By Adriana R. de Almeida
Medievalista Online, Vol.4:5 (2008)
Abstract: This article focuses on the political turmoil in the Latin East in the first half of the 12th century. It means to illustrate how the description William of Tyre left us of Alice, second daughter of king Baldwin II of Jerusalem, as a woman who betrayed her family, her place and her sex, can also be read to its contrary, and even help to identify this woman as a fundamental key in the opposition of some of the established nobility to the politics of the new king, Fulk of Anjou.
Introduction: 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.