“Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense?
Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress?
If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?”
– Patrick Henry
WOMEN IN THE CRUSADER STATES
In the surrounding Muslim world, of course, women had neither names nor faces, much less a voice, in public. In the Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, while women enjoyed considerable freedom, wealth, education and influence, they did not directly hold power. Western Europe the 12th century saw several very powerful female rulers, notably the Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, yet the crusader kingdoms stand out because the high status of women in the Holy Land was more comprehensive and institutionalized than in either the Eastern Empire or Western Europe. This high status probably evolved out of the repeated failure of the ruling dynasties to produce male heirs. The dynastic importance of women was both cause and effect of a uniquely high status for women in the crusader kingdoms that took many other forms. Not only did women act as regents and receive homage from vassals, they enjoyed a freedom of movement and opinion that scandalized the Muslim world. The higher status of women also impacted their daily lives. Upper class women were literate as they could not have otherwise conducted their affairs, and they owned books. Some accounts stress that they rode astride for greater safety in an always precarious environment, something that gave them greater mobility. They did not have to go veiled in public, although women almost certainly covered their faces from the ravaging effects of the Palestinian summer sun when out of doors. But perhaps most important, they were entitled to their opinions, free to voice them and often heeded by their male contemporaries. Compared to their faceless and voiceless sisters in the Muslim world, the fact that women in the crusader states were viewed as intelligent human beings with opinions worth hearing was undoubtedly the greatest privilege of all.