[Coronation of Melisende of Jerusalem (and Fulk), 13th century, source: Wikimedia Commons]
She could not, however, rule alone and by her father’s arrangement she married Fulk of Anjou, an ambitious man who apparently only agreed if he were given sole rule of Jerusalem on the king’s death. Baldwin agreed but later reconsidered, perhaps fearing that Fulk would set Melisende and her children aside. In 1131, when he was on his deathbed, he committed the kingdom equally to Fulk, Melisende, and their nearly two-year-old son Baldwin.
Things were not harmonious between Melisende and her husband. Fulk resented her power and tried to keep her out of the government. Three years after the couple took the throne, Fulk accused his wife of adultery with her cousin Hugh of Jaffa,* perhaps as a preliminary to eventually repudiating her. Few believed him. When someone attempted to assassinate Hugh, many assumed it was at Fulk’s instigation and shifted their allegiance to Melisende. Fulk dared not try and exclude her from politics again.**
[Coronation of Melisende and Baldwin, 13th century, source: Wikimedia Commons]
The rest of Melisende’s reign would be characterized by instability and the question of whether she was Queen in her own right as her father’s heir or Queen-regent for her son. She continued to rule alone after said son came of age and only relinquished some of her power in 1152, when the 24-year-old Baldwin forced the issue. At first they divided the kingdom, with Baldwin ruling the north and Melisende the south, but the young king was not satisfied and invaded his mother’s territories, wresting control from her and leaving her to retire to Nablus.
Though she no longer ruled officially, Melisende remained involved in her son’s government, making treaties, arranging marriages, and supporting candidates for bishoprics. In 1161 she suffered a stroke. She died later that year with two of her sisters at her side.
*Hugh would have been king if the law excluded women from the succession entirely.
**It has been speculated that the Melisende Psalter was given by Fulk to his wife as an attempt to appease her, calculated to appeal to both her love of books and her piety.
***And with it came Eleanor of Aquitaine. One wonders how the two women got along, especially considering they were both their father’s heirs. It is also worth noting for the sake of comparison that Eleanor’s future mother-in-law and Fulk’s daughter-in-law was Empress Matilda, another female heir to political power, though in her case the throne was denied her by her cousin and his wife.
Hodgson, Natasha R. Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narative. Boydell Press, 2007.
Ciggaar, Krijna Nelly and Herman G. B. Teule. East and West in the Crusader States. Peeters Publishers, 2003.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A History. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.
Melisende of Jerusalem - Wikipedia