Eleanor of Aquitaine
I stumbled yesterday across an online book by Jacob Abbot; a prolific writer of the nineteenth century. The book is about King Richard I of England (1157-1199) who is often known as Richard the Lionheart because of his bravery in fighting in the Christian Crusades of the time
I only read the first 25 pages, and I found myself laughing at some of the descriptions of Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
But it also revealed another example from history that exposes the current-day feminist nonsense that women were treated as second-class citizens in those far off days – in this case, some 800 years ago.
In the preface to the book, the author makes the following claims about his study, which seem quite credible to me. This is what he says …
The author of this series has made it his special object to confine himself very strictly, even in the most minute details which he records, to historic truth. The narratives are not tales founded upon history, but history itself, without any embellishment, or any deviations from the strict truth so far as it can now be discovered by an attentive examination of the annals written at the time when the events themselves occurred.
In writing the narratives, the author has endeavored to avail himself of the best sources of information which this country affords; and though, of course, there must be in these volumes, as in all historical accounts, more or less of imperfection and error, there is no intentional embellishment.
Nothing is stated, not even the most minute and apparently imaginary details, without what was deemed good historical authority. The readers, therefore, may rely upon the record as the truth, and nothing but the truth, so far as an honest purpose and a careful examination have been effectual in ascertaining it.
And here is part of his account as it relates to Eleanor and her coterie of female friends …
She spent a considerable portion of her time in Paris, at the court of her husband, but then she often returned to Aquitaine, where she held a sort of court of her own in Bordeaux, which was her capital. She led this sort of life for some time, until at length she was induced to form a design of going to the East on a crusade.
… Her motive was a love of adventure and a fondness for notoriety. She thought that by going out, a young and beautiful princess, at the head of an army of Crusaders, into the East, she would make herself a renowned heroine in the eyes of the whole world. So she immediately commenced her preparations, and by the commanding influence which she exerted over the ladies of the court, she soon inspired them all with her own romantic ardor.
The ladies at once laid aside their feminine dress, and clothed themselves like Amazons, so that they could ride astride on horseback like men. All their talk was of arms, and armor, and horses, and camps. They endeavored, too, to interest all the men—the princes, and barons, and knights that surrounded them—in their plans, and to induce them to join the expedition.
A great many did so, but there were some that shook their heads and seemed inclined to stay at home. They knew that so wild and heedless a plan as this could end in nothing but disaster. The ladies ridiculed these men for their cowardice and want of spirit, and they sent them their distaffs as presents. “We have no longer any use for the distaffs,” said they, “but, as you are intending to stay at home and make women of yourselves, we send them to you, so that you may occupy yourselves with spinning while we are gone.” By such taunts and ridicule as this, a great many were shamed into joining the expedition, whose good sense made them extremely averse to have any thing to do with it.
The expedition was at length organized and prepared to set forth. It was encumbered by the immense quantity of baggage which the queen and her party of women insisted on taking. It is true that they had assumed the dress of Amazons, but this was only for the camp and the field. They expected to enjoy a great many pleasures while they were gone, to give and receive a great many entertainments, and to live in luxury and splendor in the great cities of the East. So they must needs take with them large quantities of baggage, containing dresses and stores of female paraphernalia of all kinds. The king remonstrated against this folly, but all to no purpose. The ladies thought it very hard if, in going on such an expedition, they could not take with them the usual little comforts and conveniences appropriate to their sex. So it ended with their having their own way.
The caprices and freaks of these women continued to harass and interfere with the expedition during the whole course of it. The army of Crusaders reached at length a place near Antioch, in Asia Minor, where they encountered the Saracens. Antioch was then in the possession of the Christians. It was under the command of the Prince Raymond, who has already been spoken of as Eleanora’s uncle. Raymond was a young and very handsome prince, and Eleanora anticipated great pleasure in visiting his capital. The expedition had not, however, yet reached it, but were advancing through the country, defending themselves as well as they could against the troops of Arab horsemen that were harassing their march.
The commanders were greatly perplexed in this emergency to know what to do with the women, and with their immense train of baggage. The king at last sent them on in advance, with all his best troops to accompany them. He directed them to go on, and encamp for the night on certain high ground which he designated, where they would be safe, he said, from an attack by the Arabs. But when they approached the place, Eleanora found a green and fertile valley near, which was very romantic and beautiful, and she decided at once that this was a much prettier place to encamp in than the bare hill above. The officers in command of the troops remonstrated in vain. Eleanora and the ladies insisted on encamping in the valley. The consequence was, that the Arabs came and got possession of the hill, and thus put themselves between the division of the army which was with Eleanora and that which was advancing under the king. A great battle was fought. The French were defeated. A great many thousand men were slain. All the provisions for the army were cut off, and all the ladies’ baggage was seized and plundered by the Arabs. The remainder of the army, with the king, and the queen, and the ladies, succeeded in making their escape to Antioch, and there Prince Raymond opened the gates and let them in.
As soon as Eleanora and the other ladies recovered a little from their fright and fatigue, they began to lead very gay lives in Antioch …