How Accurate Is: Kingdom of Heaven (Movie, 2005) Part 1

(Warning: This post, as usual, contains spoilers.)

Jerusalem_Seal
The standard of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Hello everyone, and welcome to another post! Today, I will be talking about the first film for this blog: Kingdom of Heaven (2005), starring Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, and Eva Green. I am still trying to work out the format I will adopt for posts about movies, but for now I am thinking that I will do several smaller posts on different aspects of the movie. I suppose I will begin this post with my impressions of the movie.

Visually, the movie was extremely striking. The scenery was beautiful and the battle scenes extremely well done. The characters were occasionally interesting, though more often reduced to black and white; the character of Reynald de Chatillon, for example, seemed to exist only to hate Muslims (although he is known for little else historically, to be fair). From a historical perspective, I have mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, it is a surprisingly kind take on the Crusades, a subject about which too little is known; on the other, it is rife with confusing inaccuracies, and treats many of its subjects unfairly. To that end, in this first post I will be attempting to clear up some of the confusion about the sequence of events as presented in this film. For more, continue past the link.

Sequence of Events:

To begin, I will attempt to clarify some misunderstandings that I feel may have been created by the method and order in which the events of the film were presented.

The film opens in the year 1184; Jerusalem fell, historically, in October of 1187. Therefore, the events of the film play out over approximately three years, depending on the month of the beginning of the film. Sailing ships in medieval times are assumed to have been able to travel approximately 1.16 mph, so the sailing voyage between Messina (from which Balian sets out) and Jerusalem is, even assuming medieval ships could travel as the crow flies (which they could not, preferring to hug the coastline) approximately forty-two days. (Use this site to calculate distance as the crow flies)[1] Therefore, since Google Maps states that to walk from France (I picked just about the middle of France, since no specific location was given) to Messina is 11 days, the trip would have taken approximately fifty-five days from beginning to end. Therefore, Balian would have arrived in Jerusalem sometime between the middle of 1184 and the beginning of 1185, giving him about two to two and a half years to complete the remainder of the events in the film.

Jerusalem

From there, the events weave in and out of the historical truth. Baldwin IV (The Leper King) relieved Kerak from two sieges by Saladin, in 1183 and 1184 respectively. [2] One of these sieges must, therefore, have been shifted forward into 1185 to ensure that Balian could be there and that it took place closer to the death of the king. It is more likely, in fact, that the siege in the film took place around 1186, because Balian had been present at Ibelin for some time by the time of the siege according to the montage of him fixing the village. Historically, Baldwin IV dies in March of 1185, which has also likely been shifted forward for the film. The fact that war broke out historically on April 5th, 1187, also implies that his death must have been moved forward, because in the movie it seems as if the war begins the instant Baldwin dies.[3] Furthermore, in history Sybilla had a son (with William of Montferrat, her first husband), who was crowned Baldwin V after the death of his father but died just over a year later, before the war broke out.[4] The director of the film and the screenwriters evidently decided that the death of a nine-year old was too sad for a film (or simply did not fit with their story) and thus removed the character entirely.

I will go into more detail on this topic in my next post, on the characters of the film, but historically, Sybilla did not need to be persuaded to marry Guy; in fact, she did so against the advice of her allies in the “Court Party”, consisting of the queen mother, Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem, and the heads of the Templars and Hospitallers.[5] In fact, they forced her to divorce Guy before her coronation, a condition which she accepted if she could choose her new husband; to the shock of all assembled, she promptly chose Guy once more.[6] Following the fall of Jerusalem, she accompanied her husband during the Third Crusade until her death in an epidemic in 1191.[7]

The final siege of Jerusalem played out similarly in the film to how it occurred historically; in history, Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Balian of Ibelin were the leaders of the defending party. They were able to force Saladin to terms in October, whereupon they established a ransom that each citizen of the city had to pay to escape slavery; several thousand who could not pay likely met that fate, despite the offer of Heraclius and Ibelin of themselves as hostages in exchange for the freedom of those unfortunates. Balian would then proceed to advise future kings of Jerusalem until his death in 1193. In the movie, the ransom was foregone to make for a happier ending and poor Heraclius was made into a villain. However, the events were nonetheless essentially the same.

So, as you can see, the film is mostly accurate as far as the general sequence of events is concerned; most inaccuracies are evidently to make the plot more interesting or faster. I feel that many of the inaccuracies were not necessary in this regard, however; for example, they could easily have made Heraclius into a hero without compromising the integrity of the film. Next time, I will get into the real meat of the inaccuracies, the many changes made to historical personages. I hope you enjoyed this post, and I will see you next time!

References:

1 MIT. “Engineering the Medieval Achievement: Ship Routes and Uses.” n.d.

http://web.mit.edu/21h.416/www/shippingtechnology/shiproutesanduses.html

2 Encyclopedia Britannica. “Reginald de Chatillon.” Last modified December 2010.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/496033/Reginald-of-Chatillon

3 Jonathan Phillips. Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades. (New York: Random House, 2010). 125.

4 Encyclopedia Britannica. “The Crusader States to 1187.” Last modified May 2015.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/144695/Crusades/25607/The-Crusader-states-to-1187

5 Encyclopedia Britannica. “The Crusader States to 1187.” Last modified May 2015.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/144695/Crusades/25607/The-Crusader-states-to-1187

6 Roger of Hoveden. The Annals, comprising The History of England and of Other Countries of Europe from AD 732 to AD 1201. trans. Henry T. Riley, 2 Vols. (London: H.G. Bohn, 1853; rep. New York AMS, 1968), Vol 2, pp. 62-63, 65-70, 74-75

http://www.bu.edu/mzank/Jerusalem/tx/RogerofHoveden1187.htm

7 Roger of Hoveden. The Annals, comprising The History of England and of Other Countries of Europe from AD 732 to AD 1201. trans. Henry T. Riley, 2 Vols. (London: H.G. Bohn, 1853; rep. New York AMS, 1968), Vol 2, pp. 62-63, 65-70, 74-75

http://www.bu.edu/mzank/Jerusalem/tx/RogerofHoveden1187.htm

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