The future Isabella I of Jerusalem was born circa 1172 from her father Almaric of Jerusalem’s second marriage to Maria Kommene, a grandniece of the Byzantine emperor. She had two half-siblings from her father’s first marriage, Baldwin and Sibylla. She was just two years old when her father died, and he was succeeded by his son Baldwin. Isabella spent most her time at the court of her mother and her new stepfather Hugh of Ibelin. Baldwin suffered from leprosy, which was incurable at the time and it was expected that he would not father any children. Almaric’s marriage to Baldwin and Sibylla’s mother had been annulled, but their offspring was legitimised. If this were to be challenged, the succession would probably fall to Isabella. Baldwin himself regarded Sibylla as his heir.
The wheels of marriage were already turning for Isabella, and she was just eight years old when she was betrothed to Humphrey IV of Toron on the orders of her half-brother. They were officially married in 1183 when Isabella was 11 and Humphrey was 16 or 17.
Sibylla was suddenly removed from the succession by her brother after he disapproved of her second husband’ military conduct. Instead, her son from her first marriage was crowned co-king as Baldwin V. Baldwin IV died in early 1185 and Baldwin V became Jerusalem’s sole King. However, his health was weak, and he died the next year. Sibylla was crowned as Queen regnant, despite the weird situation of being preceded by her son. She even crowned her unpopular husband herself. Isabella’s supporters were gathering meanwhile, but her husband chose not to assert her claim, and he submitted to Guy instead.
In 1187 the Kingdom was invaded by the Sultan of Egypt, and most tragically both Sibylla and her two young daughters died in the military camp of disease in 1190. Guy refused to give up his title, although Isabella was now the Queen of Jerusalem.
Isabella’s husband, Hugh, had no great desire to be King, but Isabella’s mother realised she would need a stronger King than him. Isabella was forced to consent to an annulment on the grounds that she had been underage and forced by her half-brother. The new intended husband was Conrad of Montferrat. Humphrey eventually also consent to the annulment. Conrad was married twice before, and he was then about 45.
The marriage would not last long. Conrad was stabbed to death in April 1192 by an assassin. Isabella meanwhile was pregnant with her first child. The child was born in the summer of 1192, and she was called Maria of Montferrat.
By then Isabella was supposedly head over heels in love with Henry of Champagne, and they married while she was still pregnant. Conveniently he was a nephew of the King of England. He and Isabella would have three daughters, Marie, Alice and Philippa. Henry died in 1197 after fall out of a window. Isabella married for the fourth and last time that same year to Amalric I of Cyprus. They had two more daughters, Sybilla and Melisende and a short-lived son, Amalric. They were crowned together in Acre in January of 1198. Tragedy would strike again in 1205 when Amalric died of food poisoning shortly after the death of their son, and he was followed by Isabella four days later, of apparently unknown causes.
Isabella was succeeded by her eldest daughter Maria. Maria was just 12 years old, and she would rule for only seven years. She died of puerperal fever after giving birth to her only child, a daughter who would succeed her as Queen of Jerusalem. She was appropriately named Isabella. She was thus proclaimed Isabella II at only a few days old.
Edbury, Peter W. (ed.) The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, 1998 (UK & US)
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