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inspirational historical women: queen melisende of jerusalem {1105-1161}

Melisende began her reign with her father at the end of his life. In 1129 she married Fulk V of Anjou (France). In 1131, they became joint rulers of Jerusalem, although Fulk outshone Melisende and effectively ignored her. In the mid 1130s this changed. Rumors flew, accusing Melisende of having an affair with Fulk’s biggest rival, the rebel Hugh II. Fulk chose to believe the rumors and provoked a war against Melisende and her supporters. But her forces prevailed, and her fortunes changed. She insisted on strong peace-terms, which included her admission to the inner councils of the kingdom. She was given great leeway in promoting the arts and in founding a huge abbey. Thereafter, wrote the historian William of Tyre, Fulk “never tried to initiate anything, even in trivial matters, with her foreknowledge.”

After Fulk’s death Melisende became regent for her 13 year old son, Baldwin.

But by now, however, she had had a taste of real power and she became determined to hold unto it. 1145 was the year Baldwin was to celebrate the attainment of his majority. Melisende ignored the date, easing him out of every place of influence, omitting his name from public acts.

Baldwin put up with this mother’s actions until 1152. Complaining to the high court of the kingdom that his mother would not let him rule, he demanded that the realm be divided between mother and son. This is what happened. Melisende ruled Judaea and Samaria and Baldwin the north.

The division didn’t last for long. While Melisende’s supporters urged the Franks to take account of her efficient administration and ability to rule, it was Baldwin who held the right to rule. This alone was enough to gain greater support for his cause. After a brief military campaign against her, he overwhelmed his mother’s army. Her last stronghold was the cramped confines of the Tower of David in Jerusalem.

In spite of their past disagreements, mother and son were reconciled, and she remained one of his closest advisers until her death.

But these rivalries greatly damaged the future of the crusader’s Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Muslims took great tracts of territories from the crusaders during the period of Melisende’s troubled reign. As a result, Jerusalem never again let a woman rule. When in 1186 a woman actually inherited the crown, her husband was effectively elevated to rule in her place.

Melisende: A True Queen

By Jennifer Edie

Loyola University Student Historical Journal, Vol.30 (1998-9)

Introduction: The idea of a dynasty was the backbone of medieval politics. A period of royalty and lordship, the middle ages’ political integrity hinged on the idea that the blue blood of leadership flowed through a monarch to the child. However, in this patriarchal society what would happen if no male heir was produced? How can one continue a dynasty when only daughters are born? These questions had no definite answer, and throughout the middle ages the necessity to produce a male heir was one of the largest problems faced by rulers. Louis VII of France clearly stated the view of rulers concerning the need for a male heir in 1165 when his first male son was born:

“An ardent desire that God would give us progeny of the better sex inflamed us, for we had been terrified by a multitude of daughters.” King Louis VII fully expressed the need for a member of the “better sex” in this one simple line. For without a male heir a simple line is exactly what the royal family would lack. There would be no heir apparent that would demand respect and be capable of ruling a great nation, or would there? Must gender play a role in the choosing of an heir or is it possible that when there are only a “multitude of daughters” that a woman can inherit rulership?

Although Louis VII managed to avoid the problems that would come with only female offspring, not all of his contemporaries did. Baldwin II of Jerusalem was given the terrifying multitude that Louis and his wife had prayed to God to keep away. The Kingdom of Jerusalem would be faced with the problem of female succession five times during the reign of Baldwin’s dynasty from 1099 to 1228. However, the dynasty founded by Baldwin II managed to thrive under these less than ideal conditions by reinventing the role of a queen.

Before diving into the roles that the Queens of Jerusalem played in the Latin Kingdom, let us first view the over all history and culture of the area leading up to the multitude of daughters. Jerusalem was the center of the world for many religious groups, and as the place of the death and resurrection of Christ to the Christian world it held this place of honor as well. For years Jerusalem had been the goal of pilgrimage, but now the pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem carrying weapons and dreaming of a kingdom. The crusade began on November 27, 1095 when Pope Urban first preached the Crusade. With the cry that it was the will of God, the crusaders set forth to free the holy city of Jerusalem from the infidel. After much pillaging, sieging, and plundering the crusaders arrived before Jerusalem on June 7, 1099. On July 15, 1099, the crusaders stormed the city of Jerusalem, and with much bloodshed and slaughter it was taken.

Click here to read this article from Loyola University

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inspirational historical ladiesqueen melisende

Melisende (1105 – 11 September 1161) was Queen of Jerusalem from 1131 to 1153, and regent for her son between 1153 and 1161 while he was on campaign. She was the eldest daughter of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, and the Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Melisende of Montlhéry, wife of Hugh I, Count of Rethel. She had three younger sisters: Alice ,princess of AntiochHodiernacountess of Tripoli; and Ioveta, abbess of St. Lazarus in Bethany. Hodierna’s daughter, Melisende of Tripoli, was named in honor of the queen. x

Melisende was a celebrated ruler of Jerusalem and the Crusader States in her own lifetime. Though she was regent for her son, when he came of age she refused to give up power, resulting in a brief civil war. She was widely considered to be the better ruler.

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