In 1170, on this day in the Kingdom of Jerusalem William of Tyre discovered that a young member of the royal household had contracted Hansen's Disease.
In his book Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum he recorded the gruesome discovery ~ "It so happened that once when he was playing with some other noble boys who were with him, they began pinching one another with their fingernails on the hands and arms, as playful boys will do.
Baldwin the MagnificentThe others evinced their pain with yells, but, although his playmates did not spare him, he bore the pain altogether too patiently, as if he did not feel it. When this had happened several times, it was reported to me.
At first I thought that this happened because of his endurance, not because of insensitivity. Then I called him and began to ask what was happening. At last I discovered that about half of his right hand and arm were numb, so that he did not feel pinches or even bites there. I began to have doubts, as I recalled the words of the wise man: It is certain that an insensate member is far from healthy and that he who does not feel sick is in danger".
In keeping with the times, the leper was immediately sent away into seclusion before he could infect a member of the royal house. William's vigilance would be rewarded by the healthy long life of the royal scion that he tutored, the child who would become Baldwin IV.
As a sixteen year old monarch his commanding genius was quickly established by a daring attack on Salah al-Din's power-base in Egypt. His enlistment of Byzantine Naval support also marked the beginning of an important strategic partnership that would ultimately lead to his marriage to Anna Komnene the daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium.
In his early twenties, he used his integrity and mastery of diplomacy to establish a long peace with Salah al-Din. That peace was frequently fragile, and not at all helped by the bloodthirsty Templars in his court who attacked Muslim caravans with impunity. Worse, those Templars were secretly encouraged by two of his most senior lieutenants Guy of Lusignan and Raynald of Châtillon. During the year 1180, Muslims and Christians were brought to the very brink of war when those rogues were openly exposed, forcing Baldwin to have them executed. He also seized the opportunity by appointing Balien of Ibelin the commander of the army of Jerusalem.
But by now Salah al-Din had forged an overwhelming alliance which he spear headed as the Sultan of both Egypt and Syria. Critically short of manpower, and certainly unable to defeat the 200,000 troops being mustered in Damascus, Baldwin was fully aware that the catastrophic outbreak of war was unavoidable. With some Crusaders openly declaring that "God Wills it", cooler heads such as the Marshall of Jerusalem, Raymond, Count of Tiberias continued to advise that the Kingdom could not survive such a conflict.
The irony was that a hundred years after its establishment, the Kingdom was both at the height of its powers, yet endangered as never before. In short, the overconfidence and chauvinism of the Crusader Army was a key weakness, with many of his lieutenants believing that forces marching under the cross could not be beaten by "the Infidels". Ultimately, Baldwin secured the viability of the Kingdom by taking the one action that would avert war, he gave the Muslims rights to enter Jerusalem and allowed them to stay. But revisionists would later claim that Baldwin the Magnificent had become a vassal of Salah al-Din...