Melisende of Jerusalem
1105 to September - 11, 1161
Queen of Jerusalem from 1131 to 1153by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“Reseditque reginam regni potestas penes dominam Melisendem,
Deo amabilem reginam, cui jure hereditario competebat.”
‘And the royal power of the queen remains in the hands of the lady Melisende, the God-loving queen, to which it was agreed, she inherited by right.’ - William of Tyre
“Who can find a virtuous and capable woman? She is worth more than precious rubies.” (Proverbs 31:10)
Queen Melisende was the heir to the Boulogne dynasty that had ruled Jerusalem since its fall to the Christian Franks in 1099. She was one of the few women to actually rule a territory or kingdom in this period. Most of the women who inherited lands or who were recognized as queen regnant, rarely (if ever) exercised their authority, preferring to let their husbands govern in their stead; this was not always the case though. A few of Melisende’s contemporaries that also ruled were Empress Matilda (1102-1169) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (1121-1204).
Melisende’s main familial influence was her father, King Baldwin II, who took it upon himself to see that his eldest daughter and heir was properly prepared to rule the kingdom. He named her as his official successor in 1129. As the filia regis et regni Jerosolimitani haeres (daughter of the king and heir to the kingdom of Jerusalem), Melisende was associated with her father in many things, including diplomatic correspondence and other such official documents of state. She also was given precedence over other nobles and clergy in ceremonial occasions because of her position as the Heir-Presumptive.
Melisende was brought up to be a competent and worthy successor to her father, King Baldwin II and because of this, she also benefited from the support of the Haute Cour, (the feudal council of the kingdom of Jerusalem). The King also knew that he had to marry her to a powerful ally, someone that would be able to properly care for and safeguard her future heirs and her inheritance. What Baldwin II wanted was a consort for his daughter instead of a reigning king-consort (which was normal during that time period), what he settled on was Fulk V of Anjou, a noted crusader (also the future grandfather of Henry Plantagenet).
During the negotiations Fulk demanded on being joint ruler along with
Melisende. Given that Fulk was bringing with him considerable wealth and
military experience, not to mention troops that would all go towards the
defense of the city, Baldwin acceded to this stipulation. Melisende and
Fulk were married on June 2, 1129 and the next year, their son and heir,
Baldwin III was born.
However all was not complete bliss for this royal couple. Baldwin II had died a year after his grandson was born, but not before he had made his daughter the sole guardian for Baldwin III, thereby neatly cutting Fulk out of the picture. This was done in an effort to help solidify Melisende’s claim to the throne. The couple ascended to the throne and it was then that the true conflict started. Fulk, aided by his knights, publicly dismissed Melisende’s authority and denied her any of her hereditary monarchal rights (bestowing fiefs and various other forms of patronage). This served to drive a wedge not only between the couple themselves, but also between the King and the Haute Cour, who were incensed at Fulk’s treatment of their Queen.
Four years later, the conflict ensuing from the estrangement of the King and Queen all came to a head when Fulk accused the Count of Jaffa, Hugh II of Le Puiset of having an affair with his estranged wife. This accusation was little more than a expedient political tool for Fulk to try to undermine Melisende’s power and authority by destroying her public image. Futhermore, the accusation got rid of the kingdom’s most powerful baron who just happened to be fanatically loyal to his cousin, the Queen. Hugh ended up being exiled for three years because of the alliance that he had made with the Muslim city of Ascalon in an effort to stave off the army after him.
However, this bold political maneuver by Fulk had the opposite effect of what he had desired. The unfounded infidelity accusation in addition to an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hugh that had been accredited to Fulk and his followers provided the Queen’s faction with enough reason to stage a sort of palace coup.
From 1135 on, Fulk’s authority rapidly declined and in 1136, when he and Melisende reconciled, it was Fulk that took the back-row seat. "[Fulk] did not attempt to take the initiative, even in trivial matters, without (Melisende's) knowledge," states William of Tyre. Baldwin II’s wish had finally come to fruition; Melisende was at last the sovereign ruler of the kingdom. The royal couple had a second son, Amalric in 1136 and in 1143 when Fulk was killed in a hunting accident, the Queen mourned for him, both publicly and privately.
Some of the challenges that Melisende faced during her thirty year long reign had to do with her son, Baldwin III. They had a complex mother and son relationship, balancing the duties and feelings of a mother (and especially a mother known for having close relationships with her children) with the political and social duties of a sovereign. Baldwin reached his majority in 1145, but there was no political or social pressure to cede any authority to the Prince until 1152. Baldwin was a capable military commander and by the time he was 24, he felt that he could begin to assume more responsibility; his mother did not have the same opinion. This caused a major rift between mother and son, ending with both mother and son placing the matter before the Haute Cour, who divided the kingdom in two, showing preference to Melisende, who had the Church as well as the barons of Judea and Samaria backing her.
Neither mother nor son was pleased with this outcome and within a few weeks of the decision, Baldwin had launched a military invasion of his mother’s territory. The civil war ended with Melisende and Amalric taking refuge in the Tower of David as Baldwin successfully captured Jerusalem. The Church mediated between mother and son and concessions were made and accepted. A year later saw Melisende and Baldwin completely reconciled and the new King showed that he had an even greater respect for his mother since the civil war. King Baldwin realized that he had very few trustworthy advisors and so from 1154 on, Melisende was seen once more, serving as Regent for her son who was often away on military campaigns.
Queen Melisende was a great patroness of the Church and throughout her entire life, she had their support. Two of her greatest accomplishments were founding the large convent of St. Lazarus at Bethany, where her younger sister, Ioveta presided as abbess and commissioning the Melisende Psalter. She also is reported to have given great sums to several of the various hospitals and churches in her realm.
Melisende had what apparently appeared to be a stroke sometime in 1161; it severely impacted her memory and she no longer possessed the necessary faculties to handle state affairs. Her two sisters, the abbess from Bethany and the countess of Tripoli came to nurse her shortly before she died on September 11, 1161. She was buried next to her mother Morphia.
One can best sum up Melisende’s reign with these two quotes from William of Tyre, “she was a very wise woman, fully experienced in almost all affairs of state business, who completely triumphed over the handicap of her sex so she could take charge of important affairs...", and, "striving to emulate the glory of the best princes, (Melisende) ruled the kingdom with such ability that she was rightly considered to have equaled her predecessors in that regard."
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions.” Proverbs 31, verses 25-26