Sibylla of Jerusalem

From Academic Kids

Sibylla of Jerusalem (c. 1160 - 1190) was Queen of Jerusalem from 1186 to 1190. She was the eldest daughter of Amalric I of Jerusalem and Agnes of Courtenay and sister of Baldwin IV. Her grandmother Queen Melisende had provided an example of successful rule by a queen regnant earlier in the century.



Sibylla was raised by her great-aunt, the abbess Ioveta of Bethany, sister of former Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, who founded the convent of St. Lazarus in Bethany for her sister in 1138, and died there in 1163. In the convent Sibylla was taught scripture and other church traditions. Though not raised by her mother, Sibylla would later become closer with Agnes and inherit her political supporters.

Once her brother became king as Baldwin IV, she was his heir and her choice of husband was of paramount concern in the kingdom. Raymond III of Tripoli, in his capacity as regent during Baldwin's minority (and beyond, as the king spent his brief adult life dying of leprosy), arranged for Sibylla to marry William Longsword of Montferrat, the newly created count of Jaffa and Ascalon. In autumn 1176 they were married. William died by June the following year, leaving Sibylla widowed and pregnant. In the tradition of the dynasty, Sibylla named her son Baldwin.

The widowed princess remained a prize for ambitious nobles and adventurers seeking to advance themselves and take control of Jerusalem. Philip of Flanders, a distant cousin of Sibylla, arrived in 1177 and demanded to have the princess married to one of his own vassals. By marrying Sibylla to his vassal, Phillip could control the kingship of Jerusalem. The Haute Cour of Jerusalem, led by Baldwin of Ibelin, rebuffed Philip's advances. Affronted, Philip left Jerusalem to campaign in Antioch. Additionally, the Ibelin family manoeuvered to have the princess marry one of their own.

Baldwin of Ibelin certainly was among the courtiers who called upon the princess, and a relationship may have developed between them. The chronicler Ernoul wrote a romantic passage in which Baldwin was captured and imprisoned in 1179 by Saladin. According to Ernoul, Sibylla wrote to Baldwin suggesting they wed when he was released. Perhaps knowing of the relationship between the princess and his prisoner, Saladin demanded a large ransom, which Baldwin himself could not pay, although Saladin did release Baldwin on security. Once released, Baldwin went to the court of the Byzantine emperor. There he received a grant from Emperor Manuel, the emperor previously receiving confirmation from his niece, the dowager queen Maria Comnena, of the likelihood of the Sibylla-Baldwin match. According to Bernard Hamilton, it could be assumed the emperor was investing in the future good-will of the king-consort of Sibylla.

All these plans were wrecked however, when on Easter, 1180, Raymond III of Tripoli (the former regent) and Bohemund III of Antioch entered the kingdom with the intent of choosing a husband for Sibylla themselves.

Baldwin IV's reign

Agnes of Courtenay, now back at court, advised her son to have Sibylla married to the newly-arrived Frankish knight Guy of Lusignan, her client, brother of her personal constable, Amalric of Lusignan (who was said to be her lover). Guy offered Agnes his loyalty; in exchange Agnes promoted his interests. By this Agnes hoped to foil any attempt by Raymond and Bohemund, her political rivals, from marrying her daughter into the rival court faction, led by the Ibelins. At any rate, Baldwin of Ibelin was himself still in Constantinople. With pressure mounting to have to have the Heir Presumptive wed, the marrage was hastily arranged.

Sibylla bore her new husband two daughters, Alice and Maria. Initially Baldwin IV vested much authority in Guy, appointing him his regent during times of his own incapacitation. But within a year the king was offended and enraged by Guy's behaviour as regent. Guy overlooked his favourite Raynald of Chatillon's harrassment of trade caravans between Egypt and Syria. Raynald of Chatillon threatened the accord between Jerusalem and Egypt. Baldwin IV deposed Guy as regent in 1183 and attempted to have Sibylla's marriage annulled through-out 1184. Though her husband was in disgrace for his behaviour as regent, it does not seem that Sibylla herself was held in disfavour.

The king was unsuccessful in his attempt to annul the marriage and therefore he decided to alter the succession: Baldwin V, Sibylla's infant son from her first marriage was placed in precedence over Sibylla, and a process decreed to choose the monarch afterwards between her and her half-sister Isabella, who despite being younger, was at that point was considered equally entitled to succeed. Sibylla herself though was not excluded from the succession. Guy had become very unpopular and the king could not let him have even an indirect influence in government. Agnes advanced the compromise that would place Baldwin V above Sibylla in the order of succession, with Raymond III of Tripoli acting as regent for Baldwin V.

Throughout these internal political conflicts, an even greater external threat was on the horizon: Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria. The kingdom had managed to maintain peace with Saladin until Raynald of Chatillon's attacks on the caravans in 1182. Meanwhile, Agnes died at her estates in Acre, sometime in 1184. Baldwin IV himself expired by early 1185, leaving Sibylla's son as king and Raymond as regent. Baldwin V, never a healthy child, died by early 1186, leaving Sibylla as one of his heirs. Initially, the compromise of 1183 allowed for the Haute Cour and the kings of England, France, and Germany to choose the next monarch, Sibylla or her half-sister Isabella. The oppositional faction resurrected the pretext that Sibylla's parents' marriage was null and questioned her legitimacy as heiress. But this position was not universally subscribed to. Had Sibylla not been married to Guy she might have succeded with less dispute.


Sibylla attended her son's funeral, arranged by her uncle Joscelin III of Courtenay. With her was an armed escort, with which she garrisoned Jerusalem. There were the provisions of the late Baldwin IV's will to be followed. Raymond III, who was jealous to protect his own influence and his political ally, the dowager queen Maria Comnena, was making arrangements to summon the Haute Cour when Sibylla was crowned queen by Patriarch Heraclius. Raynald of Chatillon gained popular support for Sibylla by affirming that she was "li plus apareissanz et plus dreis heis dou romoame". It was widely held, despite the irregularity of legitimization of children from null marriage, that following the precedent of Melisende, and as the elder daughter of King Amalric, Sibylla had the best claim to the throne. With the clear support of the church Sibylla was undisputed sovereign, as Isabella did not make an overt claim.

Sibylla was crowned alone, as sole Queen. Before her crowning Sibylla agreed with oppositional court members that she would annul her own marriage to please them, as long as she would be given free choice in her next husband. The leaders of the Haute Cour agreed, and Sibylla was crowned thereafter. To the astonishment of the court, Sibylla took Guy as her "new" husband. Bernard Hamilton wrote "there could be no doubt after the ceremony that Guy only held the crown matrimonial."

Though unpopular at court, Guy still maintained much influence with the Knights Templar, a fighting force much in need given Saladin's invasion. Humphrey IV of Toron, princess Isabella's husband, disassociated himself from the Ibelins and swore fealty to Sibylla, wrecking their plans to hold a rival coronation for Isabella. Many of the opposition barons soon followed suite.

Sibylla's reign

Sibylla had shown great cunning and political prowess in her dealings with the members of the opposition faction. She inherited her mother's factional supporters, the Courtenay family (the former dynasty of the County of Edessa) and their allies and vassals, while her rivals were led by the Ibelin family and the dowager queen in Nablus.

Queen Sibylla's chief concern was to check the progress of Saladin's armies as they advanced into the kingdom. Guy and Raymond were dispatched to the front with the entire fighting strength of the kingdom, but their inability to cooperate was fatal, and Saladin routed them at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. Guy was among the prisoners. The dowager queen joined her step-daughter in Jerusalem as Saladin's army advanced. By September, 1187, Saladin was besieging the Holy City, and the queen personally led the defense, along with Patriarch Heraclius and Balian of Ibelin, who had survived Hattin. Jerusalem capitulated on October 2, and Sibylla was permitted to escape to Tripoli with her daughters.


Guy was released from his imprisonment in Damascus in 1188, when Saladin realized that returning him would cause strife in the crusader camp and that Guy was a less-capable leader than certain others who now held sway. The queen joined him when they marched on Tyre in 1189, the only city in the kingdom that had not fallen. Conrad of Montferrat, brother of Sibylla's first husband William, had taken charge of the city's defenses, and denied them entrance, refusing to recognize Guy's claim to the remnant of the kingdom, as Guy had lost the battle of Hattin. After about a month spent outside the city's walls, the queen followed Guy when he led a vanguard of the newly arrived Third Crusade against Muslim-held Acre, desiring to make that town the seat of kingdom. Guy besieged the town for two years.

There, during the standstill in July or August, possibly July 25, 1190, Sibylla died of an epidemic which was sweeping through the military camp. Her two infant daughters had also died of the same epidemic some days earlier. (Acre was afterwards conquered in July 1191, mostly by troops brought by Philip II of France and Richard I of England.)

Bernard Hamilton wrote "had Sibylla lived in more peaceful times she would have excercised a great deal of power since her husband's authority patently derived from her," and that only the conquest by Saladin brought her rule to a speedy end.

A largely fictionalized version of Sibylla is played by Eva Green in the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven.


  • Bernard Hamilton, "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem", in Medieval Women, edited by Derek Baker. Ecclesiatical History Society, 1978.

Preceded by:
Baldwin V
Queen of Jerusalem
(with Guy)
Succeeded by:
disputed, 1190-1192
(claimed by Guy;
legal successor was Isabella)

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