Theodora Comnena (born c. 1145) was a niece of Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus, and wife of King Baldwin III of Jerusalem.
Theodora was a daughter of the sebastocrator Isaac Comnenus. Her father was a son of Emperor John II Comnenus and Piroska, daughter of King Ladislaus I of Hungary. Her paternal uncles included Manuel I Comnenus. Her sister Maria married King Stephen IV of Hungary.
Mistress of Andronicus I Comnenus
A few years later in 1166, Theodora's kinsman Andronicus, a first cousin of her father, visited the kingdom and was named lord of Beirut by Baldwin's brother and successor Amalric I. Andronicus invited Theodora to Beirut, and the two eloped to Damascus, or as William says, Andronicus abducted her in collusion with Nur ad-Din. It was likely not an abduction; Andronicus was already married, and had already had an affair with Philippa, a sister of Bohemund II of Antioch and of Manuel's wife Maria of Antioch, and he was likely trying to escape persecution by Manuel, who did not approve of these incestuous affairs. As there was no legal marriage, Acre was returned to Amalric. Amalric had also married a Byzantine princess, Maria Comnena, and the imperial alliance remained intact.
At the court of Nur ad-Din in Damascus, Andronicus and Theodora had two children together, Alexius and Irene, although Andronicus was inevitably excommunicated. They also travelled to Baghdad, and then to the Sultanate of Rüm where Andronicus was made lord of a castle in Paphlagonia.
Some years later Theodora and her children were captured and handed over to the emperor Manuel, who kept them in Constantinople as a bait to encourage Andronicus to return to his Byzantine allegiance. He did in fact capitulate and visited Constantinople in 1180 to submit to Manuel.
When he finally returned to Constantinople in 1182, becoming emperor in 1183, there is no evidence that Theodora went back to live with him. It was at this time, however, that their daughter Irene married Alexius, an illegitimate son of Manuel and of Theodora Vatatzaina. K. Varzos suggests that Theodora Comnena and Theodora Vatatzaina eventually conspired against Andronicus, but there seems to be no positive evidence of this. Her later history is not known.
Baldwin III had taken control of the Kingdom of Jerusalem from his mother and Regent Queen Melisende in 1153. He was unmarried, however, and around 1157 it was decided by the Haute Cour that a wife should be sought from the Byzantine Empire, the kingdom's most powerful and wealthy neighbour. A Byzantine alliance would hopefully also bring much-needed money and military assistance against Nur ad-Din, sultan of Syria and Jerusalem's greatest enemy.
Attard, archbishop of Nazareth, Humphrey II of Toron, constable of Jerusalem, Joscelin Piscellus, and William de Barris were sent to Constantinople to negotiate a marriage for the king (Attard died while on the mission). The ambassadors were delayed in Constantinople for almost an entire year but it was finally decided that Theodora would be chosen as Baldwin's wife. She was at the time only 12 or 13 years old, but was already renowned for her beauty. Her dowry was worth 100 000 hyperpyra, and William of Tyre estimated that her extravagant wedding clothes cost another 14 000 hyperpyra. As a dowry from Baldwin, Theodora was granted the city of Acre, which she would hold as her own should Baldwin die childless.
The ambassadors arrived in Jerusalem with Theodora in September of 1158. Aimery, the patriarch of Antioch, performed the marriage, as the patriarch of Jerusalem had not yet been consecrated. Baldwin was previously known for his frivolous lifestyle, but now became a devoted and loyal husband. The marriage was short and childless: Baldwin died only a few years later in 1162, leaving Theodora a widow at age 16. Theodora gained the city of Acre, as promised.
Another Theodora Comnena was the wife of Bohemund III of Antioch and sister of Queen Maria Comnena. A third Theodora Comnena was the wife of Henry II of Austria and mother of Leopold V of Austria.
William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, trans. E.A. Babcock and A.C. Krey. Columbia University Press, 1943.
Bernard Hamilton, "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem", in Medieval Women, edited by Derek Baker. Ecclesiatical History Society, 1978.
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, vol. II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge University Press, 1952.
O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniatēs, trans. Harry J. Magoulias. Wayne State University Press, 1984.
K. Varzos, E genealogia ton Komnenon. Thessalonica, 1984.
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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