In 1183, a Muslim Military Leader Refused to Attack this Castle For a Very Strange Reason

In 1183, a Muslim Military Leader Refused to Attack this Castle For a Very Strange Reason

Donna Patricia Ward - May 17, 2017

The Crusades were religious wars between Christians and Muslims that began in the 12th century. Their purpose was to regain Christian control of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. While the Crusades spanned several centuries and several locations, it is the First Crusade that occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean region, or Levant. Kerak Castle is located in al-Kerak, Jordan. The castle is an architectural wonder and survived the Cursades because of a wedding.

Crusaders were Christians from Europe, so named because they invaded long-held Muslim regions in the Mediterranean. Their goal was to overtake Muslim-controlled lands as well as the Holy Lands, eventually forcing non-Christians to convert. The battles that collectively made up the wars have been called the Crusades. The Crusades began in the 12th century and continued through the 19th century in various forms. The Spanish Inquisition was a response to the ongoing Crusades and the protestant schism begun by Martin Luther in his 95 Theses in 1517.

The First Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1099 after the First Crusade. Raynald of Châtillon settled in the Kingdom around 1147 and served in the royal army as a mercenary. Known for raids and capturing booty, Raynald was finally captured by the governor of Aleppo in 1160 or 1161 for raiding local peasants at Marash in the valley of the river Euphrates. He was released from prison for a large ransom in 1176. Upon his release, Raynald traveled to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and married Stephanie of Milly, the wealthy heiress of Oultrejordain and the half sister of Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.

In 1183, a Muslim Military Leader Refused to Attack this Castle For a Very Strange Reason
Kerak Castle, Jordan. Wikipedia

Construction of Kerak Castle began in the 1140s. Its strategic location to the east of the Dead Sea meant that whoever controlled the castle also controlled the camel trains, nomadic herders, and even the pilgrim routes to Mecca. Kerak Castle was a powerful center for trade between Damascus, Egypt, and Mecca. The castle was fortified with two towers on its north and south sides along with rock-cut ditches. These were necessary attributes to prevent attacks from advancing enemies.

Kerak Castle is classified as a piece of crusader architecture. It is a free-standing structure that incorporated Byzantine-influenced city fortifications. The castle was massive for its time and much larger and starker than any castles found in 12th-century Europe. Surrounding the castle was a dry moat that added protection for its inhabitants and worked as a deterrent for attackers.

Stephanie of Milly had a son, Humphrey IV, who inherited the Lordship of Oultrejourdan. Humphrey IV proclaimed that he would marry Isabella I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The pair was engaged in 1180. Isabella I’s half brother, Baldwin IV, did not want the two to marry. His concern was that they would join two very large land-holding families, or fiefs. After two years of engagement, the pair finally married in the autumn of 1183.

In 1183, a Muslim Military Leader Refused to Attack this Castle For a Very Strange Reason
View of the Upper Court of the Kerak Castle, seen from the keep, al-Karak, Jordan. Wikipedia

At the time of the marriage, Raynald of Châtillon was married to Stephanie of Milly, the mother of the bride-groom. Raynald was made regent in 1177 by Baldwin IV, the half-brother of Isabella I, the bride. For years, Raynald led plundering raids against trading caravans near Kerak Castle. Not only did he plunder the coast of the Red Sea with his five ships, he also threatened the route of Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca in the spring of 1183. Through his actions Raynald had made Kerak Castle a target for Muslim attack. The marriage of Raynald’s step-son seemed a perfect event for a Muslim attack on the castle.

As Humphrey IV and Isabella I were being married at Kerak Castle in the autumn of 1183, Saladin led an assault on the castle. Saladin (An-Nassir Salah ad-Din Ysuf ibn Ayyub) was the first sultan of Syria and Egypt and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. He was a Sunni Muslim of Kurdish origin and led his Muslim armies into the Levant. As Saladin and his armies approached Kerak Castle, Baldwin IV, the half-brother of the bride, reached a deal with Saladin. The attack on the castle could continue as long as the chamber where the wedding was taking place would be unharmed. Saladin agreed and only laid siege on the other areas of the castle.

In 1183, a Muslim Military Leader Refused to Attack this Castle For a Very Strange Reason
Lower Court of Kerak Castle, al-Karak, Jordan. Wikipedia

Christian armies arrived to fend off Saladin and his armies. Eventually a truce was reached and Saladin retreated with his armies. Saladin vowed to make the Kingdom of Jerusalem pay for Raynald’s plundering and terrorizing of the pilgrim routes to Mecca. Raynald took offense to Saladin’s vow and attacked a traveling caravan from Egypt to Syria in late 1186 or early 1187. He claimed that the truce negotiated at the Kerak Castle between the now dead Baldwin IV and the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin did not apply to him personally.

Tired of the tactics of Raynald, Saladin invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in defiance of the truce negotiated in 1183. This time, Saladin invaded with vengeance, annihilating the crusader army in the Battle of Hattin. When Raynald was captured on the battlefield, Saladin stated that he would spare the life of the pillaging Christian if he converted to Islam. When Raynald refused, Saladin took his sword and beheaded Raynald. Saladin again laid siege to the castle in 1187 and finally captured it in 1189. The Mumluk Sultan of the Bahri dynasty expanded the castle with a new tower along the northwest corner in 1263.

The location of Kerak Castle made it a prime target for takeover. In 1834, a rebel leader besieged the castle during the peasants’ revolt in Palestine. Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt captured the castle in 1840, which destroyed most of the fortifications. Situated at the crossroads of the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and Greater Syria, Kerak Castle became an important fortification for the Ottoman Empire in the late-19th century. In modern times, the castle was the site of a terrorist attack on December 18, 2016. The attack killed 10 and injured 34, mostly Jordanian security forces and local civilians.