Friday, June 22, 2012

Women and the Crusades

Crusade has always been associated with men. However, throughout history women have played a very big role in crusades. During unsettling times in several countries, women played an equal role at par in crusading for the cause. During the initial years of the crusades, women set off on a journey along with men to Jerusalem to ask forgiveness for their sins and also in efforts to free it from Muslim control. In 1096, when the crusaders lost to the Muslims, the Pope declared that no woman, children and old people were allowed to be a part of the crusades. Despite the ban, many women accompanied their husbands on the crusade. The most famous woman crusader was Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.
When the crusaders went on a cause, they left their women and children behind. The women would wait for as long as ten years for their spouses, fathers and brothers to return. Some men never returned and the women ended up waiting without knowing what happened to these men. It could be a son, a father or a husband.
In the first crusade, more than 500 thousand men were lost. The second crusade had several men with arms. These included nobles and common men and women were left to look after the wealth and administration back home. The women faced raid on properties and were often found defending their homes. They went through emotional and physical abuse. Several women refused to give up their homes as they preferred to be killed in their own homes than be taken as slaves or killed somewhere else. Such heroic encounters gave women more confidence to fight.
Women governed the country and the household on the name of their husband and raised children. Even the royal regencies did it when the king was away on the crusade. The queen and mother of Louis VIII of France, Blanche of Castile, became a regent when the king was away on a crusade. While leaving, Louis told his mother that he was leaving his three wards and the country of France in her care. Blanche suppressed rebellions and also increased the power of French dynasty. She formed several alliances and also took over Midi into France. As a result of her governance, France expanded and is pretty much same even today in terms of boundaries.
Anna Comnena, the daughter of the emperor of Byzantine, wrote about the arrival of the crusaders, who first came to Jerusalem in the year 1099. She documented how these so-called liberators ended up raiding and looting the people and the land.
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