She Was a Crusader
Eleanor was a well-traveled woman, and she even went on a crusade in a time when most women were confined to the home. Edessa, one of the first Christian states founded in the Holy Land after the First Crusade, fell to Turkish Zengi forces in December 1144, beginning the push for another crusade. The Second Crusade was the first one in which European monarchs actively participated, both Louis VII and Conrad III of Germany both led forces to the Holy Land.
Louis’ involvement in the Crusade was a deeply personal one. His elder brother, Philip, the one who was meant to be king, expressed a desire to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After Philip’s death, the deeply religious Louis promised to go to the Holy Land in his brother’s place. The French king also wanted to make amends and seek God’s forgiveness for the massacre at Vitry, and when Edessa fell, it gave Louis more of a reason to go on crusade. In a public ceremony, Louis vowed to go on crusade and Eleanor swore to contribute her own knights.
Going on crusade was rare for a woman, much less a queen. Other aristocratic women joined their husbands to the Holy Land, following Eleanor’s example. Eleanor’s enemies blamed her for the failure of the Second Crusade by inciting more women to go on crusade, supposedly distracting from the holy cause. Still, she wasn’t pleased that the French were involved, despite her husband’s religious fervor.
Eleanor believed the crusade would be a strain of money and resources the country didn’t need. She proved to be right: it was a resounding failure, and it bled the French treasury dry. By the end of the Crusade, Eleanor’s relationship with Louis had completely broken down, to the point where they weren’t even speaking. They took separate ships home, first stopping to see the pope to attempt to get their marriage annulled.