The Crusades were religious wars between Christians and Muslims that began in the 12th century. Their purpose was to regain Christian control of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. While the Crusades spanned several centuries and several locations, it is the First Crusade that occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean region, or Levant. Kerak Castle is located in al-Kerak, Jordan. The castle is an architectural wonder and survived the Cursades because of a wedding.
Crusaders were Christians from Europe, so named because they invaded long-held Muslim regions in the Mediterranean. Their goal was to overtake Muslim-controlled lands as well as the Holy Lands, eventually forcing non-Christians to convert. The battles that collectively made up the wars have been called the Crusades. The Crusades began in the 12th century and continued through the 19th century in various forms. The Spanish Inquisition was a response to the ongoing Crusades and the protestant schism begun by Martin Luther in his 95 Theses in 1517.
The First Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1099 after the First Crusade. Raynald of Châtillon settled in the Kingdom around 1147 and served in the royal army as a mercenary. Known for raids and capturing booty, Raynald was finally captured by the governor of Aleppo in 1160 or 1161 for raiding local peasants at Marash in the valley of the river Euphrates. He was released from prison for a large ransom in 1176. Upon his release, Raynald traveled to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and married Stephanie of Milly, the wealthy heiress of Oultrejordain and the half sister of Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.
Construction of Kerak Castle began in the 1140s. Its strategic location to the east of the Dead Sea meant that whoever controlled the castle also controlled the camel trains, nomadic herders, and even the pilgrim routes to Mecca. Kerak Castle was a powerful center for trade between Damascus, Egypt, and Mecca. The castle was fortified with two towers on its north and south sides along with rock-cut ditches. These were necessary attributes to prevent attacks from advancing enemies.
Kerak Castle is classified as a piece of crusader architecture. It is a free-standing structure that incorporated Byzantine-influenced city fortifications. The castle was massive for its time and much larger and starker than any castles found in 12th-century Europe. Surrounding the castle was a dry moat that added protection for its inhabitants and worked as a deterrent for attackers.
Stephanie of Milly had a son, Humphrey IV, who inherited the Lordship of Oultrejourdan. Humphrey IV proclaimed that he would marry Isabella I of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The pair was engaged in 1180. Isabella I’s half brother, Baldwin IV, did not want the two to marry. His concern was that they would join two very large land-holding families, or fiefs. After two years of engagement, the pair finally married in the autumn of 1183.