Melisende, a daughter of a Frank (King Baldwin II) and an Armenian (Morphia), was born in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1105 CE.
In 1131, she became joint ruler of Jerusalem, along with her husband, Fulk V of Anjou. Why they co-ruled is a bit of a mystery. Some sources say Fulk was brought to Jerusalem specifically to marry Melisende; he was promised the throne on Baldwin’s death. However, Baldwin changed the wording: Fulk must share the crown with Melisende. Other sources suggest that Baldwin made it clear he wanted Melisende to rule; Fulk insisted that he be named joint ruler.
When he ascended the throne in 1131, Fulk did his best to keep his wife out of the picture, ignoring her and her claims. Rumors of an affair between Melisende and Hugh II, Fulk’s rival, led to war between wife and husband in 1135. Melisende and her forces won.
Her victory meant she was now allowed to attend inner-circle meetings, she was able to promote the arts, and she founded the Abbey of St. Lazarus at Bethany. She also funded hospitals and churches. While she remained co-ruler in name, she was finally able to exercise her full power.
Baldwin III was born (1130) one year before Baldwin II died (1131); before his death, the king made his daughter the guardian of his grandson, her son – at the time, guardianship usually went to the father, not the mother.
Again, there are several ways to interpret what happened next. Baldwin III reached his majority in 1145, but Melisende continued to rule. Baldwin III might have complained to the High Court on his own, or mother and son might have approached them together.
The kingdom was divided: Melisende received the south and Baldwin the north. Unfortunately, war broke out between the two forces; Melisende had the experience, but Baldwin had the right. His forces prevailed, but Melisende became his advisor.
She died in 1161.
William of Tyre, a chronicler and contemporary of Melisende, described her thus:
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 equaled her predecessors in that regard.
This post originally appeared on Mirous Worlds.