Conrad of Montferrat

From Academic Kids

Conrad of Montferrat (c. 1146-April 28, 1192) was one of the major participants in the Third Crusade, and was briefly king of Jerusalem in 1192.

Conrad was a younger son of Margrave William III of Montferrat, "the Old", and his wife the Babenberg lady Julitta or Judith of Austria, an aunt of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick Barbarossa through his grandmother Agnes's second marriage, and thus from so-called Salian Emperors of Germany. However, despite its Germanic dynastic links, the Monferrine court was Occitan in its literary culture (the Piemontčis language being a form of Occitan), and provided patronage to numerous troubadors, some of whom mention Conrad in songs composed at the time of the Third Crusade.

In his early years he campaigned alongside other members of his family in the imperial campaigns against the communes of Asti and Alessandria. He first married an unidentified lady, who may have been a kinswoman of the Count of Gorizia, but she died without leaving any surviving issue.

Conrad had fought as an ally of Isaac II Angelus to gain the Byzantine throne, and was married to Isaac's sister Theodora. He helped the Emperor in suppressing the revolt of Alexius Branas. However, the Greeks were suspicious of him as a Westerner, and he fled to Syria in 1187. He arrived first at Acre, which had recently fallen to Saladin, and so sailed north to Tyre, where he found the remnants of the Crusader army. After his victory at the Battle of Hattin over the army of Jerusalem, Saladin was on the march north, and had already captured Acre, Sidon, and Beirut. Raymond III of Tripoli had fled to Tyre after the disaster at Hattin, but died, despairing of the city's defence.

Desperate for leadership, the citizens of Tyre begged Conrad to take charge of the defense. Conrad made the Tyrians swear total loyalty to him, and when Saladin's army arrived they found the city well-defended and defiant. Saladin presented Conrad's aged father, William III of Montferrat, who had been captured at the Battle of Hattin, before the walls of the city, and offered to release his father and bestow great gifts upon Conrad if he surrendered Tyre. Conrad refused to surrender, declaring that the old man was worthless. When the Egyptians threatened to kill his father, Conrad's response was to take a crossbow and shoot at his father, to prove that the old man was useless as a bargaining chip. "This man is an unbeliever and very cruel," Saladin said of Conrad. His bluff called, Saladin released the old Margrave William and returned him to his son. Tyre successfully withstood the siege, and desiring more profitable conquest, Saladin's army moved on south to Caesarea, Arsuf, and Jaffa. Meanwhile, Conrad sent out appeals for aid to the West, including propaganda drawings of the horses of Saladin's army stabled (and defecating) in the churches of Jerusalem.

A few months later, in November 1187, Saladin returned for a second siege of Tyre. Conrad was still in command of the city, which was now heavily-fortified and filled with Christian refugees from Jerusalem. This time Saladin opted for a combined ground and naval assault, setting up a blockade of the harbor. On December 30, Conrad's forces launched a dawn raid on the weary Egyptian sailors, capturing many of their galleys. The remaining Egyptian ships tried to escape to Beirut, but the Tyrian ships gave chase, and the Egyptians were forced to beach their ships and flee. Saladin was forced to pull back yet again, burning his siege engines and ships to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

In summer 1189, Saladin released Guy of Lusignan, the husband of Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem, from captivity. Guy appeared at Tyre and demanded that Conrad hand over the keys to the city to him. Conrad refused this demand, and contemptuously declared that Guy had forfeited his rights to be king of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin. He would not allow Guy and Sibylla to enter the city, but did allow them to camp outside Tyre's walls with their retainers. Conrad and Guy did however ally against Saladin at the Battle of Acre, the resulting siege lasting two years. When Guy's wife Sibylla and their daughters died during the siege of Acre, Guy technically no longer had a claim to the throne.

The heiress of Jerusalem was Isabella of Jerusalem, Queen Sibylla's half-sister, who was married to Humphrey IV of Toron, of whom she was fond. However, Conrad had the support of her mother Maria Comnena and stepfather Balian of Ibelin. They obtained an annulment on the grounds that Isabella had been a child at the time of the marriage. Conrad then married Isabella himself, despite rumours of bigamy because of his marriage to Theodora. (However, Runciman notes that Nicetas Choniates, the Byzantine chronicler, made no mention of this possible bigamy, which may imply that Theodora had died.) In this way did Conrad obtain the kingship of Jerusalem. Infuriated, Guy of Lusignan challenged Conrad to single combat, but was ignored. The Archbishop of Canterbury was reportedly so distraught by this turn of events that he died of grief.

As Guy was a vassal of Richard I of England for his lands in Poitou, Richard supported him in this political struggle, while Conrad was supported by Philip II of France and Conrad's cousin Leopold V of Austria. After the capture of Acre, the parties attempted to come to an agreement. Guy was confirmed as king of Jerusalem, and Conrad was made his heir. Conrad would retain the cities of Tyre, Beirut, and Sidon, and his heirs would inherit Jerusalem on Guy's death. In July 1191 Conrad's supporter, King Philip II, decided to return to France, but before he left he turned over half the treasure plundered from Acre to Conrad, along with all his prominent Muslim hostages. King Richard asked Conrad to join him on Crusade, but Conrad refused, preferring to remain with his wife Isabella in Tyre.

In April of 1192, under pressure from the English barons, Guy was given (or, more accurately, was forced to purchase) the lordship of Cyprus (where he continued to use king's title), while Conrad was named king of Jerusalem. Conrad's rule did not last long. On April 28, Isabella, who was pregnant, was late in returning from the baths to dine with him, so he went to eat at the house of the Bishop of Beauvais. The bishop had already eaten, so Conrad returned home; on his way he was stabbed in the chest by two Assassins. He was taken home by his attendants, but died of his wounds the same evening, having received the last rites and (at least according to Richard's chroniclers) having urged Isabella to give the city over only to Richard or his representative. He was buried in the Church of the Hospitallers in Tyre.

"[T]he Frankish marquis, the ruler of Tyre, and the greatest devil of all the Franks, Conrad of Montferrat -- God damn him! -- was killed," wrote the chronicler Ibn al-Athir. Certainly, the loss of a potentially formidable king was of advantage to Saladin.

The murder remains unsolved. At the time, many felt Richard was responsible, though this is impossible to prove; another suspect was Humphrey IV of Toron, Isabella's first husband. Richard was later captured by the Count of Gorizia (Conrad's nephew, possibly via his long-dead first wife, or one of his sisters) while returning from the crusade, and imprisoned by his cousin Leopold V of Austria: Conrad's murder was one of the charges against him. The Assassins themselves declared that King Richard had not instigated the killing, claiming that in 1191, Conrad had captured a ship laden with Assassins that had sought refuge in Tyre during a storm. He killed the captain, imprisoned the crew, and stripped the ship of its treasure. When the Assassin's cult leader, Rashid al-Din Sinan, requested that the ship's crew and treasure be returned, he was rudely rebuffed, and a death sentence was issued for Conrad of Montferrat. However, the timing of the murder, and its consequences - the pregnant Isabella was married off almost immediately to Richard's nephew Henry II of Champagne, to the shock of Arab commentators - suggest that Frankish politics may have played a part.

Conrad's brother Boniface of Montferrat was the leader of the Fourth Crusade. Their brother Rainier was a son-in-law of Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus, and another brother, William, was the first husband of Sibylla and father of Baldwin V of Jerusalem. Conrad was also briefly margrave of Montferrat, following his father's death c. 1190-91. In Montferrat he was succeeded by Boniface, but his own heiress was born posthumously: a daughter Maria of Montferrat, who in 1205 became Queen of Jerusalem.

Conrad in fiction and film

An entirely fictionalised and unambiguously villainous version of Conrad appears in Walter Scott's The Talisman, mispelled as 'Conrade of Montserrat' - the ailing novelist apparently misreading a long 's' as an 'f' in his sources. He appears as a scheming villain in Cecil B. de Mille's 1935 film The Crusades, played by Joseph Schildkraut. The long-term prejudice of popular English-language histories and fiction in favour of Richard I is responsible for this approach: because Richard did not support him, he is almost invariably portrayed negatively.


  • Haberstumpf, Walter. Dinastie europee nel Mediterraneo orientale. I Monferrato e i Savoia nei secoli XII–XV, 1995.
  • Reston, James. Warriors of God: Richard the Lion-Heart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, 2001.
  • Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades, 1951-54, vols. 2-3.
  • Usseglio, Leopoldo. I Marchesi di Monferrato in Italia ed in Oriente durante i secoli XII e XIII, 1926.

Preceded by:
William III
Marquess of Montferrat
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
King of Jerusalem
(with Isabella)
Succeeded by:
Isabella and Henry

Template:End boxde:Konrad (Montferrat) hu:Montferrati Konrįd pl:Konrad z Montferrat


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