Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Women and Children on Crusade???

   You might be wondering why I included women and children on crusades in my new Valiant Hearts book, Courageous. This story is set in the early 1200s, a period known as the Fifth Crusade in the Holy Land. Of course at this time, battle was primarily for men. It was the men’s responsibility to protect women, not the other way around. And yet, perhaps because of the religious fervor surrounding the crusades and the pilgrimage nature of them, there is ample record of women and children going along as well. Sometimes even whole families. 

Typical male crusaders
Generally women supplied water and provisions and tended the wounded. But it was also considered proper for them to man launching weapons and shoot bows and arrows from a distance. According to Islamic legends of the crusades, there might have been some women disguised as knights fighting on the front lines, although European records do not concur on this issue. Certainly in times of desperation, women throughout history have done what they must and fought for their lives. 

An actual, historical, "Children’s Crusade" had two waves in the early 1200s. Thousands of children followed visionary young teens and set off on crusade, but there is no record of any reaching the Holy Land. Many died along the way, others turned back, and it seems some might have been lost at sea. I wanted to complete that legend, while still presenting the vast complexities of the crusades.

Now to the toughest question you might be asking, should the crusades have been fought at all? In the beginning, the Christian countries of Europe were trying to turn the tide of hundreds of years of Muslim invasion and oppression. They wanted to kick the Muslims out of Europe and take back land lost by their Christian brothers and sisters in the Byzantine part of the world. I would contend that those reasons were as solid and justifiable as those fueling any war in history. But war is messy.

From the start motives were mixed. Some wanted power and money while others had altruistic motives. Sometimes crusaders from different European countries cooperated; sometimes they undermined each other and broke treaties that other groups had made. Some crusades were led by strong, chivalrous leaders, and others turned into riotous mobs. And almost always the new crusaders from Europe failed to understand their enemy and the complex social structure of the Middle East.

 I think you'll enjoy the way I handled the potentially tricky subject of the crusades in Courageous. I attempt to take an honest look at both sides, showing honor to the Muslim natives, while still examining some difficult aspects of their religion and culture. This is one fictional adventure you won't want to miss out on.


  1. Forgive me if I've said this before, or something like it, but could there be an element of criticism or ridicule in the mention of women in Islamic chronicles? Depicting women as somwhow 'unnatural' for taking part in fighting, or men as weak for needing women to protect them?
    You would probably know more about this then me, but I cannot think of any examples of Muslim women who took on any kind of military role, as I don't think this was considered acceptable in thier culture.

    One example I can think of, although it comes from later was Edward I's wife, Eleanor of Castille, who accompanied him on Crusade in the later 13th century. There's no evidence that she fought, but she was certainly there as one of thier children was born near Acre. (There is a sweet, but almost certainly untrue story about her sucking the poison out of a wound inflicted during a failed assassination attempt on her husband). Love or loathe old Longshanks, those two were so head over heels, its really rather sweet to think he took his wife almost everywhere with him.

    1. I agree that the Muslims would have seen it as a negative for women to fight.

  2. For interested blog readers, "God's Battalions" by Prof. Rodney Stark is a good starting point on the Crusades. It's an accessible read.

    Also, those who wanted to go on crusade were supposed to consult with their parish priest since it was a serious undertaking. Some did, others didn't.