Women in the Crusades
The role of Women in the Crusades is frequently viewed as limited to domestic or illicit activities. Nevertheless, significant activities, including armed combat (that were frowned upon by the church), and many women provided key roles in the battles in the Holy Land. This article first focuses on the First Crusades, identifying known participants, and then some of the more famous women of the later crusades. For a discussion of the sociological and religious aspects of the mixing of women with the generally male crusaders, the reader is referred to the referenced documents. Further information can be found in Women of the Crusader States or in the companion article Crusades.
Many women accompanied their husbands on their quest, whereas many more stayed home to act a regent for their estates. Numerous nuns accompanied the priests and bishops that travelled as part of the quests. Still others actually took up arms, an anathema to their Muslim foes. For the later crusades, many women were from the region (not Europe) and offer some interesting stories, including one of a Muslim woman, who fought the crusaders.
The story of women in the Crusades must begin with Anna Comnena, the daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. She wrote a history of the First Crusade that is highly regarded as providing a view of the campaign from the Byzantine elite’s perspective, although her work has been described as a family panegyric rather than a serious history. She, unfortunately, was exiled to a monastery before the work could be finished.
“Then the Franks, having again consulted together, expelled the women from the army, the married as well as the unmarried, lest perhaps defiled by the sordidness of riotous living should displease the Lord. These women then sought shelter for themselves in neighboring towns.”
Fulcher noted that a mass hysteria had surrounded the holy quest of the Crusades richly demonstrated by the belief that even a lowly waterfowl led by a nun [see below], had been blessed by the Holy Spirit and would lead them to Jerusalem.
Nuns of the First Crusade
A large number of nuns are believed to have travelled to the Holy Land during the Crusades, but only three are known from the First Crusade, and for only one of these do we know a name. [Note that Riley-Smith uses the term "anonyma" to refer to a woman of unknown name and this writeup does the same.]
- Anonyma, who was the religious leader of a sect which believed her goose filled with the Holy Spirit, even allowing the spirit-filled animal to direct the sect’s course. The sect was not heard of again after the goose had died. This story is reported by Fulcher and Albert of Aix. That Gulbert of Nogent suggested that the goose may then have been served as a holiday meal requires no further comment.
- Anonyma, nun of the monastery of Santa Maria and Horrea, Trier, who, as part of the People’s Crusade, was taken by the Muslims during the Battle of Civetot that devastated the force of Peter the Hermit (who, sadly, had returned to Constantinope for supplies). When she was liberated in 1097, she apparently eloped with her Turkish captor. Her name, fortunately, remains a mystery.
- Emerias, a nun of Altejas, who, following Pope Urban’s direction, went to her bishop for his blessing, which was granted, to found a hospice for the poor.
Wives of the First Crusaders
According to Riley-Smith, there were seven of the wives of the first Crusaders that accompanied their husbands to the Holy Land. An eighth participated in the 1107 battles of Bohemond of Antioch-Tatanto against the Byzantine Empire (sometimes referred to as a crusade). They were as follows.
- Godehilde, daughter of Raoul II of Tosny, Seigneur de Conches-en-Ouche, who accompanied her husband Baldwin I of Jerusalem as well as a contingent of their household. While he was marching to Cilicia, she fell ill and died in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, depriving him of the funding from her lands. He later entered into bigamous marriages with the Armenian Arda, whom he abandoned, and Adelaide del Vasto. If the rumors of his homosexuality were true, his multiple marriages were certainly for personal gain and his behavior on the crusade did not meet the accepted standards of chivalry of the time.
- Hadvide, daughter of Arnold I, Count of Chiny, who accompanied her husband Dodo of Cons, a confidant of Godfrey of Bouillon. Both Hadvide and Dodo returned from the crusade unscathed. Arnold, a conspirator against Godfrey among his many misdeeds, did not have his sons take the cross, as erroneously reported by a later count, the opportunistic Louis V. Hadvide’s support of her husband appears to be the only redeeming act of this generation of the Chiny countship.
- Elvira of Leon-Castile, illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile, who travelled, while pregnant, with her husband Raymond IV of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse. After her husband was killed at the siege of Tripoli in 1106, she gave birth to their son Alfonso Jordan, later Count of Toulouse, and then returned home to Castile. There she married Fernando Fernández de Carrión and had three additional children.
- Emeline, who travelled with her husband Fulcher (Folbert) of Bullion. No information is known on either person.
- Emma of Hereford, Countess of Norfolk, travelled with her husband Ralph I of Gael, a Breton leader first under Robert Curthose, and then with Bohemund I of Antioch during the siege of Nicaea. Ralph was a participant in the Revolt of the Earls against the rule of William the Conquerer. Emma’s parents were William Fitz-Osbern and Adeliza (daughter of Roger I of Tosny), and so was cousin to Baldwin’s wife Godehilde described above. Both Emma and her husband died enroute to Jerusalem.
- Florine of Burgundy accompanied her husband Sweyn in the First Crusade. She, a warrior like her husband, is discussed in detail below.
- Humberge of Le Puiset travelled with her husband Walo II of Chaumont-en-Vexin. Humberge was sister of the Crusader Everard III of Le Puiset, Viscount of Chartres, and daughter of Hugues “Blavons” de Bretenil and Alix de Montlhéry (daughter of Guy I of Montlhéry). Walo was killed during the Siege of Antioch in 1098, but it remains unclear as to the fate of Humberge. Their son Drogo was also prominent in the First Crusade.
- Anonyma of Lèves accompanied her husband Ralph the Red of Pont-Echanfray, in the Crusade of Bohemond of Antioch-Taranto, 1107-1108. Anonyma was the daughter of Odeline of Le Puiset and Joscelin of Lèves, and so was the cousin of Humberge of Le Puiset. Ralph had been a loyal knight of Bohemond’s father Robert Guiscard. Ralph died in the White Ship disaster of 1120.
Warrior Women of the Crusades
A number of women took the cross and battled the Muslims, some with their husbands, some without. When thinking about women as knights, only Joan of Arc, the fictional Brienne of Tarth, and perhaps the shield maiden Lagertha, wife of Ragnar Lothbrok, come to mind, but numerous royal women fought as Crusaders, and, at least one, against them. The six most prominent examples of these warriors are given below, the most famous of which is Eleanor of Aquitaine.
- Florine of Burgundy, a warrior-princess who accompanied her husband Sweyn the Crusader, Prince of Denmark in the First Crusade. Florine was the daughter of Odo I, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Sybilla (an ancestor of Marie Antoinette), while Sweyn was one of up to twenty children of Sweyn II, King of Denmark, by various concubines. Florine and Sweyn commanded a force of fifteen hundred calvary progressing across the plains of Cappadocia when they were ambushed by an overwhelming Turkish force. Both were killed along with most of their force.
- Ida of Formbach-Ratelnbert (Ida of Cham), widow of Markgraf Leopold II of Austria. During the Crusade of 1101, Ida led an army marching towards Jerusalem. They were ambushed at Heraclea Cybistra by Kilij Arslan I and, depending on the source, was either killed or carried off to his harem.
- Cecilia of Le Bourcq, Lady of Tarsus, sister of Baldwin II of Jerusalem and wife of Roger of Salerno, prince-regent of Antioch. Cecilia helped organize the defenses of Antioch in the Muslim attacks of 1119 in which her husband was killed.
- Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, daughter of Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Melisende, ruler of Jerusalem after her father’s death, sent an army to aid the Crusader state of Edessa which was under siege and eventually fell. Her pleas to Pope Eugene III for help led to the disastrous Second Crusade.
- Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen consort of the Franks. Eleanor accompanied her husband Louis VII on the Second Crusade, as the leader of the soldiers from the Duchy of Aquitaine, which included some of her royal ladies-in-waiting. The crusade accomplished little, and the disagreements on strategy between the king and queen eventually led to the annulment of their marriage. Her subsequent marriage to Henry II of England produced a son, Richard the Lionheart. After becoming king, Richard led the English contingent in the Third Crusade, with Eleanor serving as regent in his absence.
- Shajar al-Durr, Sultan (or, incorrectly, Sultana) of Egypt during the Seventh Crusade. As wife of sultan As-Salih Ayyub, who had become gravely ill, Shajar helped organize the defenses of Egypt. After the sultan’s death, the army supported her in becoming the first female sultan. Shajar’s forces defeated the leader of the crusade, Louis IX of France, at Damietta. The Caliph al-Musta'sim in Baghdad refused to allow her the throne and installed the Mamluk Izz al-Din Aybak in her place. Shajar married Aybak and ruled with him for seven years. Unsure of her position, Shajar had him murdered by her servants, and herself was stripped and beaten to death by the servants of Aybak's 15-year-old son and former wife. Thrown naked from the top of the Red Tower, she lay in the surrounding moat for three days until finally buried in a tomb near the Mosque of Ibn Tulun.
- Margaret of Provence, Queen consort of France. Margaret accompanied her husband Louis IX and sister Beatrice on the Seventh Crusade. After her husband’s capture, she led the negotiations for his release and, in fact, was the only woman to ever lead a crusade, if however briefly. Her bravery and decisiveness were chronicled by her contemporary Jean de Joinville.
Other Women of the Crusades
The stories of numerous other women who played a role in the Crusades have been documented. Here is a current list of those known at this time. All can be referenced from Volume III of Ranchman's "A History of the Crusades."
- Isabella I, Queen regent of Jerusalem during the Third Crusade
- Eudokia Angelina, first consort of Stefan the First-Crowned of Serbia and later the mistress of Alexios V Doukas, with whom she fled Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade
- Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera, wife of Emperor Alexios III Angelos, left behind in Constantinople as her husband fled during the Fourth Crusade
- Margaret of Hungary, daughter of Béla III of Hungary, first married to Emperor Isaac II Angelos and then Boniface of Montferrat, leader of the Fourth Crusade
- Maria of Antioch-Armenia was Lady of Toron, a major Crusader castle in Lebanon when, at the end of the Sixth Crusade, land taken by Saladin was returned to Armenia
- Eleanor of Castile accompanied her husband Edward I of England on the Eighth Crusade and gave birth to their daughter Joan of Acre in the Holy Land
- Isabella of Aragon, Queen consort of France, accompanied her husband Phillip III of France on the Eighth Crusade.
Regents of the Estates of the Crusaders
A sad but eventful fact of the Crusades is that while the men died, the women lived in comparative indolence. They lived longer lives, and became regents to their estates and young children. Worse still was the frequent remarriage of the widowed princesses and countesses that carried the substantial estates to various next husbands. By the high courts, half of the assets of the deceased went to the widow, half in guardianship for his children. It is impossible to estimate the damage to European royalty of such a system, although some blame the disruption of the peace of England in the 15th century to this practice. Here is a partial list of those who stayed behind to manage the estates as their husbands took the cross.
From the First Crusade:
- Ermengarde of Anjou, daughter of Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, married to Alan IV, Duke of Brittany. She served as regent of the duchy in her husband’s absence on the First Crusade and possibly went to Palestine, likely on the Second Crusade.
- Arda of Armenia, the 2nd wife of Baldwin I of Jerusalem following the death of Godchilde (see above) and the first Queen consort of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This was a politically convenient marriage that allowed Baldwin to become the first Count of Edessa.
- Adelaide del Vasto, the 3rd wife of Baldwin I of Jerusalem, married apparently while he was still married to Arda. Adelaide’s son Roger II of Sicily by her first marriage refused to support the Crusader states during the Second Crusade due to the treatment of his mother by Jerusalem.
- Morphia of Melitene, wife of Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem. She was mother of Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, discussed above.
- Ida of Leuven, daughter of Henry II, Count of Leuven and sister of Godfrey I of Leuven, was married to Baldwin II, Count of Hainaut, who served in the First Crusade with Godfrey of Bouillon. When her husband had vanished, Ida organized a search in the Holy Land to find him to no avail as he had clearly died.
- Constance of France, Princess of Antioch, daughter of Phillip I of France and Bertha of Holland. Constance first married to Hugh I, Count of Troyes, but their marriage ended in divorce on the grounds of consanguinity. She then married Bohemond I of Antioch, recently released by the Turks. She accompanied her husband to Apulia, where she gave birth to Behemond II, Prince of Antioch. After her husband’s death, she served as regent for her son. Imprisioned by Grimoald, Prince of Bari, she gave up her regency, dying in 1125. Her granddaughter was Constance, Princess of Antioch, who in turn had Empress Maria, Bohemund III of Antioch, and Agnes, Queen of Hungary.
- Adela of Normandy, daughter of William the Conquerer, married to Stephen II, Count of Blois, half-brother to Hugh I, Count of Troyes. After Stephen’s death in the minor Crusade of 1102, Adela became the regent to Stephen’s estate, and Constance of France served in her court. Among the children of Adela and Stephen were the future King of England, Stephen.
- Estefania, daughter of Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona, and aunt to Constance, Queen of France. Estefania was married to Centule II, Count of Bigorre, whose successes in the First Crusade were minor, but played a major role in breaking the feudal connection with France.
- Adèle of Marie and Sibyl of Château-Porcien, were both married to the scandalous Enguerrand I, Lord of Coucy. Adèle was granddaughter to Gilbert, Count of Roucy. Not a happy story, in that Enguerrand repudiated Adèle on the grounds of adultery, with the blessing of Elinand, Bishop of Laon, and then kidnapped Sibyl who was at the time married to Godfrey I, Count of Namur. The kidnapped Sibyl was at the time pregnant with Enguerrand’s child, Agnès de Coucy. Sibyl, in her favor, was the great-grandmother of Robert of Thourotte, Bishop of Langres and Liège. Both Enguerrand and Thomas, his son by Adèle, while bitter enemies and rivals, both took the cross and fought in the First Crusade. Thomas succeeded his father as Lord of Coucy upon his death.
- Mary of Scotland, daughter of Malcolm III, King of the Scots, married to Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, the brother of Godfrey of Bouillon. Eustace distinguished himself numerous times as a Crusader and returned unscathed to his estates. Their daughter Matilda was Queen consort of England, as wife of Stephen of England.
- Talesa of Aragon, daughter of Sancho Ramírez, Count of Ribagorza, and therefore granddaughter of Ramiro I, the first King of Aragon. Talesa was married to Gaston IV "le Croisé", Viscount of Béarn, and acted as regent for him and, after his death, for their son Centule VI after Gaston’s death in 1131. Their descendants Gaston VI and Gaston VII were valiant participants in later crusades.
- Hodierna, daughter of Hugh I, Count of Rethel, was married to Héribrand III, Lord of Hierges, and was regent of his estates during his absence during the First Crusade. Her brother was Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem. She secondly married Roger of Salerno, Prince of Antioch.
- Adelaide, Countess of Vermandois, was daughter of Herbert IV, Count of Vermandois and Adele of Valois, and married to renown Crusader Hugh the Great, Count of Vermandois, a title granted by right of his wife (jure uxoris). Hugh fought in the First Crusade and then in the minor Crusade of 1101, where he was wounded by the Turks and died that October. She was the last member of the Carolingian dynasty.
- Hildegarde, daughter of Aimery IV of Thouars, a proven Companion of William the Conqueror, was married to Hugh VI “the Devil” of Lusignan, who took the cross along with his brothers Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, a leader of the First Crusade, and Berenguer Ramon II, Count of Barcelona.
- Gertrud de Louvain, daughter of Henry III, Count of Louvain, and Gertrude of Flanders, Duchess of Lorraine, was married to Lambert, Count of Montaigu, who played a major role in the First Crusade along with his father Conan and brother Gozelo.
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