The history of the Crusades, Christianity’s ‘holy wars’ to recover the city of Jerusalem, have become a notable area of fascination for students of history. Images of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller in their cross emblazoned surcoats are especially evocative. Of course, the men (noble or otherwise) did not go to the wars alone, and this highly regarded book provides biographies of some of the notable women who ‘followed the cross’ to the Holy Land to attempt to wrench control of the spiritual heartland of Christianity from the the followers of Islam. All eight Crusades are considered from the First Crusade of 1090 to the final and Eighth Crusade of 1272. The individual biographies of the women, Adela of Blois, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Violante of Jerusalem and Eleanora of Castille, are organised into concise chapters offering historical insight into the background and fortunes of each crusade. This text provides a fascinating insight into the role of significant women engaged in the ‘great quest’ and is essential for all those interested in women of the medieval period or the Crusades.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
From the time of the marriage of her daughter Matilda with the Lion of Saxony, Eleanor had not visited England. The arrival of Becket’s messenger in Bordeaux, conveyed to her the first intelligence of the prelate’s death; and the mysterious word Woodstock, immediately revived a half-forgotten suspicion excited by the stratagems of Henry, to prevent her return to her favourite residence. Her woman’s curiosity prevailed over her love of power, and she intrusted the regency to her son Henry, repaired to England, and lost no time on her way to Woodstock. As she approached the palace, her keen eye scanned every circumstance that might lead curiosity or lull suspicion, but with the exception of a deserted and unkept look, the appearance of the place indicated no marked change. Though she came with a small train and unannounced, the drawbridge was instantly lowered for her entrance, and the aged porter received her with a smile of unfeigned satisfaction.<br>
The state rooms were thrown open and hastily fitted up for the reception of the royal inmates, and the servants, wearied with the listless inactivity of a life without motive or excitement, bustled about the castle and executed the commands of their mistress, with the most joyful alacrity. Under pretence of superintending additions and repairs, Queen Eleanor ordered carpenters and masons, who under her eye, visited every apartment, sounded every wall, and tore off every panel, where by any possibility an individual might be concealed. She did not hesitate even to penetrate the dungeons under the castle; and whenever the superstition of the domestics made them hesitate in mortal terror, she would seize a torch and unattended thread her way through the darkest and dampest subterranean passages of the gloomy vaults. All these investigations led to no discovery. The pleasance offered little to invite her search. It had been originally laid out in the stiff and tasteless manner of the age, with straight walks and close clipped shrubbery, but so long neglected it was a tangled maze, to which her eye could detect no entrance.<br>
Below the pleasance the postern by a wicket gate communicated with a park, which was separated only by a stile from the great forest of Oxfordshire. Mounted on her Spanish jennet, Eleanor galloped through this park and sometimes ventured into the forest beyond, and she soon discovered that the attendants avoided a thicket which skirted the park wall. Commanding the grooms to lead in that direction, she was informed that it was the ruins of the old menagerie, located there by Henry I., overgrown by thorns and ivy and trees, that shut out the light of the sun. The aged porter assured her that no one had entered it in his day, that wild beasts still howled therein, and that the common people deemed it dangerous to visit its vicinity. He added, that one youth who had charge of the wicket, had been carried off and never again seen; and that all the exorcisms of the priests could never lay the ghost.<br>
The old man crossed himself in devout horror and turned away; but the queen commanded him to hold the bridle of her horse, while she should attempt the haunted precincts alone. The thick underwood resisted all her efforts, and she found it impossible to advance but a few steps, though her unwonted intrusion aroused the beetles and bats, awakened the chatter of monkeys and the startled twitter of birds, and gave her a glimpse of what she thought were the glaring eyeballs of a wolf. A solemn owl flew out above her head as she once more emerged into the light of day, and the timid porter welcomed her return with numerous ejaculations of thanksgiving to the watchful saints; but he shook his head with great gravity as he assisted her to remount saying;<br>
“I would yon dismal bird had kept his perch in the hollow oak. Our proverb says, ‘Woe follows the owl’s wing as blood follows the steel.’”<br>
Disappointed in the wood, Eleanor relinquished her fruitless search. But by dint of questioning she learned, that though the palace wore the appearance of desertion and decay, it had been the frequent resort of Henry and Becket, and since the favourite’s death, her husband had made it a flying visit before leaving for Ireland. Farther than this all inquiries were vain. The unexpected return of her husband, and his look of surprise and anxiety at finding her at Woodstock, again awakened all her jealous fears. His power of dissimulation, notwithstanding, kept her constantly at fault, and during the week of his stay, nothing was elicited to throw light upon the mystery. Henry had been negotiating with the pope to obtain absolution for Becket’s murder, and was now on his way to Normandy to meet the legates.<br>
The morning before his departure, Queen Eleanor saw him walking in the pleasance, and hastened to join him. As she approached she observed a thread of silk, attached to his spur and apparently extending through the walks of the shrubbery. Carefully breaking the thread she devoted herself by the most sedulous attention to her husband, till he set out for France, when she hastened back to the garden, and taking up the silk followed it through numerous turnings and windings till she came to a little open space near the garden wall, perfectly enclosed by shrubbery. The ball from which the thread was unwound lay upon the grass. There the path seemed to terminate; but her suspicions were now so far confirmed that she determined not to give up the pursuit.<br>
A broken bough, on which the leaves were not yet withered, riveted her attention, and pulling aside the branch she discovered a concealed door. With great difficulty she opened or rather lifted it, and descended by stairs winding beneath the castle wall. Ascending on the opposite side by a path so narrow that she could feel the earth and rocks on either hand, she emerged into what had formerly been the cave of a leopard, fitted up in the most fanciful manner with pebbles, mosses, and leaves. She made the entire circuit of the cave ere she discovered a place of egress: but at length pushing away a verdant screen, she advanced upon an open pathway which wound, now under the thick branches of trees, now through the dilapidated barriers that had prevented the forest denizens from making war upon each other, now among ruined lodges which the keepers of the wild beasts had formerly inhabited; but wherever she wandered she noted that some careful hand had planted tree, and shrub, and flower in such a manner as to conceal the face of decay and furnish in the midst of these sylvan shades a most delightful retreat.