William of Tyre

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Historian, diplomat, and polyglot (Latin, Greek, French, Arabic); b. Jerusalem, c. 1130; d. c. 1187. He was of a European merchant family in the Holy Land, and returned to Europe c. 1145, where for 20 years he pursued his studies: arts and theology in France, civil law and canon law in Bologna. Among his teachers were peter lombard and Hugh de Porta Ravennata. Having been ordained before 1161, he returned to the Holy Land in 1165. He became archdeacon in 1167, and was consecrated archbishop of Tyre, June 6, 1175. He has to his credit diplomatic missions to Constantinople and Rome (1169). In 1170, William was appointed tutor to Baldwin, the son of Amalric (Amaury), king of Jersualem (116374). In 1174, he became chancellor of the Latin Kingdom of jerusalem. William represented his church at the Third lateran council in 1179. When he failed to secure the patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1183, he retired from public life to spend his remaining years completing his history.

After 1169, at the request of Almaric, William had begun his Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, covering crusading events from 1095 to 1184. It was translated into French in the 13th century and printed in Basel as early as 1549. His lost works include the Gesta orientalium principum, on the Arabs, and a treatise on the Third Lateran Council. William was familiar with the writings of Albert of Aachen (Aix), Fulcher of Chartres, and Balderic of Bourgueil, as well as with certain versions of the Gesta Francorum. The Historia is one of the most important works of medieval historiography, especially of the period after 1127, when its author became the primary witness. After c. 1144, it is a contemporary record. Though confused at times in its chronology, the Historia is an honest judgment of men and events, viewed by its author from the threefold aspect of religion, morality, and politics. His judgment of the Christian military effort in the Middle East is rather severe. The prologue to his work, written in 1184, is a brilliant statement of the author's determination to achieve objectivity, despite his association with the events he describes.

Bibliography: Editions. Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890) 201; Recueil des historiens des croisades: Historiens occidentaux 1 (Paris 1844); Eng. A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea, ed. and tr. e. a. babcock and a. c. krey, 2 v. (New York 1943). Literature. a. c. krey, "William of Tyre, The Making of an Historian in the Middle Ages," Speculum 16 (1941) 149166. h. e. mayer, "Zum Tode Wilhelms von Tyrus," Archiv für Diplomatik 56 (195960) 182201; Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 19.1 (1963) 240241. r. b.c. huygens, "Guillaume de Tyr étudiant," Latomus 21 (1962) 811829.

[b. lacroix]

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William of Tyre

William of Tyre (ca. 1130-1184) was archbishop of Tyre, chancellor of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and historian of the last years of the kingdom before its fall to Saladin in 1187.

Born in the crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem, William of Tyre also grew up there. Besides the French language, he acquired a knowledge of Eastern languages: Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Persian. These stood him in good stead in his later career. William's parents were probably of humble origin, but William's scholastic aptitude made him a likely candidate for the priesthood. He became a protégé of the archbishop of Tyre, and was sent sometime before 1163 to Europe, probably to study law.

Between 1163 and 1167 William was a canon in the cathedral church of Tyre. In 1167 he was chosen by King Amalric to become the historian of the kingdom and was promoted to archdeacon of Tyre. William traveled to Rome and Constantinople in the next few years before being appointed tutor to Amalric's son Baldwin (later King Baldwin IV) in 1170. Upon Amalric's death William planned to stop writing, but the rise to power of Count Raymond III of Tripoli brought William the appointment of chancellor of the kingdom, and in 1175 he was made archbishop of Tyre.

From 1176 on, William was engaged in diplomacy as well as in his official duties as chancellor and historian. William attended the Third Lateran Council in Italy in 1178, but from then on he became less powerful as the court intrigues which surrounded the dying young king Baldwin IV moved him farther from centers of real power. William now concentrated upon the writing of his history as the chaos of the court of Jerusalem began to reveal that inner weakness which would make it vulnerable to Saladin's attacks a few years later. William's history in this period became more than a royally commissioned work. From 1180 on, William wrote with a skill and tragic insight which few historians have surpassed.

William's use of documents in different languages, his lack of bias toward the men of different religions and races whose actions he described, his intimate knowledge of political and diplomatic events, and his skill as a Latin prose writer contributed to the greatness of his History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea. Toward the end of his life, when he felt the external and internal threats to the survival of the kingdom, William's commentary and narrative rise to eloquent heights of political tragedy. His somber account of the decline of the crusading kingdom is addressed not only to posterity but to all of the Christian world. William's work was continued and translated in his own time, and it has been widely used since and is still of immense interest, not only to professional historians but to students of history as well. It is the primary historical narrative contemporary with the last years of the Latin Kingdom and is an excellent example of the best 12th-century chronicle-writing technique.

Further Reading

The best account of William's life, along with a complete listing of source materials concerning his works, is in the introduction to his History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea, translated by Emily Atwater Babcock and A. C. Krey (2 vols., 1943). □

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