Women and the Crusades

Cover of Women and the Crusades: The women of Scythia attacking a tower with picks, axes and stones to avenge the slaughter of their menfolk, from Li livre des ansienes estoires, c. 1285, British Library/Robana Picture Library/agefotostock

My book Women and the Crusades was published by OUP in the UK on 23 Feb. This certainly isn’t the first book on the subject and it won’t be the last, but I hope it will give readers an insight into the enormous range of different ways women were involved in crusades during the period from the eleventh to the sixteenth century.

The book is thoroughly referenced, so readers should be able to track down fuller accounts of these women in the primary and secondary sources I used and read more about the cases that interest them! There were certainly far more women involved in crusades in one way or another than I have mentioned in the book, but it’s easy to overlook them in the primary sources if you’re not looking out for them.

I hope this book will encourage researchers to keep an eye open for women’s involvement in crusades, from planning crusades, encouraging people to go on crusade, raising troops, taking part in expeditions as someone who had ‘taken the cross’ or in a support role (servant, merchant, laundress …), looking after the family estates in the absence of crusaders, lending money to crusaders, praying, donating money to institutions that ransomed crusaders who had been taken prisoner, buying crusade indulgences to support crusaders, paying for memorials to crusaders … or caught up in crusades against their will: women who were taken prisoner, saw the loss of their property and their loved ones, and perhaps had to make the choice between death or captivity.

Initially I thought of including a list of all the women who were involved in the crusades, but this turned out to be impractical. Many women mentioned by contemporaries as present on crusades remained unnamed. Much of the support given by women (and by men) was part of everyday life: taking part in prayer during the Mass or in a liturgical procession to support a crusade, praying at the beginning of a meeting of a charitable fraternity for Christian recovery of the Holy Land, or buying an indulgence to help finance a crusade.

The book is available directly from the publisher, or from the usual online suppliers (Amazon , Waterstones …)

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Women and the Crusades

Very many years ago, back in the early 1990s when I was applying for university teaching posts, my next big research project was going to be women’s roles in the crusades. I had collected a good deal of primary evidence while working on my PhD project on medieval views of the military orders, and at that time there had been little research or acknowledgement that women played any role in the crusades.

But having got a teaching post I was told by ‘crusade’ colleagues that I mustn’t pursue this project. Another scholar was already working on it and I would damage their research if I started working on it too. So I published a research article on women on the Third Crusade, and stepped back from that project, waiting for the promised comprehensive study of women in crusading to be published.

Reader, it never was.

In 2003 the German scholar Sabine Geldesetzer published a detailed study of women’s involvement in the crusades to the Holy Land between 1096 and 1291. I waited for it to be translated into English. No English translation has been published yet.

To cut a long story short: at last I gave up waiting. With encouragement from a friendly publisher, at last I have been able to write up my own research on women and the crusades. It covers much more than the crusades to the Holy Land — the Iberian Peninsula, the Baltic, and crusades against heretics are all included, as are some Spanish and Portuguese expeditions further afield in the first half of the sixteenth century which used crusading ideology. The book considers women’s roles as initiators of crusades, their roles during crusade expeditions and conflicts, their support for crusaders on the home front, and how women perpetuated the memory of crusades and crusaders. It concludes that most women’s involvement in crusades was very like most men’s: support through donations and prayers rather than getting involved in the military action. When women did take part in expeditions they generally supported warriors (for example as medics, merchants, or helping to construct siege defences, carry water or perform other labouring tasks) rather than fighting, although they did take part in fighting in emergency situations, for example by throwing stones or using a bow.

I haven’t produced a list of known women crusaders, because in most cases contemporary commentators didn’t record their names. A list of ‘woman filling in ditch’, ‘woman whose baby girl was kidnapped’, ‘woman defending the wall’ is not particularly informative. But the index is full of names!

The book should be published on 23 February 2023 and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

Jacket image: The women of Scythia attacking a tower with picks, axes, and stones to avenge the slaughter of their menfolk, from Li livre des ansienes estoires, c. 1285. British Library/Robana Picture library/agefotostock.

If you see any reviews of the book on Amazon or elsewhere before that date: they can’t be real, so ignore them!

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Sybil, Queen of Jerusalem

A few months late: but as the Conference for the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East takes place next week, I should mention that my study of Queen Sybil of Jerusalem (queen 1186-92) was published by Routledge in March this year in its series ‘Rulers of the Latin East’. Details here: https://www.routledge.com/Sybil-Queen-of-Jerusalem-11861190/Nicholson/p/book/9781138636514

Here’s the blurb:

Queen Sybil of Jerusalem, queen in her own right, was ruler of the kingdom of Jerusalem from 1186 to 1190. Her reign saw the loss of the city of Jerusalem to Saladin, and the beginning of the Third Crusade. Her reign began with her nobles divided and crisis looming; by her death the military forces of Christian Europe were uniting with her and her husband, intent on recovering what had been lost. Sybil died before the bulk of the forces of the Third Crusade could arrive in the kingdom, and the Crusade did not recover Jerusalem. But although Sybil failed, she went down fighting – spiritually, even if not physically.

This study traces Sybil’s life, from her childhood as the daughter of the heir to the throne of Jerusalem to her death in the crusading force outside the city of Acre. It sets her career alongside that of other European queens and noblewomen of the twelfth century who wielded or attempted to wield power and ask how far the eventual survival of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1192 was due to Sybil’s leadership in 1187 and her determination never to give up.

Don’t look at the price! The e-book is cheaper … but still expensive.

Copies of Sybil, Queen of Jerusalem
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Past Imperfect

About a year ago, ARC Humanities Press published a short book on the Knights Templar in their ‘Past Imperfect’ series. The series ‘presents concise critical overviews of the latest research by the world’s leading scholars’. It was an honour to be asked to contribute to the series. Regrettably publication was delayed by the Covid-19 restrictions, but here is the book: https://www.arc-humanities.org/9781641891684/the-knights-templar/

And there’s a lovely review of it here, by Dr Nicholas Morton of Nottingham Trent University: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/tmr/article/view/34467/37767

But don’t try buying it from Amazon.co.uk: they’ve mixed it up with my earlier books on the Knights Templar, so if you order it from them they might send you the wrong book.

Cover of The Knights Templar, by Helen J. Nicholson
Cover of The Knights Templar, published in ARC Humanities Press’s Past Imperfect Series.

Update 23.06.22: I’ve contacted Amazon via the ‘author’ page and they’ve sorted out the mix up on the Amazon.co.uk page, although may still be a problem for other countries.

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Road Collision Investigation Branch

Road safety: something we should all pay more attention to, perhaps?

Official Gawain Blog

I fell over this by accident:


You may be a better-informed reader and have already seen it.

Effectively, the Government has noticed that road traffic collisions tend to go uninvestigated except in so far as required for criminal prosecutions, insurance payouts and negligence actions. This creates a rather piecemeal approach that will endeavour to allocate blame (not always very successfully) without considering road safety in the round.

In some cases collisions are made more likely by features of the road. Here’s an example. From this dubious drawing it may look like a standard signal-controlled T-junction.

Who has to stop at the red lights on the far right then?

Now it looks tidy until you discover that the pelican on the right that controls traffic vanishing off down East Road is semi-synchronised with the main junction. It will never show red unless the main set of traffic lights for traffic…

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The Templar Estates in Lincolnshire: new book by Dr Mike Jefferson

It was a great honour to examine the brilliant doctoral thesis which has now been transformed into this book. If you are studying the Templars’ estates, their operations in Europe, their logistics, or studying the economic history of medieval Europe, do read this book!

As well as sorting out what properties the Templars held in Lincolnshire, Mike Jefferson looks at what they produced on their farms, who worked there and what they did, and what became of these properties after the Templars were dissolved. He also includes analytical tables setting out his data, so readers can check how he’s reached his conclusions and do some analysis of their own.

Front cover of Mike Jefferson's new book 'The Templar Estates in Lincolnshire' (Boydell Press, 2020)

Available directly from the publisher at: https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781783275571/the-templar-estates-in-lincolnshire-1185-1565/ or from Amazon.

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The Proceedings Against the Templars in the British Isles at knock-down price

If you want a copy of my Proceedings Against the Templars in the British Isles but can’t afford it, the volumes are currently available from Postscript books at £30 the pair: https://www.psbooks.co.uk/Proceedings-against-the-Templars-in-the-British-Isles

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Lockdown Extension Day 12

The immortal Ferret Song.

Official Gawain Blog

The lupins are growing. (Well, one of them is growing. The other has been eaten by something. Seems slugs don’t get coronaviruses.)

Garden 12 JPG

The garden has been seeing some work today after I went along to the local hardware store for some essential solvent adhesive (I go through rather a lot of the stuff when bored and a bit depressed and in need of something to do that will cheer me up). While there I picked up some bulbs for the garden. It then turned out they didn’t have the right sort of solvent adhesive for my purposes. Fortunately I managed to find some at the newsagents’ instead. (I’d gone in there for a magazine, which it turned out they hadn’t got in stock. Anyone would think the world had ended.)

Time now for a song, and who should be singing it for us but John Cleese? Here he is, accompanied…

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Lockdown Extension Day 2

If you’ve never read James Thurber’s Thirteen Clocks, this may persuade you that you have missed something worth chasing up:

Official Gawain Blog

Still here, and the garden’s still growing. (It’s full of laundry today – a bonus of being stuck at home all day with little else to do is that I save money on the tumbledryer).

The forsythia is busy getting rid of its flowers, so welcome at the end of February as a sign that Spring was nearly here and I should start plotting longer walks, and is layering up with bright green leaves instead. A scruffy plant, but a keen one, and one that will be keeping me busy managing its enthusiasm. (At least sideways. It’s too tall to prune the waving fronds that stretch for the blue sky above.)

Garden 02 JPG

Today’s reading comes from The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. The Golux is talking to a wandering (and wondering) minstrel:

“Not so fast,” the Golux said. “Half the places I have been to, never were. I make things up…

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Why the UK Coronavirus Lockdown should be lifted on Monday

This is important: read it!

PS: if you are in the UK and you agree with Gawain, write to your MP about this. Your member of Parliament needs to know your views.

Official Gawain Blog

Readers who have had the good fortune to have been living in a cave in Patagonia will not have heard of the coronavirus Covid-19, and it is highly recommended that for the sake of their sanity they return to their cave immediately. Or at least turn off their internet before trying to go any further.

Nearly three weeks ago the Prime Minister imposed a blanket lockdown on the country which permitted leaving the house for:

  • essential supplies (not defined);
  • medicine (not defined);
  • daily exercise of walking, cycling or running (not further defined);
  • work that cannot be done from home (relevance of this work not defined).

The Prime Minister then went and stood within about a foot of his medical professionals repeatedly, while telling the population that they must not see friends or family or go within 2 metres of a human being that they do not live with, and proceeded…

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