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Melisende of Jerusalem

Title social-status: 
queen of Jerusalem
Biography: 

Melisende of Jerusalem was the daughter of Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem and Morphia of Melitene, an Armenian princess. Melisende was the oldest of four daughters; the others were Alice, princess of Antioch, Hodierna, countess of Tripoli, and Joveta, abbess of St. Lazarus at Bethany, founded by Melisende. Melisende was married to Fulk V, count of Anjou (the father of Geoffrey who married Empress Matilda, and thus the grandfather of Henry II of England). Fulk and Melisende had two sons who survived, Baldwin III and Amalric/Amaury I, who succeeded his brother. Although the marriage arrangement had made Fulk the heir to the throne, Baldwin II had acknowledged Melisende as his heir and when he died in 1131, he conferred the care of the kingdom and full power over it jointly to Fulk, Melisende and their son Baldwin, then two years old. 1. Fulk and Melisende were crowned together, but Fulk attempted to rule alone and accused his wife of an affair with a cousin, Hugh of Le Puiset. The affair was never proved, contemporaries like William of Tyre did not believe it, and Melisende had the support of local nobles against Fulk and the Franks. When an attempt was made on Hugh’s life, Fulk was blamed and was then obliged to reconcile with Melisende and to rule with her. His subsequent charters, from 1134, include her consent; Baldwin’s consent is included from 1138 when he was 8 or 9. (For the formulas of consent, see below.) Fulk died as the result of a hunting accident in 1143, leaving Melisende as queen and co-ruler with Baldwin III. They were crowned together , but she controlled the government; charters were issued jointly, but she apparently made the decisions, according to William of Tyre. (A gift made by Raymond, count of Tripoli, is made with the consent of king Baldwin III and queen Melisende, RRH #236, 1145)2. Melisende gave lavishly to the church and brought her younger son in to witness charters, all to bolster her power; she established power bases in the center and south of the country, controlling the land from Galilee to Judaea. There was tension between Melisende and Baldwin as he attempted to assert his authority, but when he was involved in a failed expedition against Damascus in 1148, he lost ground and she issued charters alone or in her name with his consent. She had her own administrative machinery as well as nobles loyal to her and when Baldwin summoned the barons to march on Antioch in 1150, hers did not go, which amounted to declaring a division of the country. The division was made official, with Melisende taking Nablus and Jerusalem, Baldwin Acre and Tyre, which she “grants” from her heritage. Baldwin claimed he needs more resources for the country and marched on Jerusalem in 1152. Melisende by then had lost much of her support, had to surrender, and was given Nablus as a kind of dowry, with her authority reduced to that of a local lord. She died on September 11, 1161. She had founded and endowed a number of religious institutions and was the recipient of the Melisende Psalter.
The charters enacted during Fulk’s reign were presumably initiated by him, so those with Melisende’s consent are briefly listed here. Those that were enacted after his death, initiated by the queen or jointly with her son Baldwin, appear in full as separate entries.
#163, dated 1136, April 13, ind. XI. Fulco, king of Jerusalem, with the consent of Melisende his wife, for the help and counsel which the citizens of Massilia gave, grants them liberty through the whole kingdom, namely street and church, and 400 besants from the revenue of Jaffa to be received annually and confirms with a seal.
#174, dated 1138, February 5, Ind.I. Fulk, king of Jerusalem, with the consent of queen Melisende, confirms with his seal concessions to a new convent.
#179, December 4. Fulk, king of Jerusalem, with the consent of his wife Melisende and son Baldwin confirms the 2 carrucatas (a carrucata is about 35 hectars) in the village of Mimas which Lambert Alsus had given to the church of the Holy Sepulchre and Peter the prior. in the presence of the king, queen and patriarch William, for the soul of his wife Agnes of Nablus.
#181, dated 1138, formula as in #179.
#200, 1140, Patrician John confirms an exchange of villages, with the consent of king Fulk, queen Melisende, and others.
#201, dated 1141, February 3, ind.IV. William, patriarch of Jerusalem confirms an agreement … with the consent of … and also king Fulk and queen Melisenda.
#210, dated 1142, Fulk, king of Jerusalem, with the consent of queen Milisende and son Baldwin …

Biographical notes: 

1. Before the marriage, Mayer notes, the document registered in RRH #121, which he dates 1129, includes the phrase “Melisende, daughter of the king, approves and consents to this” (Milissenda filia regis hoc laudat et consentit); hers was also the first name among the witnesses, “Milisenda, filia regis,” before the archbishop’s. Even after the marriage, Baldwin issued a charter “in the presence of the count of Anjou, Milissenda his daughter, and patriarch William, RRH #137, dated 1130. The information in this biography is based mainly on Hans E. Mayer, “Studies in the History of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, v.26 (1972), 95-182. For additional background, see Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades (Cambridge University, 1952), v.2. 2. The charters are registered in Regesta Regni Hierosolymitani (RRH), ed. Reinhold Rohricht (1893-1904). Full texts were published elsewhere.