Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Second Crusade

Amy Kelly’s engaging and evocative biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings says about Eleanor’s participation in the Second Crusade, citing Michaud’s History of the Crusades as her source:

With the queen came “many other ladies of quality,” Sybille , Countess of Flanders, whose half brother was King of Jerusalem, Mamille of Roucy, Florine of Bourgogne, Torqueri of Bouillon, Faydide of Toulouse, and scores of others whom the chroniclers could not afford the parchment to enumerate.

Do a google search for a few of those names. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’ll find that scores of other writers, both in published non-fiction and fiction, as well as web-based sources have taken those words as gospel truth and have published that list of names almost word for word — Allison Weir, Norman Cantor, Antonia Fraser, etc.
Problem. Not one name on that list actually accompanied Eleanor to the Holy Land — and as it happens, Michaud mentions none of them. Let’s take a look at them one by one:

  • Sybille of Anjou, countess of Flanders: She did eventually make it to the Holy Land, travelling with her husband on his third pilgrimage there, at which point she refused to return home and spent the rest of her days as a nun in the convent of Bethany. But during the Second Crusade she stayed in Flanders to run the county, leaving her husband to go to Jerusalem alone.
  • Mamille of Roucy: Died around 1122.  The Second Crusade began in 1147
  • Florine of Bourgogne: There is a Florine of Bourgogne who was married to Prince Sweyn of Denmark and apparently they both went on the First Crusade where both of them died in 1097.  One source suggests she remarried and died in the Holy Land in 1102.
  • Faydide of Toulouse:  She, at first, seemed the most promising because her husband, Alfonso Jordan of Toulouse did go on the Second Crusade.  But it seems Faydide died long enough before the crusade that Alfonso was able to marry and then separate from Ermengard of Narbonne before he left for the east.
  • Torqueri of Bouillon:  Not only can I find no evidence of anyone of this name, “Torqueri” does not even seem to be a woman’s name.  Or a man’s name.

So, frankly, shame on all these authors for simply accepting Kelly’s words as fact, especially the ones who claim to be writing non-fiction. But the lie has been repeated so many times, it has become a commonplace. Faced with that, what does the historical novelist do? Work the myth into the story — or change it?

6 thoughts on “Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Second Crusade

  1. Miriam

    I keep looking for the source of a saying I *know* I read somewhere — I think it comes from a renaissance scholar and/or poet, which is to the effect of “Literature may say what History dare not.” Which, to my mind, sums up why we need literature in the first place. On the other hand, when the truth is available, when the facts are available, so often it’s so much more interesting than anything which could be made up. What compelled Amy Kelley to insert these characters into Eleanor’s crusade — and cite Michaud in the bargain? Perhaps there’s a plot point in there somewhere.

  2. lucypick Post author

    I see now Regine Pernoud’s book has the same error. Actually, I love Kelly’s book — despite her errors of fact, I think she is much better at conveying a wholistic sense of what Eleanor may have been like, and has a much better understanding of the values and way of life in the Middle Ages, than, say, Weir.

    As a historian, like you I get frustrated when people invent things when the facts are so much more interesting. What we really need is a novel about Berenguela of Leon, don’t you think?!

  3. Miriam

    I thought you were going to write a novel about Berenguela and Rodrigo… actually, my choice would be Alvaro de Lara.

    I love Amy Kelly’s book too — I think it’s the first book on anything medieval I ever read — finding it by chance in the public library when I was in middle school….

  4. lucypick Post author

    I think Ermengarde of Narbonne would be a great candidate for a novel.

    ETA: I think Sybilla of Anjou would also make a great novel.

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