Henry II of Champagne and the Humorous Unbalance


Counquest of Jeusalem (1099).jpg

“Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15th July 1099” Emile Signol (1847)

The 12th century AD was a murderously good time for anyone who was bored and looking for something to go kill in a far away land. Noble youths with unsatiated blood lust who had run out of best friends to kidnap and ransom finally found their calling. When Pope Urban II called for aid to the Byzantine Empire in the form of military ass-whuppery, many of these belligerent teenagers set off to reclaim the territory in Anatolia lost to those rando Seljuq Turks that had seemingly popped up out of nowhere on the world stage. While doing so, they thought–hey man, since we’re already down here and winning, why not shift our fratboy douchebaggery party hoppin’ on over to Jerusalem and just, like, wrestle it out of the hands of those rival Islamic bros and totally blow up their spot? Thus kicking off centuries of The Crusades lobbing that territory back and forth between blood baths and redrawn political landscapes that cause even the most healthy, history of the Middle Ages student a migraine as they attempt to make sense of the disjointed kingdoms and legacies that cropped up as a result.

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Eleanor of Aquitaine with dat sass, yo

This was the era of key historical players who are famed for their role in these events. There was the showdown between Richard I the Lionheart and Saladin during the Third Crusade, Frederick Barbarossa was busy harassing the Italian states and making himself Holy Roman Emperor, Eleanor of Aquitaine was retaliating with a decent show of her own “game of thrones”. Genghis Khan was occupied uniting the Mongol tribes and gearing up for a casual, no big deal ride through Asia just to, you know, take in the scenery. The 12th century was rife with so many popes and kings and wars, it’s no wonder people’s imaginations light up when they think of the high middle ages–things were going down.

And so was Henry II of Champagne, incidentally, but he doesn’t know that quite yet.

Now, it’s only fair to point out here that Henry himself never took on the title of ‘King’–but for all intents and purposes, he certainly found himself one of Jerusalem in 1192.

Henry II was the eldest son of Henry I, Count of Champagne, and Marie of France–the daughter of the King of France, Louis VII, and the famed duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine before having their marriage annulled on a count of being within eyesight of each other on the good ol’ family tree (or because Eleanor was severely disappointed in her lame-ass husband and their failures in the Second Crusade, take your pick). Eleanor ended up running off with a future Plantagenet King (and grandson of this nasty dude) instead and created Richard I the Lionheart (as well as other future kings). I’ll dispense with getting any further involved in the family tree here as Noble/Royal family lines get rather confusing as they overlap a plenty, but suffice it to say Henry II of Champagne was rather cushily born to a family with already quite a legacy.

So it was with some offense, that the family of Hainault decided to take their daughter Isabella, who had been promised to Henry since he was 5-years old, and marry her off to Phillip II of France–Henry’s younger-by-a-year-half-uncle who’s future legacy would include pissing off the English Plantagenet crown and cementing France as a serious powerhouse. Henry’s family was rightfully peeved, but apparently not enough to plot any grand scale Red Wedding shows of retaliation. Henry may have lost Isabella of Hainault, but perhaps playing the odds of the Middle Ages’ lack of originality in naming people –there were plenty of other eligible and noble Isabella’s out there left for Henry to conquer.

Bored, wifeless, and now with an axe to grind–Henry II set off for the Third Crusade after effectively becoming the Count of Champagne after the death of his father years before. The Third Crusade, of course, would also be the stomping grounds of his uncle Richard I the Lionheart and his wife-stealing-jerkuva-half-uncle-Phillip II as well, and the three of them were about to become embroiled in years of dispute over the rightful claim to the throne of Jerusalem. (Seriously, HBO, if you need another smash hit follow-up to Game of Thrones start penning a series on the Third Crusades because it’s a doozy).

For anyone who has watched Ridley Scott’s epic Kingdom of Heaven, you’re already somewhat familiar with the state of affairs in Jerusalem at this time, despite how disjointed and simplistic the accuracy is in the film. For those who haven’t, Jerusalem’s king, Baldwin IV, was riddled with leprosy and not long for life amidst repeated sieges by Saladin and the Muslim military might. His half-sister Isabella and his other sister Sibylla were the next sensible options to rule in the likely event that Baldwin IV would die without an heir (I mean, he had leprosy so conjugals were unlikely). Sibylla and Isabella were paired off, under much infighting, to advantageous marriages with the thought of ruling in the forefront of the contentious noble houses vying for power. Sibylla was married off to Guy of Lusignan and her sister Isabella was joined with Humphrey IV of Toron. It was actually during this wedding between Isabella and Humphrey that Saladin was outside the fortress of Jerusalem besieging the city–but, because he’s a nice guy, making sure not to bother the couple or their nuptials. Guy of Lusignan was enough of a dick to piss off Balwin IV (Namely, antagonizing Saladin into attacking Jerusalem in the first place and then…refusing to do anything about it) which led to him being deposed as regent and sent off to Ascalon. Baldwin IV appointed Sibylla’s son from a previous marriage as his heir despite this (Sibylla was older than Isabella and by rights the legal heir) and tried to get her marriage annulled because Guy was apparently still the worst. After Baldwin IV died, his throne passed to his nephew without much of a fuss–except he died the next year at the age of 9. This, of course, opened the chasm of rival succession battles between the claim of Sibylla vs. Isabella, aided in part by the continued assertion by almost everyone that Guy of Lusignan was still an asshole.

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Sibylla crowning Guy of Luisgnan for the lulz

The noble families insisted that Sibylla could succeed only on the condition that she have her marriage to Guy annulled and that she could literally choose any other husband she could possibly want as long as she dumped that lecherous, bubonic flea. Sibylla essentially strutted down her coronation with her middle fingers in the air and had Guy of Lusignan crowned instead. This led to a failed coup by the noble families in favor of Isabella and the kingdom had to suffer through increased hostilities between Saladin and Guy, which led to a massive defeat at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 where Guy was captured, his kingdom of Jerusalem falling shortly thereafter. This kicked off the introduction of Richard I the Lionheart and Phillip II of France to the Third Crusade with the mission of rescuing the Kingdom of Jerusalem and putting an end to the row over succession. Despite the utter failure of most of the crusaders up to that point during this mess, an Italian noble hero by the name of Conrad of Monteferrat emerged victorious after saving the city of Tyre. Once Guy was released from his captivity by Saladin, he flounced on up to Tyre demanding to regain entrance and the city itself. Conrad, having protected the city and knowing full well how worthless Guy of Lusignan was at defending anything, told him that he had forfeited his right to be king by losing so terribly at the Battle of Hattin and that he would be waiting instead for the arrival of Richard I the Lionheart and Phillip II of France who would decide the next rightful ruler. When they did arrive, both Kings fell on opposite ends of the argument–Phillip II supporting Conrad of Monteferrat and Richard I going in for Guy. This went about as well as you could imagine.

Saladin and Guy of Lusignan after Battle of Hattin in 1187

When Queen Sibylla and her daughters died, Guy of Lusignan was finally without a claim–though of course he refused to step down. Conrad of Monteferrat still had the support of the noble houses and so he was positioned for the throne when they forced an annulment between Isabella and Humphrey IV of Toron and married Conrad to Isabella instead. Richard I the Lionheart and Phillip II still disagreed on who was the rightful King of Jerusalem, however, and eventually decided that, fine, that measly clod Guy can keep being King of Jerusalem until he dies and then Conrad and Isabella will then inherit the throne from him. Now can we all go back to fighting Saladin? Okay, thanks.

Oh but if it were that easy, right? People STILL really did not like Guy of Lusignan and weren’t about to let him to continue to rule. Much to Richard’s chagrin, it was unanimously decided by vote that Conrad of Monteferrat would be King of Jerusalem instead. Sighing, Richard gave Guy the island of Cyprus as amends and sent his nephew Henry II of Champagne off to tell Conrad the good news. Oh, right, this post is about Henry II of Champagne and how he became King of Jerusalem and died a silly death if you’ve forgotten, how in the world are we about to get there you ask? Hold on to your chastity belts, folks.

Soon after delivering the news that Conrad would become King of Jerusalem, Henry left to return to Acre and the soon-to-be-Queen Isabella celebrated with a luxurious bath a few days later. Hangry and impatient, Conrad didn’t wait for Isabella and sought to get dinner with his buddy instead. On his way home, Conrad was attacked by two Hashshashins (For the Creeeeed!) and was assassinated before ever being crowned.

“The Frankish marquis, the ruler of Tyre, and the greatest devil of all the Franks, Conrad of Montferrat — God damn him! — was killed.” – Ibn al-Athir [4]

One of the Hashshashins (so named for their affinity for ‘hash’–at least according to Marco Polo) was captured by guards and was tortured into admitting that Richard I the Lionheart was behind the attack, though others suspect Isabella’s first husband Humphrey IV of Toron as well which makes sense considering. But perhaps another likely suspect was Henry II of Champagne himself (perhaps at the urging of Richard) because no sooner than Conrad had been given a funeral did Henry immediately wed the pregnant widow Isabella (much to the disgust of most) making him de facto King of Jerusalem and putting a momentary end to the succession crisis.

Henry of Champagne married the Marquis’ wife on the same night, maintaining that he had first right to the dead man’s wife. She was pregnant, but this did not prevent him uniting himself with her, something even more disgusting than the coupling of the flesh. I asked one of their courtiers to whom paternity would be awarded and he said: “It will be the Queen’s child.” You see the licentiousness of these foul Unbelievers! – Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani [4]

Henry and Isabella would rule Jerusalem together for the next 5 years or so. In between, Henry’s uncle Richard I the Lionheart would be captured and imprisoned by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, for the murder of his cousin Conrad of Monteferrat. After awhile, Richard was passed off to the Holy Roman Emperor and held for ransom, with his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine scrambling to raise the funds. No love lost between them, King Phillip II of France tried to counter the ransom by offering the Emperor a large sum to keep Richard imprisoned for good because viva la France, that’s why. Richard was eventually released when the ransom was paid, only to find his brother John sitting on his throne. I’ll leave the end of Richard’s tale for another edition of Kingslayers.

The Surrender of Acre – Merry-Joseph Blondel (1781-1853)

As for Henry, his future was about to befall some bad luck too. One day in Acre, while standing on a balcony in his palace and presumably watching a parade go by, Henry II fell and plummeted to his death. There are a few stories about how this happened and none of them had anything to do with the much less embarrassing suggestion of defenestration (Which is totally cool and leads to things like The Thirty Years’ War). One account claims that Henry simply leaned against the balcony which gave out–another suggesting that while this first part did occur, it was the dwarf servant attempting to save him from the fall who was also taken down and thus administering the killing blow by falling on top of Henry. And there’s another that tells of Henry being greeted by envoys and turning around–lost his footing and whoops’d himself out the window. Either way, Queen Isabella presumably heaved a sigh of frustration at the matrimonial joke her life had now become and remarried as quickly as possible.


Cause of Death: Shoddy Construction or Clumsy footwork


**Also, if you got my joke in this blog post’s title please friend me IMMEDIATELY kthx



Fact check it, yo!

[1] Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad (1896): The Life of Saladin (The library of the Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society)

[2] Williams, Patrick A. “The Assassination of Conrad of Montferrat: Another Suspect?”, Traditio, vol. XXVI, 1970.

[3] Perry, Guy (2013). John of Brienne, King of Jerusalem, Emperor of Constantinople, c.1175-1237. Cambridge University Press.

[4] Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

  • Imad al-Din al-Isfahani. (1965) Al-Fath al-Qussi fi’l-Fath al-Qudsi

[5] Morgan, M. R. The Chronicle of Ernoul and the Continuations of William of Tyre, 1973


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