Melisende was born in 1105 in Edessa (modern-day Turkey) to the future Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Morphia of Melitene. Her father was elected King of Jerusalem in 1118. Baldwin and Morphia had four daughters, of whom Melisende was the eldest. Though Baldwin had been encouraged to set aside Morphia to make a better political marriage and perhaps father a male heir, he refused and even postponed his coronation so Morphia and their daughters could be there. She was recognised as his heir during his reign, and she was raised as a capable successor. Baldwin turned to his ally France to find a suitable husband for Melisende, and Louis VI recommended Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Main. Fulk was already a father by his first marriage. His son, Geoffrey of Anjou, was married to Empress Matilda, the designated heir of Henry I of England. The age difference was considerable; he was around 16 years older than Melisende. They nevertheless married on 2 June 1129.
She bore a son and heir in 1130, the future Baldwin III. Her father would die the following year, and Melisende and Fulk ascended the throne as joint rulers. She bore a second son in 1136, but the marriage was already turning sour. Fulk was not popular, and his efforts to undermine Melisende’s authority by claiming she was having an affair cost him his own political power. He died in a hunting accident in 1143. Her young son succeeded him as her co-ruler, but she effectively ruled alone as she was also regent for him. It must have been a glorious moment for her.
Her relationship with Baldwin was complicated. She was close to both her sons, but she was reluctant to give him any authority. Despite this, he grew up to be a capable military commander. Tensions were high in 1150 when Baldwin felt he could take on more responsibilities. Eventually, it was decided that Baldwin would rule the north of the Kingdom and Melisende the rest. Melisende still had the most support for her rule. Baldwin was not happy with this decision, and he launched an invasion into his mother’s Kingdom. Baldwin was quite successful, and with church mediation, Melisende was granted the city of Nablus for life and Baldwin solemnly promised not to ‘disturb her peace’. Despite this loss of land for Melisende, she still maintained a significant influence. Melisende and Baldwin were mostly reconciled by 1153, and he realised he needed her while he was on a military campaign.
In 1161 Melisende appeared to have had a stroke, where her memory was greatly impaired. She died on 11 September 1161 after a reign of 30 years. By William of Tyre, a contemporary, she was described as, “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 equalled her predecessors in that regard.”
Tranovich, Margaret, Melisende of Jerusalem: The World of a Forgotten Crusader Queen (Sawbridgeworth, East and West Publishing, 2011). (US & UK)
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