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Isabella of Jerusalem

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Isabella of Jerusalem (c. 11701205) was Queen of Jerusalem 1192–1205. She was the daughter of Amalric I of Jerusalem and his second wife Maria Comnena, a grandniece of Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus, who had received the town and territory of Nablus from her husband the king. Isabella grew up in the court of her mother and stepfather Balian of Ibelin, mostly in Nablus.

She was described by the poet Ambrose as "exceedingly fair and lovely". A marriage was arranged for her with the 17-year-old Humphrey IV of Toron in 1183 (the contract had been made several years earlier, as a sort of thanks to Humphrey's grandfather Humphrey II who had given his own life to save the life of the king), while Isabella was no more than 13 and perhaps as young as 11. On their wedding night the castle of Kerak was attacked by the forces of Saladin. Humphrey's mother, Stephanie of Milly, sent a message to Saladin telling him of the recent wedding and reminding him of their shared history. According to the chronicler Ernoul:

"[Stephanie] sent to Saladin bread and wine, sheep and cattle in celebration of her son's wedding, reminding him that he used to carry her in his arms when she was a child and he was a slave in the castle. And when Saladin received these gifts he was exceedingly delighted and gave thanks to those who brought them to him, asking where the bride and bridegroom were staying: their tower was pointed out to him. Thereupon Saladin gave out orders throughout his army that no attack should be directed at this tower."

Since Isabella's father's previous marriage to Agnes of Courtenay had been annulled (though he had succeeded in having his children from that marriage legitimized), Isabella was throughout her youth regarded as a potential heir to the kingdom. Her half-brother Baldwin IV was recognized unanimously as king, as he was the only male available, but the concerns of illegitimacy shadowed Isabella's half-sister Sibylla's position for the entire period. In order to prepare for the future after Baldwin IV, Isabella's mother and the baronial party took care to remind the court party of Isabella's rights.

After having become totally frustrated by Sibylla's second husband Guy of Lusignan, Baldwin IV himself also decided to remove Sibylla from the succession. His will, a compromise reached in 1183 and ratified by the Haute Cour, stated that he would be succeeded by his nephew Baldwin V, Sibylla's infant son from her first marriage, and if Baldwin V should die, the question of succession would be adjudicated by the kings of England, France, and Germany. The selection would be delayed for 10 years, during which time the kingdom would be ruled by a regent. According to this settlement, both Sibylla and Isabella were considered equally entitled to succeed.

Baldwin IV died by early 1185, leaving Sibylla's son as king and Raymond III of Tripoli as regent. Baldwin V, never a healthy child, died by early 1186. Isabella's supporters questioned Sibylla's legitimacy, due to the annullment of her parents' marriage, but this position was not universally subscribed to. Had Sibylla not been married to Guy, she might have succeeded with less contention. Now, that both Baldwin IV and Baldwin V were dead, it was easier to resurrect that legal grounds for the succession of the now 16-year-old Isabella.

The provisions of Baldwin IV's settlement were ignored. Sibylla was crowned as queen regnant in 1186, as the young Isabella and her husband Humphrey did not assert their claim. However, Sibylla died in 1190 without surviving issue, in the midst of Saladin's invasion of the kingdom and capture of everything except the stronghold of Tyre, held by Conrad of Montferrat. Under the circumstances Guy continued to use the title and demanded to be recognized as king, despite support for Isabella.

In 1192, Isabella was forced to divorce Humphrey against her will and marry the middle-aged Conrad of Montferrat. Conrad wanted the now almost vacant throne of Jerusalem, and his allies had argued that Isabella's marriage to Humphrey was invalid because she was underage at the time and had been coerced by her half-brother, Baldwin IV. Humphrey, whom Isabella liked very much, having practically grown up with him, felt himself unsuitable for kingship in such turbulent and warlike times. For these reasons and because of the violent threats he received, he consented to a divorce, which took the form of ecclesiastical annullment made by the archbishop of Pisa, the bishop of Beauvais, and the Montferrine clergy.

By virtue of his marriage to Isabella, Conrad became the closest male relative to the royal family and finally succeeded as King of Jerusalem in 1192 after a two-year interregnum during which Guy of Lusignan, despite the death of Sibylla, continued his claim. Conrad soon died under mysterious circumstances, stabbed to death by the Hashshashin, while Isabella was pregnant with the future Maria of Montferrat. She hid herself in the city of Tyre, which was both her largest city and the best defended. Help arrived in the form of Count Henry II of Champagne, a French nobleman who was the nephew of both the King of England and the King of France. It was his uncle Richard the Lion-Hearted, a close ally and friend of Humphrey, who sent him to Tyre as his representative. The people of Tyre were reportedly so taken by his youth and handsomeness that they shouted that he should marry their princess; Isabella herself encouraged the idea. King Richard preferred this marriage, despite Humphrey's protests (he was apparently still alive at that time - the precise year of his death is unknown). Henry and Isabella were married in short order, while she was still pregnant with Conrad's child. Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, a Muslim chronicler, who was present for the wedding, wrote:

"Henry of Champagne married the Marquis' wife on the same night, maintaining that he had first right to the dead man's wife. She was pregnant, but this did not prevent himself uniting himself with her, something even more disgusting than the coupling of the flesh. I asked one of their courtiers to whom paternity would be awarded and he said: "It will be the Queen's child." You see the licentiousness of these foul Unbelievers!"

Henry died in 1197 when he fell out of a window. They had two daughters, Alice (born 1196) and Philippa (born 1197). While married to Henry it was retroactively decided that her marriage to Humphrey was not in fact invalid, but as Humphrey had died in the meantime, Isabella was married for a fourth time to Amalric II of Jerusalem (also Amalric I of Cyprus), brother of Guy of Lusignan. They had two daughters, Sybilla (born 1198) and Melisende (born 1200), and one son, Amalric (1201–1205). King Amalric died in 1205, shortly before his wife and shortly after their baby son.

On her death in 1205, she was succeeded by her eldest daughter Maria of Montferrat.


Preceded by:
Sibylla d. 1190;
claimed by Guy of Lusignan, 1190–1192
Queen of Jerusalem
1192–1205
(with Conrad, 1192;
with Henry, 1192–1197;
with Amalric II, 1197–1205)
Succeeded by:
Maria

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