Josselin de Courtenay’s Dying Lesson To His Prodigal and Pusillanimous Son

January 24, 2019

Joscelin I of Courtenay, Count of Edessa

The kingdom of Jerusalem had two formidable barriers, the principality of Antioch and the county of Edessa. Raymond of Poitiers defended the Orontes from the invasion of the Saracens, and old Josselin de Courtenay had been for a long time the terror of the infidels on the banks of the Euphrates; but he was recently dead. He had fought to his last breath, and even on his bed of death made his arms and bravery respected.

Josselin was besieging a castle near Aleppo, when a tower fell down near him and covered him with its ruins. He was transported in a dying state to Edessa, and as he lay languishing on his bed, expecting nothing but death, it was announced to him that the sultan of Iconium had laid siege to one of his strong places; upon which he sent for his son and commanded him to go instantly and attack the enemy. Young Josselin hesitated, and represented to his father that he had not sufficient number of troops to meet the Turks. The old warrior, who had never acknowledged the existence of obstacles, was determined before he died to leave an example to his son, and caused himself to be borne in a litter at the head of his soldiers. As they approached the besieged city, he was informed that the Turks had retired, whereupon he ordered his litter to stop, raised his eyes towards heaven as if to return thanks for the flight of the Saracens, and expired surrounded by his faithful warriors.

Crusader’s citadel (also called Şanlıurfa Castle, or Urfa Castle) in the city of Şanlıurfa, previously called Edessa.

His mortal remains were transported to Edessa, the inhabitants of which city came out to meet and join the funeral procession, which represented a most affecting spectacle. Here were to be seen the mourning soldiers bearing the coffin of their chief; and there a whole people lamenting the loss of their support and defender, and celebrating the last victory of a Christian hero.

Old Josselin died deploring the fate of Edessa, about to be governed by a weak and pusillanimous prince; for from his childhood the son of Courtenay had been addicted to drunkenness and debauchery. In an age and a country in which these vices were sufficiently common, the excesses of young Josselin had frequently scandalized the Christian warriors. As soon as he was master, he quitted the city of Edessa, to take up his abode at Turbessel, a delicious retreat on the banks of the Euphrates. There, entirely abandoned to his vicious inclinations, he neglected the pay of his troops and the fortifications of his forts, equally heedless of the cares of government and the menaces of the Saracens.

Joseph François Michaud, The History of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (New York, Redfield, 1853), 1:320-1.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 662



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