Reprinted with the kind permission of author extraordinare Nan Hawthorne:
Researching the Crusade of 1101 for my novel, Beloved Pilgrim, I asked the wuestion, "Were women involved at all in the crusade?" My protagonist, after all, was a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fight as a knight. I put together a short essay on the topic for Christopher Gortner's Historical Boys blog called "Women Fighters in the Crusades".
The vast majority of women who went on crusade were peasant women and women from religious orders. Some of them fought, though not as part of the formal military. Nevertheless three noblewomen stand out for their connections to this devastating event in history.
Ida of Formbach-Ratelnberg, Margravine of Austria
Little is known about the Austrian Margravine Ida, born Ida of Formbach-Ratelnberg. She was born in 1055 the daughter of Rapoto IV of Cham, also known as Itha, and married to Leopold II, Margrave of Austria. Their son, Leopold III, was a deeply religious man who gave a great deal to the Church and was later canonized a saint. Ida was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in Europe in her youth. She was in her mid-forties when she decided to travel with Duke Welf of Bavaria’s contingent in the Crusade of 1101. In the Turkish ambush of this party at Heraclea in September 1101 Ida was either killed or captured. Nothing is known of her fate other than a rumor that she became part of a harem and was the mother of the great Turkish leader Zengi. This is, however, not possible as Zengi was born before the Margravine even came to Turkey.
Anna Komnena, Byzantine Princess and Historian
One of the first female historians in the West, Anna Komnena was born on December 1, 1083, to Byzantine Emperor Alexios I and his wife, Irene Doukaina. She was the author of an account of her father’s life, The Alexiad. She was extraordinarily highly educated in history, mathematics, science and Greek philosophy, and, although against her parents’ strict instructions, also in the lusty folktales and legends of her people. Her books are full of anecdotes about the famous people of her time, full of her personal observations of such men as Bohemond of Taranto, whom she called “a habitual rogue”, and Raymond de St. Gilles, whom she liked. She was married at 14 to Nikephoros Bryennios, a fellow scholar and historian, with whom she had a long – 40 years -- and fruitful marriage.
Anna believed she was the rightful heir to her father’s throne, being the firstborn, crowned at her birth, and having her mother’s strong support for herself and her husband. Legend has it that her younger brother John took the imperial ring when he came to bid his dying father goodbye. The Church declared him Emperor John II. Anna and her husband twice attempted to overthrow John and were possibly part of the attempted murder plot against him at his coronation. They were unsuccessful. After her husband’s death, Anna retired to the convent of Kecharitomene, founded by her mother, where she lived until her own death in about 1153.
Anna’s unique contribution to the history of the Crusades comes not from eyewitness accounts but from her relationship with members of her own family who fought in the First Crusade and her ability to record the Byzantine concerns over the excesses of the crusaders whom they feared would overrun the empire.
Adela of Normandy, Countess of Blois
Adela was the daughter, sister and mother of four kings of England, William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders being her parents. Her brothers, William I Rufus and Henry I were not the only other kings, as her son, Stephen of Blois, seized the crown before Henry’s daughter, Matilda, could be crowned.
Elisabeth von Winterkirche and Maliha may be fictitonal, but you can read their story and see one theory of what happened to Margravine Ida in Beloved Pilgrim, by Nan Hawthorne, now available in print and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and as an ebook on Smashwords.