During the nine Crusades that lasted over a period of 200 years (1095-1291), women and children were left at home while the crusaders took the Cross to fight against the Muslims for recapturing the Holy Land.
Before the Crusades, women would be used to running the households for as long as their husbands would serve the King, but this would not take longer than two or three weeks. However, when the Crusades were launched, it would take months to get a message to their husbands to the Holy Land, if it would get at all. Therefore, the role of women during the Crusades was immensely enhanced.
During the long absence of the crusaders, wives had to deal with any sort of problem that would arise. Sometimes, they would find themselves defending their household against another knight who was keen on taking advantage of the master’s absence. Particularly, after the Second Crusade, experienced crusaders, mostly noblemen, were hunted down thus leaving their property and wealth to be administered and protected by their wives.
The social changes that came as a result of the Crusades provided women with greater power than they originally had. In times of constant warfare, women were required to maintain the stability of their household by engaging in legal transactions, learning to farming, bringing up their children and collecting monies to overcome potential ransom. Medieval women had to be capable of administering any type of problem or adversity would show up in their way.
Unlike the women that stayed at home and took care of their households, others participated in the Crusades. The most notable story is that of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France, who escorted her husband, Louis VII, in 1147 to his journey to the Holy Land. However, Eleanor’s decision turned into something of a scandal, as rumors insisted that Eleanor was pursuing an inappropriate relationship with her uncle, the Prince of Antioch, Raymond of Poitiers. Other women that joined the Crusades accompanying their husbands were: Eleanor de Montfort (sister of Henry III of England); Marguerite of Provence (wife of Louis IX of France); and Eleanor of Castile (wife of Edward I of England).
Equally important in the Crusades were women inheritors of power in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and other crusader territories. When King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem died of leprosy, his sister Sybilla succeeded him and crowned her husband, Guy of Lusignan, king, despite the fierce resistance of her family and the barons of the Kingdom. After Sybilla’s death, the Kingdom of Jerusalem passed to her younger sister, Isabella. In the principality of Antioch, Alice of Antioch preferred to marry the Muslim leader Nur al-Din rather than be married off by the King of Jerusalem.
In the East, the role of women also changed due to the Crusades. In 1099, upon the siege of Jerusalem, women and children were killed. The daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, and first female historian, Anna Comnena, documented the arrival of uneducated barbarians from the West, allegedly to liberate Constantinople from the threat of Seljuk Muslim invasion. Besides, in 1249, Shagrat al-Durr convinced the Egyptian Mamluk army to push Frankish Crusaders out of the coastal town of Damietta. This made her, shortly, the Sultan of Egypt.