King Baldwin saves the life of a Muslim princess, and his own is then saved by her husband

March 27, 2014

Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, painted by Merry-Joseph Blondel

Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem, painted by Merry-Joseph Blondel

The caliph of Egypt, to revenge the death of his warriors, assembled an army, which advanced as far as the country round Ramla. Baldwin got together, in haste, a troop of three hundred knights and a thousand foot soldiers, and marched to meet him. When he perceived the standards of the Egyptian army, ten times more numerous than that of the Christians, he represented to his soldiers that they were going to fight for the glory of Christianity; “if they fell, heaven would be open to them; if they triumphed, the fame of their victory would be spread throughout the Christian world. There could be no safety in flight; their home was beyond the seas; in the East there was no asylum for the conquered.” Crusader_cavalryAfter having thus animated his soldiers, Baldwin divided his troops into six battalions. The two first, on charging the enemy, were overwhelmed by numbers; two others, which followed, shared the same fate. Two bishops, who were with Baldwin, then advised him to implore the mercy of Heaven; and, at their desire, the king of Jerusalem alighted from his horse, fell on his knees, confessed, and received absolution. Springing to his feet, he resumed his arms, and rushed upon the enemy at the head of his two remaining battalions. The Christian warriors fought like lions, animated by their war-cry “Victory or Death!” Baldwin had attached a white kerchief to the point of his lance, and thus pointed out the road to carnage. The victory was for a length of time uncertain; but at last, says an historian, the will of God was declared in favor of the soldiers of Christ. The Egyptian army had lost its leader, and was entirely routed; five thousand infidels remaining on the field of battle.

Battle of Ramla

Battle of Ramla

The enemy fled in such complete disorder that they abandoned their tents and their baggage. As Baldwin was pursuing them, his ear was struck by the plaintive cry of a woman. He checked his war horse, and perceived a female Mussulman in the pains of childbirth. He threw his mantle to her to cover her, and ordered her to be placed on carpets laid upon the ground. By his commands, fruits and a skin of water were brought to this bed of pain, and a female camel furnished milk for the nourishment of the newly- born child. The mother was confided to the care of a slave, with orders to conduct her to her husband. The latter, who held a distinguished rank among the Mussulmans, shed tears of joy on beholding a wife whose death he was lamenting, and vowed never to forget the generous action of Baldwin.

Baldwin I of Jerusalem

Baldwin I of Jerusalem

Conqueror of the Saracens, the king of Jerusalem had sent back his troops, and was reposing at Jaffa, after the fatigues of the war, when he learnt that the Mussulman army had rallied, and was in full march to attack the Christians. Baldwin, whom victory had rendered rash, without assembling all his troops, went immediately to meet the enemy, at the head of two hundred knights, and a few pilgrims lately arrived from the West. Not at all dismayed by the number of the Saracens, he gave battle; but, at the first charge, the Christians were surrounded, and only sought a glorious death fighting by the side of their leader. The king of Jerusalem, obliged to fly, concealed himself among the long dried grass and bushes which covered the plain. As the Saracens set fire to these, Baldwin with difficulty escaped being burnt alive; and, after many perils, was glad to take refuge in Ramla.

Painting of a Market at Jaffa by Gustav Bauernfeind.

Painting of a Market at Jaffa by Gustav Bauernfeind.

Night checked the pursuit of his enemies, but on the following day, the place which served him as an asylum was threatened with an immediate siege, and had no means of defense. Baldwin was a prey to the most distressing anxiety, when a stranger, who had by some means got into the city, demanded to speak instantly with the king of Jerusalem—“It is gratitude,” said he to him, “which brings me here. Thou hast been generous towards a wife who is most dear to me—thou hast restored her to me and her family, after having saved her life. I brave a thousand dangers to acquit myself of so sacred a debt. The Saracens surround the city of thy retreat on all sides; tomorrow it will be taken, and not one of its inhabitants will escape death. I come to offer thee means of safety. I am acquainted with a path which is not guarded; hasten then, for time presses. Thou hast but to follow me; before the dawn of day thou wilt be among thy people.”

A Street in Jaffa by James Tissot

A Street in Jaffa by James Tissot

Baldwin hesitated—he shed tears at the idea of what must be the fate of his companions in misfortune; but, at length, he yielded to the generosity of the Mussulman emir, and, accompanied by a weak escort, they both departed from the city, in the middle of a stormy night. On gaining the distance of a few leagues from Ramla, they separated with tears in their eyes; the emir rejoined the Mussulman army and Baldwin succeeded in getting to the city of Arsur.

Subscription14At break of day the Saracens advanced towards the ramparts of Ramla. They quickly gained possession of the city, and all they met within the place were massacred. Some soldiers who escaped the Saracens’ swords, carried the sad news to the neighboring cities. It was the first defeat the Christians had experienced since their arrival in Palestine. As it was confidently said that Baldwin had been slain at the taking of Ramla, this loss added greatly to the general consternation. The great bell of Jerusalem announced the approach and invasion of the Saracens. The priests, the monks, the pilgrims, clothed in sackcloth and barefooted, went in procession through the streets of the holy city; women and children filled the churches, and with tears in their eyes and uplifted hands implored the mercy of Heaven. The bravest were beginning to despair of the safety of the kingdom, when Baldwin suddenly appeared among his people, says William of Tyre, like the morning star, and revived their hopes by his presence.

Crusaders battleThe king of Jerusalem assembled at Jaffa the wreck of his army; and the Christian cities sent him all their inhabitants capable of bearing arms. Several princes and knights, arrived from the West, likewise joined him. The Christians marched boldly forth to meet the Mussulmans, the patriarch of Jerusalem carrying through the ranks the wood of the holy cross. The war-cry of the Christian soldiers was:— “Christ lives, Christ reigns, Christ commands.” The two armies were soon in sight of each other on the plains of Jaffa, and instantly the trumpets sounded, and gave the signal of battle. Both sides fought with fury; the infidels surrounded the Christians, and pressed them so closely that they had scarcely room to wield their arms, and victory was on the point of being determined in favor of the Mussulmans, when Baldwin snatching the white flag from the hands of his squire, and followed by a hundred and sixty knights, rushed into the very thickest ranks of the enemy. This act of bravery decided the fate of the battle, and the Christians regained their courage. The fight lasted during the whole day, but towards the approach of night, the Mussulmans fled in disorder leaving dead upon the field the emir of Ascalon and four thousand of their bravest soldiers.

Baldwin, who, some few days before, had been believed to be dead, reentered Jerusalem in triumph. He gave a great part of the booty to the hospitallers of St John, whose office it was to entertain the poor and all pilgrims; and, to employ the expression of an old chronicle, he thus shared with God the spoils of the Saracens.

Joseph François Michaud, The History of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1891), Vol. I, 278-81.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 371

 

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