Interview with Erin Jordan

Erin Jordan is Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Honors College at Ohio University. She has written numerous articles on Cistercian women and elite women’s religious patronage. She is the author of Women, Power and Religious Patronage in the Middle Ages and is currently at work on The Woman of Antioch: Gender, Power and Political Culture in the Latin East.  Her article “Corporate Monarchy in the Twelfth-Century Kingdom of Jerusalem” was published in the Royal Studies Journal, Volume 6, Issue 1.

fulko_melisenda

Coronation of Melisende and Fulk from Paris, BN MS Fr. 779, accessed via Wikimedia Commons

RSJ Blog: Hello, Erin! Thank you for talking with us! Your article on Melisende was great. How did you come to study her?

Erin: Thanks. I’m glad you liked it. I actually became interested in Melisende when I taught a course on the Crusades a few years ago. Until then, I’d studied women and authority in Western Europe, but hadn’t realized how prominent ruling women were in the Latin East. At the time, it seemed contrary to prevailing scholarly wisdom about the ability of women to exercise authority in the Middle Ages, especially in a particularly volatile region. I was hoping to figure out what was “in the water” so to speak in the Crusader States to produce so many women who believed in their right to wield power.

RSJ Blog: Your article is about corporate (or plural) monarchy and how the idea of rule by more than one royal can help us understand rulership in the kingdom of Jerusalem. Do you think corporate monarchy applies to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem for the entirety of its history?

Erin: My research on Jerusalem does not extend beyond the life of Melisende, but based on what I’ve seen in the literature, I would say no. I definitely think the model applies in the early years, but there is a distinct shift after the death of Baldwin III. King Amalric does not seem to have included his wives in governing in a way that would align with the model of corporate monarchy in place prior, nor does Baldwin IV.  There does seem to be a brief revival during the rule of Sybilla and Guy, but that doesn’t seem to survive past the death of Sybilla in spite of the fact that women continued to inherit the throne. The later queens seemed to have played a minimal role in actual governance.

RSJ Blog: Your article also mentions that corporate monarchy is especially applicable to the Latin East and the medieval Mediterranean. Why do you think this is?

Erin:  I think a corporate approach to ruling fit the medieval Mediterranean and the Latin East for a number of reasons. Monarchy in these areas faced external pressures along their frontiers that resulted in nearly constant military conflict during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Someone needed to assume responsibility for the daily business of governing during the king’s absence in the field. The type of bureaucracy that assumed such responsibilities in the West had yet to develop in the region at this stage, providing an opportunity for family members to step in and assist in governing. I also believed that corporate monarchy appealed to the dynastic ambitions of King Baldwin II, who, in the absence of a male heir, wanted to be sure that his daughter succeeded him. Providing a capable consort would increase the likelihood that the nobility of the kingdom would consent to this arrangement.

RSJ Blog: Melisende’s family sounds fascinating. Could you tell us more about her sister, Alice, who had designs on Antioch but was thwarted?

Erin: I find all four of Baldwin’s daughters fascinating, though next to Melisende, we know the most about Alice. After the death of her husband Bohemond II of Antioch, she attempted to exert control over the principality on three separate occasions. It is striking that in doing so, she was willing to challenge her own father, King Baldwin I, as well as her brother-in-law, Fulk. Unfortunately, it is difficult to piece together the exact course of events due to the limitations of the sources. The most detailed narrative account is that provided by William of Tyre, who clearly had strong feelings about her actions, dismissing her ambitious as dangerous and her actions illegitimate. Yet the support she had among other powerful nobles in the region, including the Count of Tripoli and Hugh of Le Puiset, suggests that not everyone shared William’s views.

RSJ Blog: One of your major sources is the chronicle of William of Tyre. What are your impressions of this source? Is William reliable? What are his biases?

Erin: As I indicated in reference to Alice in the previous question, William of Tyre’s narrative can be a bit tricky. The detail and insight it provides into events is obviously a strength, and explains why so many scholars rely so heavily on it in their investigations into the Latin East. However, the account is rife with his opinions and his personal sentiment which require careful navigation. Literary scholars have noted his admiration and personal affinity for Amalric, which seems to influence his presentation of Amalric’s predecessors, particularly Melisende. I do think there is an interesting gender dynamic at play, though have not spent enough time with the complete text to make any concrete determinations.

RSJ Blog: What are you working on now? Are you doing more with Melisende or moving on to someone else?

Erin:  The original plan was to write a book about all four of Baldwin’s daughters-Melisende, Alice, Hodierna and Iveta-that examined gender and female authority in the Latin East in order to explain the prominence of women in this region. Unfortunately, the sources on the four sisters are so uneven that any study I produced would have been skewed in favor of Melisende, who has already been the subject of several studies. I did publish an article on the youngest sister, Iveta, who became the abbess of Bethany and the article on Melisende that appeared in the RSJ. I have since shifted my focus North and am working on political culture in the Principality of Antioch. This book examines the experiences of four prominent women associated with the principality-Constance I, Alice, Constance II, and Maria-in order to understand the attitudes and ideas prevalent in the region that determined who was able to exercise authority. It will also examine their respective experiences in order to explain why some of them succeeded in their bid to wield power while others failed.

RSJ Blog: Thank you so much! Best of luck with your work. We look forward to reading it!

 

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