ruler. Baldwin and his army raged war on the opposition. Seeing Baldwin the Leper King and his use of only one arm, many allies lost fate in their alleged king. This eventually defeated Baldwin and Saladin had a clear victory.
After the first war between Baldwin and Saladin, Saladin consistently violated the Jerusalem territories. His army would harass the passing caravans and keep the loot. One of Raymond’s close allies was Balian of Ibelin. He was a democrat, and due to his diplomatic relations with Saladin, he brought a treaty of peace between Baldwin and Saladin.
The Problem of Ascension to the Throne
After the death of his father, Amalric, Baldwin’s leprosy started showing more visible signs. As he was appointed King, he was expected to marry and produce an heir to the throne.
Unfortunately, he could not marry with his leprosy and consequently could not produce a legitimate heir for the ascension. Knowing this, Baldwin turned to her sister.
Sibylla was a beautiful and healthy girl. Baldwin thought that if he could not ascend the throne to his children, he would ascend it to his nephew, Sibylla’s son.
He found a perfect match for Sibylla to marry, William of Montferrat. He was a handsome man with a good family name and standing. Sibylla and William were married in 1176.
Unfortunately, William died of malaria in Ascalon (1180), leaving Sibylla widowed. At the time, Baldwin was losing his eyesight and movement. Fearing a revolt from his enemies, he married Sibylla to Guy of Lusignan. This marriage was performed in good faith. What Baldwin did not know was that he would soon regret his decision.
The Insubordinate Brother-in-Law
Sibylla’s first husband died of Malaria in Ascalon, which is why she had to remarry very soon. In 1180, she married Guy of Lusignan. This marriage was blessed by her brother, Balwin. As marriage was to be arranged in a hurry, Baldwin made Guy his brother-in-law without taking much advice from his advisors.
As soon as Guy came into power, he revolted. He would go against the rules and attack wherever he wanted. His men would loot and attack the Muslim caravans. On the other hand, Baldwin’s health deteriorated at an alarming rate. He could barely see and move on his own.
When he learned about the actions of Guy, he thought of annulling the marriage of his sister. But Sibylla was in love with Guy and would not leave him. He remained loyal to Guy and defied her brother’s wish of annulment. Guy was dreaming of ascending the throne after his leper brother-in-law would die.
Baldwin could not let this happen. He could not let Guy ascend to the throne that his family has fought hard to keep. Baldwin now knew all the tactics and tricks Guy was playing to get access to the throne, and something needed to be done. For this reason, Baldwin came up with a genius plan.
Appointing of the New King of Jerusalem
In Baldwin’s lifetime, he appointed the successor to his throne. And to everyone’s surprise, it was his nephew, Baldwin V. Baldwin V was the son of Sibylla and Guy. Even though Baldwin V was a very young boy and was in no shape to rule Jerusalem, Baldwin appointed him. It was done solely to protect the throne from Guy and to keep it in safe and capable hands.
As Amalric appointed Raymon of Tripoli as the regent of Baldwin IV, Baldwin IV did the same. Balwin appointed Raymond as the regent to Baldwin V. Raymond took charge happily as he was a loyal servant of the crown.
When Guy got the news of his son’s appointment as the next King, he was furious. He wanted to revolt against the crown, but his wife Siylla stopped him. She said that an open revolt would dismiss his chance of being the legitimate King of Jerusalem.
Baldwin’s Step-sister: Isabella
While Guy was busy with his antics of destroying the peace in the region, another party rose to claim the throne of Jerusalem. Amalric had two wives, Agnes and Maria. With Agnes, he had Baldwin and Sibylla, while with Maria, he had Isabella. Soon after Isabella was born, Amalric died. Maria remarried to Balian of Ibelin.
Balian of Ibelin was a crusader and the lord of Ibelin. He was from a famous family and was the son of Barisan of Ibelin. Ibelin was a small village in Jerusalem. When Maria married Balian, he became step-father to Isabella. In history, Balian is seen as the most loyal husband to Maria and the most loyal father to his children.
Balian and Maria have more children, later on, two sons and two daughters. When the time of the ascension of the throne came, as Baldwin was very sick, Balian and Maria named Isabella as the rightful heir as she was the daughter of Amalric. Guy and Sibylla opposed the claim. Isabella and Guy go head to head in the fight for the throne.
The Death of Balwin IV
Now that there was a debate about who deserved the throne and what the rightful heir was, the army and loyalties of each party became aggressive. Jerusalem came under a wave of civil war.
At this time, Baldwin came down with a fever. He lost all of his health and was bedridden. He was much hurt by the behavior of his relatives regarding the throne.
The last blow to his health was knowing that Guy and his men have attacked some Muslims, and in return, Saladin is marching towards the city. Baldwin breathed his last breath on 16th May 1185. According to his wishes, the throne was left to Baldwin V with regent Raymond of Tripoli.
The Aftermath of Baldwin’s Death
As Baldwin V was appointed as the Leper King of Jerusalem, the civil unrest cooled off for the time being as there was an imminent threat of attack from Saladin and his army. Unfortunately, after a short while of Baldwin V’s appointment, the child died, leaving the throne empty and up for grabs.
In this situation, Raymond sided with Isabella, Balian, and Maria. But Isabella’s husband, Humphrey, sided with Guy as he did want his wife to sit on the throne. Seeing this, Raymond left his post and went back to Tripoli. According to Humphrey’s wishes, Balian and Maria withdrew Isabella’s claim to the throne and joined Guy.
Now Guy got what he wanted; he was appointed as King of Jerusalem. But now, the biggest test of his bravery and kingship awaited him. Saladin was marching in with his 30000 men and wanted to siege Jerusalem. Guy appointed Balian as the leader of the Christian army in the battle.
After a great battle between the crusaders and Muslims, known as the battle of Hattin, Saladin gained the victory. And the kingdom of Jerusalem was handed over to the Muslims. King Guy was taken as a prisoner and freed after two years. Balian established diplomatic relations with Saladin, and he soared the lives of the prisoners of war.
King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem: Legacy
Baldwin was strong-willed and an exceptional King. Given his condition and battle with leprosy, he never let it define him. He made the disease his strongest suit. His right-mindedness and thinking brought Jerusalem peace and prosperity, even though it was short-lived.
Baldwin did everything in his power to ensure that the seat, the throne of Jerusalem, goes to someone who would carry his name and legacy as he could not produce any heir. But alas, his work went in vain. After Saladin’s army struck Jerusalem, the people who defied Baldwin’s order came to realize their mistake, but it was too late.
In conclusion, Baldwin the 4th was the son of King Amalric of Jerusalem and Agnes of Courtenay. He was next in line to the ascension of the throne.
The King of Jerusalem developed Leprosy at a young age. Even with leprosy, he ruled over Jerusalem as its King.
In his life, he could not produce an heir for succession, so he named his nephew, Baldwin V, as his successor. Baldwin IV died in 1185 due to a fever and worsened the condition of leprosy. His legacy remained in the hearts of his loyal servants and the pages of history.
- Hamilton, Bernard (2005). The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521017473.
- Mitchell, Piers D. (2005). “An evaluation of the leprosy of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem in the context of the medieval world”. The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. By Hamilton, Bernard. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521017473.
- Morris of Balgonie Ygr., Stuart H. (1986). The Insignia and Decorations of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. Perthshire.