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Baldwin IV | The Teen Leper King Who Defended Jerusalem


a photo of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the Leper King playing chess in the Kingdom of Heaven
Baldwin Represented in "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005)

Popular because of the 2005 movie, "Kingdom of Heaven," King Baldwin IV was a larger-than-life figure. And yes, King Baldwin IV was a real-life king. Despite being devastated by leprosy from an early age, he still managed to rally his kingdom against the invading Muslim forces under the great general Saladin and won. This is the story of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, "The Leper King"...



 

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Background and The First Crusade

Many different nations have controlled the lands in and around modern-day Israel (the Levant) throughout the centuries. But during the Middle Ages, the Levant was made up of a few independent states known as the Latin States. They were crusader states—states made after the First Crusade.

a map of the crusader kingdoms of the middle east in the middle ages

The First Crusade began when Pope Urban II called for a holy crusade to drive the Muslims out of the Holy City (Jerusalem). The call for a crusade came after the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, petitioned Christians to help retake the lands he lost to the Seljuk Turks.


So, armies across Europe were raised to fight the Muslims, and they succeeded in liberating the Levant. After this, most Europeans returned home victorious, but some chose to stay. The ones who stayed formed four crusader states: Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, and the The Kingdom of Jerusalem.



Baldwin’s Early Life

a photo of a tapestry of King Amalric of Jerusalem
Amalric of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV was born in 1161, 60 years after the Latin States were created. He was the son of Amalric, who was the count of two of the biggest cities in the Latin States, Jaffa and Ascalon. Amalric also had a daughter, Sibylla. Soon after Baldwin’s birth, Amalric became King of Jerusalem in 1163.


When Baldwin was nine, he was sent by his father to William of Tyre. Being the Archbishop of Tyre, William was an educated man and tutored Baldwin. Baldwin was educated in the art of war, history, and God. It was when he was with William that he started to lose feeling in his right arm. It was the beginning stages of the condition Baldwin would have for the rest of his life and the disease he would be known for: leprosy.


I was going to put a picture of leprosy here. (Don't Look Up Leprosy)


When King Amalric found out that Baldwin had leprosy, he did his best to keep it a secret. Leprosy was heavily stigmatized for most of history because people just didn’t understand the exact causes.

Some thought it was a sexually transmitted disease; some thought it was a punishment from God; but most people believed it could be transmitted by just being close by. While this is partly true, people with leprosy were isolated from everyone.




Baldwin Becomes King

a photo of a tapestry of King Amalric dying

Despite this, Baldwin overcame the setbacks and the judgment to become king. His father, King Amalric, died of dysentery on a military campaign against Egypt.


King Amalric had tried to subdue Egypt after they had failed to pay tribute, and he wanted to break the growing strength of the Muslim kingdoms. He even received help from the Byzantines. However, he had failed to conquer Egypt, and the Muslim world was now seeing an opportunity to get back at the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Baldwin was crowned king when he was thirteen, and so he was assigned a regent, Raymond III, the count of Tripoli. Immediately, when he came of age in 1176, Baldwin proved to be a capable leader. He came to the realization that, with his condition, he wouldn’t have any kids to succeed him when he died.

So, he arranged a marriage for his sister Sibylla to a member of a prominent Italian family, William of Montferrat. Unfortunately, Sibylla became a widow soon after their marriage. However, she was pregnant with his child and later gave birth to a son.





Baldwin Repels The Muslims

a painting of Saladin

During this time, Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt, was busy uniting the Muslim world through invasion and diplomacy. He wanted to unite all Muslim lands. So, he claimed himself the leader of a jihad, declaring a holy war to be fought to defend Islam and drive the Christians out of the Holy Land.



So in 1177, a year after Baldwin became king, Saladin attacked the major city of Ascalon. Baldwin rushed to protect the city but became trapped within it. However, he managed to break out. While believed to still be trapped in the city, he attacked Saladin’s army, defeating them at Montgisard.


a painting of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the Leper King leading a battle

Despite being only sixteen and his health deteriorating, he led his army bravely from the front, inspiring many of the men who fought with him. All while riding his horse and wielding his sword with only one hand. Thanks to his determination, he was eventually able to secure a two-year peace with Saladin in 1180.



He's not the only teenage king to defend his kingdom. Here's the story of King Charles XII, better known as Carolus Rex…



During this peace, Baldwin’s health continued to deteriorate. Knowing his death was imminent, he arranged for his sister Sibylla to marry the creatively named Guy de Lusignan.




The Muslims Invade Again and Baldwin’s Health Grows Worse

a photo of the fortress in Aleppo

Soon after the two-year peace ended, Saladin captured the city of Aleppo in 1183. The capture of Aleppo secured the encirclement of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. His dream of uniting the Muslim territories of the Middle East was slowly becoming a reality.


When Saladin eventually invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem again, Baldwin’s leprosy had weakened him greatly. Although he had to be carried in a litter, he still did all he could to defend his kingdom. But his leprosy was getting worse, so he made Guy, his sister’s husband, regent.


Baldwin appointed regents occasionally when his health dipped. This time, however, when he appointed Guy, he proved to be an ineffective ruler and didn’t listen to Baldwin.


a photo of a tapestry of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the Leper King dying

In response to Guy and his own impending death, Baldwin crowned Sibylla’s son Baldwin V king, and appointed Raymond III as his regent. Raymond had also been Baldwin’s regent when he ascended to the throne. Baldwin also tried to limit Guy’s power through the Church. However, Baldwin IV died in 1185 at the age of 24.



What Happened After King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem Died?

His nephew Baldwin V became king at the age of 8. Raymond III as regent was able to secure a four-year peace with Saladin, but Baldwin V died a year after he became king. Sibylla then became Queen and divorced Guy, to choose a more competent noble but married then him again.


So Guy, the man Baldwin IV tried to stop from gaining power in his latter years, became King of Jerusalem. Saladin saw his opportunity to finally complete his unification of the Muslim world. He invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem again, but Baldwin wasn’t there to stop him.



Saladin was a competent commander in his own right. So when Guy attempted to stop Saladin, he defeated Guy and his army at the Battle of Ḥaṭṭīn. Guy was captured, but was freed after ceding the city of Ascelon to Saladin, the city that Baldwin had skillfully defended years before.


Jerusalem itself fell to Saladin later in 1187. At first, he wanted to massacre all the Christians in the city for retribution for when the Crusaders massacred all the Muslims when they took the city in 1099. However, he changed his mind, and let the Christians seek refuge at Acre.


However, the rest of the Christian world saw the capture of Jerusalem, and the Pope called for another crusade to liberate it. The Third Crusade saw Saladin go up against three prominent European kings: Frederick I “Barbarossa,” the German king and Holy Roman Emperor, King Philip II of France, and Richard I “the Lionheart” of England.




The Legacy of King Baldwin IV

Even though he died young and his kingdom didn’t last long, Baldwin IV is a symbol of strength and determination in the face of suffering and struggle. Although his leprosy eventually left him blind and unable to use his arms and legs, Baldwin fought to the end to defend his kingdom from threats both outside and inside.


 

a photo of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the Leper King in the Kingdom of Heaven
“A King may move a man, a father may claim a son, but remember that even when those who move you be Kings, or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God, you cannot say, "But I was told by others to do thus." Or that, "Virtue was not convenient at the time." This will not suffice. Remember that.”

King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem (1161-1185)

This quote is from the movie Kingdom of Heaven



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FAQs

Was The Leper King A Real Person?

Yes, the Leper King was a real person. King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem is known as the Leper King because of he was stricken with leprosy at a young age, but persevered through it to lead the crusader army of Jerusalem against the formidable Saladin and his growing Muslim empire. You can read more about his life and the aftermath of his death in the rest of this story post by Our Mammoth World...



Who Was King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem?

King Baldwin IV was a crusader king of Jerusalem who was known as the Leper King because he was afflicted with leprosy at a young age. However, he persisted and despite being a teenager, he led the crusader army of Jerusalem to victory over the impressive Muslim army of Saladin. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his leprosy and died at the young age of 24. You can read more about his life and the aftermath of his death in this story post by Our Mammoth World...



How Did King Baldwin IV Die?

King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, also known as the Leper King, had been afflicted with leprosy ever since he was a kid but had persevered and led the crusader army of Jerusalem to victory over the Muslim army of Saladin. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his leprosy in 1185 at the age of 24. You can read more about his life and the aftermath of his death in this story post by Our Mammoth World...



How Old Was King Baldwin IV When He Became King?

King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, also known as the Leper King because he had contracted leprosy as a child, became King of Jerusalem after his father, King Amalric, died of dysentery on a military campaign. The new King Baldwin IV was only 13 when he was crowned king, but had Raymond III assigned as his regent until he came of age in 1176. You can read more about how he would go on to defend Jerusalem from the Muslim army of Saladin in this story post by Our Mammoth World...



Why Did King Baldwin IV Wear A Mask?

King Baldwin IV, the Leper King of Jerusalem, had contracted leprosy as a young child and the disease would torment him for the rest of his life. His leprosy would scar his face to the point that Baldwin used a mask to cover up how disfigured his face became because of the disease. You can read more about how he battled leprosy and would go on to defend Jerusalem from the Muslim army of Saladin in this story post by Our Mammoth World...



When Did King Baldwin IV Get Leprosy?

It's not known exactly when King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem contracted leprosy, but as a child, he began to lose feeling in his right arm. From that point onward, his leprosy would slowly eat away at him until he died at the young age of 24. Despite this, King Baldwin IV, the Leper King, would lead the crusader army of Jerusalem to victory over the Muslim army of Saladin.



 

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