Armenian Queens of Jerusalem

It’s no secret that the Armenian kingdom in Cilicia was instrumental for the Crusades. The Crusaders were welcomed in Armenia perhaps more than in any other place at the time. Pope Gregory XIII in his Ecclesia Romana attested to this by writing:

“Among the good deeds which the Armenian people has done towards the church and the Christian world, it should especially be stressed that, in those times when the Christian princes and the warriors went to retake the Holy Land, no people or nation, with the same enthusiasm, joy and faith came to their aid as the Armenians did, who supplied the Crusaders with horses, provision and guidance. The Armenians assisted these warriors with their utter courage and loyalty during the Holy wars.”

However, even more fascinating is the fact that during the 200 years of the existence of the Kingdom of Jerusalem most of the Queens of the kingdom were of Armenian decent. In fact, all of the 5 reigning Queens and 4 out of the 6 Queen consort (wives of kings of Jerusalem) had Armenian ancestry, either fully or in part. Many of them were highly influential in the country’s history, having ruled as regents for their minor children and heirs, as well as having a great influence over their spouses.

Arda of Armenia (early 12th. c. AD)

Arda was the daughter of an Armenian noble named Thathoul (or Thoros), the lord of Marash, and the first queen consort of Jerusalem from 1100 to 1105 AD. Her name is unrecorded in contemporary sources, but since the 17th century she has been traditionally called Arda. She married Baldwin of Boulogne, one of the leaders of the First Crusade, who by the aid of her father became the first Count of Edessa (Armenian Urha, Urfa), a crusader state carved out of Armenian territory in Mesopotamia. When Crusaders first conquered Jerusalem under leadership of Godfrey of Bouillon, his brother Baldwin became the first king of the kingdom of Jerusalem and thus Arda became the first queen consort of Jerusalem.

Morphia of Melitene (? – 1126 AD)

Morphia was the daughter of an Armenian Prince named Gabriel (or Khoril, in Armenian), the ruler of the city of Melitene (modern Malatya). She married a crusader knight Baldwin II who became the count of Edessa after 1100. Baldwin and Morphia had four daughters: Melisende, Alice, Hodierna, and Ioveta. The family lived in Edessa until 1118, when her spouse was elected as the King of Jerusalem as successor of his cousin Baldwin I. It is said that Baldwin II deeply loved his wife Morphia and as a mark of his love for his wife, Baldwin II had postponed his coronation until Christmas Day 1119 so that Morphia and his daughters could travel to Jerusalem, and so that Morphia could be crowned alongside him as his queen.For her part, Morphia did not interfere in the day to day politics of Jerusalem, but demonstrated her ability to take charge of affairs when events warranted it. When Baldwin was captured during a campaign in 1123, Morphia hired a band of Armenian mercenaries to discover where her husband was being held prisoner, and in 1124 Morphia took a leading part in the negotiations with Baldwin’s captors to have him released, including traveling to Syria herself. Eventually Baldwin and other nobles were rescued by fifty Armenian soldiers, who disguised themselves as merchants and infiltrated the fortress where the prisoners were kept. They killed the guards and freed the hostages.

Melisende Queen of Jerusalem (1105 – 1161 AD)

Melisende was the eldest daughter of the above mentioned Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene and Baldwin II of Jerusalem. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Melisende of Montlhéry, wife of Hugh I, Count of Rethel. As mentioned above she had three younger sisters: Alice, princess of Antioch; Hodierna, countess of Tripoli; and Ioveta, abbess of St. Lazarus in Bethany.

Melisende married Fulk V, Count of Anjou and Main, a renownedly rich crusader and military commander. According to some historians Fulk’s wealth, connections, and influence made him as powerful as the King of France at the time. Melisende and Fulk had a son together in 1130, the future heir Baldwin III. Fulk’s power and wealth made Baldwin II (the father of Melisende) slightly wary about the future of his heir and he made sure that Melisende would rule after him as reigning Queen of Jerusalem. Baldwin II held a coronation ceremony investing the kingship of Jerusalem jointing between his daughter, his grandson Baldwin III, and with Fulk. Strengthening her position, Baldwin II designated Melisende as sole guardian for the young Baldwin, excluding Fulk. When Baldwin II died the next year in 1131, Melisende and Fulk ascended to the throne as joint rulers.

Agnes of Courtenay (1136 – 1184 AD)

Agnes of Courtenay also known as Agnes of Edessa was the daughter of Joscelin II of Courtenay son of princess Beatrice of Armenia (daughter of Constantine I of Armenia) and one of the leading Frankish lords of Outremer, Joscelin I of Edessa. She became the Queen of Jerusalem by her marriage to Amalric of Jerusalem son of the above mentioned Queen Melisende.

Agnes was first married to Reynald of Marash at a very early age, but he was killed at the Battle of Inab in 1149, when she was no more than 15. They had had no children. Then she became engaged to Hugh of Ibelin, but Hugh was captured in battle with the Muslims in 1157. In 1157, Amalric, Count of Jaffa and Ascalon – the heir apparent of his brother King Baldwin III, married her, after forcibly abducting her, according to the Lignages d’Outremer.

Agnes bore Amalric three children, Sibylla (b. c. 1158-1160), Baldwin IV (b. 1161), and Alix or Alice, who died in childhood. Agnes and Amalric made their home in the royal court, where Queen Melisende acted as regent for her son Baldwin III while he was on campaign.

Soon after, their marriage had to be annulled because Amalric and Agnes were related through a common great grandfather, which is against the Christian tradition. However her children remained heirs to the throne. Amalric later married Maria Komnene, another Queen with Armenian ancestry (reed bellow).

Agnes attempted to remarry Hugh of Ibelin, but he died during a pilgrimage. She eventually married for the forth time to Reginald of Sidon in 1170. Agnes died in the spring of 1184 in her castle at Jaffa.

Maria Komnene Queen of Jerusalem (1154 – 1217 AD)

Maria was the daughter of John Doukas Komnenos, a Byzantine military governor in Cyprus, and Maria Taronitissa, a descendant of the ancient Armenian kings from Taron. She married King Amalric I of Jerusalem after his marriage to Agnes of Courtenay had been annulled. They had a daughter, Isabella, in 1172, and a stillborn child in 1173. Amalric was King of Jerusalem from 1163, and Count of Jaffa and Ascalon before his accession. As mentioned above, Amalric was the second son of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem. The marriage of Amalric and Maria was celebrated with much fanfare at Tyre, on 29 August 1167.

Almaric died in 1174 and on his deathbed he left Nablus (city in the Kingdom of Jerusalem) to Maria, who became Dowager Queen upon his death. In 1177, Maria married secondly with Balian of Ibelin, who commanded the defense of Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187. She bore him at least four children.

 Sibylla Queen of Jerusalem (1160 – 1190 AD)

Sibylla was the daughter of the above mentioned King Amalric I of Jerusalem and his first wife the above mentioned Agnes of Courtenay. Thus, her Armenian ancestry is traced both through her paternal lineage through Amalric the grandson of the Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene and her maternal lineage through Agnes of Courtenay the granddaughter of the Armenian princess Beatrice of Armenia.

Sibylla married William Longsword of Montferrat, eldest son of the Marquess William V of Montferrat, and a cousin of Louis VII of France and of Frederick Barbarossa. William died the following year, leaving Sibylla pregnant. In the tradition of the dynasty, Sibylla named her son Baldwin. Sibylla did not remarry until 1180 when she married Guy of Lusignan. Sibylla bore Guy two daughters, Alice and Maria. Sibylla was crowned queen by Patriarch Eraclius and she was crowned alone, as sole Queen. Before her crowning Sibylla agreed with oppositional court members that she would annul her own marriage to please them, as long as she would be given free rein to choose her next husband. The leaders of the oppositional court agreed, and Sibylla was crowned forthwith. To their astonishment, Sibylla immediately announced that she chose Guy as her husband, and crowned him.

Isabella I of Jerusalem (1172 – 1205 AD)

Isabella was the daughter of the above mentioned Queen Maria Komnene and King Amalric I of Jerusalem. Her Armenian ancestry can also be traced through both her maternal and paternal lineages. She had a total of seven children by her various husbands. She was Queen regnant of Jerusalem from 1190 until her death. By her four marriages, she was successively Lady of Toron, Marchioness of Montferrat, Countess of Champagne and Queen of Cyprus. In 1180, when Isabella was 8 (according to William of Tyre), she was betrothed to Humphrey IV of Toron, on the orders of her half-brother Baldwin IV, in payment of a debt of honour to Humphrey’s grandfather Humphrey II who had been mortally wounded saving the king at Banias, and to remove her from the Ibelins’ political orbit. They were married in 1183, when Humphrey was about 16 or 17 and Isabella 11. Her supporters, notably her mother Maria and Balian of Ibelin, realized that she needed a suitable king – who was not her current husband. After much political pressure her first marriage was annulled and she was married off to Conrad of Montferrat who claimed the throne of the kingdom. Conrad was later stabbed by Hashshashin (a secret order of Muslim assassins) in the street and died from his wounds. Isabella was already known to be carrying their first child – Maria of Montferrat, who later succeeded her mother as queen regnant.

Maria of Montferrat (1192 – 1212 AD) 

Maria of Montferrat (or Maria of Jerusalem) was Queen of Jerusalem, the daughter of above mentioned Isabella I of Jerusalem and Conrad of Montferrat. Maria became queen of Jerusalem, at the age of thirteen, after her mother Isabella died. The half-brother of her mother, John of Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut, acted as regent on behalf of Maria, wisely and to the satisfaction of the inhabitants of the kingdoms. Failing to conduct operations to reconquer the territories lost in 1187, he maintained the kingdom within its limits, a policy of peace with Al-Adil I, brother of Saladin, who had come to his estate by eliminating the other heirs. The regency expired in 1209, when Maria was seventeen, so the government believed it best for Maria to marry so she could secure her post as queen. The assembly of barons and prelates decided to seek advice from Philip II of France, who offered one of his followers, John of Brienne. However John was not a very rich man. To overcome his lack of fortune and to enable him to fund his sovereign obligations (court and army) King Philip and Pope Innocent III each paid him the sum of 40 000 livres. The marriage was celebrated on September 4, 1210, then the couple were crowned King and Queen of Jerusalem on October 3, 1210 in Tyre Cathedral. John continued the peace policy of John of Ibelin. In 1212, Maria of Montferrat gave birth to a daughter, Isabelle (1212–1228) or Yolande, but died shortly afterwards, probably from puerperal fever. John retained the crown but only as regent on behalf of his daughter.

Isabella II of Jerusalem (1212 – 25 April 1228)

Isabella II was born in Andria, in the southern Italian Kingdom of Sicily. She was the only child of the above mentioned Maria of Montferrat, Queen of Jerusalem, and John of Brienne.

Maria died shortly after giving birth to Isabella II in 1212, possibly by puerperal fever. Because of this, Isabella II was proclaimed Queen of Jerusalem when she was only a few days old. Because her father John did not have a direct claim to the throne, he ruled as regent.

Isabella II married to Frederick II, King of Germany and Sicily, who was heavily in support of the 5th and the 6th crusades. Isabella II was then crowned as Queen of Jerusalem.

The now crowned Queen arrived in Italy with twenty galleys sent by Frederick II to bring her with her father and married in person to Frederick II in the cathedral of Brindisi, on 9 November 1225. In the ceremony, he declared himself King of Jerusalem and immediately saw to it that his new father-in-law John of Brienne, the current regent of Jerusalem, was dispossessed and his rights transferred to him. The contemporary chronicles described the exotic wedding celebrations, which took place in the Castle of Oria, and the indignant reaction of her father John of Brienne, now without royal authority.

Despite his new capacity as King of Jerusalem, Frederick II put off his crusade, and in 1227, he was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX for failing to honour his crusading pledge.

After the wedding, Isabella was kept in seclusion by her husband. She spent her time in Frederick’s harem in Palermo. In November 1226, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter (referred to by some sources as Margaret); the baby died in August 1227. In the meantime Isabella died after giving birth to her second child, a son, Conrad, in Andria, Italy, on 25 April 1228. She is buried in Andria Cathedral. Frederick finally embarked to Jerusalem on 28 June.