‘Crusader’—the popular label used to describe anything or anyone connected to the Frankish presence in the East—is a somewhat misleading term. If we limit its use to people who participated in a Crusade we are on safe ground, but what about those who were born in the East and never took part in a Crusade? Strictly speaking, ‘Frank’ is not much better. A large part of the Western population settled in the East was certainly not of Frankish origin: Normans, Germans, Italians and other nations made up much of the permanent population. However, ‘Frank’ (Franj in Arabic) has a certain legitimacy in that it was the name used by the local population at the time to refer to Westerners, both new arrivals as well as pulani (those who were born in the East), whatever their ethnic origins. The Frankish population included a minority of nobles and a large class of burgesses consisting of shopkeepers and artisans, many of whom were probably of peasant origin.
In the countryside there seems to have occasionally been voluntary downward social mobility, when men who had previously been burgesses chose to become peasants. William of Tyre hints at this when he suggests that it was easier for men of limited means to make a living in these settlements than in the towns (William of Tyre 1986:20.19).
Frankish administration and institutions
Following a brief leadership contest during which Raymond of Toulouse was offered the title but in such a reluctant manner that he refused it, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected to rule over the newly established kingdom. For reasons of piety he refused the title of king, but to all intents and purposes that is what he was. He ruled until his untimely death on 18 July 1100, when his brother Baldwin of Edessa ascended the throne and took the title of king of Jerusalem. After its nominal establishment the kingdom of Jerusalem began to emerge as a physical reality. The conquest of inland areas coincided with the progressive occupation of the coastal cities. Command of the coast was vital to the survival of the kingdom and of the northern principalities. Despite the gains of the First Crusade, the overland route was not a viable alternative to the maritime connection with Europe, a fact that became particularly obvious when Zangi, the ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, retook Edessa in 1144. From the outset the coastal towns served as the only route of contact with the West. Thus their conquest was a priority that was dealt with immediately after the conquest of Jerusalem and the defeat of the Fatimid army at Ascalon in the summer of 1099.
The king of Jerusalem headed what was in theory an elective monarchy but in practice a hereditary one. Baldwin I’s successor, Baldwin de Burg was elected to the position by a council of clergy and nobles, but he was also the king’s nephew and, according to Albert of Aix, one of his choices as heir. On his deathbed Baldwin II had his eldest daughter Melisende married to the barons’ choice of his successor, Fulk of Anjou. On Fulk’s death Melisende, who ruled jointly with the king, was crowned together with her eldest son Baldwin. Thus in fact the monarchy had dropped its elective facade and openly become a hereditary one. Subsequently, with a few exceptions, the succession remained hereditary.
In the early years of the century the king was prepotent, his power stemming largely from the possession of extensive tracts of land in the interior and from the commercial revenues deriving from the port cities. His strength declined, however, as the royal domains diminished in the twelfth century and much of the port revenues were siphoned off by the Italian merchant communes. Displaying perhaps lack of foresight but clearly also lack of choice, the kings of Jerusalem granted extensive lordships from the royal lands in Judea, Samaria and the coastal plain. In this manner the king’s holdings were depleted until what remained consisted of little more than areas around the cities of Jerusalem, Akko, Tyre and Nazareth, and the region of Darum in the south. The increasingly independent class of nobles who received these land grants thereby acquired considerable political authority at the king’s expense and exercised an expanding role in the decision-making of the Haute Cour (High Court). By the later twelfth century the king was largely dependent on the barons.
In the other Frankish states the situation was rather different. The principality of Antioch was ruled by the prince, who was theoretically a vassal not of the king of Jerusalem but of the Byzantine emperor. However, Bohemund II of Antioch married the daughter of Baldwin II and after Bohemund’s death in 1130 Baldwin became guardian of Antioch and the principality became a dependency of Jerusalem. The count of Tripoli was vassal of the king of Jerusalem, while the count of Edessa was vassal of both the king of Jerusalem and the prince of Antioch. As for Cyprus, in 1192 Guy of Lusignan became ruler of the island but adopted the title dominus, rather than assuming the status of king. On his death two years later his brother Aimery (1194–1205) became the first of the Frankish kings of Cyprus. Although the new governing body, the High Court of Nicosia, was empowered to choose the king or if necessary regent; as in Jerusalem this was a hereditary kingdom. The position of the king in relation to the barons was much more advantageous than on the mainland. One reason for this was that in Cyprus, unlike the kingdom of Jerusalem, the hereditary fiefs received by the barons reverted to the Crown if there was no direct heir. Thus the king retained considerable landed property and there were no great baronies that could pose a threat to him. The seigneuries were generally limited to a few villages at the most. All the walled towns and castles were held by the king; the only exceptions were the fortresses of Kolossi and Gastria, which were held by the Hospitallers and Templars.