Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem

June 19, 2021
Source: Priory Livonia
Krak des Chevaliers, a medieval European castle in the former Kingdom of Jerusalem.

“But the foolish things of the world has God chosen to put to shame the ‘wise,’ and the weak things of the world has God chosen to put to shame the strong, and the base things of the world and the despised has God chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are; lest any flesh should pride itself before him.” (I Cor. 1:27-29)

After the Crusades and the conquest of the Holy Land, European men ruled the Kingdom of Jerusalem. One of these, Baldwin IV, ascended the throne at the young age of thirteen, in 1174 AD. Since he was too young to rule the kingdom alone, many nobles around him desired control of the throne. One of the reasons they used was the terrible disease that Baldwin had contracted at the age of twelve, leprosy. On account of this these nobles declared him unfit to rule. His regent, Raymond of Tripoli, was not the strongest of statesmen and made a treaty with Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria. Even at this young age, however, Baldwin was already leading men into battle.

Upon coming of age at fifteen, Baldwin proved too wise and strong for those who wanted to control the throne. He was able to trust the Knights Templar as well as the common soldiers. With the support of these, he was able to support his possession of the throne and exercise his power.

In 1177, having refused to ratify the treaty with Saladin, he received news that the Muslim ruler was moving on Jerusalem. The news was received late, at a time when all the usual defenders were away. At a place called Montgisard, Baldwin led an attack with a small force of 30 Templars and 300 knights, accompanied by the Bishop of Jerusalem (who carried a relic of the True Cross). Their cry as they moved into battle was a resounding “Deus vult!” They met an enormous force of 30,000 Muslims before they had time to array themselves for battle, and routed them in a spectacular victory.

The leprosy that afflicted Baldwin began to spread, reaching even his face. Deeply affected by the sickness, and growing weaker every day, he looked for one to whom he could pass on the rule of the kingdom. He searched for a strong nobleman from France who would marry his sister and take over the throne, but this came to naught. While Baldwin was away, Guy of Lusignan, a weak nobleman, had taken her hand in marriage.

One day he led an attack on Muslim forces that proved to be a trap. Overtaken, he just escaped with his life. Those in Jerusalem thought him to be dead, and Prince Reynald of Antioch attempted to take the throne for himself. Shortly after, Baldwin surprised all of Jerusalem by walking into the city alive. He was quickly recognized as the still-reigning monarch and continued to rule.

At this point his leprosy reached his eyes, and he lost his vision. Although he could only hear, he continued to rule.

In the year 1183 Reynald broke the treaty of the Christians with Saladin for no good reason. Consequently Saladin laid siege to his castle, the still-existing castle of Krak des Chevaliers. Saladin had timed his siege wisely, choosing to approach during a wedding party, when all the greatest knights were present inside. He hoped to starve them either to submission or to death. Baldwin accomplished the impossible. He set out to relieve the siege with a few hundred Knights Templar and Hospitallers. He himself was carried in a litter, since he could no longer see. The warriors nevertheless followed him, blind though he was, knowing that there was true courage, there was true perseverance, there was a man worth following. One who took the Crusader’s cross no matter what it was, even leprosy, and fought for Christ, and Him alone. Saladin broke the siege, retreated, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was saved.

Baldwin passed from this world in 1185 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Two short years later the kingdom of Jerusalem was overrun by Saladin. It remained under the power of Islam until the Third Crusade.

How God chooses to use the weak things of this world to confound the strong!


- Susan Peek’s Crusader King (written for teens, but it’s a great read for anyone)

- Catholic, Crusader, Leper and King