Melisande (1105–1161)

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Melisande (1105–1161)

Queen-regnant of Jerusalem. Name variations: Melesend; Mélisande; Melissande; Melisend; Mélisende or Melisende; Melisinda, Mélisinde, or Melisinde. Born in 1105 in the Frankish principality of Jerusalem; died on November 30, 1161, in Jerusalem; daughter of Baldwin II, count of Edessa, later king of Jerusalem (r. 1118–1131), and Morphia of Melitene; sister of Hodierna of Jerusalem (c. 1115–after 1162), Alice of Jerusalem (c. 1106–?), and Joveta of Jerusalem (1120–?); became second wife of Count Foulques also known as Fulk V, count of Anjou, king of Jerusalem (r. 1131–1143), on June 2, 1129 (died 1143); children: Baldwin III (1130–1162), king of Jerusalem (r. 1143–1162); Amalric I (1136–1174), king of Jerusalem (r. 1162–1174).

Named heiress of Jerusalem (1128); married (1129); succeeded Baldwin II (1131); rebellion of Hugh of Le Puiset (1134); established convent of Bethany (1138); widowed and was crowned as coruler with son (1143); failure of Second Crusade (1148); endured rebellion of son Baldwin III and division of kingdom (1152); reconciled and co-ruled (1153–1160); suffered stroke (1160).

Melisande ruled as queen-regnant and coruler of the principality of Jerusalem. Her father Count Baldwin, a French noble, had fought in the successful First Crusade of 1097, when Frankish knights and others had conquered Jerusalem and the surrounding territories and established Christian kingdoms for themselves. Baldwin had become count of Edessa; his cousin, another Baldwin, eventually became king of Jerusalem. Count Baldwin married a wealthy Armenian princess, Morphia of Melitene , with whom he had four children, all daughters: Melisande, the eldest, Alice of Jerusalem , Hodierna of Jerusalem , and Joveta of Jerusalem . In 1118, while on a pilgrimage to

Alice of Jerusalem (c. 1106–?)

Princess and regent of Antioch who reigned from 1135 to 1136. Name variations: Alais or Alix. Born around 1106 in the Frankish principality of Jerusalem; died after 1162 in Antioch; second daughter of Baldwin II, count of Edessa, later king of Jerusalem (r. 1118–1131), andMorphia of Melitene (fl. 1085–1120); sister ofHodierna of Jerusalem (c. 1115–after 1162), Melisande (1105–1161), andJoveta of Jerusalem ; married Bohemond or Bohemund II, prince of Antioch (r. 1126–1130), in 1126; children: Constance of Antioch (1128–1164), co-ruler of Antioch (r. 1130–1163).

An intelligent and well-educated princess, Alice of Jerusalem was married in 1126 to Bohemund II, the newly crowned prince of Antioch, in northern Syria. This alliance between the two most powerful Christian territories set up by the Franks after the First Crusade was considered necessary to protect both from the Muslim armies who sought to regain their conquered lands. In 1128, their first and only child, Constance of Antioch , was born.

Two years later, Bohemund was killed in battle against an army of Danishmend Turks. According to feudal law, Antioch should pass to the prince's oldest son, or, in lieu of a male heir, to a daughter. But Constance was only two years old, and a female ruler, especially a child, was undesirable in this war-torn region. Princess Alice had her own plans, however. Instead of waiting for her father Baldwin II, as overlord of Antioch, to appoint a regent, she assumed the regency herself. It was soon rumored that she wanted to act not as regent, but as a reigning sovereign. Her actions lost her the support of the Antiochenes, who wanted a strong, adult male warrior-prince to protect Antioch from its enemies.

In a desperate move to retain her authority, Alice sent a messenger to the great Muslim atabeg (prince) Zengi, offering to pay him homage if he would help her retain Antioch; her father's troops, en route to Antioch to assert Bald-win's authority as overlord, captured the messenger and had him hanged for treason. Baldwin II forgave Alice for her rebellion, but he did remove her from the regency and banish her to Lattakieh, her dower lands. Baldwin himself assumed the regency, but he died only a short while later, leaving the regency to Count Joscelin of Edessa. When Joscelin himself died a few weeks later, the barons of Antioch refused to accept his son and successor as their new regent, leaving Antioch temporarily without a leader.

On Baldwin II's death, Alice's sister Melisande and her husband, Fulk V of Anjou, had succeeded to the throne of Jerusalem. Alice unsuccessfully challenged Fulk's right to rule as overlord of Antioch; the final result was that he held the regency in name only, while the city's Patriarch Bernard held actual power. When Bernard died in 1135, the populace of Antioch elected Radulph of Domfront to succeed him; Radulph, who did not support Fulk's authority, assumed the office without waiting for canonical election to confirm his position and immediately began negotiating with Alice, still in Lattakieh. Alice appealed to her sister Melisande, Fulk's wife and co-ruler, to help her regain her power. With Melisande lending support to her sister, Fulk had no choice but to allow Alice to return to Antioch, where she shared the rule with Radulph, until he fell from power after alienating the clergy a short time later. Ruling alone but without a solid base of support, Alice sought a means of securing her position and that of her daughter.

She offered the hand of her daughter to the son of the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus. At that time, however, the Christian states of the East regarded the Byzantine Empire as an enemy almost as dangerous as the Muslims, and Fulk of Jerusalem was informed of her action. He quickly sent a secret message to Raymond I of Poitiers, the younger son of the wealthy duke of Aquitaine. When Raymond arrived in Antioch in 1136, he asked Alice for her hand in marriage. Having little reason to doubt his story, she agreed. Raymond then had Constance kidnapped and taken to the cathedral, where the Patriarch Radulph, now working against Alice, quickly married them. Confronted with the accomplished fact and well aware that she did not have the support necessary to fight Raymond, Alice had little choice but to retire to her estates once again, where she spent the remainder of her life.

Although Constance's marriage marked the end of Alice's political career, Alice had the satisfaction of seeing Raymond's anti-Byzantine policies fail completely. He antagonized the emperor, instead of courting an alliance with him as Alice had done. In 1137, the Byzantine army, led by the new emperor John Comnenus, besieged Antioch until Raymond was forced to surrender the city. By that time even King Fulk refused to come to the aid of Antioch, knowing that his army was no match for the well-armed Byzantine troops. Many Antiochenes recognized, too late, the wisdom of Alice's pro-Byzantine policies.


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

Jerusalem, Count Baldwin of Edessa chanced to be present for the funeral of his cousin, King Baldwin I, and soon found himself elected his cousin's successor as Baldwin II. Melisande, instead of being the heiress of Edessa, thus became the heiress to the throne of Jerusalem.

Like her sisters, Melisande received an education befitting her rank and her parents' wealth. She was well taught in languages, art, and history, and from her parents' example she developed the intense piety which would characterize her throughout her life. In 1128, Baldwin II began to search for a suitable husband for Melisande, who would co-rule with her. Because Frankish property laws and the legal system were disadvantagous to women, and because women were excluded from warfare and military leadership, it was considered necessary for a reigning queen to have a powerful husband to remain effective. It was unusual that Baldwin II waited until Melisande was in her 20s before seeking a marriage partner for her; most noble-women at the time were betrothed as children and married in their teens. His council asked the king of France to pick a husband from among the French nobility; the king's choice fell on Fulk V, count of Anjou, a 40-year-old widower whose military and political skills had made him one of the wealthiest lords of the kingdom. An ambitious but pious man, Fulk could hardly refuse the hand of the heiress of Jerusalem. On June 2, 1129, he and Melisande were married in Jerusalem amid great celebration. In his chronicles of Melisande's life, William of Tyre noted that Melisande was less than enthusiastic about the match, but this is hardly surprising, for at 24 she was married to a stranger almost twice her age for purely political reasons. From later actions, it can be concluded that Melisande and Fulk never became a close couple. Nonetheless, in the year after her marriage Melisande gave birth to a son, called Baldwin (III) after his grandfather.

King Baldwin II's plans for how much power his daughter would wield on her succession are the subject of some debate. However, it appears that he intended for Melisande and Fulk to be co-rulers; that is, that neither one would be the only reigning monarch, but that they would share power equally. Baldwin II would have reason to fear making Fulk his heir, for Fulk could repudiate Melisande and make his grown sons with his first wife Ermentrude , countess of Maine, his heirs—thus ending Baldwin II's dynasty. Yet to make Fulk only a king-consort would severely limit his effectiveness as a military leader, in an era of constant warfare. Thus, joint rule was the best possible solution. After the marriage, Baldwin II began to include his daughter and son-in-law in various acts and charters.

Baldwin II died in August 1131, and on September 14 Melisande and Fulk were crowned in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Although Fulk had seemed amenable to co-ruling with his wife before their accession, afterwards he strove to disempower Melisande and retain all authority for himself. For nearly five years, all royal charters and public acts were made in Fulk's name only. Although he was a powerful king, his power grab turned many barons against him and made the queen a sympathetic figure. But Fulk's right to rule was initially questioned by many lords of the Christian states, since he was not related by blood to the ruling family. The opposition to Fulk's right to act as overlord of the states, as Baldwin had, was led by Princess Alice; in early 1132, she publicly denied Fulk's authority over Antioch and claimed the regency for herself once again. Alice found support for her position among several powerful lords, but she still lacked the backing of the people of Antioch, who secretly summoned King Fulk to inform him of Alice's plans. Her allies were not strong enough to defeat the army Fulk brought to Antioch, but the two sides were evenly matched enough that Fulk did not have the power to punish the rebels. Alice remained at Lattakieh while Fulk, although becoming nominal regent himself, let the city's Patriarch Bernard have the real authority.

Around 1134, the court and barons of Jerusalem took sides between the queen and king in a conflict over the rebellion of the knight Hugh of Le Puiset. Hugh had been a childhood companion of the queen who remained at court after her marriage; following her succession, there were rumors of a romantic relationship between them. Hugh's enemies helped spread these rumors to the king, who became jealous, and soon the men were openly antagonistic. Hugh was eventually accused of plotting against Fulk's life and fled to Jaffa, refusing the king's command to give himself up. The rebellion was short-lived, and Hugh was forced to submit to Fulk, who sentenced him to three years' exile.

The story of Hugh's rebellion reveals the hostility between the king's supporters and those whose loyalties lay with Melisande. There was more to Hugh's importance than the gossip about an affair with the queen—Hugh was Melisande's second cousin and her closest male kin, and thus a natural choice for leader of Melisande's supporters. Melisande also had the favor of the patriarchs of the church, who were angered at the way Fulk had pushed his wife, King Baldwin II's daughter, out of power. Thus, although he was successful in ending the rebellion, Fulk was forced to realize that his power could not be secure as long as he antagonized Melisande's supporters. As for herself, Melisande was infuriated by Fulk's treatment of her and of her cousin Hugh; it was said that for a time Fulk was so afraid of his wife and her barons that he even feared for his safety. After this time, Fulk was careful to include Melisande in every royal act and to consult with her on all matters of state. From 1134 on, Melisande acted as a true co-ruler, as her father had planned, rather than as a consort only.

William of Tyre">

[Melisande was] a woman of wisdom and circumspection, courageous and as wise as any prince in the world.

—William of Tyre

Fulk's change of heart, dictated though it was by political need, led to a reconciliation between the king and queen. In 1136, their second child, a son named Amalric (I), was born. Between 1136 and 1143, Melisande revealed a talent for leadership and a clear understanding of the importance of patronage—making gifts of land and title to her supporters in reward for their loyalty. She also acted on behalf of her three sisters. Her youngest sister Joveta had become a nun; Melisande felt that the daughter of a king should be more than a mere sister, and so she established a convent at Bethany in 1138, making it clear that Joveta, who was only 18, would become its abbess as soon as she was old enough to handle the responsibility. Bethany was no minor convent; an extensive settlement, it was lavishly furnished and endowed with acres of arable land. The queen also supported her sister Alice of Jerusalem's wish to become regent of Antioch. Although many of Alice's subjects did not want a female ruler and King Fulk had in 1135 tried to make himself regent of Antioch, Melisande negotiated an agreement whereby Fulk remained regent in name, but power was actually shared by Alice and her ally, the new patriarch of Antioch.

In 1143, Fulk was killed in a hunting accident. Melisande, though grieving publicly as was expected of her, immediately took the government into her own hands. Her son and Fulk's heir, now Baldwin III, was only 13 years old. Although in most similar cases a mother would act as regent on behalf of a young son, Melisande's position as queen-regnant made her situation exceptional. She did not view herself as holding power only in her son's name, but as a reigning monarch. To demonstrate this point, Melisande and her son were crowned together on Christmas Day, 1143; it was the queen's second coronation as a ruler. Although she did associate Baldwin III's name with hers in royal acts after 1143, she gave no indication of relinquishing power when he came of age in 1145; indeed, she did not even mark the occasion with any public celebrations.

Late in 1144, the Christian-held city of Edessa fell to a besieging Muslim army. Deeply concerned with this growing threat to Jerusalem's safety, Melisande sought help from the Christian kingdoms of Europe. She wrote to Bernard of Clairvaux, the powerful Cistercian abbot, and asked him to preach a new crusade to fend off the Muslims. Led by King Louis VII of France and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine , a tremendous army arrived in the Holy Land in the spring of 1148, after months of preparation and more months en route. At an assembly called by Melisande in June 1148, the leaders of the Second Crusade decided to attack Damascus, a Christian-friendly city. It was a politically absurd decision which ultimately cost the crusaders thousands of lives. Such bad decisionmaking and infighting between the leaders made the crusade a complete fiasco, and when the surviving crusaders returned to Europe, Jerusalem was no safer from Muslim invasion than it had been before, and the Muslims still held Edessa. Jerusalem would have to look to itself and its neighboring Christian territories for its defense.

After the failed crusade, a serious conflict arose between the boy-king Baldwin III and Melisande. Although as a child Baldwin had had no choice but to let his mother reign, after coming of age he began to resent Melisande's authority. By 1150, this resentment had broken down their relationship so much that Melisande ceased including Baldwin III's name on official documents. Thus she began to disempower her son in a way similar to Fulk's treatment of her before 1134; and, as before, barons and courtiers were forced to choose sides. In early 1152, Baldwin III demanded that the patriarch of Jerusalem crown him again, without his mother present. The patriarch refused, and Baldwin sought another means of gaining the authority he felt was wrongly denied him.

He summoned the high court and demanded that the kingdom be divided between himself and Melisande. Against their better judgment, the court agreed; Melisande favored this solution and her influence carried the majority of the court. Had this solution been permanent, it surely would have endangered the kingdom, since Jerusalem had to be united to defend itself from its many enemies. Although Melisande has been criticized for agreeing to the partitioning of Jerusalem, she must have thought it preferable to the alternative, which was civil war.

Despite her hopes, however, it was only a few weeks after the division of the kingdom—Melisande ruling Samaria and Judea, and Baldwin III holding the north—when Baldwin invaded his mother's half. Showing himself a competent general, Baldwin III won the support of many southern barons and was admitted to Jerusalem. He laid siege to the Tower of David, where Melisande and her remaining supporters, including her younger son Amalric had secured themselves. Temporarily deserted by most of her supporters in the face of Baldwin's military success, Melisande agreed to terms. She relinquished her authority in exchange for a grant of the city of Nablus. However, Baldwin III underestimated his mother's determination and her prestige if he believed she would retire gracefully.

In the summer of 1152, only weeks after Melisande's retirement, she attended a general assembly of the lords of the kingdom at Tripoli. The purpose of the assembly was to choose a new husband for Constance of Antioch , princess of Antioch and niece to Melisande, who had been ruling alone since the death of her husband Raymond I of Poitiers in 1149. With the threat of invasion by the Muslim forces in north Syria increasing every day, Baldwin III needed a strong male ruler for Antioch, the northernmost of the Christian territories. However, Constance refused to remarry, despite the arguments made by both Melisande and Melisande's sister Hodierna, countess of Tripoli. During the assembly, Melisande also attempted to reconcile Hodierna with her estranged husband, Raymond II of Tripoli. The active presence of the queen at the conference underscored the fact that she still held great influence over events and would involve herself in state affairs with or without Baldwin III's permission.

In fact, her participation in the assembly led Baldwin III to adopt a new attitude towards his mother. Like his father Fulk before him, Baldwin came to realize that he needed his mother's good will and that of her supporters to retain his authority. Melisande's right to rule was undisputed among the clergy; furthermore, her sister Hodierna had become regent of Tripoli on Raymond II's death soon after the assembly had been held, and her niece Constance was still sole ruler of Antioch. Thus, in 1153, mother and son were reconciled. From then on, Melisande and Baldwin III were named together in public documents as rulers of Jerusalem. She was involved in both internal affairs and foreign policy decisions and enjoyed again the power she had held before Baldwin's rebellion. Melisande was acclaimed as a pious and benevolent benefactor; she gave liberally to religious orders and hospitals, and gave generous endowments to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. She was also an important patron of the arts, commissioning among other works a lavish Psalter, known as Queen Melisande's Psalter, now located in the British Museum.

Constance of Antioch (1128–1164)

Co-ruler of Antioch. Born in 1128; deposed in 1163; died in 1164; daughter of Bohemond or Bohemund II, prince of Antioch (r. 1126–1130), andAlice of Jerusalem ; married Raymond I of Poitiers (d. 1149, son of William IX of Aquitaine), prince of Antioch, around 1140; married Reginald also known as Reynald of Chatillon (d. 1187), prince of Antioch (r. 1153–1160), in 1153; children: (first marriage) Bohemond or Bohemund III the Stammerer, prince of Antioch (r. 1163–1201); Marie of Antioch (d. 1183, who married Manuel I Comnenus); Philippa of Antioch ; (second marriage)Anne of Chatillon-Antioche (c. 1155–c. 1185, who married Bela III, king of Hungary). Reynald's second wife wasStephania .

In the winter of 1160, Melisande, age 55, suffered a stroke, after which she could no longer act as queen. She was nursed during her illness by her devoted sisters Hodierna and Joveta. Queen Melisande died on September 11, 1161, and was buried alongside her mother at the shrine of Our Lady of Josaphat in Jerusalem. Her son Baldwin III followed her in death only a few months later, in February 1162, and her younger son Amalric I succeeded his brother, ruling until his own death in 1174.


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.

suggested reading:

Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. Chronicles of the Crusades. NY: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1989.

Payne, Robert. The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades. NY: Macmillan, 1984.

Laura York , freelance writer in women's history and medieval history, Riverside, California