Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem

Sibylla (French: "Sibylle", c. 1160–1190) (name sometimes spelled as "Sybilla") was the Countess of Jaffa and Ascalon from 1176 and Queen of Jerusalem from 1186 to 1190. She was the eldest daughter of King Amalric of Jerusalem and Lady Agnes de Courtenay, sister of King Baldwin IV and half-sister of Princess Isabella/Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem, mother of Baldwin Aleramici/Prince Baldwin/King Baldwin V of Jerusalem. Her grandmother Queen Melisende had provided an example of successful rule by a queen regnant earlier in the century.

Sibylla of Jerusalem
Queen of Jerusalem
Countess of Jaffa and Ascalon
PredecessorBaldwin V
Bornc. 1160
Kingdom of Jerusalem
SpouseWilliam Aleramici VI "The Longsword" de Montferrat
Sir Guy de Lusignan
IssueBaldwin V of Jerusalem
HouseHouse of Anjou
FatherAmalric I of Jerusalem
MotherAgnes of Courtenay


Princess Sibylla was born into the Frankish noble family of the House of Anjou (descending from Ingelger). 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 1128, and died there in 1163. In the convent Sibylla was taught scripture and other church traditions.

In 1174, her father sent Frederick de la Roche, archbishop of Tyre, on a diplomatic legation to Europe to drum up support (martial and financial) for the Crusader states, and to arrange a suitable marriage for Sibylla. As her only brother Baldwin suffered from an illness later confirmed as leprosy, Sibylla's marriage was of paramount concern. Frederick convinced Stephen I of Sancerre, a well-connected young nobleman, to come east and marry the princess. Shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem, however, Stephen changed his mind (the reason is not known) and he returned to France.

Baldwin IV's reignEdit

On their father Amalric's death, Baldwin IV became king in 1174. First Miles of Plancy, then Count Raymond de Tripoli III became regent during his minority (although Miles was never regent in title, merely function). In 1176, Baldwin and Raymond arranged for Sibylla to marry William Aleramici de Montferrat/William Aleramici "The Longsword", the eldest son of William Aleramici V, The Marquess of Montferrat and his wife Judith or Ita von Babenberg, and a cousin of Louis VII of France and of Frederick Barbarossa. Sibylla was appointed Countess of Jaffa and Ascalon (previously held by her mother Agnes), the title increasingly associated with the heir to the throne. In autumn they were married. William died by June the following year, leaving Sibylla 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 first cousin of Sibylla (his mother, Sibylla of Anjou, was her father's half-sister), arrived in 1177 and demanded to have the princess married to one of his own vassals. By marrying Sibylla to his vassal, Philip could control the kingship of Jerusalem. The High Court of Jerusalem, led by some like Sir Baldwin d'Ibelin, rebuffed Philip's advances. Affronted, Philip left Jerusalem to campaign in Antioch.

Sibylla did not remarry until 1180. Popular narrative histories have favoured an account from the 13th century, Old French Continuation of William Tyre, partly attributed to Ernoul, and associated with the Ibelin family. It claims that Sibylla was in love with Baldwin d'Ibelin, a widower over twice her age, but he was captured and imprisoned in 1179 by Saladin. She wrote to Baldwin, suggesting they wed when he was released. Saladin demanded a large ransom: Baldwin himself could not pay the ransom, but was released with the promise to pay Saladin later. Once free, Baldwin went to the Byzantine court, where he received a grant from Emperor Manuel, the emperor previously receiving confirmation from his niece, Maria Comnena, the dowager queen, of the likelihood of the Sibylla-Baldwin match. Yet Agnes de Courtenay, however though, advised her son to have Sibylla married to the newly arrived Frankish knight Sir Guy de Lusignan, brother of The Constable, Aimery de Lusignan (alleged by some like Ernoul to have been one of her lovers). By this Agnes hoped to foil any attempt by Raymond III of Tripoli (the former regent) from marrying her daughter into the rival court faction, led by the Ibelins. It claims that Baldwin of Ibelin was still in Constantinople and unable to wed Sibylla. With pressure mounting to have the Heir Presumptive wed, the marriage was hastily arranged, and Sibylla — portrayed as fickle in this account — transferred her affections to Guy de Lusignan.

Top: Baldwin IV betrothes Sibylla to Guy; Bottom: Sibylla and Guy are married. (MS of William of Tyre's Historia and Old French Continuation, painted in Acre, 13C. Bib. Nat. Française.)

This version of events is contradicted by accounts of William of Tyre and others. According to this account, a plan to marry Sibylla to Hugh III of Burgundy had broken down. At Easter 1180, Raymond of Tripoli and Bohemund III of Antioch entered the kingdom in force, with the intent of imposing a husband of their own choice, probably Baldwin of Ibelin, on Sibylla. However, a foreign match was essential to the kingdom, bringing the possibility of external military aid. Baldwin IV himself arranged the marriage to Guy, whose brother Aimery, well-regarded and able, had first come to court as Baldwin d'Ibelin's son-in-law and was now constable of Jerusalem. With the new French king Philip II a minor, Guy's status as a vassal of the King and Sibylla's first cousin Henry II of England – who owed the Pope a penitential pilgrimage — was useful in terms of offering a source of external help. Baldwin d'Ibelin was in Jerusalem at the time of Sibylla's marriage, and did not go to Constantinople until later in the year — contradicting the claims in the Old French Continuation. Also in 1180, Baldwin IV further curtailed the ambitions of the Ibelins by betrothing the eight-year-old Isabella to Humphrey IV of Toron, removing her from the control of her mother and the Ibelins, and placing her in the hands of her betrothed's family – Sir Reynald de Châtillon and his wife Lady Stephanie de Milly.

Sibylla bore Guy two daughters, Alice and Maria (their years of birth are unknown). Initially King 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, such as his having overlooked Raynald de Châtillon's harassment of trade caravans between Egypt and Syria, threatening the stop-gap accord between Jerusalem and Egypt. Baldwin IV deposed Guy as regent in 1183 and had Sibylla's son crowned co-king as Baldwin V, thereby passing over her and Guy in the succession. He also attempted to have Sibylla's marriage annulled throughout 1184. Her son was to succeed with Count Raymond de Tripoli III as regent. If King Baldwin Aleramici V were to expire during his minority, then "the other two most rightful heirs" would succeed to the regency until his maternal kinsman the King of England and paternal kinsmen the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Pope should adjudicate between the claims of Sibylla and Isabella. Though her husband was in disgrace for his behaviour as regent, it does not seem that Sibylla herself was held in disfavour.

Throughout these internal political conflicts, an even greater external threat was on the horizon: Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria, who was steadily building up his power-base in preparation for invasion. Meanwhile, Agnes died in Acre, sometime in 1184.

Baldwin V and the successionEdit

Baldwin IV died in spring 1185, leaving Sibylla's son as sole king, Raymond as regent and the boy's great-uncle Count Joscelin III of Edessa as guardian. Baldwin V's grandfather, Marquess William V of Montferrat, had also now arrived in the kingdom to give his support. However, the young king, never a healthy child, died in Acre in the summer of 1186, having reigned on his own for just over a year. Neither Sibylla's nor Isabella's party seems to have been prepared to accept the terms of Baldwin IV's will, to install a regent and wait for a decision by Baldwin V's relatives in England, France and Germany.

Joscelin and the Marquess William escorted the king's coffin to Jerusalem. Sibylla attended her son's funeral, arranged by Joscelin. For security, an armed escort garrisoned Jerusalem. Raymond III, who wanted to protect his own influence and his political allies, the dowager queen Maria Comnena and the Ibelins, went to Nablus — Maria and Balian's home — where he summoned those members of the Haute Cour who supported Isabella. Meanwhile, Sibylla was crowned queen by Patriarch Eraclius. Sir Reynald de Châtillon gained popular support for Sibylla by affirming that she was "li plus apareissanz et plus dreis heis dou roiaume" ("the most evident and rightful heir of the kingdom"), yet he and as well as Knights Templar Order Grandmaster Sir Gérard de Ridefort supported her and her husband primarily from out of adversity held by them with Count Raymond de Tripoli III, the latter from out of them having in fact a grudge against Count Raymond. Sibylla's detractors resurrected the claim that Sibylla was illegitimate and intended to hold a rival coronation for Isabella. However, in 1163 the Latin Church of Jerusalem had ruled Sibylla was a legal heir and successor to her father. Either way, Sibylla's claim held strong as the Haute Cour negotiated to recognize her as queen. Sibylla's position was further strengthened when Isabella's husband, Sir Humphrey de Toron IV, Sir Reynald's stepson, from out of not wanting to be king, had left Nablus to swear fealty to Sibylla and Guy.

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 rein to choose her next husband. (This followed the precedent of her own parents.) The leaders of the Haute Cour agreed, and Sibylla was crowned forthwith. To their astonishment, Sibylla immediately announced that she chose Guy as her husband, and she crowned him. Sir Gérard de Ridefort, according to some sources, afterwards had instantly shouted out that this would repay for "The Marriage of Botrun", which many sources including these describe as the reason for his grudge held up against Count Raymond de Tripoli III, whom many sources have long described as having promised to offer up to him whichever "heiress available for marriage", only to have failed to keep that promise, something which contributed among many things to Sir Gérard joining with The Knights' Templar Order in the first place.

Of Queen Sibylla's right to rule, Bernard Hamilton wrote "there is no real doubt, following the precedent of Melisende, that Sibylla, as the elder daughter of King Amalric, had the best claim to the throne; equally, there could be no doubt after the ceremony that Guy only held the crown matrimonial".

Sibylla's reignEdit

Sibylla had shown great cunning and political prowess in her dealings with the members of the opposition faction. She had some support from her maternal relations, the Courtenay family (the former dynasty of the County of Edessa) and their allies and vassals, while her rivals were led by Raymond of Tripoli, who had a claim to the throne in his own right, the Ibelin family and the dowager queen in Nablus on behalf of Isabella.

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 stepdaughter in Jerusalem as Saladin's army advanced. By September 1187, Saladin was besieging the Holy City, and Sibylla personally led the defence, along with Patriarch Eraclius and Sir Balian d'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. He knew 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 to Saladin's forces. They went there to seek refuge with Conrad Aleramici de Montferrat, brother of Sibylla's first husband William. Conrad had taken charge of the city's defenses. He denied them entrance because he refused to recognise Guy's claim to the throne. He reminded them that Guy had "forfeited his right to be king at The Battle of Hattin". He asserted that the matter would remain unresolved until the arrival of the kings from Europe. This had been Baldwin IV's wish. After a month outside Tripoli's walls, the queen followed Guy to Acre to join the newly arrived vanguard of the Third Crusade forces aiming to retake Muslim-held Acre. Their hope was to make Acre the new seat of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Guy besieged the town for two years (see Siege of Acre).

During the stalemate, possibly July 25, 1190, Sibylla died in an epidemic which was sweeping through the military camp. Her two young daughters had also died some days earlier. Acre was afterwards conquered in July 1191, mostly by troops brought by Philip II of France and Richard I of England.

Historian Bernard Hamilton wrote that "had Sibylla lived in more peaceful times she would have exercised 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.[1] Some proclaim that had Guy not listened to the advice of Sir Reynald de Châtillon or Sir Gerard de Ridefort, so lost at the Battle of Hattin. Sibylla's legal successor was her half-sister Isabella, who was forced to end her marriage to Humphrey of Toron and marry Conrad de Montfort, but Guy refused to relinquish his crown until an election in 1192.

In fictionEdit

Sibylla has appeared in several novels, notably Zofia Kossak-Szczucka’s “Król trędowaty” (“The Leper King”), Graham Shelby’s “The Knights of Dark Renown”, Helena P. Schrader’s “Balian d' Ibelin Trilogy”, Elizabeth Chadwick’s “Templar Silks”, Cecelia Holland's “Jerusalem”, Scott R. Rezer’s self published book “The Pawns of Sion” and Sharon Kay Penman’s book “The Land beyond The Sea”.

Kossak, Shelby and Schrader portray her in a negative fashion, the third of them depicting her as physically unattractive and prone to emotionally melodramatic outbursts with the first two of them depicting her as beautiful yet otherwise all three depict her as still petulantly stubborn and enthralled to intrigue fueled by and eventually enough doomed by her own romantic love pursuits fueled devotion to Guy de Lusignan that time and again shows to be a weakness for her due to how it pollutes her judgement. Schrader also depicts Sibylla as resentful of her stepmother Maria Comnena and half-sister and stepsister Isabella, partially so out of natural devotion as a daughter to her mother Agnes de Courtenay.

Holland makes her a heroic character for her book, but ignores her known devotion to Guy to invent a doomed romance for her with a Templar Knight. She also depicts Sibylla as highly idealistic including in her and Baldwin IV’s efforts to strive for peace with The Saracens, and furthermore with said Templar character, she catches onto the schemes to use for personal ends her husband Guy her uncle Count Joscelin, Sir Reynald de Châtillon and Templar Knighthood Order Grandmaster Sir Gérard de Ridefort, the third of whom is the top high leading primary main antagonist of Holland’s book with his name as being mistakenly spelled “Gerard de Ridford” and archenemies with said Templar character. Razer also makes her such a character for his book which takes place after his book also called “The Leper King”, the whole internal chronological storyline for each of which shows her as at first romantically in love with Guy but soon becomes estranged with him, in part after learning of his being used as a pawn by “The Order Of Sion”.

Sharon Key Penman's “The Land Beyond the Sea”, like Chadwick's “Templar Silks”, spells Sibylla's name as “Sybilla. Furthermore Penman’s book depicts her as with no ill will towards either of her stepmother nor stepsister and half-sister Maria and Isabella, though is, at first, still wishing to please her mother Agnes but grows tired and resentful of the times that Agnes - who is depicted as prone to doing so with anyone else who provokes her - verbally lashes out at her. Penman depicts her also as falling in love with Guy in part when the latter shows sympathy to her after ending up as catching onto a verbal confrontation between the former and her mother that embarrasses the former enough in front of others to take her leave from her mother, leading to the two of them discussing bits and pieces of their youth with Guy admitting himself to - as depicted in Penman’s book - quite so indeed having gone through issues of his own with his father primarily involving favouritism of Guy’s older brothers based on Guy himself being the youngest brother of them all, and the two of himself and Sibylla growing close to and falling in love in part primarily due to their ability to understand where comes from does and their sympathy for each other.

A far more fictionalized version of Sibylla is played by Eva Green in the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven. In this, she is depicted as unhappily married, and has an affair with Sir Balian d'Ibelin. In the movie, she does not want Guy to take the throne, and participates in a failed plot aimed at his murder. In the Director's Cut, it is suggested that she poisons her son, Baldwin V, to spare him from suffering from leprosy. Instead of rejoining her husband after his release, she leaves for France with Balian.


  • Hamilton, Bernard. "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem." Medieval Women, edited by Derek Baker. Ecclesiastical History Society, 1978.
  • Hamilton, Bernard. The Leper King and his Heirs. Cambridge, 2000.


  1. ^ Hamilton, Bernard (1978). "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem (1100-1190)". Studies in Church History. Subsidia. Cambridge University Press (CUP). 1: 171. doi:10.1017/s0143045900000375. ISSN 0143-0459.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Baldwin V
Queen of Jerusalem
(with Guy)
Succeeded by
disputed, 1190–1192
(claimed by Guy;
legal successor was Isabella I)