Sibylla, queen of Jerusalem, reigned from 1186-1190. She was a woman of passion and love, and she lived during a tumultuous time.

She became the heir after the deaths of the male heirs in her family, and so she succeeded to the throne. Read more to find out what makes her tale and fate tragic.

Who Is Sibylla of Jerusalem?

Sibylla was the reigning queen of Jerusalem from 1186-1190. She was born in 1160 as the princess of Jerusalem, with her father being Amalric I, King of Jerusalem. She was the only daughter of Amalric’s wife Agnes de Courtenay, and she was Amalric’s eldest daughter. Not only was her father the king but his other titles and lands included Count of Jaffa and Ascalon.

Her brother was King Baldwin IV, who became king after their father died in 1174. However, poor young Baldwin IV contracted leprosy at the tender age of 13, so it was important that Sibylla marry and marry quickly to make sure that the family line would continue if King Baldwin IV were to die.

She was married off quickly to a man named William, who she had a son with, but things took a twist of intrigue when it was found out that Sibylla had taken a lover as well.

Her husband eventually died as did her brother, and things began to take a turn as Jerusalem tried to figure out who would rule next. Sibylla’s is a tale of love, deception, and betrayal.

She wanted to fight for control of her state, but at the same time, she was dedicated to a man who might not have been that good after all. She died of a disease at only age 30.

Sibylla and Growing Up: The Rearing of a Princess of Jerusalem

Since Sibylla of Jerusalem was born such a long time ago, there is some debate about the actual year of her birth. What we do know is that it was somewhere between 1157 and 1161. Her brother Baldwin was born in 1161, so it’s likely that she was not born in the same year. When she was born, her father was not yet king, as his father King Baldwin III was still reigning.

He died in 1163, and the government pressed Amalric I to annul his first marriage so that he could take up the role. He did so, but was able to get Pope Alexander III to accept his children as legitimate and thus become heirs to his throne. Sibylla was educated by her great aunt Ioveta. Her father remarried a woman named Maria Komnene, and they had two daughters together, only one of which survived: Isabella.

King Amalric was afraid that like his father, he would also die young. He knew that his sick son would die early as well. He needed to find a good marriage for Princess Sibylla because he viewed her as a potential heir.

The Unsuccessful Jerusalem Marriage Mart: Too Much Incest?

Just like he had feared, King Amalric died early of dysentery in 1174. The High Court now needed to decide which heir to replace him with. They had two options; one was Baldwin IV, only 13, but also sick with leprosy. They also had Sibylla, but at the time of her father’s death, she was only 15 and unmarried.

Oddly, it wasn’t just gender the High Court was opposed to. Women had come to the throne and ruled in the Kingdom of Jerusalem before. The perfect example was Sybilla’s grandmother, Queen Melisende. They thought Sybilla was just a little too young, and so they set to marry her so that her husband could take over for her brother if her brother died young.

Baldwin IV was chosen as King, but sadly, they couldn’t find a suitable husband for Sibylla at the time. The choices were either unsuitable for whatever reason, or they were too closely related. In the meantime, Count Raymond of Tripoli, a cousin, was selected to act as regent for the young, sickly king, and, whether for good or ill, he allowed Agnes, their mother, to return to court.

Marriage to a Strange Man, the Beginning of Queen Sibylla’s Sad Tale

Because Baldwin IV’s health quickly went downhill, Count Raymond hurried to find a proper husband for the princess. He, along with the High Court, decided upon William Longsword, related to the King of France and the Roman Emperor. It was a good match, in political and noble terms. He arrived in 1176, but some of the leaders didn’t care for him and were considering not choosing him for her husband.

However, they knew that time was of the essence, and if they didn’t find Queen Sybilla a husband in time, other candidates might not wish to marry her. They married in November of that year.

There was some thought that Baldwin IV might have abdicated so that William could take over, but William would have refused. He knew that he was unpopular, and now, Sibylla had to focus on begetting an heir, and she was only around 16.

Sibylla, Her Child and Her Not-so-Bad Husband

We don’t know too much about if their marriage was a happy one or not, but Sibylla did become pregnant very soon after they were married. William then became ill about six months into their marriage, and in 1177, he was dead.

Sibylla was now freed from her husband and had a son, whom she named Baldwin. But even though William was not that popular, he wasn’t all that bad, according to one description.

The writer of Jerusalem’s history at the time, William of Tyre, described William as a tall and good-looking young man who was brave but quick-tempered. He was known to be a heavy drinker and loved to partake of food in excess. William was also seen as a generous man, and it is believed that he and Sybilla had a good relationship with each other.

Even though Sibylla didn’t have a terrible time in marriage, losing a husband meant some freedom to her. However, it was time once more for another husband to be found.

Sibylla Might Have Been Growing Eager for the Crown

She had done her duty by marrying and producing an heir, so Sibylla began to move with her brother in public spaces and ceremonies. It was becoming more and more evident that she was the heir presumptive, but the High Court continued to try to find her a husband, and they finally selected Hugh III of Burgundy.

Hugh III agreed, and in 1180, he made plans to sail to Jerusalem to take his bride. Growing war with Saladin, a ruler who led a Muslim force against the Crusaders, prevented Hugh III from getting to Jerusalem. There was also war in France which meant he could not leave. Nevertheless, the High Court and Count Raymond had another man in mind for Sibylla: Baldwin of Ibelin.

It was not approved by Baldwin IV, but Count Raymond and the High Court wanted to create a coup to marry Sibylla off and then force Baldwin IV to abdicate. Before they could succeed, Baldwin IV and his mother convinced Sibylla to take a new husband instead, Guy de Lusignan. They married in 1180 and she had four children with him. Both of them were seen in public acts with Baldwin IV, showing their obvious plan to take over when Baldwin died.

Sibylla, the Crown, and the End of a Sad Tale

Baldwin IV’s health was getting worse, so there was a lot of discussion about who would take over. Sibylla wanted to rule along with Guy, but he was not very popular among Jerusalem’s leaders. War was going on during all this time, and Jerusalem was fighting to escape Saldin’s forces. Baldwin IV decided that his nephew, Baldwin V, was to take over when he died.

Baldwin IV did die in 1185, and Baldwin V, still a child, was set to rule. But the young boy himself died in 1186, and after much debate, the High Court agreed that Sibylla had the greatest claim to the throne.

They did not want Guy to rule, however, so they offered her the crown if she would release herself from their marriage. She agreed under a few conditions, one of them being that she would be allowed to choose her own husband.

The Court and the regent agreed. When it came time for her accession, however, she took the crown and chose Guy, putting a crown on his head as well. The leaders were shocked but had no choice but to accept, so he ruled the Kingdom with her controlling the way things went. War continued, but Saladin eventually imprisoned Guy and besieged Jerusalem.

The Death of Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem

Sibylla was allowed to visit Guy once he was freed in 1188, but the war continued. Guy launched a siege at Acre in 1189, but she, along with many of her family members, died in the Crusader’s camp. An epidemic had been spreading, and she succumbed to it in 1190. People thought Guy might have killed her instead, but he didn’t gain the throne after her death.

It went to her half-sister Isabella, and thus, Sibylla’s story ended.


Take a look at the main points covered in the article above about Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem:

  • Born around 1160, Sibylla was born into a royal family. She was likely considered as an heir presumptive
  • She was married off when it was realized that her brother was dying of leprosy and would end his reign young
  • Her husband died early, but she had borne an heir before he did
  • She married again to a man who was considered her lover, and she had a great affection for him, wanting him to rule with her
  • When her brother died, her son took over, but her son died as well
  • She tricked the Court into making her husband the king
  • She ruled along with her husband from 1186-1190
  • Saladin, the Muslim ruler fighting to take over Jerusalem, fought against them for years
  • While they were fighting against Saladin in a siege, Sibylla died of disease at the young age of 30. Her half-sister Isabella took over the throne

It is always refreshing to hear tales about a woman ruling over a Kingdom, and, in this case, using her skills to trick the court into agreeing to let her rule along with the man she loved.

Sometimes she was described as fickle, but could that not simply be men writing women?

Tragically, she died young, and her dear husband did not even get the chance to rule in her stead.

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