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Enter our hero
In part two of our search we discovered that Jean de Brienne was the brother-in-law of Raymonda’s aunt Sibylla. Now let’s see what medieval history tells us about our hero and at the same time meet another real historical person in the ballet, King Andrew II of Hungary.
Jean de Brienne was the second son of Erard II, Count de Brienne in Champagne, and Agnes de Montfaucon. He was born circa 1170 at Brienne-le-Chateau, le Aube, France and died on 27 March 1237 in Constantinople.
Despite his noble birth and the title of Count he was penniless and originally intended for a future in the Church. However, Jean chose to become a knight and won his spurs in forty years of victory in tournaments and battles.
In 1204 he fought in the Fourth Crusade and became famous for his bravery in the capture of Constantinople, Consequently, when in 1208 envoys from the Holy Land asked the King of France, Philip Augustus, to choose one of his noblemen to be husband of Maria de Montferrat, the heiress and ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the King nominated Jean de Brienne.
In 1210 he and Maria de Montferrat were married, Jean taking the title of King of Jerusalem by right of his wife, but as the Holy City was no longer in Christian hands he was known as the king without a kingdom.
Jean and Maria had a daughter Yolande (also known as Isabella) but Maria died in 1212 and not long after Jean married the Princess Stephanie, daughter of Leo II of Armenia. Stephanie died in 1219.
The year before Princess Stephanie’s death, in an attempt to take the Kingdom of Jerusalem for himself and his daughter Yolande/Isabella, Jean joined the Fifth Crusade.
The Fifth Crusade was led by King Andrew II of Hungary (born around 1177–died 1235) who commanded the largest royal army in the history of the crusades. They embarked from Spalato in Dalmatia (now called Split in Croatia) on 23 August 1217 and on 9 October landed in Cyprus from where they sailed on to Acre and joined Jean de Brienne, Hugh I of Cyprus and Prince Bohemund IV of the Kingdom of Antioch.
Our hero played a prominent role in the Fifth Crusade. Jean realized that there was no point in attempting to capture his Kingdom of Jerusalem as long as Egypt was strong, but with Egypt under Christian control
Jerusalem could not hold out for long. Therefore, at Acre it was decided that the best plan would be to attack Egypt first, the decision being influenced by the attraction of the country’s legendary wealth, and on 24 May 1218 the crusaders left Acre headed for Egypt.
In June, 1218, the crusaders attacked the Egyptian settlement of Damietta but the city resisted and it cost several thousand lives before the city fell on 5 November 1219. Once inside Damietta the Crusaders spent several days ransacking the city, gathering enough loot to encourage a march on Cairo, which once conquered would leave Egypt powerless and open the road to Jerusalem.
Sultan Al-Adil had positioned his army a few miles away from Damietta and when the crusaders received news of the Sultan’s whereabouts they mounted an attack. Seeing the enormous size of the Christian army, the Egyptians retreated closer to Cairo. However the pursuing crusaders neglected to carry sufficient provisions and also forgot to take the Nile flood into consideration.
Near to Cairo, marching alongside the river Nile, the crusaders became trapped behind a flooded canal and had to sound the retreat when the Egyptians attacked. Only the bravery of the Christian soldiers prevented a massacre but nonetheless the Sultan captured the army and demanded to have Damietta back. The crusaders agreed and the Fifth Crusade ended in failure.
Now how does this help us to fit Jean de Brienne and King Andrew II into Countess Lidiya Pashkova’s story? Well, since we have several actual historical dates we can work it out for ourselves.
First, we know that King Andrew II left the Holy Lands to return to Hungary on the 18 January 1218 after only five months of action in the Crusade. To accommodate Countess Lidiya we must take it that before leaving he promised Jean de Brienne he would attend his wedding to Raymonda and kept his word by rejoining him a two and a half years later in order to be at the Castle de Daurice and witness the confrontation with Abdurrahman and then go on to bless the marriage at Jean de Brienne’s castle.
After King Andrew’s departure, Jean de Brienne stayed with the Crusade for just over two years. Despite having played a prominent role in the capture of Damietta he failed to gain command of the Crusade and returned to Acre. To save face he obtained papal permission to pursue his somewhat tenuous claim to the throne of Armenia and left the Crusade on February 20th 1220.
Historians differ as to where he went. Some say that he went to the West to obtain support for his quest to win his kingdom and did not return to the Crusade until 1222. It is this version that we must accept in order to fit in with Lidiya Alexandrovna’s libretto.
Although we would like to think that our hero rushed straight to the Castle de Daurice to claim his beautiful bride, as we will discover later, Raymonda’s birthday was in September and so, unromantic as it is, we must allow our hero about eight months to travel around and complete his negotiations before arriving at his fiancée’s castle, albeit a day late for her birthday but just in time to catch the tail end of the disgraceful goings on at Raymond’s Court of Love and rescue her from the clutches of Abderrahman.
However, other historians state that on leaving Acre in 1220 Jean de Brienne spent a year of inactivity in Syria and Egypt until July 1221 when he rejoined the crusaders as they marched south towards Cairo. In this version he did not return to the West until 1223 when he travelled to Ferentino to meet Pope Honorius III and the Emperor Frederick II who, ambitious to be King of Jerusalem, became engaged to Jean’s daughter Isabella, now heiress of the kingdom.
What’s more, Jean was not only trying to get help to regain the Kingdom of Jerusalem, he was looking for a wife for himself and went from Ferentino to France and England. Out of luck there he moved on to Santiago de Compostela where, allowed to choose one of the daughters of King Alfonso IX of Leon in return for the promise of his kingdom, he took as his third wife Berenguela of Leon.
Unfortunately for our story, the second version is more likely to be the truth and although Jean married three times, none of his wives was Raymonda – but this is not so unfortunate for her because the truth is that far from being the handsome young hero of Raymonda’s dream, Jean de Brienne was in fact a grizzled old warrior aged around 50 years and, would you believe it, about seven years older than his crusading buddy King Andrew II of Hungary.
Jean de Brienne’s star continued to shine and in 1229 he was invited by the barons of the Latin Empire of Constantinople to become emperor-regent. He ruled as Emperor of Constantinople for nine years and in 1235 again showed his courage when with only a few troops he repelled a great siege of the city by Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria and the Emperor of Nicaea.
A real life knight errant who sought his fortune throughout Europe and the Middle East, he was rewarded first with the crown of Jerusalem and then the throne of Constantinople, where in 1237 he died in the habit of a Franciscan friar. He is buried in the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi in Italy.
In part four of our search we will visit the Castle de Daurice to attend Raymonda’s Court of Love and meet two more real historical characters that Countess Lidiya Pashkova has woven into her fanciful tapestry of medieval history, the troubadours Bernard de Ventadour and Beranger d’Aquitaine.