The Armenian Queens of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, the holy city for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, has a long and turbulent history. Among the many rulers who have claimed the city as their own, there were three remarkable women who were queens of Jerusalem in the 12th century. They were all Armenian by birth or descent, and they left a lasting mark on the culture and politics of the crusader kingdom.

Arda of Armenia

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 Arda1

She married Baldwin of Boulogne, a crusader knight who became the count of Edessa in 1098 and the king of Jerusalem in 1100. Arda accompanied her husband to Jerusalem and was crowned with him on Christmas Day 11001

However, their marriage was not happy, and Baldwin soon sought to divorce Arda on the grounds of consanguinity. He also wanted to marry a more powerful and wealthy princess, such as Adelaide of Savoy, the widow of Roger I of Sicily. Arda resisted the divorce, but Baldwin eventually forced her to enter a convent in Jerusalem, where she spent the rest of her life1

Morphia of Melitene

Morphia was the daughter of Gabriel, an Armenian prince who ruled the city of Melitene (Malatya) in northern Syria. She was an adherent of the Greek Orthodox faith, unlike most Armenians who followed the Oriental Orthodox Armenian Church2

She married Baldwin II, the cousin and successor of Baldwin I, around 1100. They had four daughters: Melisende, Alice, Hodierna, and Ioveta. Morphia brought a large dowry and a valuable alliance with her father, who helped Baldwin defend his county of Edessa from the Seljuk Turks2

In 1118, Baldwin II became the king of Jerusalem, and Morphia was crowned with him on Christmas Day 1119. She was the first woman to be crowned queen of Jerusalem, and she enjoyed a high status and respect in the kingdom. She did not interfere in the government, but she took initiative to free her husband when he was captured by the Turks in 1123. She also influenced the education and upbringing of her daughters, who became prominent figures in the crusader states2

Morphia died in 1127, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem2

Melisende of Jerusalem

Melisende was the eldest daughter of Baldwin II and Morphia, and the most famous of the Armenian queens of Jerusalem. She was born in 1105 in Edessa, and was named after her paternal grandmother, Melisende of Montlhéry. She grew up in Edessa and Jerusalem, and was raised as the heir presumptive of her father. She was associated with him in official documents, minting of money, granting of fiefs, and diplomatic correspondence. She also took precedence over other nobles and clergy in ceremonial occasions3

She married Fulk, the count of Anjou, in 1129, as part of a political alliance between Jerusalem and the Angevin dynasty. Fulk was a widower and much older than Melisende, and their marriage was not harmonious. Fulk was jealous of Melisende’s influence and popularity, and tried to exclude her from the government. Melisende, however, had the support of the Haute Cour, the royal council of the kingdom, and resisted Fulk’s attempts to sideline her3

In 1131, Baldwin II died, and Melisende and Fulk became the co-rulers of Jerusalem. They were crowned together in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and issued charters and coins in their joint names. They also had two sons: Baldwin III and Amalric I. However, the tension between them continued, and in 1134, Fulk accused Melisende’s chief adviser, Hugh II of Le Puiset, of having an affair with her. He tried to arrest Hugh, but Melisende intervened and protected him. This led to a civil war between the supporters of Melisende and Fulk, which lasted until 1136, when they reconciled with the help of the patriarch and the pope3

Melisende and Fulk ruled together until 1143, when Fulk died in a hunting accident. Melisende became the sole ruler of Jerusalem, and appointed her son Baldwin III as her co-regent. She was a capable and respected monarch, who maintained the stability and prosperity of the kingdom. She also patronized the arts and sciences, and founded several churches and monasteries. She supported the Second Crusade, which was launched in 1147 by her cousin, Louis VII of France, and her former suitor, Conrad III of Germany. However, the crusade was a failure, and the crusaders blamed Melisende for not providing enough assistance3

In 1152, Baldwin III, who was 18 years old, demanded more power and autonomy from his mother. He rebelled against her, and started another civil war. Melisende was defeated, and had to surrender Jerusalem to her son. She retained the control of Nablus and the northern part of the kingdom, and continued to be involved in the affairs of the state. She reconciled with Baldwin III in 1153, and helped him to capture Ascalon, the last major Muslim stronghold in Palestine3

Melisende died in 1161, and was buried in the underground Gouysn Mariam Armenian Church, next to the Garden of Gethsemane. She was mourned by her son and her subjects, who remembered her as a wise and pious queen3


The Armenian queens of Jerusalem were remarkable women who played a significant role in the history of the crusader kingdom. They were not only the wives and mothers of kings, but also the rulers and patrons of the realm. They faced many challenges and conflicts, but they also contributed to the culture and prosperity of the kingdom. They left a legacy that is still visible in the monuments and relics of Jerusalem.


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