‘More of a Burden Rather Than a Benefit’: Perceptions of Crusading Women and How They Developed From the Eleventh to Fourteenth Centuries
By Calum Leatham
Master’s Thesis, University of Huddersfield, 2018
Abstract: Robert of Rheims perception of crusading women in the First Crusade was that they were ‘more of a burden rather than a benefit’. This thesis questions Robert’s attitude towards crusading women and explores if this really was how medieval contemporaries perceived female crusaders. By expanding upon previous works by analysing crusading women in the Baltic crusading front, as well as the home front of Europe, this thesis catalogues opinions of crusading women through the crusading periods of the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. It then uses these opinions to argue that perceptions towards female crusaders did develop and change through the crusading periods. Finally, the thesis concludes with an examination into how crusading developed and opened up opportunities and roles for women in medieval society.
Introduction: Brutal and epic battle between the East and the West, larger than life figures leading Christian armies across the globe in the name of God, royalty abandoning their country in the name of a cause, these are the images that come to mind when studying the crusades. From iconic events such as the heroic siege of Antioch (illustrated within bed chambers of royalty), to the involvement of the papacy (who declared and defined crusades), to the saintly crusader kings of France (who waged war in the East), to the chronicles of Fulcher of Chartres or William of Joinville, these are just a few examples of how the crusades are perceived when reading the historical evidence and they are all associated with men and masculinity. Contemporary sources and modern scholarship both emphasise the role of men above all. Crusading women, in comparison, are only given brief acknowledgement.
The perception that women could not be anything more than a ‘burden than a benefit’, as Robert of Rheims wrote, and had only a minor role within the crusades, is prevalent in both primary sources and, until recently, modern studies. However, was this the whole truth? Were women only a ‘burden’ to the crusades or did they challenge this perspective and benefit the movement? Did these perceptions of crusading women, as a ‘burden’, remain unchanging across the medieval period, or did they develop alongside the centuries of crusading? Also, did the crusades affect and develop the roles of women in the Middle Ages?
Top Image: Capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, 1099, depicted in a 14th or 15th century manuscript