BEHIND THE MOVIE: THE REAL HISTORY
Much of the story of the Hollywood epic ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ revolves around the character of Balian of Ibelin, played by Orlando Bloom. Rather than a poor blacksmith, Balian was in fact a Knight and noblemen from a prominent family in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, however, he did play a vital role in the events of the time.
After an uneasy truce with the Muslim leader raids on Muslim pilgrims heading for Mecca by Reynald of Châtillon in 1181 began to heighten tensions in the region. Events began to spiral out of control once the Christian King, Baldwin IV, died of leprosy in March 1185, causing the leadership of the Kingdom to fragment. After the death of the young heir, Baldwin V, the former King’s brother-in-law was crowned King.
Renewed raids on Muslim convoys by Reynald of Châtillon soon provoked Saladin into all out war, the final straw being the capture of Saladin’s own sister during one such attack.
As Saladin made steady progress through the Kingdom, Guy of Lusignan was under increasing pressure to attack, and finally, in July 1187, took the field against the Muslim army at Hattin.
The Christian army was woefully ill-prepared for battle and lacked even the water needed to quench their thirst. In an overwhelming victory, Saladin’s forces decimated the Christian army, capturing King Guy and ransoming many Knights of wealthy families. Saladin made good his threat to seek revenge on Reynald of Châtillon and killed him with his own hand.
It is at this point that Balian of Ibelin enters proceedings. Captured by Saladin at Hattin, he was allowed to go free to return to Jerusalem to look after his wife and children. Upon reaching the city he found it in a state of chaos and disorder and took charge of the city’s defence.
Saladin quickly captured Acre, Jaffa, Sidon, Beirut and Gaza before moving on Jerusalem itself. Over the next four days the city was subjected to a battering that breached the walls and witnessed several assaults on the defences. Eventually it became clear that the city would fall and Balian negotiated surrender terms with the Muslim leader which allowed the Crusaders to peacefully leave the city.