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Joveta of Jerusalem (1120–?)

Abbess of Bethany. Name variations: Ivetta; Jovette; Juditta; Yvetta. Born in 1120 in the Frankish principality of Jerusalem; died after 1162; daughter of Baldwin II, count of Edessa, later king of Jerusalem (r. 1118–1131), and Morphia of Melitene (fl. 1085–1120); sister of Hodierna of Jerusalem (c. 1115–after 1162), Melisande (1105–1161), and Alice of Jerusalem (b. 1106); never married; no children.

Joveta was born in 1120, a princess of Jerusalem, the fourth daughter of the powerful king Baldwin II and his Armenian queen, Morphia of Melitene . Joveta was raised with her three sisters—Hodierna of Jerusalem, Melisande , and Alice of Jerusalem —in the capital city of the Frankish kingdom. At age four, Joveta became an important political pawn in the conflict between her father and his Muslim enemy Timurtash.

Baldwin had been captured by Balak the Ortoqid, a great Muslim military leader. Balak kept the Frankish king in his custody for more than a year, and refused to negotiate for his release; however, on Balak's death his custody passed to Timurtash, who preferred a rich ransom to an idle captive enemy. After a partial ransom was paid, Baldwin was freed, but Timurtash demanded that Baldwin hand over his youngest daughter Joveta as surety for the rest of the money. In June 1124, Joveta was duly given into Timurtash's custody along with several other children of the Frankish nobility. She was housed in one of Timurtash's palaces in Shaizar, in northern Syria. In March 1125, her custody passed to the Muslim atabeg (prince) of Mosul, the powerful Aqsonqor il-Bursuqi. Two months later, Joveta's father Baldwin fought a bloody but victorious battle against il-Bursuqi's army. From the booty taken from the Muslim army, he and his knights were able to pay off his ransom, and in June, after one full year as a hostage, Joveta was returned to her family.

Joveta's political importance faded as she matured. Her three older sisters all made significant political alliances when they married. However, Baldwin could not find a husband suitable for his youngest daughter, possibly because of her history with the Turks. As was usual for the younger daughters of the nobility, it was decided that Joveta would enter the religious life. Around 1136, the 16-year-old princess left the family palace to join the convent of St. Anne of Jerusalem. She remained at the convent in relative seclusion until 1138. In that year, her older sister Melisande, who with her husband Fulk of Anjou had succeeded Baldwin II, decided that merely being a nun was not a suitable career for a princess. Melisande therefore found a way to give her sister a position of considerable importance and at the same time contribute to the religious community of Jerusalem.

With her own funds, the queen purchased the village of Bethany and there built a magnificent convent dedicated to Saint Lazarus. Queen Melisande endowed the establishment with a significant amount of arable property, including the rich plains of Jericho. Wanting the abbey to reflect the grandeur and wealth of the royal family, Melisande also took care to furnish it lavishly. After its completion, Joveta, now aged 18, relocated to Bethany to serve as its abbess. Because of her youth, an elderly nun was appointed to serve as abbess until Joveta could take over the responsibilities for herself.

Little information is available about Joveta after she became abbess, but the extent of her duties is known. A royal abbey was very similar to a large manor or estate in terms of administration. An abbess was responsible for the spiritual well-being of all the nuns under her care, as well as for the education of the young girls raised at the convent. She also was the abbey's business manager, directing its agricultural production, scriptorium, and any other industries which members of the abbey community practiced to generate income for the abbey. Joveta would also have been primarily responsible for the day-to-day living conditions of her nuns, overseeing the kitchens and housekeeping duties. It was a demanding job, and she would have delegated many tasks to administrators.

Joveta appears again in the records of Melisande's life in the winter of 1160, when she returned to the royal palaces of her youth to nurse Melisande, who had suffered a stroke. She, along with her sister Hodierna, countess of Tripoli, remained with Melisande until the queen's death in November 1161. Abbess Joveta then returned to Bethany, where she died, a well-respected religious figure, after 1162.


Hamilton, Bernard. "Women in the Crusader States: Queens of Jerusalem," in Medieval Women. Edited by Derek Baker. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978.

Prawer, J. The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Joveta of Jerusalem (1120–?)

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