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What Role did Women Play in the Crusades?

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posted on Sep, 28 2011 @ 07:09 PM
Although Christianity and Islam shared the same forefather (i.e., Abraham), the struggle between these two siblings was never more evident than in the Crusading era of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. When thinking about the Crusades, few people consider the crucial role women played in these unstable times. In the People’s Crusade, although the women were just as ill prepared as the men were, they too set off for the Holy Lands in hopes of washing away their sins and receiving glory from God for their effort to unshackle Jerusalem from the chains of Muslims. While the men made up the fighting forces on both sides of the sectarian fence, the Christian and Muslim women played a vital role in the Crusades on the home front as well as in the Crusader lands. Women such as Anna Comnena, Queen Melisende, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Shagrat al-Durr through their actions and lifetime show not only that they are paradigms’ for their time, but also the butterfly effect they had on the history of the Crusades and world. Women were often idealized as virgins, mothers, and even temptresses. Medieval women functioned in society as teachers, historians, writers, prostitutes, artists, merchants, nuns, midwives and some were even depicted as “the power behind the throne”. On a micro level these women lived in arguably some of the most volatile times in medieval history.
Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess is a major source that contributes information about the reign of her father, Alexius I, as well as the first Crusade. As a young princess, Anna received an admirable education. She trained thoroughly in the study of mathematics, the known laws of science, history, and Greek philosophy. Although Anna’s mother and father prohibited her from studying ancient poetry, Anna found a way to study the “forbidden” ancient poetry with one of the imperial court’s eunuchs. Therefore her drive for a sense of higher learning early in life surely paid its dividends. Anna boasted an unexpectedly well-rounded education that undoubtedly made her one of most learned women of that time. Anna was the only child for years, and she expected to rule over Byzantium upon her father’s death. Unfortunate for her, the birth of her first brother deflated those dreams. She would later be the eldest of nine children.
In I097, Anna Comnena at the age of 14 married an already accomplished historian Nikephoros Bryennios. Although, Anna would claim that the marriage was a political union rather than one of love, their union would last for 40 years. Being a historian, Nikephoros Bryennios had been working on an essay, which he referred to as “Material For History”. It focused solely on the reign of Alexius I. Nikephoros Bryennios would die before its completion. At the age of 55, Anna took it upon herself to complete the work of her late husband, but she would change the name to the Alexiad. The significance of their union coupled with her background of education, and his background of a historian left a timeless collection of Crusade history.
The Alexiad describes the military and political history of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of her father (1081-1118). Crusade history is fortunate once again with Anna’s education. Her first person point of view into her father’s lifestyle, feelings, and convictions leaves historians with a profound insight into her father’s reign. The Alexiad is made up of 15 books that provide clear details of historical accounts that took place from when she was a child until the death of her father. In the Alexiad, she vividly describes weaponry, military tactics, strategic battle formations, and historical battles. Anna writes, “When the Franks became aware of the Sultan's presence, they armed themselves fully and rushed upon the Turks like lions. And then a severe and terrible battle began. Throughout the whole day the fate of the balance swayed equally for both sides, but when the sun set the Turks were routed and night decided the battle. Many fell on either side and yet a greater number were wounded. After gaining this brilliant victory the Franks fixed many of the Turks' heads on their spears and marched back carrying these like standards, in order that the barbarians should see from a distance what had happened, and lose heart through being defeated at the start, and therefore refrain from a strenuous battle’. She gave a detailed insight into how she perceived warfare and the battle itself between the Franks and Seljuq Turks. Additionally, she mocks the victors with the line about “marching with the heads of decapitated soldiers” as if the defeated didn’t deserve humanity. As a woman, in her time she understood from her own eyes what inhumane treatment was. The verbiage she chose when she described how the Franks armed themselves fully and rushed upon the Turks like Lions, paints a vivid picture in the eyes of its readers.
Anna lived in an era where women were expected to remain in their quarters and attend to family and religious matters, yet because of her uniqueness and rebellious attitude toward the standard way, make Anna’s priceless contributions of valid historical accounts of the first Crusade instrumental. Not only has it had a tremendous impact on the history of the first Crusade, it also brings enlightenment and memorializes Anna as a key historical reference.
Queen Melisende of Jerusalem played a significant role in the Crusades. She was the elder daughter of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Melisende is one of the most influential women of the crusading era for many reasons. Her role throughout much of the twelfth century over the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was one of her marks on Crusade history. In 1129 King Baldwin II brought over Fulk V of Anjou from France to marry his daughter. His reasoning was, upon his death a male would succeed and rule over Jerusalem. Before King Baldwin’s death the king altered his plan and suggested that the two rule jointly over Jerusalem. After the death of her father, now Queen Melisende and her husband jointly ruled over Jerusalem. In reality Fulk V of Anjou dominated the Kingdom during the early part of their reign. In the 1130’s, the question of infidelity came up on Melisende’s part, which provoked a war between the King and Queen. Melisende’s forces were ultimately successful which would grant her greater authority in the affairs of the city. Apparently from defeat, King Fulk of Jerusalem always sought her council before attempting to delegate within the Kingdom until his accidental death in 1143.
During this period she was given great leeway in reviving the arts and in the founding of a huge abbey at Bethany. In 1144 the Crusader state of Edessa was besieged in a border war that threatened its survival. Queen Melisende quickly responded by sending an army, which was lead by Manasses of Hierges, Philip of Milly and Elinand of Bures. She summoned the help of Raymond of Antioch; he ignored the call because he was preoccupied against the Byzantine Empire in Cilicia. Although Melisende responded swiftly, Zengi’s forces were too strong for her army to fend off. Edessa fell on Christmas Eve in the year of 1144. Edessa was the first crusader state acquired, and it was the first one to fall. Melisende sent word to the Pope in Rome about the crusader’s loss. As a result, a second Crusade was called for. The words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux read:

posted on Sep, 28 2011 @ 07:11 PM
“Oh, ye who listen to me, hasten then to appease the anger of Heaven, but no longer implore His goodness by vain complaints; clothe not yourselves in sackcloth, but cover yourselves with your impenetrable bucklers; the din of arms, the dangers, the labors, the fatigues of war are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the infidels, and let the deliverance of holy places be the reward of your repentance.” From a sermon given in part in the English edition of Michaud’s “History of the Crusades.” Bernard had been delegated by the pope to preach the Second Crusade, which ended in complete disaster to the army sent out by Europe.
At the time of Fulk’s death, Melisende’s son was at the age of thirteen. She became his regent for her son Baldwin III. Once Baldwin III came of age to rule, Melisende was reluctant to relinquish power, as she was required. In 1152, Baldwin III demanded from the high court of Jerusalem that power be bestowed onto him. The high court obliged him and Melisende was given control over Judea and Samaria, while her son Baldwin III was in charge of the North. This caused a division between the Melisende and her son. Although this division didn’t last long, this rivalry greatly damaged the future of the crusader’s Kingdom of Jerusalem. In turn, the Muslims gained control of territories from the crusaders during the period of Melisende’s reign. In spite of the disagreements between Melisende and her son, they reconciled and she remained as one of his closets advisers until her demise. The Kingdom of Jerusalem would never be under the control of a woman again.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is arguably the most powerful and intriguing woman during the Crusades. At the age of 15, she was married to Louis VII, King of France. Some sources suggest that Queen Eleanor appeared at Vezelay dressed like an Amazon galloping throughout the crowds on a white horse persuading them to join the crusades.
The church was very pleased to have received her thousand fighting vassals; they were less satisfied with the 300 women that accompanied her, which planned to help by “tending the wounded.” Although, the women were dressed in armor carrying lances, they never fought in battle. Her wartime acquaintances, throughout her adventure criticized the presence of Queen Eleanor and the women that accompanied her. After arriving in the crusader lands, Eleanor and Louis VII met up with her uncle Raymond of Antioch.
Raymond’s plans were to recapture the county of Edessa, which conflicted with Louis VII’s plans to go to Jerusalem. Eleanor disagreed with her husband Louis VII, and insisted on taking part in the strategy of her uncle. Louis VII was furious at her decision and demanded that she go to Jerusalem with him. Eleanor did abide by his wishes, but she ensured him that once they arrived back in Europe, a divorce between them would be inevitable. On their way to Jerusalem their expedition failed and a defeated Eleanor and Louis returned back to Europe on separate ships. Although her marriage to Louis continued for a short time, she bore him two daughters. In 1152 the marriage was annulled and her abundant estates were back under her control. Due to her affinity towards her uncle, a contributing factor to the demise of their marriage, were the circling rumors of a possible intimate relationship.
Within a year of her annulment, Eleanor of Aquitaine married twenty-year-old Henry who would eventually become King Henry II of England. For the next 13 years, Eleanor would give birth to five sons and three daughters. One of the five sons she had, turned out to be King Richard I “the Lionheart”. Richard would play a vital role in the third crusade. The birth of Richard only deepens her legacy in history, for she gave birth to a good king in a time of corruption. In 1173, Eleanor led a rebellion against her husband Henry. Henry was shocked with this act of aggression. It was unusual for a woman in the twelfth century, yet not for the notoriously tough Eleanor. Eleanor was tired of his infidelities, the decisions he made and worst of all having authority without power. Henry put a halt to the rebellion and Eleanor was imprisoned for the next 15 years. A letter from Rotrou the Archbishop of Rouen read: Marriage is a firm and indissoluble union. This is public knowledge and no Christian can take the liberty to ignore it. From the beginning biblical truth has verified that marriage once entered into cannot be separated. Truth cannot deceive: it says, "What God has joined let us not put asunder [Matt 19]." Truly, whoever separates a married couple becomes a transgressor of the divine commandment.’ Richard the Lionheart was said to be her favorite son. After the death of Henry in 1189, Richard ascended to the kingship.

posted on Sep, 28 2011 @ 07:13 PM
Eleanor was tired of his infidelities, the decisions he made and worst of all having authority without power. Henry put a halt to the rebellion and Eleanor was imprisoned for the next 15 years. A letter from Rotrou the Archbishop of Rouen read: Marriage is a firm and indissoluble union. This is public knowledge and no Christian can take the liberty to ignore it. From the beginning biblical truth has verified that marriage once entered into cannot be separated. Truth cannot deceive: it says, "What God has joined let us not put asunder [Matt 19]." Truly, whoever separates a married couple becomes a transgressor of the divine commandment.’ Richard the Lionheart was said to be her favorite son. After the death of Henry in 1189, Richard ascended to the kingship. Eleanor was released from prison and while Richard was fighting in the Holy Land, Eleanor repeatedly intervened to defend his lands, even against her own son John. Her relentless effort to maintain her son’s lands increased her fame as an extremely able politician. Eleanor died in 1204 at her favorite religious house, the abbey of Fontevrault. She is a significant element in crusader history because she was one of the most powerful women of the twelfth century, due to relationship with King Henry II and bearing many children, one of them being Richard the Lionheart.

About 44 years after the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the crusaders attempted many times to regain control over Jerusalem, but their crusades always ended in failure. In 1250 the crusading forces of France posed a threat to Egypt, which was under the rule of the Ayyubid sultan Salih Ayyub. In November of 1249, the Crusaders marched toward Cairo, at about the same time the Sultan Salih Ayyub died. Upon his death, Shagrat al-Durr the wife of Salih Ayyub, concealed the fact of his death by saying the he was sick. She had a servant take food to his tent to enhance the illusion that he was alive and still in power. Shagrat al-Durr secretly took upon herself the title of Sultana and regrouped the Egyptian army. People eventually found out her rise to power was to be regarded with suspicion. Although suspicion surrounded her rise to power, there is no argument that her smoke and mirrors approach to get into power was deceptive, just like there is no argument it was brilliant.
She was recognized as the titular head of the whole state. A royal stamp was issued in her name that read “mother of Khalil”, and the khutba was pronounced in her name as Sultana of Egypt. With this powerful woman in command behind the scenes, the Mamluk army defeated Louis's forces in February 1250 at Mansura and captured the French King, Louis IX, and his forces. Her presence maintained order after the death of Turanshah, who was murdered by the Mamluks after the battle of Mansura due to his favoring soldiers from the provinces over the established order. While facing disaster, Shagrat al-Durr cohesively held Egypt together and came out victorious over the Franks.

Shagrat al-Durr ruled in an incognito fashion. This was an unprecedented event in Islamic History. Her ascension to the throne as a Muslim woman and leading an army into battle was almost as rare as Jesus being proclaimed the true Prophet of Islam. Even though her rule was short lived, it was not due to the fact that she ruled ineffectively; the Caliphate of Bagdad held on tightly to his traditional views and did not approve of Shagrat al-Durr because she was a woman. A successful Mamluk soldier was put in her place; Aibak. Shagrat al-Durr seduced Aibak and he married her to legitimize Mamluk rule. For seven years, Shagrat al-Durr dominated Aibak and still ruled from behind the curtain. It has been said that Shagrat al-Durr was a jealous woman, one who did not want to share power nor men; hence, she had Aibak divorce his wife, with whom he had a son. In the year 1257, Aibak shared his plans with Shagrat al-Durr of him taking another wife; Shagrat al-Durr thought this was unacceptable. The emotion of jealousy took over and she murdered him as he took a bath after a game of polo. She attempted to conceal the crime, but she was unable to. She was found out and beaten to death by the slaves of the harem with their wood clogs. Shagrat al-Durr should not be remembered by her moral characteristics and deceptive actions, what she accomplished as a woman in the medieval Islamic world should trump her downfall of murdering her husband and being beaten publicly to death. Granted, she was guilty of the crime, but it would be a bigger crime in the eyes of historians for her story to be forgotten, because she did accomplish unimaginable things for that time period and location.

posted on Sep, 28 2011 @ 07:16 PM
The Historian Maalouf, gives an account, which portrays Shagrat al-Durr as a powerful woman who held control right up to her demise. In addition to listing the usual events portrayed in most histories, this author presents a unique picture of the sultana, which kept with his personal agenda for writing this work. First, he listed several crucial events, only some of which were noted in other secondary accounts, including her regency for Turanshah, the concealment of Salih Ayyub’s death, her sultanate, Aibek's murder and her subsequent death.
While the men made up the fighting forces on both sides of the sectarian fence, the Christian and Muslim women played a vital role in the Crusades on the home front as well as in the Crusader lands. The women who were left behind in Europe while the crusaders were campaigning; they tended to the estates and defended the lands. These women had to hold the family lands together for themselves and their children. While most of the men that went on the Crusade and took up arms against the opposition, women in Europe were faced with the battle of governing in their husbands’ name, engaging in legal transactions and maintaining their daily agricultural duties. Women took up jobs alongside men that remained in Europe. The women were the workers in crafts such as shoemakers, tailors, barbers, goldsmiths, and bakers. If Anna Comnena, Melisende, Eleanor and Shagrat al-Durr hadn’t been in the position of power, they undoubtedly would have still exemplified strength on the home front. Not only were these medieval women amazing, but also the transformation of running a household without a man around in those times highlights the strength of these women. Some of the accomplishments these four women did during this time may never be replicated, such as Queen Melisende being the only women ever to rule over Jerusalem and the Shagrat al-Durr ascension to the Sultanate. It would be impossible in 3,000-4,000 words to describe the complete role of women in the Crusades. One can only imagine what history was not passed down and other amazing accomplishments that would be lost in time and texts due to the status of women.

Sorry for the long post...just wanted to provide an elucidation of the role of women during the Crusades.

posted on Sep, 28 2011 @ 07:35 PM
Looks great, but please break it up into paragraphs with spacing.

It has a tendancy to get a little blurred after a bit of reading. Thanks.

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