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“Kingdom of Heaven” Film: History vs. Hollywood Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 10th, 2021

Sir Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven presents a wonderful account of the events that transpired during the Crusades. Though stunning in terms of technical aspects, there are scenes in the film that could disappoint historians because of their unfaithfulness to historical accounts.

The wonderful cinematography, costume design, effects and direction have made it a masterpiece. But the creative license of the director and the scriptwriter has been used in this movie that some of the characters and events in the movie are just fictional. Due to the theme that the director and the production crew want to convey to the viewers, they somehow alter the characters and events that actually took place with fictionalized ones. Anyway, what they are producing is a feature film and not a documentary.

Balian and Godfrey

One of the striking incoherence of the film with the real historical account is the existence of the protagonist of the movie. Balian as a blacksmith was just a myth. According to Gertz, in his thought Scott elaborately depicted the role of Balian (played by Orlando Bloom), it is not faithful to the accounts in history. It is true that there was a certain illustrious Balian in the Medieval Ages but he was never a blacksmith. He was already part of the nobility in Jerusalem. Because of this post he never had to travel from France to the Holy Land just to find forgiveness from his sins just like what the movie depicted.

In the movie Scott turned Balian into a poor troubled soul whose wife committed suicide because of grief and depression. Because of this dire event of his life, he even murdered the town priest who ordered the burning of his wife’s corpse and who took the cross pendant of his wife. Balian’s imminent arrest and for the forgiveness of his sins, he was forced to journey towards Jerusalem. This illustrated the fictional Balian’s troubled soul.

History has never given an account of Balian’s wife the way she is portrayed in the movie. The real Balian’s wife is Helvis, heiress of the wealthy lordship of Ramla (Balian of Ibelin). There was no clear account of her death. What Scott did was to use his artistic license to deviate from what was written in history to develop the movie’s characters and plot.

Another issue on the faithfulness of the film to history is the emotional and spiritual condition of Balian. Due to the terrible condition that France had in those days and the suicide of his wife, as shown in the film, Balian underwent an emotional and spiritual crisis. There was no mention in history book of the spiritual problems that the fictional Balian had. The real Balian however was very pious and serious in his faith. His piety was shown in a military journey with other crusaders. He stopped by and attended the Mass in a place upon realizing that there is a religious feast there. He even talked with the bishop in that place the whole night (Gertz).

The identity and the story of Balian’s father at the beginning of the film are also mere fiction. The father of the real Balian is Balian the Old, or sometimes called Barisan, and not Godfrey, as depicted in the film. The senior Balian was a Knight in the County of Jaffa and was later awarded the title lord of Ibelin (Balian of Ibelin) did not have to embark on a long journey from Jerusalem to France.

The love story between Balian and Queen Sybilla was just a ploy used by Scott to catch the interest of the viewers. In the film Princess Sybilla, the sister of King Baldwin IV, was unhappy with her husband, Guy de Lusignan. Because of her despair for his arrogant husband, she had an affair with Balian. King Baldwin IV even devised a plan to kill Guy so that Balian will become the next king of Jerusalem. Balian refused the offer on the principle that this would mar his conscience. Though William of Tyre accounted that Princess Sybilla was married to Guy de Lusignan and King Baldwin IV did not want Guy de Lusignan to succeed him due to a conflict, the king’s connivance with Balian for the latter to take over the throne was just a fictional (Raymond II of Tripoli Replaces Guy de Lusignan as Regent).

The real Balian never had an affair with Princess Sybilla and never was interested in her. Balian was married to nobility before he and the princess met. This also shows that the wife of the film’s Baldwin who committed suicide is just a fictional character used to set the tone of the initial part of the movie. It was the real Balian’s brother, Baldwin, who had love interest with Princess Sybilla.

In terms of Balian as a warrior, the real one’s fierce and ruthless personality was known to Muslims in those times. Ibn-Al-Athir’s account of him illustrated the terror Muslims had experienced in Balian’s answer to Saladin’s onslaught. He did not spare 5000 of his prisoners and the horses and animals of his prisoners.

Yet despite his cruelty towards his prisoners, the real Balian, just like the fictional one, had the cunningness and shrewdness when it comes to posing his terms in battles. The real Saladin was more demanding than the movie, yet Balian was able to come up with more feasible terms that would save the lives of his constituents. Just like in the film, in an instance when the real Balian and Saladin met for terms, the latter was able to save the people of the Holy Land from utter devastation by convincing the Muslim leader to demand that each man, woman, and child in Jerusalem to give ransom in exchange for their freedom, which saved Christians from slavery. Here Balian sacrificed paid the ransom from his own coffers for the sake of the indigent ones (Gertz).

King Baldwin IV

Scott’s portrayal of King Baldwin is relatively faithful to historical accounts than Balian. William of Tyre was a chronicler of the nobility of Jerusalem during the Crusades and who happened to be the tutor of the real King Baldwin IV. King Baldwin in the film was a leper. He was a peace-loving, sensible and wise leader who wanted harmony between Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.

Balian’s arrival in Jerusalem was somehow a relief for the ailing monarch, who was wary about the condition of the kingdom in Jerusalem after he passes away. The husband of his sister, Princess Sybilla will be his rightful successor. King Baldwin IV objects the crowning Guy de Lusignan as the next king because of the latter’s intolerant behavior. Guy de Lusignan wanted to throw away all the Muslims that lived in Jerusalem to make the city populated with Christians only.

When he was about to die the king revealed to Balian his scheme of killing Guy de Lusignan and crown him as the new king if the latter marry the princess. This plan was denied by Balian who steadfastly maintains his stand of upholding a knight’s principle of keeping a clear conscience. King Baldwin died and his position was handed over to Princess Sybilla’s legal husband, Guy de Lusignan.

The real King Baldwin IV, according to his tutor was indeed a leper. He was the son of King Amalric and Countess Agnes. William discovered the future king’s disease when the latter was about nine years old. While playing with other children, the young Baldwin IV never felt the pain that he should have suffered under the pinches and beatings of his playmates. William asked for the cure for Baldwin’s “incurable disease” (leprosy) from the royal physicians. They used all known medicines at those times, but to no avail (Hattin).

Despite the having an active and pleasing personality, the Baldwin IV who was crowned as king of Jerusalem when he was merely 13 years old, needed a regent to fulfill his administrative duties because of his young age and worsening disease. The Count of Jaffa, the real Guy de Lusignan was appointed regent due to the fact that he was Baldwin IV’s sister’s husband. The rude and intolerable behavior of the regent was documented by William of Tyre. There was a conflict that ensued between Baldwin IV and Guy de Lusignan showing the tension between the two. Whitcraft pointed out the “Guy openly defied the king twice.”

Baldwin actively sought to find a suitable replacement for him due to his increasingly worsening condition. Since he did not find the character that he wants to see in his successor in Guy de Lusignan, Baldwin tried “to collect reasons to procure a separation of his sister from his husband and to break up their marriage” (History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea). But it is not true that Baldwin picked Balian to be the new husband of Sybilla.

The physical appearance of King Baldwin IV in the movie closely resembles that of the real king. He was indeed feeble because of his worsening disease. But the condition of the real King Baldwin IV was worse than shown in the movie. The real king became blind and incapacitated due to the ulcerations he suffered from leprosy when he was about to die unlike in the movie where he could still see his beautiful sister on his deathbed.

Yet despite these physical disabilities, he ruled and defended the kingdom valiantly and wisely.

This was depicted by Edward Norton’s portrayal of a wise, intelligent, and morally upright King Baldwin IV who wanted coexistence between Christians and Muslims was faithful to historical facts as what William of Tyre documented. Despite the severity of his illness, he was able to win over his lifelong villain, Saladin. The movie did not include the events wherein Baldwin IV led the battle against the Muslim leader that should have shown the king’s determination and courage to which historian Stephen Howarth quoted “…he [Baldwin] made up for any disability with sheer nerve.” (132).

Battle of Hattin

In the movie Guy de Lusignan, his arrogance provoked Saladin into war. He did so by murdering the sultan’s sister. The new tyrant led his soldiers towards a march to fight against Saladin without an adequate supply of water and food. This apparent ignorance of Guy in warfare resulted in a massacre. Because of this Saladin’s easily won over the famished and thirsty army of Guy. This also resulted in the capture of Guy and his close ally Raynald. Raynald was later beheaded by Saladin because of the arrogance and rudeness he showed in front of the sultan.

The real Guy did lead an all-out onslaught against Saladin. But the real events that took place before the Battle of Hattin were not included in the film. What Scott showed was the aftermath of the Battle of Hattin, how the Muslims, led by Saladin, easily defeated the troops of Guy because they moved away from sources of water is true. Ernoul, a local Frank, was able to record what happened in one of the worse defeats of the Crusaders.

The scene where Guy and Reynald were offered a by Saladin drink does not correspond to Ernoul’s account. In the movie, Reynald’s throat was cut by Saladin because the latter was offended by the rudeness that the former had shown. Saladin intentionally gave the goblet to Guy to show hospitality to his king prisoner. Guy then handed over the drink to Reynald, and the latter drank from it. Saladin was angered by Reynald’s act saying that he only offered the drink to Guy and not to him.

Ernoul’s account recorded that Saladin really did offer his two prisoners drink. The difference is that Reynald was beheaded by Saladin because the latter refused to drink from the goblet and not because Reynald drank from a goblet. Saladin was enraged because of Reynald’s statement as he refused to drink. Reynald said “that if it pleased God, he would never drink or eat anything of his (Saladin’s).” Saladin, gravely upset to what his prisoner did to him, in turn, asked “Prince Raynald, if you held me in your prison as I now hold you in mine, what, by your law, would you do to me?” Raynald responded that the king should behead the insolent prisoner. Saladin did what Raynald responded.

Siege of Jerusalem

At the pinnacle of Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven is the director’s portrayal of the siege of Jerusalem. The breathtaking scenery of the onslaught of arrows wows the film’s audience all over. The picturesque use of catapults and siege towers by the attacking Muslims and the cunning defense of the people of Jerusalem led by Balian is perhaps one of cinema’s greatest portrayals of Medieval warfare.

An account of the Siege of Jerusalem confirms the extent of the attack made by Saladin. The fact that numerous arrows “fell like raindrops” was recorded by a chronicler of the Christians during the Crusade. The actual battle took a month before the real Balian negotiated with Saladin.

Balian really did lead the defense of Jerusalem. When Jerusalem fell, he went to Tripoli and not to France as shown in the film.

Works Cited

Halsall, Paul. “De Expugatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum, (The Capture of the Holy Land by Saladin)”. 1997. Web.

Halsall, Paul. “”. 1998. Web.

Halsall, Paul. “”. 1997. Web.

Howarth, Stephen. The Knights Templar. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1991.

Whitcraft, Michael Catholic, “Crusader, Leper and King: The Life of Baldwin IV and the Triumph of the Cross”. American TFP. 2007. Web.

Wikipedia. “”. 2008. Web.

Wikipedia. “Balian of Ibelin”. 2008. Web.

Wikipedia. “” 2008. Web.

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