The Women Rulers Whose Reigns Reshaped the Medieval Middle East

Katherine Pangonis in Smithsonian:

In 1152, a curious scene unfolded outside the Tower of David in Jerusalem, beside the Jaffa Gate. The city’s king, a young man in his 20s, had assembled a regiment of siege engines that he used to hurl burning wood and slabs of stone at the citadel of his own capital. His onslaught was relentless. As contemporary chronicler William of Tyre wrote, “so incessant were the attacks that the besieged were denied any chance to rest.”

The king was Baldwin III, and his target—cowering but defiant, barricaded in the historic tower—was Jerusalem’s queen, a woman in her 50s with a will of iron: Melisende, Baldwin’s own mother.

When her son lined up his siege engines to attack her, Melisende was fighting to keep the throne she had held for over 20 years. Curious as the scene may have been—a Christian mother and son at open war over Jerusalem—the real wonder was how this conflict had not come sooner. Baldwin had been of ruling age for seven years but had so far failed to seize the throne from his mother, who had been ruling Jerusalem singlehandedly since the death of his father, King Fulk, nine years prior. Even before her husband’s death in 1143, Melisende had ruled as queen regnant of Jerusalem. Fulk never made a decision without her consent (at least, not after the early days of their joint rule).

More here.