My guest today is Nan Hawthorne, an historical novelist who lives in the Pacific Northwest. She wrote her first short story at seven, then launched into the letters and stories with a teen friend that ultimately became her first indie novel, AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLO SAXON ENGLAND (2008). The author of one nonfiction work on women and body image, she now concentrates primarily on historical novels set in the Middle Ages. Her latest indie novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, looks at gender identity and self-realization during the chaotic and doomed Crusade of 1101. She writes several blogs on historical themes, owns the medieval-novels.com catalog and also Internet radio station, Radio Dé Danann.
One of History’s Mysteries: What Happened To “The Most beautiful Woman in Europe?"
By Nan Hawthorne
The Crusade of 1101 is without question one of the greatest and most shameful tragedies of the Middle Ages, certainly of the era of the Crusades. Of many thousands of crusaders, from noble knights to men at arms to clerics and to entire peasant families, only a handful made it out alive, the entire company never even leaving Turkey. Venturing out of Constantinople in three huge waves, only the leaders, like Raymond of Toulouse, Stephen of Blois, William of Aquitaine, and William of Nevers and their own household knights escaped the arrows and swords of Seljuk Turks and their allies under Kilij Arslan. Many turned their backs on their followers and ran away.
One enduring mystery of the Crusade of 1101 is what became of the Margravine Ida of Austria, mother of the man who became St. Leopold and who was called the most beautiful woman in Europe? She accompanied the forces under Count William II of Nevers, part of the third wave of crusaders, not as a combatant but with her ladies in elegant litters. She was with them when they arrived at Herakleia. Only a handful of men escaped the ambush by Arslan and his Danishmend allies. Ida, as far as anyone knows, was not one of them.
The story goes that because of petty rivalries and squabbles, the second and third party to set out from Constantinople for Dorylaeum, not knowing the first group under Raymond of Toulouse had headed off to the north, refused to travel together. Ida’s party left last. Both were set upon by Turks with disastrous results that, arguably, may have been averted if they had been a single mightier force.
The Nivenais contingent arrived at Herakleia, the people and their horses almost collapsed with thirst. They saw a watering place and made for it, only to discover shortly that it was poisoned. They were now between two hills and found themselves set upon by Arslan’s mounted archers. Only William of Nevers and a few others escaped. The rest were massacred or taken into slavery, the former much outweighing the latter case.
One challenge of accounting for casualties during this crusade is that no eyewitnesses chronicled the events. One historian went straight from Constantinople to the Holy Land by sea and therefore avoided the massacres. The other well-known chronicler wrote his history a decade later based on what he was able to learn from rumor and second hand tales.
This is why the only recorded theory of what happened to Ida is one that can easily be discounted. For years there were stories that she was captured during the ambush and became the property of a prominent leader of the Turks, and that she was the mother of the awesome general, Zengi. Perhaps this is due to a western tendency to assign European roots to great foreign leaders, but the cold fact is that Zengi was born before ~Ida even left Austria. It is far more likely that when the attack began Ida and her litter were dropped and overturned and Ida trampled to death by the horses.
The fact that this mystery is not and most likely never will be solved presents the historical novelist with the opportunity to speculate. In my latest novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, I was only too happy to adopt Ida’s fate as part of my plot. You will find out what happened to her in the last chapter where she ironically fulfills my heroine’s dreams in reverse.
Nan Hawthorne’s latest novel, Beloved Pilgrim, which chronicles the adventures of a young woman who chooses to live and fight as a man during the doomed Crusade of 1101 is available through Amazon.com and Smashwords.