[Edessa was] ruled by Thoros, who was officially a vassal of the Turks but in reality acted independently. He did not expect that situation to continue for very much longer without help, so he offered to adopt Baldwin as his successor. ... Shortly thereafter, a coup topped Thoros, leaving Baldwin as the sole ruler of Edessa. ... The new County of Edessa was the first of the crusader states.

—Concise History of the Crusades, Madden

Wikipedia suggests the title was related to the County of Verdun:

Baldwin succeeded Thoros as ruler, taking the title of Count (having been Count of Verdun as a vassal of his brother in Europe).

I couldn't find a reference to Baldwin ever being Count of Verdun. I see his brother Godfrey of Bouillon as one:

The counts of Verdun belongs to the family of Ardennes of which Godfrey of Bouillon, the hero of the First Crusade, was an illustrious member.

—Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 15, Tournon-Zwirner

So Godfrey was the Count of Verdun, made his brother a vassal and gave him the title. Later, Count Baldwin conquers a city and decides to make a new county out of it, because that's the same level of title he had before?

Was it considered too brazen to claim a higher title?

4 Answers 4


This may sound unintuitive, but a new kingdom could not be trivially proclaimed. Calling yourself a king has very little meaning if it isn't recognised by anyone else. For maximum acceptance by your peers and subjects, therefore, your new kingdom had to be properly constituted by the lawful authorities.

In the case of Latin Europe during the High Middle Ages, the creation of new kingdoms was considered the prerogatives of the Pope and the Emperor of Christendom.

So high were the notions of this great monarch, in an age when the privilege of creating new kingdoms was deemed to belong only to the pope and the emperor.

- Hallam, Henry. View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages. Vol. 1. Harper & brothers, 1853.

Therefore, Baldwin of Boulogne was not legally empowered to simply declare himself king. Nor is there reason to believe that either the Pope or the Emperor would have supported him in creating a new kingdom. Constitutionally speaking, making Edessa a kingdom was a non-starter.

Now, he could say to hell with it and style himself king of Edessa, but no one would respect that. As a mere son of a count in Europe, his takeover of Edessa was through rather questionable means. When the crusaders were electing a king for Jerusalem, he was neither their top nor second choice.

With neither political nor popular support, the diplomatic reality of the time made creating himself a king untenable. Especially because it would surely set himself up for conflict with Jerusalem.

Further Reading

That new kingdoms had to be created by Imperial or Papal authority was a very well established legal doctrine. A contemporary example of similar circumstances would be the Crusader kingdom of Cyprus, created by Emperor Frederick II.

The creation of a new kingdom was not, in the Middle Ages, a casual act. Brand new kingdoms, such as Sicily, Cyprus, or Armenia, were constituted by popes or emperors in the twelfth century. So the question arose, when a new kingdom was created, whether the western emperor approved the pope's creation, or vice versa.

- Abulafia, David. Frederick II: a Medieval Emperor. Oxford University Press, USA, 1988.

Perhaps the most famous case is the failed scheme of Charles the Bold, the powerful Duke of Burgundy, to create a kingdom for himself. He attempted to do so by securing the sanction of Emperor Frederick III, but his boldness ultimately derailed the effort.

Frederick and Charles met in Trier in 1473. Although the emperor declared that he was prepared to bestow the status of kingdom on a duchy ... Charles held out for more, demanding that he be put forward for election as the Roman-German king, and hence as successor to the office of Holy Roman Emptor, and this led to a split. Frederick left the duke without any formal farewell.

- Fried, Johannes. Das Mittelalter: Geschichte und Kultur. CH Beck, 2008. Translated by Peter Lewis.

Another example comes from Scottish jurists during the Union of the Crown. Here we see the doctrine being connected to divine rights, with kingship compared to baptism.

But the power of creating new kingdoms belongs solely to the Emperor and the Pope. It is unknown to any constitutional system, indeed is altogether impossible for a king to create himself, to confer authority on himself, to be the author of his own prerogative; for no king can act beyond the power which God has conferred on him.

- Craig, Thomas. De Unione Regnorum Britanniae Tractatus Vol. 60. Printed at the University Press by T. and A. Constable for the Scottish History Society, 1909.

  • 1
    "How did you become king then? I didn't vote for you" - the pope, probably.
    – corsiKa
    Dec 4, 2015 at 20:17

The crusaders were trying to create the kingdom of Jerusalem by conquering the holy lands from the Muslims. All the small states they setup on the way were part of the one big Jerusalem kingdom. The wiki actually has an article about this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vassals_of_the_Kingdom_of_Jerusalem

If Baldwin made himself king of somewhere else, it would only antagonize the other crusaders. He was smart enough to realize this so he waited and once the more popular crusade leaders died, he used the money to bribe the rest into supporting him become the new king.


Edessa was a small town with sonme villages around it. Why would he call that a kingdom. It'll just make himself the laughing stock of the crusaders. What do you think will happen if Donald Trump called himself king of Trump tower? It's like that and 1000 years earlier.

  • 1
    I'm not sure this answers the question.
    – MCW
    Dec 4, 2015 at 14:22
  • 1
    The County of Edessa was larger than Cyprus, which eventually became a kingdom in the Third Crusade. And the Principality of Antioch was actually smaller than the County of Edessa. But since Bohemond I was the Prince of Taranto, that's the title he used.
    – Caleb Paul
    Dec 4, 2015 at 16:50
  • 2
    I am sure this site is meant not for pub-style banter but rather for legitimate questions and answer with a cited basis in history.
    – Engineer
    Dec 5, 2015 at 8:25
  • It's not at all like Donald Trump declaring himself king of Trump Tower, since Trump has no sovereignty over his land, so has no opportunity to even behave like a king. Trump Tower is a part of the USA so he can't exercise sovereignty over it without seceding, but he can't even do that because Trump Tower isn't a state, so the Federal Government won't talk to him about it. Dec 5, 2015 at 12:29

Very few lords decreed that their lands were now kingdoms, because most lordships in Europe were part of kingdoms. There were very few counties, duchies, or lordships in Europe that were not already parts of kingdoms. Even though the overlordship of the king in question might have been very vague, weak, or theoretical, it was legal and customary.

So if a lord proclaimed that his territory was now a kingdom, he would be claiming independence from his rightful monarch and thus would legally be committing treason. That would not be good publicity or increase his reputation, and could get him executed if he was captured by someone loyal to the offended king.

Thus there were relatively few examples of a count or duke proclaiming himself king. Portugal, Sicily, and the two kingdoms of Burgundy are examples.

In the case of the crusader states conquered from the Muslims, those lands were claimed by the Eastern Roman Emperor, the first or second most most powerful Christian monarch, and the crusaders needed his help against the Muslims, so the crusaders were not eager to claim to be too much independent of him.

It would be a little easier for a count or prince to slip into and out of vassalage to the Emperor when convenient than it would be for a king.

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