Sybil of Jerusalem

Miniature of Sibylla and Guy outside of Tyre (1295). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Catherine Capel

Sybil of Jerusalem was queen regnant of Jerusalem from 1186-1190. Although Sibyl’s reign only spanned four years, she saw her fair share of strife as queen.

She was born in 1161 and was the eldest daughter of Amalric, King of Jerusalem, which made her the granddaughter of Melisende of Jerusalem, and his first wife Agnes of Courtenay, although her parents’ marriage was annulled due to consanguinity when Amalric claimed the throne in 1163. His second wife, Maria Comnena, was the mother of Sibyl’s siblings Baldwin IV and Isabella, both of whom would claim the throne. Sibyl was educated at the convent of Bethany under the care of her father’s aunt abbess Yveta, sister to Melisende of Jerusalem.

The road to being queen was not a simple one for Sibyl. Baldwin IV, Sibyl’s younger brother, contracted leprosy at a young age which made it clear that it was unlikely that he would marry and have children. Therefore, Sibyl and her half-sister Isabella were looked to as his heirs. As the eldest, Sibyl was the primary choice for the position which meant that her marriage was of the utmost importance. Sibyl married her first husband, William Longsword of Montefrat, in 1177 but he died five months later and did not live to see the birth of his son Baldwin the following year. She married her second husband, Guy of Lusignan, in 1180 but his increasing unpopularity amongst the nobility caused Baldwin IV to overlook Sibyl for succession and instead name her son Baldwin as heir. When Baldwin IV died in 1184, the infant Baldwin V, under the care of regent Raymond of Tripoli, was crowned. The young king did not live much longer than his uncle and upon his death, his mother Sibyl claimed the throne alongside her husband.

The main event in Sibyls short reign was the conflict against Saladin, king of Egypt and Damascus. Guy was captured at Hattin in 1187 whilst fighting and Sibyl led the resistance at the city of Ascalon. A surrender was organised with the agreement that Guy would be released, although Saladin never followed through with his side of the bargain. Sibyl continued to defend the city but after continuous bombardment was unable to stand against Saladin. She fled and was eventually reunited with Guy in Arwad from where they embarked to Antioch and Tripoli, building their army as they went. In 1190, Sybil and her daughters died at Acre and Guy, with no claim to the throne, was deposed.   

Recommended Reading

Bernard Hamilton, “Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem (1100-1190),” Studies in Church History Subsidia 1 (1978): 143-174

Helen J. Nicholson, “‘La roine preude femme et bonne damme’: Queen Sibyl of Jerusalem (1186-90),” The Haskins Society Journal 15 (2004): 110-124

Helen J. Nicholson, Sybil, Queen of Jerusalem, 1186–1190 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022)

Sarah Lambert, “Queen or Consort: Rulership and Politics in the Latin East, 1118-1228,” in Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe: Proceedings of a Conference Held at King’s College London, April 1995, ed., Anne J. Duggan, 153-169 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1997)

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