Alice of Antioch is a woman of bad reputation. She is mostly known as a capricious and overly ambitious woman, a tyrant, or just a bad mother. But, like in so many things, the view depends on the eye of the beholder.
For the period when Alice becomes a public figure the only available near-contemporary account written by someone living in the Latin East is William of Tyre’s Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum. Further information can sometimes be gathered from other sources, such as extant relevant charters, but, for most of the events surrounding the figure of Alice of Antioch, the Historia is the single source. William of Tyre is overtly critical of Alice’s every action and, as no contrast with parallel sources is possible, the information conveyed by William’s pen must be carefully analysed considering any ultimate motivations or purposes it may have served.
William of Tyre was born around 1130, in Jerusalem. His origins are not known, but it is likely he had his roots in the bourgeoisie. He probably grew up in his hometown, although it is known that he spent almost twenty years in Europe, studying to become a clergyman. How he supported himself during that long stay is not known, but he was surely sponsored. On his return to the East, in 1165, he was offered a prebend in Acre cathedral, and from shortly after that he seems to have profited from the benefaction of king Amalric (1163-1174), second son of the late Queen Melisende. During Amalric’s reign, William would remain a servant of the curia; in late 1174, the regent for the young Baldwin IV, Raymond of Tripoli, made him chancellor of the kingdom, and in the following year William was elected archbishop of Tyre.
Major principles identifiable in his writing are the defence of monarchy and legitimacy of ruling, and, particularly, the edification of the royal house of Jerusalem. He was not always flattering when writing about the various kings, but he did try to convey a highly favourable impression of the dynasty, coupling legitimacy with ability and success, so as to offer it as an inspiration for future generations. His support seems particularly directed towards Baldwin IV, the ‘Leper King’, who had been his pupil. Baldwin’s right to rule was occasionally put in question, even by the pope, Alexander III, who associated the king’s disease with a just punishment from God, in an encyclical of January 1181. In the whole history of the Latin East, there was only one ruler he considered a usurper, and that was Alice of Antioch.
The events concerning Alice’s ‘usurpation’ all date to the period between 1130 and 1136, for which William could hardly have any recollection himself. For their description, he may have had access to a contemporary history of Antioch now unknown, or he may have relied on the memories of people who witnessed the events, in which case further layers of possible prejudice could be excavated through.
William of Tyre first mentions Alice in his Historia in an entry under the year 1126, concerning the claiming, by Bohemond of Taranto, of the principality of Antioch as his inheritance. At the time, the king of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, yielded the principality to the newcomer, together with the hand of his second daughter, Alice. It would possibly have been the only reference to the princess, had she not behaved in what he considered to be a reproachable manner for a female. In the rest of his work concerning the years between 1126 and 1161 (death of Queen Melisende), there are relatively few allusions to members of the female sex, and they are always mentioned as the mothers, daughters, wives or brides to be of the relevant male characters. There are two women whose names come up repeatedly and, what is more, associated to their own actions: Melisende and Alice.
Melisende is presented by William as co-heiress to her father, the king Baldwin II, and, therefore, a queen in her own right. She is often referred to as a pious, worthy, lady of great wisdom and with a large experience in secular affairs. William’s attitude to her is very particular, as he ‘Normally … disapproved of women exercising political authority’. His partiality to Melisende can be understood in the context of the court culture to which he belonged, as he was a royal official to Amalric, Melisende’s second son (who had stayed by her when his brother Baldwin III revolted), and to his successors. In addition, she had the symbolic significance of being the link between the king in power and the line of legitimate dynasty, which went back to the first crusaders.
William’s presentation of Alice, the second daughter of Baldwin II, could not be more contrasting. In the clergyman’s view, she was traitorous, malicious, tyrannical and foolish. So to fall in the ill graces of William of Tyre, Alice apparently only had to want to rule Antioch after the unexpected death of her husband, Bohemond II, the legitimate ruler. William describes three different attempts from Alice to take over the principality. Their nature, however, is not the same: the first can be seen as a mere reaction to the sudden vacancy of Antioch’s throne, while the other two are taken up in clear defiance of the king of Jerusalem.
In 1130, Bohemond II died in battle against the Muslims. As the news were heard, the people of Antioch were, according to William, ‘utterly overwhelmed’ with grief and despair. As the king of Jerusalem had acted as regent before the coming of Bohemond to the Latin East, they again sent for his help, as they feared that, without a male leader, they would be more exposed to the enemy. William mentions the people as a whole, acting of a sole will in this situation, but the following events make us question that unanimity.
The princess’s reaction to the death of her husband, instead of revealing the fragility attributed to her sex by joining in the apparent hopelessness of the rest of Antioch, was one of strength and determination, like the country needed at such a time. In the same way as William read Alice’s every action as reflecting selfishness and crude ambition, it is perhaps possible to read in his words of criticism the power and political shrewdness of a determined woman, who proved to be a political threat to the king of Jerusalem.
According to William, shortly after taking control of the principality
In order to make her position more secure and to carry her plan into effect, she sent messengers to a certain powerful Turkish chief, Sanguis [Zangi]. By his aid she hoped to acquire Antioch for herself in perpetuity, despite the opposition of her chief men and entire people.
As Zangui was the ruler of Allepo, the major threat to Antioch at the time, it is possible that William misinterpreted her intentions, and that, instead of acting against the interests of her people, Alice was trying to buy time for the principality, now bereft of a strong military leader. In the same way, we can raise some doubts regarding where William says that ‘Whether she remained a widow or remarried, Alice was determined to disinherit her daughter and keep the principality for herself in perpetuity’. In fact, William’s word for it is the only indication that Alice was trying to act against her daughter, Constance. She could as well, when taking over the government of Antioch, have her child’s best interests at heart. Again, we only have William’s word as to Alice seeing herself as the lawful ruler and not merely the regent for her daughter. It is possible that she was, on the one hand assuring Constance’s inheritance by holding it together at a time of distress, and, if be true, by buying off a truce from the Muslims; and, on the other hand, trying to guarantee that, by her assuming the regency, Constance would be allowed time to grow up before being made a pawn in the marriage alliance game, and, of course, that she, her mother, would have a word to say when that time came. This is not to say that Alice did not have a personal interest in ruling over Antioch, or that she was not ambitious, but, were she a man, this might not have been an issue.
Alice is further said to have closed the city gates on her father the king, fearing his decision; Baldwin, however, ended up having the doors secretly opened up for him by two men William names as ‘Peter Lanitor, a monk of St Paul, and William Aversa’. The number of people supporting these two men in what can be seen as an act of treason is not known. According to William, they acted ‘with the consent of others’, and he often emphasizes that the people in general were against the princess. However, throughout the episodes relating to Alice of Antioch he clearly shows where his own loyalties lie, not even attempting at some impartiality; together with his failure to produce more sounding names among the opposition to Alice’s rule, we have reason to doubt his interpretation of the will of ‘the entire people’. Thomas Asbridge draws our attention to the fact that nowhere among the ‘great men’ opposing Alice are the two most powerful figures in the province at the time: Renaud Masoir, a powerful landowner and the constable of Antioch at least since 1127, and patriarch Bernard of Antioch (d. 1135), the principality’s elder statesman.
William of Tyre says that, supporting Alice in this event, were only ‘her accomplices and … those whom her money had corrupted’. However, to shut the gates of the city on the king of Jerusalem, she must have had strong support. Only considering that a significant number among the people and nobles supported or accepted Alice, can it be understood that the two men who opened the doors to the king had to arrange to do so in secret. Throughout the description, it is everywhere implied that Alice was rebelling against Baldwin II. As Antioch ‘had no formal obligation to the king of Jerusalem’, this can only be a reflection of William’s understanding of a proper relation between father and daughter. Otherwise, Alice, being in command of the city, probably had the right to keep the king’s army from entering its gates.
After setting the affairs of Antioch in order, Baldwin went back to Jerusalem, leaving Renaud Masoir as regent, and having made everyone in Antioch plead their allegiance to Constance, the daughter of Alice and Bohemond II. Alice withdrew to her dowry lands, Latakia and Jabala, which, William highlights, the king was kind enough not to withhold from her. It is not certain whether the king had indeed that power, as these lands had been given to her by her husband. They constituted an important part of the principality, the former being Syria’s main port, and, at the same time controlling the most important coastal land-route from Antioch to the south. With her may have gone her daughter, whom she refers at least in the clause of her charter of July 1134. Had Alice indeed acted against her child’s best interest, would Constance still be left in her guardianship?
In 1131, soon after this episode, Baldwin died and was succeeded by Fulk, who assumed the ruling alone, although he was crowned together with his wife. Alice is said to be again ‘intriguing to wrong the principality’. This time, however, she was not alone, but ‘had secured certain powerful nobles as accomplices in her plot, namely William de Sehunna, brother of Garenton; Pons, count of Tripoli; and Joscelin the Younger, count of Edessa’. To counter this, a delegation of nobles of the land goes to the king for help.
The description of the events regarding this second move of Alice towards government is not clear or detailed. Although the plotting is attributed to Alice, its contours are not specified. It is clear that she wanted to be back in power in Antioch, but it is doubtful that the counts of Edessa and of Tripoli had been bribed to be a part of it, also because, unlike the ruler of Antioch, they were both vassals of the king of Jerusalem. Her third ally was lord of Saone and Zardana, and ‘one of the most influential Antiochene landholders of this period’.
Thomas Asbridge suggests that Alice was neither the main schemer nor a minor player in the hands of the senior conspirators, but rather that all four united to try ‘to create a new balance of power in the Latin East’, thus uniting the north to break from the Jerusalemite sphere of influence. If, on the one hand, Alice could use the military power the others could provide her, they would have much to gain from Antioch not being under the king’s regency, as the principality stood in the middle of the other two provinces, Tripoli and Edessa.
When Fulk was told about such a conspiracy by an embassy of Antiochene people, ‘The situation seemed to him very serious’, possibly because he recognised it, not as merely a further attempt by Alice to get back to Antioch, but for what it probably was: a rebellion against himself. He went up towards the north and defeated Pons in battle near Rugia, in the summer of 1132.
The fact that this happened in the year following King Baldwin’s death makes us ponder all the possible reasons that may have led to it, and to try to understand how much was at stake. It is known that Baldwin II, while regent of Antioch, had suggested the creation of a Latin Empire under the king of Jerusalem, to which Pons resisted, and that now, when Fulk might intend the same, both him and Joscelin opposed. Although this may be one of the reasons, it is also possible that the said rebellion was a reaction to Fulk’s own government.
Hans E. Mayer follows the lead offered by Orderic Vitalis that, when Fulk became king of Jerusalem, he began replacing the established Normans by Angevin new-comers in crown offices and castellanies. Indeed, the king needed to be able to count on the men filling such high positions, but one may wonder why, almost on arrival, he could not trust those that were already serving the country, and who had deserved the trust of Baldwin II, his predecessor. As Mayer explains, this can be justified by the already established enmity between Angevins and Normans, which Fulk himself had helped to foster in Europe. Such attitude, however, would fully justify that the noble families established in the Latin East felt threatened by this new king, and were tempted to revolt. Some of the nobles going in the First Crusade and in Bohemond’s Crusade of 1106-7 who established in the East were of Norman origin, and with Baldwin I’s marriage to Adelaide of Sicily, the widow of Roger I, the administration of the kingdom had been further replete with Norman nobles. This situation appears to have been particularly significant in Antioch: not only Bohemond I and his son Bohemond II, but also the regents that ruled in between them, Tancred of Hauteville and Roger of Salerno, were Normans, as were many of their vassals and officials.
Mayer’s analysis reveals that neither were all new appointees Angevins, nor did all men from Anjou fall in the good graces of the king, and that, similarly, not all the men shun from the royal service were Normans, nor were all Normans put away. But he concludes, however, that Normans do appear to have been particularly affected by Fulk’s new strategy of surrounding himself with recent arrivals to the kingdom. The families already established in the Latin East, who saw their castellanies and places as officials taken away, feared a similar attitude from the king towards their fiefs.
Mayer sets Count Hugh II of Jaffa’s revolt of 1133-34 in this context of discontent, seeing him, not only as the champion of Melisende, but also the natural representative of the threatened ‘old’ aristocracy. He suggests that Hugh and his followers supporting Melisende’s cause might have helped to conceal their own. Melisende, whom the King Baldwin II had made co-heiress to the throne, together with her husband Fulk and their baby-son, may have stood herself as the symbol of the old order, which Fulk was disrespecting, by shunning many of the members of established Norman families from the royal service, as well as by keeping the queen from participating in government. On the other hand, while kept from ruling, she could not extend her patronage to her supporters, which included many of those excluded by her husband, whereas, if given the power, she could stand for them and hamper the king in following his design.
It may be possible to include in this environment of discontent and revolt the upheaval of Alice of Antioch, Joscelin II of Edessa, Pons of Tripoli, and William of Saone. Further data may also point in this direction. When, after his revolt, Hugh of Jaffa was deprived of his lands and exiled from Jerusalem, he took refuge at Alice’s court in Latakia, where he appears as a witness in a charter, in 1134. Also appearing in her charters by this time is Ralph of La Fontanelle, an Angevin who had been a vassal of kings Baldwin I and Baldwin II. According to Mayer, La Fontanelle had been exiled for now unknown reasons, but possibly for being involved in Hugh of Jaffa’s uprising, and was by 1135-5 ‘a sworn enemy of Fulk’.
In late 1133 or early 1134, Fulk went back up to Antioch, this time to defend it from the Muslims. The king was victorious, and he returned to the city loaded with treasure and booty, ‘after which’, William of Tyre tells us, ‘he enjoyed full favour with the people of Antioch, lords and commoners alike’. When seen in the light of the argument so far, this apparently trivial observation suggests that before then, Fulk may not have enjoyed the people’s ‘full favour’ in Antioch, which perhaps strengthens the suggestion that Alice may have had considerable popular support. This may be further reinforced by the information that Fulk felt the need, over this period, to replace the Norman dux of Antioch, Osmund. According to Hans Mayer the stir must have been such that the episode is found even in Muslim sources. In a frontier state, military prowess was a major asset, and, according to William’s observation, Fulk’s victory over the Muslims appears to have won the Antiochenes over to his side. The booty he took back, however, appears in William’s account to have been no less important, and it is interesting that William, so reproving of Alice when he accused her of buying people’s favour with ‘lavish gifts’, found no fault with the role the spoils of war in this situation.
In the meanwhile, Alice kept her court independently of the one at Antioch, having her own scriptorium, from where she issued charters at least from 1134, and where she had household officers of her own. Her court was attended by several nobles, both from Antioch and Jerusalem. She was granting charters based on her own authority, as we can gather from the address clause used in her charter of July 1134, in which she styles herself, not Lady of Latakia, but ‘by the grace of God Princess of Antioch’. In Asbridge’s opinion, ‘Alice was acting as the absentee princess or regent of Antioch, exercising power at Latakia that was both independent of, and a challenge to, Fulk’s position in Antioch’.
The gathering, around Alice’s court and person, of people who were discontented with Fulk testifies for her strong character and position. The challenge she offered to his rule over Antioch, cannot have been seen by the king with indifference, and explains his personal commitment to assure Alice was definitely kept away from the government of the principality. Although Fulk had defeated her ally Pons, and, in the meanwhile, made peace with him, the possibility of Alice regaining power over Antioch still carried the menace of a new revolt from the north of the country against Jerusalem and Fulk’s rule. Besides, the constant travelling to Antioch kept the king away from his own affairs in Jerusalem, and a regent for young Constance was not a stable solution, as he could not command the same authority as a strong and legitimate ruler. The most consensual way to achieve stability, then, would be through the marriage of the legitimate heiress, Constance.
In view of this, concerned Antiochens and King Fulk together arranged for a bridegroom to come from Europe to marry the young heiress and assume the burden of administering and defending the principality.
…the nobles of Antioch and particularly those who ardently desired to observe loyalty to the late Lord Bohemond and to his daughter, who was still a minor, came to consult him [Fulk] confidentially. … they begged him to suggest the name of that one who, among so many princes, would be best fitted to wed the daughter of their lord … it was finally decided by general consent to invite for this purpose Raymond, son of count William of Poitou…
Although William of Tyre is very clear in attributing the initiative to the people of Antioch, it is also possible that this came from Fulk himself. The nobles and concerned citizens of Antioch, anxious for some stability and security, would certainly be eager for such a solution, even if the chosen husband was a new-comer, and the bride was well below marriageable age. On the other hand, Fulk must have been at least as anxious as the Antiochenes for a definitive solution If the court of Alice, who had not given up on Antioch, was indeed the gathering point for the enemies of Fulk, and if Asbridge is right in thinking she was acting as ‘the absentee princess or regent of Antioch’, then she represented a tremendous threat to the king.
The argument of Fulk’s initiative is further strengthened if we consider the choice of husband. If, on the one hand, the bridegroom’s family connections might make him more acceptable to the established families, the selection of Raymond for ruling over a Norman province as Antioch fitted Fulk’s pattern of renewal of the kingdom’s administration, which, as Hans Mayer has shown, was particularly focused on changing the prevailing Norman structures.
Between 1135 and 1136, after Fulk’s return to the south, Alice once again assumed the government of Antioch. This time, Melisende, already sharing the rule of Jerusalem with her husband, pleaded with him not to interfere, and William again refers that ‘she had the support of certain nobles’. The arrival of Raymond of Poitou to the country and his marriage to the still underaged Constance finally ended Alice’s control of Antioch and any opportunity of her returning to power. It is not clear how her child could have got married without Alice being, not only aware of it, but able to avoid it, and William’s explanation of how she was deceived by the new patriarch, Ralph of Domfort, is not entirely convincing. Nevertheless, Constance did marry, and Antioch thus gained a new, legitimate, male leader. Alice, recognising defeat, finally withdrew to her lands.
We can come to the conclusion that in his elaborate Historia, William of Tyre presents Fulk as the rightful king, the hero confronted by the infamous princess of Antioch. His marriage to Melisende not only allowed him to rule legitimately, but also linked him to the great lineage of the kings of Jerusalem, and to the heroes of the first crusade. In William’s account, Fulk’s almost every deed is shown to be selflessly done for the people and country; his actions are usually cheered and win him the people’s favour, which could be either a display of ability on the part of the king to confirm his legitimacy, or an indication of a de facto change in the people’s favour towards him. William even says the king had been ‘appointed by divine providence’ for the ruling of both Jerusalem and Antioch. Fulk is a natural leader, and excels both in politics and on the battlefield.
Simultaneously, William shows Alice to be an ambitious woman, thirsting for power and surpassing, in the most negative way, her feminine nature. In her selfishness, she also manages to neglect her most fundamental duties as a woman, of motherly affection and dutiful submission to her father. To William, she is the usurper, who does not hesitate in using others to achieve her own ends, and shows no respect for legitimacy, law, or family ties. So as to construct a whole vile character, William even neglects to make any reference to her devotion, although he so praises it in her sister Melisende. Indeed, it is possible to presume her to be a pious woman, not only based on her devout connections, but on the three extant charters mentioned by Thomas Asbridge, which are all related to donations to religious houses.
Therefore, in my opinion, William of Tyre’s whole account is imbued with his values and intentions to the point that not only the praise of the legitimate rulers but also the denigration of the one he sees as usurper, Alice of Antioch, are used to construct the image of glory of the royal dynasty of Jerusalem. Seeing beyond this filter, Alice appears to us rather as a ruler potentially as capable and acceptable as her elder sister, and as much a symbol and unifier of the opposition to Fulk’s government as Melisende was.
Como citar este artigo:
ALMEIDA, Adriana – “Alice of Antioch and the rebellion against Fulk of Anjou”. Medievalista [Em linha]. Nº5, (Dezembro de 2008). [Consultado dd.mm.aaaa]. Disponível em http://www2.fcsh.unl.pt/iem/medievalista/. ISSN 1646-740X.
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