'When I became a man': Kingship and Masculinity in William of Tyre's Chronicon

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In 1169, King Amalric of Jerusalem (d. 1174) summoned the nobility of the realm to discuss the manifold problems threatening his kingdom, the enemies of which were increasing in volume, power and valour. According to the Jerusalemite chronicler William of Tyre, this summons was necessary because the provident (‘providi’) princes and prudent men (‘discreti’) of the realm were found wanting, ‘and in their place grew up pernicious progeny who uselessly occupied the position of such great men and squandered the qualities inherited from their fathers. The realm had become so weakened as a consequence that even those whose senses were less well trained could perceive this’. Amalric's nobles, William suggested, unanimously pronounced that this debasement of the kingdom's elite men was the result of sinfulness, and that the kingdom was now unable to protect itself. The only solution they could offer, however, was to beg for aid from the rulers of western Europe.

This episode forms a vital moment in the Chronicon of William of Tyre, who was, at the time of this anecdote, tutor to the king's son, Baldwin IV, and an increasingly trusted figure at court. It expresses an axiom that underpins his entire narrative: that the men of William's own time had degenerated from the virtuous character and redoubtable prowess of their forefathers, and that this accounted for the parlous state of the kingdom. Importantly, the decline in morality that William traces here was also a commentary on an explicit decline in manhood. And yet, despite its rich potential for shedding light on perceptions of how a man should act – perceptions that underpinned structures of power and politics – the Chronicon remains a largely untapped source. This chapter seeks to highlight the political function of gender in William's text by using as a case study his account of the reign of King Baldwin III (d. 1163) and examining what it can reveal about the symbiotic relationship between medieval kingship and masculinity. The Chronicon is approached not as evidence for a ‘real’ Baldwin, as such, but as a means to analyse what the depiction of his manhood can reveal about the gendering of power and the role of masculinity within the political culture of the kingdom of Jerusalem. As argued here, then, masculinity was a structuring principle not only for William's narrative, but for the polity he describes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCrusade, Settlement and Historical Writing in the Latin East and Latin West c. 1100 - c. 1300.
EditorsAndrew Buck, James Kane, Stephen Spencer
PublisherBoydell and Brewer Ltd
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781805431527, 9781805431510
ISBN (Print)9781783277339
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

Publication series

NameCrusading in Context
PublisherBoydell Press

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