The carved ivory cover to The Melisende Psalter. The medallions depict a king in Byzantine dress enacting the six acts of mercy. Produced in Jerusalem, c.1131–43. British Library.
50 British Museum Magazine Winter 2021
revolt. He was dragged back to Jerusalem to await trial and punishment.
Public opinion was sympathetic to Hugh, however, and the punishment settled on him was the very lenient sentence of three years’ exile. As Hugh awaited a ship to carry him away, playing dice on the Street of the Furriers in Jerusalem, an unknown knight leapt forward from the crowds and ran him through. The man was caught and brought to justice, and while he claimed to have acted of his own accord with the aim of winning favour with the king, it remained a PR disaster for Fulk. Queen Melisende’s rage at the attack on her cousin, and his subsequent death in exile, knew no bounds. She terrorised Fulk and his supporters and they fled from court. When provoked, she showed that she was a force to be reckoned with: she exploited the opportunity this scandal provided, and rather than be ousted from the throne she manoeuvred herself to its centre.
In so provoking Melisende, Fulk had bitten off more than he could chew. As a peace offering to his wrathful wife, he commissioned the exquisite, ivory-bound manuscript known as The Melisende Psalter. This remarkable manuscript not only stands as testament to the piety and artistic tastes of Melisende, but also to the many different cultures co-existing in medieval Jerusalem, combining the work of at least six different artists and fusing elements of Frankish, Greek, Islamic, Anglo-Saxon and Armenian design. From that day forward, Melisende was the dominant partner in their relationship. Her influence was so great that she continued to rule long after Fulk’s death and well into the adulthood of her son. Her reign would last 22 years, and it was under her leadership that the Kingdom of Jerusalem would reach its greatest territorial extent. Melisende of Jerusalem represents just one example of an aristocratic woman in the medieval Middle East finding opportunities to seize power. The unique instability and near constant state of crisis created a political environment in which nobleborn women could be propelled to prominence and wield real power. Life