The remarkable Baldwin IV: leper and king of Jerusalem

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The remarkable Baldwin IV: leper and king of Jerusalem

By John J. Turner

Hektoen International Journal, Vol.3:1 (2011)

Introduction: Medieval teen king, precocious politician, and successful battlefield commander, Baldwin IV not only surmounted disabling neurological impairment but challenged the stigma of leprosy, remarkably continuing to rule until his premature death aged twenty-three. His coronation as sixth king of Jerusalem at age thirteen coincided with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Crusader Latin Kingdom in July, 1174. Twelfth-century Jerusalem, with a population larger than any European city, carried enormous cross- cultural significance. Just as today, it contained the revered Judaic, Muslim, and Christian (Catholic and Byzantine) holy sites in a delicate tripartite relationship. Medieval map makers depicted Jerusalem as the literal and symbolic center of the known world, a convention that persisted for centuries. The borders of the kingdom were more or less co-terminus with modern Israel, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

Baldwin’s tutor, archbishop and historian, William of Tyre, observed Baldwin’s insensitivity to pain in his arm when he was only nine: “Half his arm and right hand were dead … he could not feel if pinched or even bitten.” Leprosy was likely suspected, but the implications were so serious that the consulting physicians, including eminent, Egyptian-educated, Arab-Christian Abu Sulayman Dawud, cautiously awaited the appearance of more clinical signs before committing to the diagnosis.




Young Baldwin’s academic and practical education proceeded well. Contemporary accounts report that he had “an excellent memory, quick understanding, [and was] skilled at controlling horses and riding at a gallop.” Good at taking advice, Baldwin ruled with a regent until deemed no longer a minor at age fifteen. Under the rules, Livre au Roi, a regent was appointed from eligible blood relatives, who included Henry II of England, grandson of Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem. The high court, presided over by Baldwin himself, in joint session with the patriarch and bishops, appointed Prince Raymond of the crusader principality of Tripoli, site of the most famous of the crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers.

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Sharan Newman