Melisende - Queen of Jerusalem

By Miri -

His/tory is by and large written by men, and as such, many important female figures are being omitted or not given the credit that they actually deserve. This is especially the case if we are talking about women who dared to challenge the authority of men. One such example is Queen Melisende who ruled the Crusader State of Jerusalem for almost 30 years, reason enough to have a closer look at her story.   

Born in 1105 to the Frankish King Baldwin II and the Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene, Melisende witnessed the first years of the Christian Crusader rule over the Holy Land. Being Baldwin's eldest daughter in a family of only daughters, Baldwin, who refused to divorce his wife for not bearing him a son, raised Melisende as a capable successor to himself and introduced her to all important dimensions of ruling the kingdom. At the same time Baldwin also thought it important to marry her to a powerful ally and eventually chose Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Main, a rich crusader and military commander and one of the most powerful nobles in France, after the king himself.

Wedding of Melisende and Fulk
After Baldwin's death in 1131, Melisende and Fulk became joint rulers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Melisende being the legitimate ruler of the kingdom, Fulk, with the support of his crusader knights, increasingly froze Melisende out of power and publicly dismissed her hereditary authority.
In order to further marginalise her, Fulk accused his wife of having an affair with her cousin, Hugh II, Count of Jaffa. These unfounded assertions of infidelity against Melisende, together with Fulk's attempts to assassinate her cousin, were reason enough for the queen's supporters to openly challenge Fulk which eventually led to a palace coup which reestablished Melisende as Queen of Jerusalem.

In the years to follow she again performed her royal duties and eventually even forgave her husband who would however no longer "attempt to take the initiative, even in trivial matters without [Melisende's] knowledge", as a historian of the time writes.         

Fulk would not remain the only man to challenge Melisende's authority. After having reached majority in 1143, Melisende's first son Baldwin III was jointly crowned with his mother. He soon felt that he should take more responsibility in governance and eventually even instigated a public self-crowning in the absence of his mother. The strive between mother and son was taken to the Haute Cour, a kind of royal council composed of nobility and clergy, which decided that Baldwin should rule the north of the kingdom, while his mother Melisende should have the authority over the richer Judea and Samaria, as well as Jerusalem.
Still not satisfied Baldwin went to war against his mother and invaded her realms. Surprised by this quick attack, Melisende eventually lost the war, but with mediation of the church, was granted the city of Nablus and adjacent lands under the condition that her son Baldwin would no longer disturb the peace.

Melisende and her son were eventually reconciled, and Baldwin learned to appreciate his mother's connections with other rulers, as well as her experience and wisdom. Spending a lot of time on military campaigns, Melisende became an important adviser to Baldwin and often acted on behalf of her son during his absence.  

Melisende's rule lasted 30 years. Throughout her lifetime she enjoyed the support of the Church and was given the title of Patroness of the Church and Arts. William of Tyre described her as "a very wise woman, fully experienced in almost all affairs of state business, who completely triumphed over the handicap of her sex [sic!] so she could take charge of important affairs...".

Melisende's female descendants continued to play important parts in the history of the Crusader rule over the Holy Land, yet none of them managed to hold on to the power in their own names as long as Queen Melisende did.  


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