Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Conrad of Montferrat

On 28 April in 1192, Conrad of Montferrat was assassinated.

Conrad was an interesting character, a well-born European caught up in the fervor of one of his era's greatest pastimes: to occupy the Holy Land. At one point in his career, while he held the city of Tyre, Saladin appeared outside the walls with Conrad's father, the captured William V of Montferrat.* Saladin made an offer: surrender Tyre and Saladin would give up William and be very generous to Conrad. Supposedly, Conrad aimed his crossbow at his father, claiming that William had already lived a long life. Saladin was not that harsh a man: shocked, he commented "This man is an unbeliever and very cruel." and moved William out of harm's way. (William was released a year later.)

Conrad's leadership was not admired by all Europeans. Conrad's later position as King of Jerusalem was contested by the supporters of Guy of Lusignan, who included King Richard of England. Conrad was supported by Philip II of France (a childhood rival of Richard's), and Leopold V of Austria—a name well-known to those familiar with Richard's story: Leopold is the one who imprisoned Richard later, when Richard tried to return to England.

All the details of the political debate are not important here; suffice it to say that Conrad's disputed kingship was finally put to a vote, and the barons chose him over Guy. Two days later, however, he was attacked by two assassins. Guards killed one and captured the other, who claimed under torture that he was hired by Richard. Historians have other suspects for the hiring as well. Whomever hired them, however, the fact remains: this is one of the earliest references to a European dying at the hands of the Hashshashin, the group from which we derive the modern English "assassin". But you might not know what you think you know about them, and we will look into that tomorrow.

*William of Montferrat is well-known to 21st century computer gamers as one of the nine Templars in the game Assassin's Creed.

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