Baldwin’s Feminist Daughters

I’ve described King Baldwin II as a family man, the fact that sets him apart from the other First Crusaders. Coming with the Boulogne brothers as a landless knight, he had inherited Edessa and immediately married Morphia, the heiress of Melitene. When Baldwin came back from his Mosul years as a hostage, their first daughter Melisende was about four years old. Morphia had two more daughters in Edessa, and one more in Jerusalem. Baldwin’s four girls became some of the most edgy women in medieval history.

Let’s start with the youngest, who was born in 1120. She was known as Ioveta (or Yvette) of Bethany, and she became a nun. That sounds dull enough, but wait, there’s more. When little Ioveta was three, she was sent to be a hostage in Shaizar, Syria in exchange for her father’s release after he lost a battle. She stayed there for two years! Can you imagine handing over a toddler as a hostage? When Ioveta was returned, her sisters must have doted on her; in spite of the fifteen years the four girls spanned, they were close all their lives. Melisende the oldest founded a convent at the Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany, and Ioveta became its abbess. She educated Melisende’s granddaughter, future Queen Sibylla, and she was at Melisende’s deathbed. And Ioveta is the most submissive, least interesting daughter.

Alice and Hodierna were born in Edessa around 1110 and 1112, the only two close in age. They would have been about eight and six when their father became King of Jerusalem. It seems likely that one reason Queen Morphia sent little Ioveta to be the hostage was that the older girls were already in marriage negotiations, which could take several years and were usually planned well in advance. It’s possible that her hostage years ruined Ioveta’s marriage prospects, leading to her vocation as a nun.

We know almost nothing about Queen Morphia, except that her family followed Greek Orthodox tradition while being Armenian, and she adopted Roman Catholicism on marriage. We can read in her biography that her husband loved her, since she was not set aside when she bore only girls. Historians of the time said that not only did he angrily reject suggestions of divorce, he delayed his coronation until Morphia could be crowned next to him. We don’t know what in her personality was so compelling, but we can see what she gave her daughters.

Morphia instilled in each one the will to rule on her own, although only Melisende could expect to inherit Jerusalem. Alice and Hodierna would be sent away to be Countesses or Princesses bearing heirs; but that’s not the way they viewed themselves. All of the older girls were willful and wanted to rule alone. They often conspired with each other, even willing to call in hits on the men who were ruining a sister’s life. They never conspired against each other. I think we can give Morphia credit for their strength because if nannies or tutors had shaped them, they would probably have had less loyalty to each other.

In 1126, Alice was married off first, because King Baldwin II was having a hard time choosing a husband for Melisende. Alice went to Antioch, where Bohemund II had just arrived, taking over for the regents who had ruled since his father’s death. Bohemund was 18, Alice about 16. ┬áKing Baldwin really hoped it would lead to Antioch’s being pulled into Jerusalem’s direct orbit and tax base.

The King of France was asked to choose a powerful vassal lord to go marry Melisende, and he chose 40 year old Fulk, Count of Anjou. Fulk had himself married young to produce heirs for Anjou, so he had a first family. His grown son Geoffrey had just married Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Geoffrey is considered the founder of the House of Plantagenet, one of England’s greatest dynasties. With two sons to rule Anjou for him, Fulk was free to leave, and the King of France may have wanted him to exit the dynastic power struggles of Europe. Melisende was about 24 and had been treated like a co-ruler with her father for a few years. They were married in 1129.

Hodierna wasn’t married off until 1137, when she became the Countess of Tripoli. Her husband was the son of the little 8 year old French Princess who had been sent to marry Tancred! How time flies when it’s all history to us.

And they all lived happily ever after in flowy dresses of silk. Well, the dresses of silk part is true…but their actual stories take some telling.

This entry was posted in Crusades, Women. Bookmark the permalink.