Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Power of Gold

Yes, it's the witch-weighing scene
from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"
There is a medieval anecdote in the so-called "Chronicle of Ernoul" that, though fanciful, is based on a true story. The author, "Ernoul," names himself in his Chronicle and says he was a squire of Balian of Ibelin, one of the Crusader nobles who helped take and maintain (for a short time) Jerusalem. He tells a story of a bride (Lucie) who was put on a large scale by a suitor, who offered her guardian (Raymond III of Tripoli) the lady's weight in gold for the privilege of marrying her.

The true story is just as demonstrative of the power of gold, however, and doesn't need a set of scales.

The lady was Cécile Dorel, who inherited lands in Tripoli upon the death of her father. Raymond III (1140-1187), Count of Tripoli, was her uncle. Raymond was approached by two men for Cécile's hand in marriage (and the coastal lands in Tripoli that she now possessed).

One of the men was Gerard de Ridefort. His origin is uncertain, but by the time of this story he was in the service of Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and held the title Marshal of the kingdom, putting him in charge of all mercenaries and disbursement of spoils of war. This would have been a noble match between Gerard and Cécile, but Raymond III acted differently. He married Cécile to the nephew of a Pisan merchant. Why? The bride price was too handsome to ignore. The bride price was money or valuables offered to the family of the bride by the groom or his family in order to ensure the marriage (feel free to read "buy the woman"). The Pisan nephew, whose name was Plivano, offered 10,000 bezants for Cécile. Bezants varied in weight and value, so it is difficult now to determine exactly how much that bride price was worth in today's money. It was clearly, however, an amount not to be ignored—and not easily matched—and so Plivano had his bride.

Gerard took the loss poorly and fell ill. He swore off women, apparently, and became a Templar, going on to a great career in that order. That, however, is a another story.

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