Monday, 10 May 2010

Women Crusaders?

Did women take part in the Crusades?
Did women fight on Crusade?

  • It is accepted that women did take part in crusading activities although there is some debate surrounding whether or not they took part in actual combat. It is fairly certain that women supported the crusaders in a manual capacity perhaps by dispensing drinks, washing, taking care of the wounded or even killing prisoners. It is also thought that there were also women who where prostitutes whether or not they were a separate group or some fulfilled both roles is unclear. There are Muslim reports of women fighting on crusade, although they report that the women were only recognisable as women once their armour was removed. Nicolson suggests that it is likely that some non noble women did fight alongside their sons and husbands particularly in the chaos of battle.

  • The lack of sources on women is a general problem for the medieval period as women writers were few, however it is likely that the lack of sources concerning women on crusade is due to a sense of embarrassment. It is likely that the participation of women was played down by chroniclers as women were heavily associated with sin and it was thought that their sinful presence could discredit the crusaders and in turn the crusades in which they took part. This was clearly an unattractive prospect when trying to initiate further crusades and also for the reputation of Christians and the perception of them to future generations.

  • In instances where women are written about as taking the cross their behaviour is compared to that of men such as the case of Margaret of Beverley who was described as a woman who ‘feigned’  to be like a man. They are often described in an auxiliary role, one where they had been drafted when there were not enough men to fight rather than being presented as viable crusaders in their own right.

  • The reduction of female participation in the crusades has been attributed to the change in the organisation of warfare from a private and domestic activity to a public and professional one. The suggestion is that women being more associated with the home or ‘private sphere’ and men the worldly or ‘public sphere’ led to a natural division whereby women were gradually excluded from crusading activities as they became more professionalised.

Like all history this is a developing area of research.....

Nicholson, Helen, ‘Women on the Third Crusade’, Journal of Medieval History 23 (1997), 335-349

Maier, Christoph T., ‘The roles of women in the crusade movement: a survey’, in Journal of Medieval History 30 (2004), 61-82

Copyright © 2010 Elaine Hunter


  1. exclusion of women as a result of the shift from private to public/professional domain v. interesting ..

  2. Didn't Eleanor of Aquitaine, then consort to the King of France, take part in the First Crusade? I seem to remember reading accounts by chroniclers variously disapproving ('she wore male attire for riding'!) or prurient ('she became very close to her uncle Conrad, nudge-nudge, wink-wink'!). Twas ever thus ;-).

  3. Nice photo!
    This is an interesting topic, one which I am trying to research in order to write a novel for. I'm glad I came upon this site. As another B.A. History graduate I can relate to the changing essence of history.

  4. Check Niketas Choniates in his "O City of Byzantium." He describes armored women riding horses "as men would" carrying weapons coming into Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

    1. Thank you for your comment, I actually wrote this three years ago when I was an undergraduate student and was thinking about deleting the it. It was just a few notes I made for a class I was doing at the time.