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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Indespensible "Hand-Maidens" of the Battlefield

Everyone vaguely familiar with the Middle Ages has heard of them, but very few people appreciate how essential "squires" were to medieval warfare. Squires were, in fact, quite simply indispensable because, in the military context, the term “knight” did not refer to a single individual but to a fighting unit composed of a knight and at least one destrier (warhorse), palfrey (riding horse), packhorse and squire. Wealthier knights could afford two or more of each (or all) of these supporting elements. Yet while most people understand that a knight was without a horse lost his utility on the battlefield, the importance of squires is often overlooked. Today I’d like to redress that.

A Knight and his Squire from a German Medieval Manuscript
The problem starts with the definition of the word “squire.” Long after squires had lost their utility and role on the battlefield, the term came to mean much the same thing as “gentleman.” It was used simply to refer to rural landowners who were neither knighted nor noble. With more time, it became nothing more than a title of respect, applied to magistrates and justices and the like.

Understanding the role of medieval squires is further complicated by the fact that it was not constant. Rather — like the definition and role of knights themselves — it changed over time and across geography. Thus, while the notion of a young man of noble birth serving in the household of another (usually related) nobleman is the most familiar face of the medieval squire today, in fact, in the 11th and 12th century squires were often waged servants of unspecified heritage.

In short, the term does not describe a clear and distinct class of medieval society, but rather a function or a job that might be performed by a duke’s son or a hired man of low birth. Furthermore, there was nothing automatic about a squire moving from his position/status to that of knighthood. A squire who lacked sufficient means to support himself even as a bachelor knight, or who had no prospect of being retained by a wealthier lord, might remain a squire all his life. Another example of this lack of promotion prospects were the squires of the Templars. They were quite simply hired men, who did not take Templar vows and were not subject to the Templar Rule. They could not become Templar knights unless or until two prerequisites were met: 1) they had been knighted, and 2) they had taken vows and been admitted to the Order.

Nor should we forget that squires performed a variety of functions not related to warfare. One of the most important was that of serving their lords at table, specifically carving the meat and pouring the wine. They also cared for and prepared their knight's clothes, helping him dress and undress. They were messengers and errand-boys, sent both to deliver information, letters or goods and to collect the same. They were often essential go-betweens between a knight and the lady of his affection, but they were just as often sent to buy things or pay tradesmen and more mundane tasks. They might be expected to entertain their employer with music, reading or just playing dice, checkers or chess. In all these functions, they did not seriously distinguish themselves from ordinary servants and their status would not have been elevated above that of other hired men had it not been for their essential services in warfare. 

It was because a knight could not perform his military role without a squire that squires had a higher status, but it was also because that role took them to the very brink of — if not into — battle that serving as a squire gradually evolved into an apprenticeship for knighthood. Thus, while it was not necessary that a squire be a youth of noble birth, it was necessary for a youth of noble birth to have been a squire if he wanted to have a chance of knighthood.

The militarily relevant services of a squire were first and foremost the care of the all-important warhorse, upon whose health, soundness, and temper a knight’s life depended. Squires were responsible for seeing that their lord’s precious (and very expensive!) warhorse was in optimal condition. This started with making sure he was properly fed and watered, but also meant ensuring he had clean straw in his stall and a blanket in cold weather. It further entailed ensuring that his feet were trimmed and properly shod, that any injuries were treated, that colic was prevented (to the extent possible), and, of course, that he was groomed and tacked up whenever needed.

The second military function of a squire was the care of his lord’s equipment, including his tack but also his arms and armor. A lazy or inept squire, who failed to ensure his knight’s sword belt, scabbard, hauberk, coif, chausses, helmet etc. were in the best possible condition, could cost a man his life. Care of medieval equipment was very labor-intensive and often required specialty knowledge. What kind of fat best prevented chainmail from rusting without stinking infernally? What was the best method of removing sweat from the lining of aventails or coifs without getting the chainmail wet (and so likely to rust)? etc. etc. etc.

Both of these duties (horse and equipment maintenance) were particularly important and difficult when a knight was on campaign, moving across long distances, sleeping in strange inns or castles, tents or in the open field. Furthermore, when campaigning, a squire also had to look after his lord’s belly and comfort, to ensure the knight himself was as fighting-fit as possible.

Finally, when battle itself was joined, the squire tacked up and brought forward the destrier, turned it over to the knight (helping him mount), and handed up a lance. Ideally, the squire then retreated to the “rear” (the baggage train) with his knight’s palfrey to await developments. His duties were not, however, over. He might be called upon to bring his knight another lance, or even another horse (if he had one), to bring him water during a lull in the fighting, or to drag him off the field if wounded and apply first aid, or, lastly, to recover the body if he were killed.

These duties were anything but risk-free. Quite aside from the risks involved in caring for high-strung, bad-tempered stallions, the responsibility for the horses often entailed foraging for fodder — a duty that frequently took squires into enemy territory. One of the instances during the Third Crusade in which Richard the Lionheart was nearly captured or killed started with the Saracens surprising “the squires” while they were foraging. (Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, Book 4, Chapter 30).

Furthermore, there were often circumstances that precluded a safe retreat to the rear. Ambushes generally placed everyone from the baggage-cart drivers to the commanders at equal risk. Likewise, campaigns deep into enemy territory made engagement without the opportunity to separate the squires from the other fighting men a greater probability. At the Battle of Hattin, the Frankish army was completely surrounded, and the squires had no choice but to fight in the very thick of the battle.

As a result, squires represented not only an essential component of a knight’s battlefield effectiveness but also made up a significant portion of medieval army strength.  They are, however, largely invisible to us today precisely because they were treated by contemporaries as a part of the “knight.” Thus, when describing the composition of a medieval army chroniclers recorded so-and-so many knights and infantry; sometimes (if being particularly precise) they might talk about bowmen vs. men-at-arms, or mention “pikemen” or other infantry, based on the weapons they carried. Only on very rare occasions do squires emerge from the dust of battle, as in the above example, where they are identified as the cause of an engagement involving the English King. 

Nevertheless, because the number of squires were at least equal to the number of knights engaged they represented a significant component of the fighting strength of medieval armies. They were not as heavily armored as knights, and did have the same caliber of horse, but the more experienced squires were undoubtedly skilled — and mounted — fighting men, who, when circumstances allowed, could make a significant contribution.

This is evidenced by a number of incidents in which squires were knighted because of their actions in battle. Of course, battlefield knightings were not confined to squires, at least not in the early centuries of knighthood, but there was a bias in favor of knighting squires before or after battle in the Late Middle Ages because by then squires were increasingly youth or young men of good family pre-destined for knighthood anyway.

In my novels set in the Middle Ages, I try to give due credit to the role of squires and several are significant characters:

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Medical Practitioners in the Crusader Era

It is often assumed that the people who practiced medicine in the Middle Ages were ignorant, untrained, guided by “pure superstition” and accountable to no one. In today’s post, the second in a series of guest essays by German scholar Fermin Person, we look at medical practitioners and standards in the Crusader States.

In today’s world, the permission to practice medicine (prescribe medication, operate etc.) is usually closely regulated by the state. 

In the west during 11th – 13th century several distinctions were made between the grades of knowledge and practical training a medical practitioner had. 

A rather small group were called physicus / fisicien. They had a high degree of knowledge for their time, combining the study of liberal Arts at a university with medical education. The title of physicus/fisicien usually implied the degree of magister because of the received education in liberal Arts. The centres for learning in the Latin west were Salerno, Montpellier, Paris, Bologna, Cambridge, Oxford or Padua. It was at these universities that the physicus/ficicien were trained.

Notably, there are examples of female physicians such as Hersende. Hersende was physician to Louis IX and accompanied him during the crusade to Egypt (1248-50).

The term medicus/ miege /mire was used for all types of doctors during the medieval period. They would take the patients history, examine them and treat them, for example with diet, medication or bloodletting. To some degree they also practiced surgery.

The profession of cyrurgicus (surgeon) was considered a trade rather than a profession. It was learned via an apprenticeship, until the end of the 13th century when it started to be studied on the universities of the Latin west. Cyrurgici were commonly seen as less well educated, were worse paid and had a lower social status than physici. Surgery was seen by medici as a manual trade along the line of carpentry or stone masonry. During the late 13th century cyrurgici with the title of master, indicating their academic education started to appear. Their task was the treatment of wounds as well as the treatment of illnesses that could be seen from the outside (like leprosy or venereal diseases) or might require a surgical treatment.

The profession of berberus /rasorius was likewise a trade learnt via an apprenticeship. Their task was to shave as well as to care for wounds in time of need.

Similarly, the minutor/phlebotomus/sangunator was a specialist tradesman that only did bloodletting. He was also educated during an apprenticeship and would follow the orders of a physician or blood-let on the request of a patient.

The apothecarius/ herbolarius/ spicer prepared medicine according to the orders of a medicus or he could sell the medicine directly to the patients. 

Despite the restrictions that were placed on medical education of clergyman during the council of Tours many physicians (physicus/fisicien) were clergyman. Apart from minor restrictions by the fourth Lateran council for subdeacons, deacons and priests, clergyman could practise surgery to the full extant.

The known sources suggest a strong influx of European physicians and surgeons as well as barbers to Outremer. However, there is also documentary evidence for local Christian and Jewish physicians. Furthermore, there seem to have been Muslim physicians as in the hospital of St John in 12th century Jerusalem there were two versions of an oath for newly hired surgeons, supposedly allowing also non-Christians to practise. In addition, a decree of the Frankish church of Nicosia forbade their employment in a church run hospital. Note, however, that we have no comprehensive records of the overall numbers and qualifications of medical practitioners, but are instead dependent on predominantly juridical documents where physicians stood witness for testaments etc.

Medical Standards in the Crusader States

The crusader states seem to have adopted and modified the Muslim system of hisbah.

In the Muslim system of hisbah an official called the muhtasib (in Frankish mahteseb) controlled quality standards of crafts. In the Frankish adoption of the system (found in the commentaries of the legislation of the kingdom of Jerusalem the “Assis de la Cour de Bourgeois” from 1240-44) a council of the best doctors of a town under the provost of the local bishop licensed a physician.

Therefore a thorough examination was conducted by the council of physicians. If a candidate did not show sufficient knowledge he was forbidden to practice medicine.
If he practiced medicine without a license he was beaten out of town. A similar system developed about the same time in the kingdom of Sicily.

Excurs: Medical negligence in the Laws of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
The Assis de la Cour des Bourgeois from 1240-44 is our principal source about medical legislation in the crusading states. It lays out the mechanisms of medical licensing and punishment for medical negligence. 
In case of medical negligence, a distinction is made if the victim is a slave or a free man.
Furthermore, a distinction is made if the illness can be realistically healed by a physician (like a bone fracture) or not (like measles).

If a physician crippled or killed a slave because of medical negligence he was bound to pay compensation to the owner.

If a physician killed or crippled a free man because of medical negligence he was submitted to various physical punishments such as the amputation of the right thumb or even hanging.


Mitchel, Piers D.  (2007) Medicine during the crusades, Cambridge University press

Tony Hunt (1999) The Medieval Surgery, Boydell & Brewer Inc

Edgington, S. (1994) Medical knowledge of the crusading armies: the evidence of Albert of Aachen and others. In M Barber, The Military Orders: Fighting for the Faith and caring for the Sick, (Aldershot, Ashgate)

Keda, B (1998) A twelfth century description of the Jerusalem Hospital, In H. Nicholson (ed.). The Military Orders. II Welfare and Warfare (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 3-26.

Medical the Jerusalem Trilogy the comparatively high standard of medical care in the crusader states is recognized.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Traitorous Baron? Raymond de Tripoli

Raymond of Tripoli, the most powerful baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th century, has always been controversial figure. His independent truce with Saladin in 1186, threatened the very existence of the kingdom at a time when it was surrounded by a resurgent Islam under a masterful general, Saladin. The Templar Grand Master went so far as to accuse Tripoli of conspiring with Saladin for a Saracen victory at the Battle of Hattin. In short, he has been blamed for nothing short of the disaster at Hattin and the loss of the Holy Land to Saladin. Yet, later historians such as Sir Stephen Runciman, have seen in Tripoli a voice of reason, compromise and tolerance -- a positive contrast to the fanaticism of the Templars and recent immigrants from the West such as Guy de Lusignan.  Tripoli was the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s “Tiberius” in the Hollywood film “The Kingdom of Heaven.”

While the Grand Master’s accusations can largely be dismissed as self-serving (the two men detested one another), and Scott’s portrayal is far from fact, even the most reliable and credible chronicler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in this period, William Archbishop of Tyre, has left an ambiguous image. On the whole the Archbishop of Tyre portrays Tripoli in a positive light, yet he also suggests offhandely that Tripoli was plotting a coup against Baldwin IV in 1180.  More recently, revisionist historians intent on challenging the still prevalent portrayal of Reyald de Chatillon as a madman, brute and self-interested rogue, have forcefully come out calling Raymond of Tripoli a "traitor" and the architect of the disaster at Hattin. In their zeal to rehabilitate Chatillon, I believe they overshoot the mark, however. Here is my analysis starting with some background.

The County of Tripoli was created after the liberation of Jerusalem by Raymond Count of Toulouse, one of the most important leaders of the First Crusade. Toulouse was widely believed to have coveted the crown of Jerusalem. When it fell to Godfrey de Bouillon instead, he set about conquering his own kingdom eventually capturing the entire coastal area between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Principality of Antioch. This gave the Latins control of three contiguous states along the shore of the Eastern Mediterranean. Although de jure autonomous, in reality the County of Tripoli did not have the resources to defend itself and so it was always quasi-dependent on the larger, more prosperous neighbors, Antioch and Jerusalem. In return, the Counts of Tripoli usually brought their knights, turcopoles and sergeants to the feudal muster of Jerusalem.

The Raymond of Tripoli under discussion here was the third by that name. His father Raymond II of Tripoli had been Count of Tripoli from 1137 and his mother, Hodiera, was a Princess of Jerusalem, the younger sister of Queen Melisende. However, the marriage was so notoriously turbulent that Queen Melisinde intervened and recommended an amicable separation. In 1152, Raymond II was assassinated, leaving his minor son Raymond III, his heir. The King of Jerusalem served as regent until Raymond came of age, and not long after this, in 1164, Raymond was taken captive by the Saracen leader Nur ad-Din. He was not released for eight years, and became proficient in Arabic while in captivity. It is often imputed by his enemies that it was during this period in captivity that he was "converted" or "coopted" by the the Muslims and in effect became as Saracen "mole" or "sleeper" in the Frankish camp.

When he was set free, it was for a ransom largely contributed by the Knights of St. John, and in exchange for the ransom he gave the Order considerable territory on his western border. Here the Hospitallers built a series of castles including the famous Krak de Chevaliers. 

So far, Raymond’s career had not been very auspicious. 

In 1174, however, King Amalric died suddenly, leaving his 13 year old son Baldwin as his heir.  As the closest male relative of the young king, Raymond of Tripoli was elected, although not immediately, regent. William of Tyre describes him as follows:

He was a slight-built, thin man. He was not very tall and he had dark skin. He had straight hair of medium color and piercing eyes. He carried himself stiffly. He had an orderly mind, was cautious, but acted with vigor.

Contemporary Arab chronicles noted he was highly intelligent, and this was borne out by his sophisticated diplomatic policies in the coming 15 years.

Shortly after becoming regent, Raymond also married for the first time, taking to wife the greatest heiress in the Kingdom, Eschiva, princess of Galilee. She was a widow with four sons by her previous marriage, but William of Tyre explicitly states it was a happy marriage and that Tripoli was on excellent terms with his step-sons. More important, however, the marriage made Tripoli the greatest nobleman inside the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a baron owing 200 knights to the crown. Thus, even after he stepped down as regent when Baldwin IV came of age in 1176, he remained a powerful figure in the kingdom as well as in his own right as Count of Tripoli.

By now, however, it was evident that Baldwin IV was suffering from leprosy and was not going to sire an heir — or live very long. The need to find a replacement was acute. Baldwin had two sisters, the elder of which, Sibylla, was the heir apparent to the throne, but the constitution of Jerusalem dictated that a female heir could only rule jointly with a consort. Sibylla was duly married to a suitable candidate (William Marquis de Montferrat), but he promptly died of malaria, leaving her a young (and pregnant) widow. In 1180, she made a surprise and hasty marriage to a young nobleman only recently arrived in the Holy Land, Guy de Lusignan. There are various versions about why she married Guy (see Sibylla and Guy). The version provided by William of Tyre is that the Prince of Antioch, the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel, and Raymond of Tripoli had been planning to marry Ramla to Sibylla and then depose Baldwin IV, so he married his sister off in great haste — only to regret it latter.

Because Tyre is considered such a knowledgeable insider and sober historian, most modern historians accept this version uncritically. I find it flawed in many ways. First, if Tripoli had been intent on power, he was in a far better position to seize it after becoming regent. Secondly, Tyre admits that the trio of lords came to Jerusalem as if to attend Easter Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, and when they found Sibylla already married they went away peaceably — which hardly sounds like the behavior of men intent on a coup d’etat. Most important, Sibylla’s behavior from this point until her death ten years later was that of a woman passionately in love with her husband. Had she in fact been married in haste against her will to a man far beneath her station by a panicked brother, she would probably have been resentful. She also would have  been receptive to the idea of setting the unwanted husband aside the minute her brother changed his mind. Instead, she clung tenaciously to Guy even when her brother pressed her to divorce him, and later went to great lengths to get her husband crowned king despite the opposition of the entire High Court.

Meanwhile, Baldwin IV was getting weaker. He briefly made Guy his regent in the hope of being able to retire from the world and prepare to face God, but Guy was such an unmitigated disaster that Baldwin was forced to take the reins of government back into his decaying hands. He then took the precaution of having his nephew (Sibylla’s son by William de Montferrat) crowned co-king as Baldwin V, and the High Court (i.e. his peers) selected Raymond of Tripoli to be regent after Baldwin IV’s death. The latter occurred in 1185, and Raymond duly became regent of Jerusalem a second time. He explicitly refused to be the guardian of the young king, however, arguing that if anything happened to the boy he would be accused of have done away with him.

Clearly some people thought him capable of murdering the young king, and Arab sources suggest that he already coveted the crown, but no one suggests that, in fact, he did murder the young king, who was in Sibylla’s not Raymond’s custody when he died in August 1186. What followed instead was not Tripoli's usurpation by Sibylla's, which left the crusader states in the hands of a completely incompetent man -- her husband Guy.

Raymond’s refusal to pay homage to Guy de Lusignan was completely comprehensible under the circumstances. His separate peace with Saladin, on the other hand, was just as clearly treason because it endangered not just he usurper Guy but every man, woman and child in the crusader states. This separate peace is what modern historians point to when calling Tripoli a traitor. But it is not the end of the story.

In Tripoli's defense, however, he soon saw the error of his ways. When Saladin requested a "safe-conduct" for a “reconnaissance patrol” to pass through Tripoli's lands of Galilee, Tripoli felt compelled to grant the request -- but warned his fellow Franks to leave the patrol in peace. The Saracen "reconnaissance patrol" was, however, a provocation that the Master of the Knights Templar felt honor-bound to meet. A combined attack by Templar, Hospitaller and civilian knights led by the Templar Grand Master resulted in a Frankish defeat from which only three Templars escaped. The sight of Templar and Hospitaller heads spiked on the tips of Saracen lances so distressed Raymond that he acceded to the pleas of the Baron of Ibelin and made peace with Guy de Lusignan. He did homage to the usurper as his king, and was received the kiss of peace from Guy. This is a very significant concession on both parts, and underlines how great Tripoli's remorse was.

The problem was that while Raymond’s action (and the abrogation of his treaty with Saladin) healed the fracture of the kingdom, it did not transform Guy de Lusignan into a competent leader. Raymond of Tripoli dutifully brought his troops to the feudal muster called by Lusignan in late June 1187, and he followed Lusignan’s orders, even though he vehemently disagreed with them. The catastrophe of Hattin was not of Raymond’s making; it was Guy de Lusignan and Grand Master of the Temple between them who had engineered the unnecessary defeat. (See Hattin.)

Trapped on the Horns of Hattin, Raymond of Tripoli led a successful charge through the Saracen lines. There is nothing even faintly cowardly or treacherous about this action. On the contrary, a massed charge of heavy cavalry was the most effective tactic the Franks had against the Saracens. It was the tactic used by Richard the Lionheart to win at Arsuf. It was not the charge that discredited Tripoli, but the fact that so few men broke out with him, and apparently no infantry was able to reinforce the breakout. That, however, was hardly Tripoli’s fault. He spearheaded the attack with is knights. It was the duty of the King to reinforce his shock-troops. Something Guy de Lusignan singularly failed to do.

So the Kingdom of Jerusalem was lost, and Raymond of Tripoli retreated to his own county to die within a few months by all accounts a broken man.

In summary, Raymond of Tripoli was a highly intelligent, well-educated and competent man, who as regent and Count of Tripoli ruled prudently and effectively. Yet he was condemned to watch as a parvenu usurper led the crusader states into an avoidable disaster. It is hardly any wonder that he harbored thoughts of seizing the throne himself when the alternative, as history was to show, was to leave it in the hands of a man so totally unsuited to wear a crown. If Tripoli was a traitor, it was for the right reasons: to save the kingdom from destruction. For me he more a tragic figure than a traitorous one. 

Tripoli is a character in my Jerusalem Trilogy, particularly Book II: "Defender of Jerusalem"

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Friday, April 7, 2017

The Powerful Women of Outremer

The crusader states, established at the beginning of the 12 century, rapidly developed unique political institutions and their own legal traditions. One of the most interesting ways in which they set themselves apart from contemporary societies was the prominent role played by women.  In the surrounding Muslim world, of course, women had neither names nor faces, much less a voice, in public. In the Byzantine Empire, while women enjoyed considerable freedom, wealth, education and influence, they did not directly hold power.  Western Europe in the 12th century saw several very powerful female rulers, notably the Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, yet the crusader kingdoms stand out because the high status of women in the Holy Land was more comprehensive and institutionalized than in either the Eastern Empire or Western Europe.

This high status probably evolved out of the repeated failure of the ruling dynasties to produce male heirs.  A look at the succession in the Kingdom of Jerusalem illustrates this well. When Baldwin II died in 1131, he was succeeded by his daughter, Melisende, who ruled jointly with her husband Fulk of Anjou (grandfather by his first marriage of Henry II of England). When Fulk died in 1143, Melisende remained Queen of Jerusalem, and ruled jointly with her eldest son, Baldwin III.  Although her son eventually side-lined her, it was only after a struggle in which several powerful barons and most of the clergy sided with the Queen.

At Baldwin III’s death in 1163, his heir was his brother Amalric I, but Amalric’s heir was the ill-fated Baldwin IV, the Leper King, who had no children, making his sisters (and through them, their children and/or husbands) his heirs. As fate would have it, in the century between the death of Baldwin II and the ascension of Friedrich II as consort of a Queen of Jerusalem in 1225, the crown of Jerusalem passed through the female line no less than ten times! Furthermore, the situation in the crusader states and baronies was similar, if not quite so dramatic; that is, the title to baronies repeatedly passed through heiress rather than heirs. This fact alone would have raised the importance of women, but it is significant that these queens (princesses, countesses and ladies) were not passive vessels.

Melisende was Queen in her own right and commanded loyalty and support among her vassals to such a degree that both her husband and later her son had to take her political wishes into account.  Sibylla forced upon the kingdom a man patently unsuitable for the kingship and soon detested by her brother, the reigning King, and the majority of the barons.  When her son Baldwin V died, Sibylla – not her husband Guy de Lusignan – was crowned by the patriarch, but she placed the crown on Guy’s head as her consort.  Furthermore, many of Guy’s vassals viewed their oaths to him absolved the moment Sibylla died – despite Richard of England’s determined support for Guy.

In the end, even the Lionheart gave up and recognized that without Sibylla, Guy could not be King of Jerusalem. The crown passed to Sibylla’s sister, Isabella. Isabella conferred the crown on two men in succession, Henri de Champagne and later Aimery de Lusignan. Notably, Henri de Champagne, a nephew of both Philip II of France and Richard I of England (his mother was a daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Louis VII), never even called himself King of Jerusalem; he remained Count of Champagne, while Isabella was Queen of Jerusalem. Her daughter’s husband, John of Brienne, also lost his title of King of Jerusalem at his wife’s death, although he acted as regent for his infant daughter until she wed Friedrich II.

The dynastic importance of women was both cause and effect of a uniquely high status for women in the crusader kingdoms that took many other forms. Not only did women act as regents and receive homage from vassals, they enjoyed a freedom of movement and opinion that scandalized the Muslim – and sometimes the Christian – world.  Amalric I’s wife Agnes de Courtney is sometimes accused of being set aside because of her immorality, certainly she was accused of having affairs with a prelate of the church (later the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius) and with Aimery de Lusignan. Her daughter Sibylla is alleged to have had an affair with Baldwin d’Ibelin before taking Guy de Lusignan to her bed. A contemporary claimed that Baldwin IV wanted to hang Guy for “debauching” a princess of Jerusalem, but was then persuaded to let his sister marry her lover.  It was behavior such as this that led many in the West to believe Jerusalem had been lost in 1187 because of God’s wrath with the immorality of the Christian rulers.

Yet while the antics of the royal women may indeed have deserved censure, the higher status of women generally meant that widows in the crusader kingdoms exercised far more control over their property and their lives. SIbylla is the most prominent example, but she was not alone in choosing her second husband. Constance of Antioch chose Reynald de Chatillon, and Maria Comnena chose Balian d’Ibelin, just to name two other prominent examples. In short, young girls were married often at very tender ages to boys or men of their parents’ choosing, but widows had the power, property and right to choose their own husbands – and did.

The higher status of women also impacted their daily lives. Upper class women were literate as they could not have otherwise conducted their affairs, and they owned books. Some accounts stress that they rode astride for greater safety in an always precarious environment, something that gave them greater mobility. They did not have to go veiled in public, although women almost certainly covered their faces from the ravaging effects of the Palestinian summer sun when out of doors.  But perhaps most important, they were entitled to their opinions, free to voice them and often heeded by their male contemporaries. William of Tyre records multiple instances when Queen Melisende's opinion or that of her sisters was sought out. Likewise, the Count of Flanders sought the advice of Dowager Queen Maria in a dispute with Baldwin IV and the High Court. The Ladies of Tiberius and of Oultrejourdain are examples of non-royal women with documented influence.

Compared to their faceless and voiceless sisters in the Muslim world, the fact that women in the crusader states were viewed as intelligent human beings with opinions worth hearing was undoubtedly the greatest privilege of all.

Women play important roles in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy:

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Monday, April 3, 2017

REVIEW: "The Crusades: A Reader" and "Competing Voices from the Crusades"

Today a guest review by Real Crusades History editor Scott Amis.
Scott compares two recent releases that catalogue and comment on the most  important primary sources for the crusades: 
The Crusades: A Reader by Allen and Amt, eds
Competing Voices from the Crusades by Holt and Muldoon, eds.

Primary sources, documents and artifacts originally written, created, or built over the course of historical events, are indispensable instruments of scholarly enquiry and a fundamental part of the language of professional historians.  Fortunately, records written in the times and languages of the Crusading era exist in abundance; many translated into English and other modern languages. These will already be closely familiar to advanced undergraduate students of medieval history; to those undertaking independent study or new to the subject, the vast array quoted and cited in texts, articles, and papers can seem, at first, arcane and bewildering.

For students of the Crusades seeking to pierce a seemingly cryptic veil and gain a broad preliminary acquaintance with pertinent primary sources, The Crusades: A Reader and Competing Voices from the Crusades will prove particularly valuable. Composed by editors of highest scholarly qualification, both books capture the captivating and complex sphere of the medieval mind, yet remain easily readable throughout. 


In The Crusades: A Reader, editors S.J Allen and Emilie Amt begin their well-organized narrative with fourth century accounts of pilgrimages and the writings of Augustine of Hippo, progress through a series of chapters in which original documents are examined in chronological order, and end with the fifteenth century and the beginnings of the Age of Exploration. Christian and Islamic sources are both well-represented, with accompanying commentaries clearly written, informative, and unencumbered by political concerns of the present. Most importantly, the first chapter is amply devoted to accounts which preceded the First Crusade, thus providing crucially important evidence that the events of 1095 were by no means spontaneous. The absence of footnotes might be of consternation to those disposed to further enquiry; in a superb volume targeted toward a beginning audience or use as a convenient reference source, but a small flaw. 

Competing Voices from the Crusades, expertly edited by Andrew Holt and James Muldoon, begins with an introduction which distinctly clarifies the contrast between popular and politicized perceptions of the Crusades and the restraint of the works of disciplined scholars, explains the 'traditionalist' and 'pluralist' perspectives, and concisely summarizes events prior to the First Crusade. Presented in much the same chronological order as The Crusades: A Reader, Competing Voices essentially concentrates on materials relevant to the Holy Land Crusades of 1095-1099 through the fall of Acre in 1291, yet ventures into topics such as life on a Crusade, life in the Crusader States, and Crusades and canon law. The editorial commentaries are particularly outstanding, both in their engaging style and comprehensive discussion of each chapter and selection. Graphically, the book represents a refreshing departure from the usual college-textbook format, and those who wish to pursue supplementary materials - footnotes elaborately explained, maps, and timelines - will find no disappointments.

In the space of a short review, I can only generalize, not touching on the many aspects which make these excellent volumes desirable, indeed necessary, for serious students of the Crusades. Suffice to say, each is deserving of five stars and the highest recommendation from Real Crusades History.