Maria Komnene, Queen of Jerusalem

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Maria Komnene
Detail of a 13th-century French miniature
Queen consort of Jerusalem
Tenure29 August 1167 – 11 July 1174
Bornc. 1154
Died1217 (aged 62–63)
SpouseAmalric of Jerusalem
Balian of Ibelin
IssueIsabella I of Jerusalem
Helvis of Ibelin
John of Ibelin, the Old Lord of Beirut
Margaret of Tiberias
Philip of Ibelin
HouseKomnenos dynasty
FatherJohn Doukas Komnenos
MotherMaria Tarontinissa

Maria Komnene (Greek: Μαρία Κομνηνή; c. 1154 – 1217), Latinized Comnena, was the queen of Jerusalem from 1167 until 1174 as the second wife of King Amalric. She occupied a central position in the Kingdom of Jerusalem for twenty years, earning a reputation for intrigue and ruthlessness.

Maria was a grandniece of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. Her marriage to Amalric in 1167 served to establish an alliance between the Byzantine Empire and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. When Amalric died in 1174, the crown passed to Maria's stepson, Baldwin IV, and she withdrew with her daughter, Isabella, to the city of Nablus, which she was to rule as queen dowager. Due to Baldwin's leprosy, Maria's stepdaughter, Sibylla, and daughter, Isabella, were regarded as potential successors. Maria married the lord of Ibelin, Balian, in 1177, with whom she had four more children.

From 1180, Maria was one of the leaders of the faction opposing Sibylla and her husband Guy of Lusignan. Baldwin IV died in 1185, leaving Sibylla's son, Baldwin V, as king. When Baldwin V died the next year, Maria and her party planned to crown her daughter Isabella and son-in-law Humphrey IV of Toron, but Humphrey submitted to Sibylla and Guy, who thus solidified their hold on the kingdom. The Egyptian ruler Saladin invaded in 1187, capturing Jerusalem and most of the kingdom. Sibylla died in 1190 while Guy was retaking Acre, and his opponents asserted that his reign had thus ended and that Maria's daughter Isabella was the rightful heir. Maria had Isabella's marriage to Humphrey annulled so that the new queen could marry the more capable candidate, Conrad of Montferrat. Maria died in the reign of her great-granddaughter Isabella II, having outlived all her allies and adversaries.


Maria was the daughter of the Byzantine protosebastos John Doukas Komnenos and Maria Taronitissa, and grandniece of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos.[1] The Byzantine Empire was a Greek Orthodox state[2] that claimed suzerainty over the crusader states in the Levant.[3] Nearly all of the Christian peasants in the Kingdom of Jerusalem belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church, but the ruling class, the Franks, were Roman Catholics.[4] The crusader states were constantly threatened by neighbouring Muslim powers.[5]

Maria's cousin Theodora Komnene was queen of Jerusalem as the wife of King Baldwin III.[6] Their marriage was childless, and he was succeeded upon his death in 1163 by his brother, Amalric.[7] Amalric was forced by the High Court of Jerusalem to agree to an annulment of his marriage to Agnes of Courtenay, but he successfully appealed to Pope Alexander III to have their children, Sibylla and Baldwin, declared legitimate.[8]


13th-century depiction of Maria and Amalric riding with entourage

Wishing to restore alliance with the powerful Byzantine Empire,[9] King Amalric took his vassals' advice and sent his butler, Odo of St Amand, and the archbishop of Caesarea, Ernesius, as envoys to Emperor Manuel.[10][11] Negotiations for Amalric's marriage with one of the emperor's relatives lasted two years. Maria was eventually selected and sent to the Levant.[1] She landed with the butler and the archbishop at Tyre in August. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Amalric of Nesle, celebrated her marriage to the king at the Cathedral of Tyre on 29 August 1167.[12] Historian Bernard Hamilton concludes that the new queen was neither particularly attractive, as not even her supporters flattered her, nor endowed with an impressive dowry, as her cousin Theodora had been.[1]

Maria and her household represented Byzantine interests in the crusader states,[13] but like Theodora in Baldwin III's reign, she had no influence on the government as queen. Mindful of the power enjoyed by their mother and predecessor, Queen Melisende, King Amalric and his brother were keen to avoid sharing authority with their wives. Maria was also disadvantaged by having no son.[14] A daughter who died in infancy was likely born to the queen in 1171.[15] The royal couple's only surviving child was Isabella, born in 1172.[14] There was little affection in the relationship between the queen and her stepson, Baldwin. She proved markedly ambitious, and probably resented Baldwin's precedence over her own progeny in the line of succession.[16] The lack of a son in the royal marriage became troubling as suspicion grew that Baldwin had contracted leprosy, which used to be an incurable and much stigmatised illness.[14]


Death of King Amalric as depicted in the 13th century

Maria's husband, Amalric, came down with dysentery in June 1174.[17] On his deathbed, he granted the city of Nablus, formerly held by his mother, to Maria to be held in fief as dower.[14] He died on 11 July.[17] Maria may have taken part in the ensuing discussion about succession to the throne.[18] Having no other son, Amalric was succeeded by 13-year-old Baldwin, who had not yet been formally diagnosed with leprosy.[19] Despite ominous symptoms, he was seen as a better candidate than his slightly older sister, Sibylla, because she was a girl and unmarried. The claim of Maria's daughter, Isabella, was unviable because she was only two years old.[20]

Diplomatic role[edit]

Maria found herself in an unusual situation after Amalric's death; she was the queen dowager, but the new king, Baldwin IV, had a living mother, Agnes of Courtenay.[14] She thus had no right to rule the kingdom as regent for the underage monarch.[21] Having no role at court, Maria retired from public life with her daughter.[14] When Count Raymond III of Tripoli assumed regency, Agnes returned to court.[22] Soon after his accession it became clear that Baldwin was indeed afflicted with leprosy,[23] meaning that he could not father an heir.[24] Amalric's daughters, Sibylla and Isabella, therefore became crucial figures.[24]

After reaching the age of majority in 1176, Baldwin started planning an invasion of Egypt, ruled by the Muslim sultan Saladin,[25] who had encircled the crusader states during Raymond's regency.[26] Baldwin sought the help of Manuel, who wanted a Byzantine protectorate in the crusader states in return. Having retired from public life, Maria could not be relied upon to act as the emperor's representative in Jerusalem, and so Manuel proposed the restoration of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem instead.[13]

Baldwin's cousin Count Philip I of Flanders arrived in Jerusalem in 1177[27] and was tasked by his liege, King Louis VII of France, with discussing a Franco-Byzantine alliance with Emperor Manuel on his way back to Europe.[28] Philip was expected to assist in the Egyptian campaign, but prevaricated when he realized that he would not be granted sovereignty over conquered territory.[29] In 1178 he visited his aunt Maria in Nablus to seek her advice about the Byzantine court. The queen dowager must have been in contact with the Byzantines in the Levant and aware of their intention to cancel the expedition due to their allies' failure to cooperate. It is likely she who explained to Philip that the High Court would pin the blame on him, thereby damaging his standing with Manuel.[30] Philip quickly announced his readiness to assist, but the Byzantines doubted his sincerity and broke off the alliance.[31]

Ibelin alliance[edit]

Seal of Balian of Ibelin

In late 1177, Queen Maria married Balian of Ibelin. The match may have been a consolation prize to the House of Ibelin, as Balian's brother Baldwin had been denied marriage to Maria's stepdaughter, Sibylla, who was heir presumptive to the throne. The acquisition of Maria's fief of Nablus made the Ibelin brothers the most powerful noblemen in the kingdom after Count Raymond III of Tripoli; Nablus commanded twice as many knights as Balian's lordships of Ibelin and Mirabel.[32] Their union was happy and Maria played a great role in Balian's politics.[33] They had four children: Helvis, John, Margaret, and Philip.[34] Remarriage ended any possibility that Maria might manage the king's court; the role was assumed by Agnes, whose influence over Sibylla and Baldwin steadily increased.[35]

Maria's brother-in-law Baldwin of Ibelin was captured by Saladin in 1179. It is probably she who informed her granduncle Manuel about the scheme to have Baldwin marry Sibylla, prompting the Byzantine emperor to pay his extortionate ransom.[36] Sibylla was instead married to Guy of Lusignan in early 1180, leading to a rift among the nobility. Guy had the support of the king, the king's mother and maternal family, and the lord of Oultrejordain, Raynald of Châtillon, while the opposing faction consisted of the queen dowager, the Ibelin brothers, Count Raymond III of Tripoli, and Prince Bohemond III of Antioch.[37] In October, King Baldwin arranged the betrothal of his half-sister Isabella, Maria's daughter, to Raynald's stepson, Humphrey IV of Toron. This served to prevent the faction of the Ibelins from using her as a pawn in a dynastic conflict. Isabella was sent to live at Kerak Castle with Humphrey's mother, Stephanie of Milly, who prevented her from visiting Maria at Nablus.[38]

Muslim threat[edit]

Kerak Castle

Isabella and Humphrey's wedding was held at Kerak in late 1183. Maria attended despite being a personal enemy of the groom's stepfather, Raynald. Extravagant festivities were cut short by news of the approach of the Muslim army under Saladin.[39] The sultan had heard about the gathering and carefully planned his attack to increase the odds of obtaining valuable prisoners. It is probably from Maria, wife of his patron, that the chronicler Ernoul derives his account of the siege of Kerak.[40] According to him, Humphrey's mother sent dishes from the wedding banquet to Saladin in return for his promise not to bombard the newlywed's lodgings.[41] King Baldwin had meanwhile fallen out with Guy; he disinherited him and Sibylla, had Sibylla's son, Baldwin V, crowned as co-king,[42] and led his army to the relief of Kerak.[43]

In 1184, Saladin again besieged Kerak and once more fled before Baldwin IV's army.[44] Knowing that all the king's troops were at Kerak, he attacked Nablus between 8 and 10 September. As Balian was at Kerak too, it was presumably Maria who conducted the defence. The city was unwalled and she could do nothing to prevent Saladin from sacking it, but no Franks were killed because she took the entire population inside the citadel.[45]

Succession dispute[edit]

Death of Baldwin IV, Baldwin V carried by Balian, and Raymond's assumption of regency as depicted in Acre in the 13th century

Completely disabled due to leprosy, Baldwin IV lay on his deathbed in early 1185. He arranged for Sibylla's son, Baldwin V, to undergo a crown-wearing ceremony after which Balian expressed his family's support by carrying the boy to banquet on his shoulders.[46] The High Court awarded regency to Raymond of Tripoli. Raymond demanded that, in the case of Baldwin V's death, the decision of whether the crown should pass to "Sibylla, who was the daughter of Countess Agnes" or "Isabella, who was the daughter of Queen Maria", would be made by the pope, the Holy Roman emperor, and the kings of England and France.[47] Baldwin died after the barons promised to uphold this condition.[48]

Baldwin V died in mid-1186. Sibylla hurried to Jerusalem to claim the throne. She and her supporters secured most of the royal domain while Raymond summoned the High Court to Nablus. The meeting was attended by Maria, Isabella, Humphrey, the Ibelins, and likely Raymond's stepsons.[49] When news of Sibylla and Guy's coronation in Jerusalem reached them, Raymond suggested crowning Isabella and Humphrey as rival monarchs.[50] The argument that Isabella had a better claim than Sibylla because she was born in their father's reign while Sibylla had been born earlier probably came from Maria and the Byzantine tradition of porphyrogeniture.[51] Humphrey was unwilling to cause a civil war, however, and foiled the plan by sneaking out of Nablus and submitting to Sibylla.[52] The rest of the nobility convened in Nablus then arrived to submit as well, except Baldwin of Ibelin and Raymond.[53]

Third Crusade[edit]

Saladin took advantage of the discord between the nobles. He invaded the kingdom in April 1187[54] and won the Battle of Hattin on 4 July, which proved to be decisive.[55] King Guy was captured, Lord Raynald executed, and Count Raymond died of an illness soon afterwards.[56] Queen Maria and her children left Nablus and joined her stepdaughter, Queen Sibylla, in Jerusalem.[57] After besieging the capital, Saladin arranged for Maria, her children, household, and possessions to be escorted to Tyre.[58] Jerusalem fell on 2 October.[59] Maria reunited with Sibylla in Tripoli. Guy, who was released in 1188, he decided to besiege Acre. The queens, Balian, Isabella, and Humphrey accompanied him, and the Third Crusade ensued.[60]

The Kingdom of Jerusalem without Jerusalem, as reconstituted in 1192

Unity appeared to have been restored during the crusade until Sibylla and her daughters died of an epidemic in mid-1190.[60] Isabella was Sibylla's heir, but Guy attempted to retain the throne.[61] The unpopularity of her husband, Humphrey, weakened Isabella's chances of supplanting Guy. Humphrey had alienated Guy's opponents by refusing to oppose him in 1186, while Maria had not forgiven him for his role in separating her from Isabella.[61] Maria immediately allied with Conrad of Montferrat, the leader of the defence of Tyre, who desired the kingship.[60] With her party, which included Balian, Reynald of Sidon, and Pagan II of Haifa, she abducted her daughter from her tent next to Humphrey's.[62] Isabella was happy with Humphrey, and Maria had to browbeat her into agreeing to have their marriage annulled,[60] arguing that her succession rights could not otherwise be enforced.[63] Maria then stated before the papal legate, Archbishop Ubaldo Lanfranchi of Pisa, and the bishop of Beauvais, Philip of Dreux,[64] that Isabella had been forced by Baldwin IV to marry Humphrey and that she was underage at the time.[60] Isabella was subsequently crowned and married to Conrad.[34]

Last years[edit]

The Third Crusade brought the reconquest of a strip of coast from Jaffa to Tyre in 1192,[65] but the kingdom remained without Jerusalem itself.[66] Balian died in 1194 and Maria did not remarry again. She retained an active role in family affairs.[34] Isabella I married twice more and died in 1205.[65] Maria's native Byzantine state, which had ceased to be a great power in the 1180s, was all but destroyed in the Fourth Crusade, while the Kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to a rump state centred in Acre; yet, Maria's influence only increased.[9]

In 1208 Maria arranged the marriage of Isabella I's daughter Alice of Champagne to King Hugh I of Cyprus. Having outlived all the principal figures of Christian-ruled Jerusalem, Maria may have provided valuable recollections of the kingdom's laws and customs to her son John. She died in mid-1217, in the reign of her great-granddaughter Isabella II. All the kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus and much of the 13th-century nobility of both Cyprus and the mainland kingdom descended from her.[34]


A very hostile source, the Itinerarium Regis Ricardi, describes Maria as being "steeped in Greek filth from the cradle",[67] and says that the character of her husband Balian "matched her own":

Where he was savage, she was godless; where he was shallow-minded, she was fickle; where he was treacherous, she was scheming.[35]

Maria was resilient and adaptable, which enabled her to thrive politically in spite of unfavourable circumstances. Like her mother-in-law Melisende and rival Agnes, Maria desired power, but Hamilton notes that she differed from them in being interested more in practical matters than in appearances and thus worked to acquire power in "more devious" ways.[9] Her opponents described her as ruthless and scheming, and Hamilton concludes that "there was some truth" in their view.[34]


  1. ^ a b c Hamilton 1978, p. 161.
  2. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 50.
  3. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 31.
  4. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 49.
  5. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 54.
  6. ^ Hamilton 1978, pp. 159, 161.
  7. ^ Hamilton 1978, p. 159.
  8. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 26.
  9. ^ a b c Hamilton 1978, p. 174.
  10. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 370.
  11. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 36.
  12. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 377.
  13. ^ a b Hamilton 2005, p. 113.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Hamilton 1978, p. 163.
  15. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 404, 443.
  16. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 27.
  17. ^ a b Hamilton 2005, p. 32.
  18. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 35.
  19. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 38.
  20. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 40.
  21. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 84.
  22. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 95.
  23. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 100.
  24. ^ a b Hodgson 2007, p. 78.
  25. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 111.
  26. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 106.
  27. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 414.
  28. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 121.
  29. ^ Hamilton 2005, pp. 127–128.
  30. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 129.
  31. ^ Hamilton 2005, pp. 129–130.
  32. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 139.
  33. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 404.
  34. ^ a b c d e Hamilton 1978, p. 173.
  35. ^ a b Hamilton 1978, p. 165.
  36. ^ Hamilton 1978, p. 166.
  37. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 158.
  38. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 161.
  39. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 440.
  40. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 192.
  41. ^ Hamilton 2005, pp. 192–193.
  42. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 194.
  43. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 196.
  44. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 202.
  45. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 203.
  46. ^ Hamilton 2005, pp. 208–209.
  47. ^ Hamilton 2005, pp. 206–207.
  48. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 220.
  49. ^ Hamilton 2005, pp. 217–218.
  50. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 221.
  51. ^ Riley-Smith 1973, p. 108.
  52. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 448.
  53. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 222.
  54. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 227.
  55. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 230.
  56. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 231.
  57. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 172.
  58. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 463.
  59. ^ Runciman 1952, p. 465.
  60. ^ a b c d e Hamilton 1978, p. 172.
  61. ^ a b Riley-Smith 1973, p. 114.
  62. ^ Riley-Smith 1973, p. 115.
  63. ^ Hodgson 2007, p. 188.
  64. ^ Runciman 1954, pp. 22, 35.
  65. ^ a b Hamilton 2005, p. 232.
  66. ^ Hamilton 2005, p. 234.
  67. ^ Hodgson 2007, p. 189.


  • Hamilton, Bernard (1978). "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem". In Baker, Derek (ed.). Medieval Women. Ecclesiastical History Society. ISBN 978-0631192602.
  • Hamilton, Bernard (2005). The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521017473.
  • Hodgson, Natasha R. (2007). Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narrative. Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1843833321.
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan (1973). The feudal nobility and the kingdom of Jerusalem, 1147 - 1277. Macmillan.
  • Runciman, Steven (1952). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East, 1100–1187. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0241298768.
  • Runciman, Steven (1954). A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades. Vol. 3. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-06163-6.
Royal titles
Title last held by
Theodora Komnene
Queen consort of Jerusalem
Title next held by
Elisabeth of Bavaria