One of the popular images of the Crusades is the story of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine taking 300 of her ladies-in-waiting with her on the Second Crusade during the years 1147-49. While this particular tale has long-been debunked, a recent article has shown that many other aspects of Eleanor’s role, and the overall effort of women during the Second Crusade has been emphasized too much.
Conor Kostick’s article, “Eleanor of Aquitaine and the women of the Second Crusade,” which appears in the book Medieval Italy, Medieval and Early Modern Women: Essays in Honour of Christine Meek, shows that female participation was likely much smaller during the Second Crusade than it was for the First Crusade at the end of the eleventh century. Kostick believes that the crusade preaching that took place in the lead up to the march to the Holy Land was more aimed at getting people with a military background to commit to the crusade, and avoided encouraging non-combatants, including women, into participating.
Kostick comments that even several academic writings have mistakenly placed various noble women as taking part in the Second Crusade, when it is clear that they had come to the Holy Land during other events, some of which occurred decades earlier. The author writes that there is “quite strong evidence that the whole idea of a contingent of noblewomen has arisen through a mistaken assembly of certain associations between some of these women and crusading.”
Kostick also writes about a particular episode during the Second Crusade, when Eleanor tried to convince her husband, King Louis VII, to campaign in support of her uncle, Raymond, prince of Antioch. When the French king decided against this idea, Raymond, in the words of the chronicler William of Tyre, “planned, either violently or with secret machinations, to seize from the king his wife (Eleanor) who consented in this same plan as she was a foolish woman.” Another account suggests that Eleanor was planning to divorce Louis during this episode, but the plot was foiled when Eleanor was forcibly removed (effectively kidnapped) from Antioch by Louis’ advisors.
After this episode, the chronicle accounts do not mention any more activities by Eleanor for the rest of the crusade.
Interview with Conor Kostick