Sharan Newman began writing Defending the City of God as a biography of Melisende, the first hereditary queen of Jerusalem, but expanded it to include the lives of her parents, siblings, in-laws, more distant relatives, their enemies and the ‘many diverse peoples who lived in the Near East’. It’s a complex story and one that in Newman’s hands left me as baffled as a six-year-old in a sex education lesson. What on earth is going on?
It seems Melisende was born around 1105 in the city of Edessa (in what is modern Turkey). She was the daughter of a French crusader king, Baldwin of Le Bourq, who ruled the city, and an Armenian noblewoman whose father was killed by Muslims and eaten by dogs. Much happens