Eleanor on Crusade
After St. Bernard’s preaching for the Crusade and Louis took the cross, Eleanor is said to have “knelt before the Abbe and offered her thousands of vassals from Poitou and Aquitaine.”(33) She could amass more soldiers than could Louis and she had the income from her duchy to fund the Crusaders.
Why did she take the cross and accompany Louis to the Holy Land? Various historians have suggested different reasons. Amy Kelly cites the “chronicler Newburgh” who supposed the reason Eleanor went to the Holy Land was because she “had so bedazzled her young spouse with her excellent beauty that, fearing out of jealousy to leave her behind, he decided to take her with him to the wars.”(34) Frank McMinn Chambers suggests, “She was a strong woman, and had a mind of her own.” and “her love for adventure and excitement and the company of men.”(35) Professor Bonnie Wheeler suggests perhaps there were people who said to Eleanor that the atrocity at Vitry was all her fault because of her support of her sister, Petronilla’s affair with Count Raoul.(36) We can never know exactly what thoughts Eleanor had which made her decide to take the cross and go on the Crusade. Perhaps she went for all of the above reasons to one degree or another. What we know for certain is Eleanor did, which leads to the question, how unusual was it for her, or any woman, to go on Crusade and pilgrimage?
Women have made pilgrimages for centuries. John Wilkinson in his book Egergia’s Travels states, “The earliest account of a pilgrimage is the partial manuscript written by a Spanish nun, Egergia, who made a three year pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including Constantinople, in 381 – 384.”(37) It was Empress Helena, mother to Constantine, who is said to have found a piece of the cross of Christ while on pilgrimage. Also there is Margaret of Jerusalem, who perhaps knew Queen Eleanor, who went on pilgrimage at the end of the Second Crusade. Upon her return she recounted the events to her monk brother Thomas. Of one event he documented the following,
“During this seige [sic], which lasted fifteen days, I carried out all’, she said, ‘of the functions of a soldier that I could. I wore a breastplate like a man; I came and went on the ramparts, with a cauldron on my head for a helmet. Though a woman, I seemed a warrior, I threw the weapon; though filled with fear, I learned to conceal my weakness.’(38)
In a Speculum Journal article, Dana Carleton Munro quotes Crusader Ekkerd who wrote regarding the Second Crusade, “The majority set out encumbered with their wives and children and all their household effects…”(39) which notes a difference between that of the First Crusade where women and children were not in as such great numbers.
Lastly Bonnie Wheeler notes that the Crusades were seen as a migration to a new land, an immigration of sorts, with “colonial motivations.”(40) The Crusaders were going to the Holy Land to conquer it and establish communities for their personal habitation. There was not the necessary intention of returning home. Therefore one can assume women thought of the Crusade, not only as a pilgrimage, but as a move to a new homeland for a new life.
Historical evidence demonstrates that Eleanor came from a strong-minded and politically active heritage; one that was vocal in their opinions. Heredity and the experience of living with her paternal grandfather, even for a short time, molded her character and personality. She had the influence of her father till age thirteen or so. Being raised in a sophisticated court provided her an education and exposure to a world that fed her interests, curiosity and sense of adventure.
Eleanor spent the majority of her time in Poitiou, thus she lived fairly close to her favorite Abbey, Fontevrault, and took pilgrimages there. Historical archives demonstrate she was involved with the financial stability of Fontevraut Abbey and was a generous benefactress. She was buried there as well. Add to this the Thomas of Chobham’s primer for confessors to guide women towards positive persuasion of their husbands, which Eleanor could very well have received as confessional advice during her time at Fontevrault. All this makes it unproblematic to this writer to conclude that she had her style of womanhood affirmed and encouraged by the Abbey’s founder, Robert d’Abrissel.
She was distressed at her initial inability to conceive a first child, enough to go to St. Bernard of Clairvaux seeking his prayers. Louis failed her with Toulouse and at Vitry. She was bored at Louis’ court. She was restless. Then Pope Eugenius III proclaimed it was time for another Crusade with the fall of Edessa. Knowing that women accompanied the Crusaders in 1096, it is not difficult to imagine with that Eleanor saw an opportunity to satiate her boredom and restlessness. Perhaps even an opportunity to make a holy pilgrimage with the thought in mind of being blessed with a second child and perhaps heir. Adventuress woman that she was, she filled the void with the opportunity presented her. Consequently, Eleanor, Queen of France and Duchess of Aquitaine joined her husband on Crusade.
As David Lowenthal wrote, “…it is impossible to recover or recount more than a tiny fraction of what has taken place [in history], and no historical account ever corresponds precisely with any actual past.”(41) Whatever Eleanor’s motivations were to journey to the Holy Land, we know for certain she did so and it was a pivotal moment in her marriage to King Louis VII of France and in the history of Western Europe. Not only did she blaze her own trail but did so for those, especially women, who followed her centuries later.
(33) Kelly, 34.
(34) Kelly, 34.
(35) Frank McMinn Chambers, Some Legends Concerning Eleanor of Aquitaine, in Speculum, 16, no. 4 (Oct., 1941), 459.
(36) Wheeler, Disc 7, Track 8.
(37) John Wilkinson, trans., Ergeria Travels, 1971, Women in World History Curriculum, http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-07-04.html, (30 April, 2006).
(38) Julia Bolton Holloway, ed., Margaret of Beverley, Umilta Website, 1995-2007, http://www.umilta.net/jerusalem.html, (30 April, 2006).
(39) Dana Carleton Munro, A Crusader, Speculum, 7, no 3, (July 1932), p325.
(40) Wheeler, Disc 7, Track 11.
(41) David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, (Cambridge, 1985), 214.