Armenian Queens of Jerusalem
www.peopleofar.com: It’s no secret that the Armenian kingdom in Cilicia was instrumental for the Crusades. The Crusaders were welcomed in Armenia perhaps more than in any other place at the time. Pope Gregory XIII in his Ecclesia Romana attested to this by writing:
“Among the good deeds which the Armenian people has done towards the church and the Christian world, it should especially be stressed that, in those times when the Christian princes and the warriors went to retake the Holy Land, no people or nation, with the same enthusiasm, joy and faith came to their aid as the Armenians did, who supplied the Crusaders with horses, provision and guidance. The Armenians assisted these warriors with their utter courage and loyalty during the Holy wars.”
However, even more fascinating is the fact that during the 200 years of the existence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem most of the Queens of the kingdom were of Armenian decent. In fact, all of the 5 reigning Queens and 4 out of the 6 Queen consort (wives of kings of Jerusalem) had Armenian ancestry, either fully or in part. Many of them were highly influential in the country’s history, having ruled as regents for their minor children and heirs, as well has having a great influence over their spouses.
Let’s examine them in more detail.
Arda of Armenia (early 12th. c. AD)
Arda was the daughter of an Armenian noble named Thathoul (or Thoros), the lord of Marash, and the first queen consort of Jerusalem from 1100 to 1105 AD. Her name is unrecorded in contemporary sources, but since the 17th century she has been traditionally called Arda. She married Baldwin of Boulogne, one of the leaders of the First Crusade, who by the aid of her father became the first Count of Edessa (Armenian Urha, Urfa), a crusader state carved out of Armenian territory in Mesopotamia. When Crusaders first conquered Jerusalem under leadership of Godfrey of Bouillon, his brother Baldwin became the first king of the kingdom of Jerusalem and thus Arda became the first queen consort of Jerusalem.
Morphia of Melitene (? – 1126 AD)
Morphia was the daughter of an Armenian Prince named Gabriel (or Khoril, in Armenian), the ruler of the city of Melitene (modern Malatya). She married a crusader knight Baldwin II who became the count of Edessa after 1100. Baldwin and Morphia had four daughters: Melisende, Alice, Hodierna, and Ioveta. The family lived in Edessa until 1118, when her spouse was elected as the King of Jerusalem as successor of his cousin Baldwin I. It is said that Baldwin II deeply loved his wife Morphia and as a mark of his love for his wife, Baldwin II had postponed his coronation until Christmas Day 1119 so that Morphia and his daughters could travel to Jerusalem, and so that Morphia could be crowned alongside him as his queen.
For her part, Morphia did not interfere in the day to day politics of Jerusalem, but demonstrated her ability to take charge of affairs when events warranted it. When Baldwin was captured during a campaign in 1123, Morphia hired a band of Armenian mercenaries to discover where her husband was being held prisoner, and in 1124 Morphia took a leading part in the negotiations with Baldwin’s captors to have him released, including traveling to Syria herself. Eventually Baldwin and other nobles were rescued by fifty Armenian soldiers, who disguised themselves as merchants and infiltrated the fortress where the prisoners were kept. They killed the guards and freed the hostages. Morphia was probably partially responsible for the Armenian cultural influences that appeared in the kingdom of Jerusalem. Art from the kingdom, such as the Melisende Psalter, often shows a mixture of eastern and western styles.
Morphia died 1st October 1126 or 1127 AD and was buried at the abbey of St. Mary Josaphat, just outside of Jerusalem. With no male heir, Baldwin II designated Melisende, his oldest daughter, as his heir, and married her to Fulk V of Anjou. Two of their other daughters also married influential crusader lords: Alice married Bohemund II of Antioch, and Hodierna married Raymond II of Tripoli. Ioveta became a nun.
Melisende Queen of Jerusalem (1105 – 1161 AD)
Melisende was the eldest daughter of the above mentioned Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene and Baldwin II of Jerusalem. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Melisende of Montlhéry, wife of Hugh I, Count of Rethel. As mentioned above she had three younger sisters: Alice, princess of Antioch; Hodierna, countess of Tripoli; and Ioveta, abbess of St. Lazarus in Bethany.
Melisende married Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Main, a renownedly rich crusader and military commander. According to some historians Fulk’s wealth, connections, and influence made him as powerful as the King of France at the time. Melisende and Fulk had a son together in 1130, the future heir Baldwin III. Fulk’s power and wealth made Baldwin II (the father of Melisende) slightly wary about the future of his heir and he made sure that Melisende would rule after him as reigning Queen of Jerusalem. Baldwin II held a coronation ceremony investing the kingship of Jerusalem jointing between his daughter, his grandson Baldwin III, and with Fulk. Strengthening her position, Baldwin II designated Melisende as sole guardian for the young Baldwin, excluding Fulk. When Baldwin II died the next year in 1131, Melisende and Fulk ascended to the throne as joint rulers.
Contemporary author William of Tyre wrote of Melisende’s right to rule following the death of her father that:
“the rule of the kingdom remained in the power of the lady queen Melisende, a queen beloved by God, to whom it passed by hereditary right.”
Baldwin’s fears materialized when after his death Fulk with the aid of his powerful crusader knights openly challenged Melisende’s authority and even accused her of infidelity. The locals and the nobles however were on the side of Melisende as they came to love and admire their queen. Melisende and Fulk grew estranged as Fulk attempted to acquire all the power of the kingdom. Contemporary sources, such as William of Tyre, discount the alleged infidelity of Melisende and instead point out that Fulk overly favoured newly arrived Frankish crusaders from Anjou over the native nobility of the kingdom. Had Melisende been guilty the Church and nobility likely would not have later rallied to her cause.
Fulk even tried to assassinate Melisende’s supporters. This was reason enough for the queen’s party to openly challenge Fulk, as Fulk’s unfounded assertions of infidelity was a public affront that would damage Melisende’s position entirely. Through what amounted to a palace coup, the queen’s supporters overcame Fulk, and from 1135 onwards Fulk’s influence rapidly deteriorated. One historian wrote that Fulk’s supporters “went in terror of their lives” in the palace. William of Tyre wrote that after this Fulk “did not attempt to take the initiative, even in trivial matters, without [Melisende’s] knowledge”. Husband and wife reconciled by 1136 and a second son, Amalric, was born. When Fulk was killed in a hunting accident in 1143, Melisende publicly and privately mourned for him.
Melisende was no mere regent-queen for her son Baldwin III, but a queen regnant, reigning by right of hereditary and civil law. She reigned as a Queen of Jerusalem from 1131 to 1153, and regent for her son between 1153 and 1161 while he was on campaign. She was universally recognized as an exceptional steward for her kingdom, and her rule had been characterized as a wise one by church leaders and other contemporaries.
William of Tyre, writing on Melisende’s 30-year reign, wrote that:
“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…”,
“striving to emulate the glory of the best princes, Melisende ruled the kingdom with such ability that she was rightly considered to have equalled her predecessors in that regard.”
Melisende was known to be a generous patroness of the church and arts. She founded the large convent of St. Lazarus in Bethany where her younger sister Ioveta would rule as abbess. In keeping with a royal abbey, Melisende granted the convent the fertile plains of Jericho. The famous Melisende Psalter was given to her sometime between 1131 and 1143. It was notably different from western illuminated manuscripts in it’s style more indicative of her Armenian heritage.
Melisende died of old age and was buried next to her mother Morphia in the shrine of Our Lady of Josaphat.
Agnes of Courtenay (1136 – 1184 AD)
Agnes of Courtenay also known as Agnes of Edessa was the daughter of Joscelin II of Courtenay son of princess Beatrice of Armenia (daughter of Constantine I of Armenia) and one of the leading Frankish lords of Outremer, Joscelin I of Edessa. She became the Queen of Jerusalem by her marriage to Amalric of Jerusalem son of the above mentioned Queen Melisende.
Agnes was first married to Reynald of Marash at a very early age, but he was killed at the Battle of Inab in 1149, when she was no more than 15. They had had no children. Then she became engaged to Hugh of Ibelin, but Hugh was captured in battle with the Muslims in 1157. In 1157, Amalric, Count of Jaffa and Ascalon – the heir apparent of his brother King Baldwin III, married her, after forcibly abducting her, according to theLignages d’Outremer.
Agnes bore Amalric three children, Sibylla (b. c. 1158-1160), Baldwin IV (b. 1161), and Alix or Alice, who died in childhood. Agnes and Amalric made their home in the royal court, where Queen Melisende acted as regent for her son Baldwin III while he was on campaign.
Soon after, their marriage had to be annulled because Amalric and Agnes were related through a common great grandfather, which is against the Christian tradition. However her children remained heirs to the throne. Amalric later married Maria Komnene, another Queen with Armenian ancestry (reed bellow).
Agnes attempted to remarry Hugh of Ibelin, but he died during a pilgrimage. She eventually married for the forth time to Reginald of Sidon in 1170. Agnes died in the spring of 1184 in her castle at Jaffa.
Maria Komnene Queen of Jerusalem (1154 – 1217 AD)
Maria was the daughter of John Doukas Komnenos, a Byzantine military governor in Cyprus, and Maria Taronitissa, a descendant of the ancient Armenian kings from Taron. She married King Amalric I of Jerusalem after his marriage to Agnes of Courtenay had been annulled. They had a daughter, Isabella, in 1172, and a stillborn child in 1173. Amalric was King of Jerusalem from 1163, and Count of Jaffa and Ascalon before his accession. As mentioned above, Amalric was the second son of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem. The marriage of Amalric and Maria was celebrated with much fanfare at Tyre, on 29 August 1167.
Almaric died in 1174 and on his deathbed he left Nablus (city in the Kingdom of Jerusalem) to Maria, who became Dowager Queen upon his death.
In 1177, Maria married secondly with Balian of Ibelin, who commanded the defense of Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187. She bore him at least four children:
- Helvis of Ibelin, who married (1) Reginald of Sidon (widower of Agnes of Courtenay), and (2) Guy of Montfort
- John of Ibelin, Lord of Beirut and constable of Jerusalem, who married Helvis of Nephin, then Melisende of Arsur
- Margaret, who married (1) Hugh of Tiberias (stepson of Raymond III of Tripoli), and (2) Walter III of Caesarea
- Philip of Ibelin, bailli (regent) of Cyprus, who married Alice of Montbéliard.
Maria’s sister Theodora married Prince Bohemund III of Antioch, and her brother Alexios was briefly, in 1185, a pretender to the throne of the Byzantine Empire.
Sibylla Queen of Jerusalem (1160 – 1190 AD)
Sibylla was the daughter of the above mentioned King Amalric I of Jerusalem and his first wife the above mentioned Agnes of Courtenay. Thus, her Armenian ancestry is traced both through her paternal lineage through Amalric the grandson of the Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene and her maternal lineage through Agnes of Courtenay the granddaughter of the Armenian princess Beatrice of Armenia.
Sibylla was raised by her great-aunt, the Abbess Ioveta of Bethany, sister of former Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, who founded the convent of St. Lazarus in Bethany for her sister in 1128, and died there in 1163. In the convent Sibylla was taught scripture and other church traditions. Sibylla married William Longsword of Montferrat, eldest son of the Marquess William V of Montferrat, and a cousin of Louis VII of France and of Frederick Barbarossa. William died the following year, leaving Sibylla pregnant. In the tradition of the dynasty, Sibylla named her son Baldwin. Sibylla did not remarry until 1180 when she married Guy of Lusignan. Sibylla bore Guy two daughters, Alice and Maria.
Sibylla was crowned queen by Patriarch Eraclius and she was crowned alone, as sole Queen. Before her crowning Sibylla agreed with oppositional court members that she would annul her own marriage to please them, as long as she would be given free rein to choose her next husband. The leaders of the oppositional court agreed, and Sibylla was crowned forthwith. To their astonishment, Sibylla immediately announced that she chose Guy as her husband, and crowned him.
Of Queen Sibylla’s right to rule, Bernard Hamilton wrote:
“there is no real doubt, following the precedent of Melisende, that Sibylla, as the elder daughter of King Amalric, had the best claim to the throne; equally, there could be no doubt after the ceremony that Guy only held the crown matrimonial.”
Sibylla had shown great cunning and political prowess in her dealings with the members of the opposition faction. Her chief concern was to check the progress of Saladin’s armies as they advanced into the kingdom. Guy and Raymond were dispatched to the front with the entire fighting strength of the kingdom, but their inability to cooperate was fatal, and Saladin routed them at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. Guy was among the prisoners. The dowager queen joined her stepdaughter in Jerusalem as Saladin’s army advanced. By September 1187, Saladin was besieging the Holy City, and Sibylla personally led the defense, along with Patriarch Eraclius and Balian of Ibelin, who had survived Hattin. Jerusalem capitulated on October 2, and Sibylla was permitted to escape to Tripoli with her daughters.
Guy was released from his imprisonment in Damascus in 1188, when Saladin realized that returning him would cause strife in the crusader camp and that Guy was a less capable leader than certain others who now held sway. The queen joined him when they marched on Tyre in 1189, the only city in the kingdom that had not fallen. Conrad of Montferrat, brother of Sibylla’s first husband William, had taken charge of the city’s defences. However, he denied them entrance, refusing to recognise Guy’s claim to the remnant of the kingdom, and asserting his own claim to hold it until the arrival of the kings from Europe (in accordance with Baldwin IV’s will). After about a month spent outside the city’s walls, the queen followed Guy when he led a vanguard of the newly arrived Third Crusade against Muslim-held Acre, desiring to make that town the seat of kingdom. Guy besieged the town for two years.
There, during the stalemate in July or August, possibly July 25, 1190, Sibylla died in an epidemic which was sweeping through the military camp. Her two young daughters had also died some days earlier. Acre was afterwards conquered in July 1191, mostly by troops brought by Philip II of France and Richard I of England.
Bernard Hamilton wrote:
“had Sibylla lived in more peaceful times she would have exercised a great deal of power since her husband’s authority patently derived from her”,
and that only the conquest by Saladin brought her rule to a speedy end. Her legal successor was her half-sister Isabella, but Guy refused to relinquish his crown until an election in 1192.
Sibylla was played by Eva Green in the Hollywood movie “Kingdom of Heaven“.
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