Now, Eleanor and Louis could have chosen two broad routes to the holy land essentially – it was always something of a moot point. Did you head down to the Mediterranean and then take a boat, or march all the way overland? I’d say a boat in that breezy landlubbery kind of way, but you know ships and seafaring were not plain sailing those days, plus there were pirates. Louis’s army was probably somewhere between 25 and 50,000, including the swarm of pilgrims and camp followers that surrounded every medieval army like midges round a Scottish head. So organising a fleet was massively complicated and expensive, and of course it has it’s own dangers. So, often it was the overland route crusaders took, and so it was the case here, setting out for Germany. They would find themselves following the Emperor Conrad, who was a few weeks ahead of him with his own Crusader army of 10,000. Bye…See you in the Holy Land!
Now there are a few legends about Eleanor as the crusader army lumbered its way through central and Eastern Europe towards the golden city of Constantinople. One is the amazon story of the Queen in armour. Another is the disapproving story of a vain and troublesome group of 300 ladies who demanded all the luxuries of home and slowed everyone down. Well, here at the British Shedcasting Corporation we are committed to crushing fun history beneath the heel of truth, and we don’t know whether either of these legends are true; and suspect we are talking monks again; monkish chroniclers outraged at the unwomanly behaviour of going on campaigning – which was clearly man’s work. So we dismiss them. However, as she set out from the towns and cities along the way with flowing robes and silver saddled horse, you can bet that Eleanor looked the part and epitomised the Crusader and courtly ideal – romantic, brave, adventurous, pious.
While Louis and Eleanor are lumbering, I should mention a couple of things. Firstly, there’s a problem – what exactly was the plan? That sounds like a silly question but you know, what are the objectives? Is this a peaceful pilgrimage that just happens to be accompanied by tens of thousands heavily armed fat blokes with body odour? Or a military expedition to recapture Edessa, the news of whose fall prompted this whole thing? Or to attack someone or something? No one knew. Seems silly, but there it is, too many notes. Secondly, you should know something of the structure of Outremer. Over the sea that means, basically Christendom over the ocean. Briefly, there’s a map on the website, so go and have a butchers, but there’s a kingdom of Jerusalem, and around it a series of small crusader counties. So starting in north of the levant at the corner where levant meets Turkey there’s Antioch, dominated by the grand walled city and ruled by Raymond, Eleanor’s uncle. Then inland from that Edessa which is toast now of course. Back to the coast and next south is Tripoli and then finally inland to the kingdom of Jerusalem, straddling the Dead sea.
Ok, back to Louis’ army and just in time because we have fast forwarded to 4th October 1147, and Eleanor stands before the walls of Constantinople. Moving to meet then are all the wealthy and most glamorous local Byzantine notables, eager to take the visitors to see their Emperor. Well, I say eager, it’s unlikely their emotions were that uncomplicated. As Eleanor and Louis rode through the astounding glories of Constantinople, Emperor Manuel I Komnenos would have been sweating gently in his silks. The arrival of the barbarian Latins brought more pain than reward by and large. On the plus side it was always good to have armies to put the pressure on the Empire’s enemies; and actually there were social opportunities too, the chance to arrange marriages, make connections and all that. On the negative side; the great blunt force that were Latin armies messed up all the delicate alliances between the Emperor and the muslim states, and could cause much more trouble than they saved; the armies were vast hairy and smelly and pillaged their way across the countryside. The corpses of German soldiers were scattered over the Greek countryside to make this very point, stragglers murdered by the locals in revenge for various nasty transgressions. And then the Latins had no cultural understanding, thinking the Greeks devious and effeminate, so always left in a huff and then expected to be supplied. Seriously it would be easier to just decline and have done.
Still, after a couple of weeks, Eleanor and Louis set out from Constaninople, washed and brushed, across Anatolia. Which is modern Turkey. This is where the disadvantage of the land route become painfully apparent. Anatolia was Turkish Ottoman territory, and the arrival of a crusader army was like the arrival of a vast set of spare ribs at a buffet. Something to be nibbled at will until it was all gone. For the crusaders this was a hideous nightmare – countryside designed for ambushes, hot, dry, barren, towns that were almost impossible to spell. As they crawled through the furnace, it started badly; news arrived that the Germans had been butchered at Dorylaeum and their army completely shattered; Conrad had returned to Constantinople, and shards of the German army would join the French in broken dribs and whining drabs. So that’s a bad start then. But fortunately – it got worse. Time after time the Turks returned to the buffet, stealing a rib or two here and there before the French could beat them away from the table. After 4 of these attacks, the army was finally reaching the edge of the mountains. The story then goes like this; impetuously and imperiously, Eleanor’s impressive caravan sped forward for the safety of the plain and the town, refusing orders to stay with the main battle. Eleanor’s Poitevin right hand man, Geoffrey de Rancon confidently reassuring everyone that they were perfectly safe. As a gap opened up between Eleanor and the main battle the cunning Turks came back once more to the buffet table and sprung their trap on the isolated vanguard. Hordes of soldiers and pilgrims were slaughtered in their attack before the brave Sir Louis could redeem the situation. It was all the queen’s fault:
‘by her undisguised flirtations had spread confusion and dismay and discord in the noblest host that ever went to the East’.
So said Richard of Devises. It was the woman’s fault essentially. Well, this is another bit of myth making – seriously we are wading in it are we not? There’s plenty more where that came from, just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins, just you wait. The point about this is that none of the 3 contemporary chroniclers mention the incident at all. It’s almost certain it did not happen that way. But the French army were on their last legs, living on horse meat until they finally found their way off the Taurus mountains and into the friendly port of Adalia. Safe and sound! The common soldiers must have been very relieved, hurray, it’s been tough, but our brave and loyal commanders have looked after us and brought us here safe and sound, let’s go and sink a few.
A month later, the common soldiers woke up with their customary hangovers and found that their brave and loyal commanders had legged it. Louis, Eleanor and the flower of the French army were gone. Leaving them. Leaving them with two slightly shifty looking commanders. Don’t worry lads, the king left us with plenty of cash, we’ll follow on. One fine morning the common soldiers woke up to find the two shifty commanders had hopped it too. The good town of Adalia meanwhile had no use for them and threw them out to make their own way to Antioch. Most were either butchered or sold into slavery by the waiting Turks. So you know that thing about feudal society – you ordinary folk pay your dues and us nobles will protect you? Hogwash. Come the revolution brothers and sisters…
Eleanor, Louis and the small elite force remaining to them, mainly cavalry finally arrived then at Outremer, in the form of the principality of Antioch. They had fled essentially because they simply could not find the ships – so it was one of yer sauve qui peu situations, every man for himself, devil take the hindmost. It was now March 1148, 9 months after leaving gay Paris. Waiting for them in Antioch, the great trading port of the Levant was Prince Raymond, the younger Brother of William X of Aquitaine, a Poitevin in a foreign land, made good. Well, Eleanor clearly had a ball, thoroughly delighted with Prince Raymond, and revelling in the exotic fusion culture of the Latin states of the Holy Land. And it is more than likely that Raymond rather ruthlessly exploited his niece.
Here we arrive at the problem of leaving home without a strategy. Because as soon as he arrived with his now little army, Louis was surrounded by crusaders with brilliant ideas of how he should use it. Louis was in an agony of indecision; his military options were anyway limited since he now no longer had any foot soldiers. So Louis insisted that he would be carrying straight on to Jerusalem.
Now this didn’t suit our Raymond at all, not one little bit. His idea was to capture a bunch of strategic castles around the edges of his principality, to secure the defences of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Now you have to say that a bunch of horsemen is not the ideal tool to capture cities – once you’ve yelled charge you’ve pretty much shot your bolt. So despite the general historical feeling that Raymond had a point Louis may have been going with Lindsay Buckingham and muttering I know I’m not wrong. Either way, Raymond worked on Eleanor – he spotted a woman who could get her besotted husband to come round to his way of thinking if she chose.
And so Eleanor did so choose, and she tried; either she was having besotted problems of her own, or she saw the sense of Raymond’s proposal. But Eleanor broke the rules in a number of ways; she argued with her husband in open council, and that was not done; and she was taking her uncle’s side against her husband; and she was being far too friendly, even flirtatious with the man. All of this exploded in Louis brain; a combination of hurt male pride and jealously probably. And this time he was not to be swayed by his wife.
According to John of Salisbury this ended up in a full blown domestic. Louis basically said ‘Wife, we’re leaving’. Eleanor suggested he go on ahead – she was having a blast with Raymond, and Raymond waded in too. Probably the wrong thing to do. Facing stubborn insistence, Eleanor called up the big guns
And when the King made haste to tear her away, she mentioned their kinship, saying it was not lawful for them to remain together as man and wife, since they were related in the fourth and fifth degrees.
Whoa. The domestic just went nuclear. Later writers also suggested something more sinister – a love affair, a incestuous love affair between Raymond and Eleanor, which I believe I mentioned at the start of the series. We are never going to know for sure – but I for one think the idea is daft, an utterly potty risk and against all the social mores in which Eleanor had been drilled. But more relevant are two things; one is the fear of Eleanor the chroniclers’ rumours reveals – Eleanor was too unconventional, too fearless for a woman – so she must be a bad ’un. But secondly – Eleanor had clearly behaved in a way that allowed people to think there was something up; she’d crossed a social boundary in some way with her behaviour. So we can’t let her totally off the hook.
Louis seized his wife in the middle of the night and left Antioch without saying goodbye. King and Queen, husband and wife were welcomed into Jerusalem and both played the part, the sticking plasters applied to their marriage, but the damage was done. In Jerusalem the locals persuaded Louis that the best thing to do with this rather battered army was to attack Damascus, and so off he went, this time leaving Eleanor in Jerusalem. The attack on Damascus was an utter disaster, a miserable one at that. The Damascenes were not even stretched; there were internal squabbles, and the approach of a further muslim army meant the French were forced to retreat; and without foot soldiers they had little chance of victory anyway.
The crusade was over as a fighting exercise; the inspiration of Vezalay had run cold. French nobles drifted away and began to return home, and when they got there Louis did not get a good press.
But Louis was too busy revelling in the chance for a bit of extravagant piety in Jerusalem, and was in his element. Eleanor had probably reached the point where she was keen to get back and end this marriage, and Louis was bombarded with increasingly desperate letters from Suger begging him to come home. Maybe for Louis staying in Jerusalem was a way of delaying the need to face up to his shattered reputation and ruined marriage. But eventually on 3rd April 1149 the pair of them left Jerusalem never to return.