Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Deborah Gerish, Melisende Progenitrix, She-King and Queen

Memories of Queen Melisende (r. 1131–1152) offer multi-layered perceptions of her role within the kingdom. Twelfth-century sources acknowledge her as daughter of Baldwin II, heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, wife of King Fulk, mother of Baldwin III and Amalric. They also indicate her position as queen regnant in Fulk’s reign and regent for Baldwin III. Lastly, her patronage activities indicate her own understanding of rulership in the kingdom: she was more conscious of royal identity than any of her predecessors.

The proposed paper will consider where all these positions place her on a gender continuum. Was Melisende a virago, an androgynous ruler, or a stereotypically feminine queen? Did she combine all these functions? Did she or court writers choose different roles at different times, based on the needs of the moment? Kimberly LoPrete argues that medieval writers could perceive lordship as a gender-neutral occupation, whereas other scholars see queens regnant as working within the confines of feminine stereotypes. I shall explore these questions using sources about Melisende (such as William of Tyre’s chronicle and her sons’ charters) and those commissioned by Melisende (the Historia Nicaena vel Antiochena, her charters, and the Melisende Psalter). My previous research has indicated that the Melisende Psalter and the Historia Nicaena, at least, marked this woman as a stereotypically feminine queen. William of Tyre remembered her in these terms but also as a virago. I will conclude by considering the implications of William’s representation for later queens of Jerusalem.

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