Perceptions of women in the narrative histories of crusading and the Latin East

Hodgson, Natasha Ruth

September 2005

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© 2005 Natasha Ruth Hodgson. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The prominent military and religious aspects of histories about crusading and the Holy Land have ensured that scholarship on the role of women has only recently started to appear. New studies have made profitable use of a wide variety of records, but historical narratives have been mistrusted as source material for women on account of stylised 'departure scenes', criticism of non-combatants on crusade and theories about sexual sin leading to military failure. This thesis, however, contends that attitudes towards women in these texts did not differ dramatically from their portrayal in other contemporary narratives. Perceptions of women were not entirely governed by lack of enthusiasm at women's involvement in the crusade movement. Similarly, the 'frontier' nature of society in the Latin East meant that aristocratic women enjoyed a relatively high profile in the narratives that were circulated in western Europe, and while they had a role in the historical explanation of military setbacks in the Holy Land, their portrayal was by no means consistently negative. It varied according to the family roles, wealth and social status which sometimes allowed women to transcend their gender. The interpenetration of 'fictional' literature and History during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries meant that authors of historical narratives borrowed heavily from a variety of genres and used a mixture of contemporary and traditional imagery to describe the women in their texts. 'Invented' female characters were also used by authors to represent their own ideas, exploiting perceptions about women held in common with their audience. This study analyses the representation of women by 'life-cycle stage'. It identifies common perceptions about daughters, wives, mothers and widows, and applies them to women in the narratives of crusading and the Latin East. It concludes that social status was inextricably linked to the portrayal of women as a gender, and that the power exerted by aristocratic women through family roles was a key factor shaping the disparate views of women in these texts.

Department of History, The University of Hull
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