On Expressions of Grief at the Loss of a Child
Among the possessions I keep on my desk is a tiny brown shoe. It is companion to various other objects, most of which are either entirely non-functional, such as little ivory netsuke figures, or are hardly functional such as two brass letter openers (how rarely do we need these today?). The main value of these items is that they create an atmosphere that I find congenial to my work. The shoe, however, is different. It carries an emotion and a personal value. It belonged to a sister who died tragically a few months before I was born. I keep it not to remember the sister I never knew, but because it was valued by my mother. She kept it, along with a tiny white cotton dress and a lock of straw-coloured hair tied in a pink ribbon, as a means of holding one to something irretrievably lost, perhaps also as a sort of penitence; a way of holding on to her misplaced sense of guilt. A parent always feels responsible for a child's death. It was, I am certain, a more potent memorial for her than a gravestone, or even a photograph.
Until they were dismantled after a fire in 1808, eight royal tombs stood in the southern transept of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They belong to the first eight Frankish rulers of the kingdom of Jerusalem. These include one duke, Godfrey of Bouillon, and seven kings; Baldwins I-V, Fulk and Amaury. Of those for which we know the appearance, through drawings made before the fire, one stood out from the rest. It was to tomb of the child king, Baldwin V, the last Frankish king to die before the Battle of Hattin, the loss of Jerusalem and the collapse of almost the entire kingdom in 1187. Whereas the other tombs were simply-adorned sarcophagi or slabs with pillars supporting raised gable-tops on which were the inscribed epitaphs, and with little decoration, Baldwin V's tomb was highly elaborate, displaying human figures and animal and plant designs of the same high quality as the fine works found on the Temple Mount.* It is also the closest tomb to that of Christ in the aedicule of the Rotunda, so one might be led to see some meaning in its location, although that may be simply a result of chronology and limited space.
In 1183 the leper king, Baldwin IV, whose health was in rapid decline, had his sister Sibylla's son Baldwin crowned as co-ruler. William of Tyre wrote of this event: "...Baldwin, a young child scarcely five years old, received the royal unction and was solemnly crowned in the church of the Resurrection of the Lord."** The act was not one that would resolve a leadership weakened by illness and intrigue. If anything, it added flames to the fire. It was aimed at outmanoeuvring the ambitions of Sybylla's second husband, Guy de Lusignan, count of Jaffa and Ascalon, by having Guy's stepson placed on the throne under a regent. It was an entangled medieval contest between opposing factions in a highly critical moment of crusader history, with a five year old boy caught in the middle. Of course it ended in disaster for all concerned. Baldwin IV died of leprosy the following year, and the child, Baldwin V a year later. Guy gained the crown, only to lose his kingdom at Hattin in 1187, and Sybilla died in an epidemic during the siege of Acre in 1190.
There is no personal item surviving from this little boy, no shoe, no object that he might have held, played with, cared for. He is completely lost, a figure hardly recorded in history but as a footnote to a dynasty over whom a power struggle was playing out. Perhaps the beauty of Baldwin's tomb was a monument not so much to the this hapless child as to the regrets of his mother; a display of maternal emotion. Poor Baldwin, caught in the middle and nothing more than a pawn in the hands of others. Even the present state of his beautiful tomb, which was not only dismantled, but along with the other royal tombs was violently shattered when it was removed by the Greek Orthodox clergy following the fire of 1808, is evidence of a power struggle, another even greater one than that of the crusader factions; the struggle between two great rival churches.
* Baldwin V's tomb see Zehava Jacoby, "The Tomb of Baldwin V, King of Jerusalem (1185-1186), and the Workshop of the Temple Area", Gesta 18, No. 2, 1979, pp. 3-14.
** William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, trans. E.A. Babcock and A.C. Krey, New York, 1943, vol. 2, p. 501, 22.29.