There were many women who played a part in the crusades. There are even some records as women leading armies, such as Florine of Burgundy. But there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Florine. Even her existence is disputed.
This is not an in-depth study on whether or not Florine of Burgundy existed, but a summary of the myth about her. As a noblewoman in combat during the crusades, I thought she would be an interesting topic to research, but I quickly learned that she is a figure of uncertain historical authenticity. So I decided to write about her legend, and what sources have to say about her.
The Legend of Florine of Burgundy
The most common variations of the legend have Florine as the daughter of a duke (or count) of Burgundy. She was recently widowed from a “Prince of Philippi”, and was now betrothed to Sweyn, a Danish prince. In 1097, Florine and Sweyn set off on crusade together, leading an army of 1500 Danish knights. The couple hoped to be married when they reached Jerusalem. However, on their way to the Holy Land, they were attacked by an army of Turks in Cappadocia, Anatolia. Florine and Sweyn fought valiantly until the end, even though their army was largely outnumbered. Pierced by arrows, they died in battle with their entire army. An alternative ending has Florine, who has been pierced by six arrows, trying to flee on her horse after the battle was lost, but captured by the Turks. She is then brought before the Sultan and beheaded. Some variations have Sweyn sharing this same fate alongside her.
Was she real?
Historians are sceptical of Florine’s existence for several reasons: she is not mentioned in any primary Burgundian sources, and only appears in one chronicle. The only primary source for Florine is the chronicle of Albert of Aix. William of Tyre, one of the top chroniclers of the crusades, mentions Sweyn, but not Florine.
Aix describes her as the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy. Based on the chronology, Eudes I of Burgundy is most likely to have been her father. However, the dates for this are tight. Most web sources assume that Florine was born around 1083, meaning that she would have been widowed, betrothed for a second time, assisting leading an army, and being killed in battle all at the age of 14! This is possible, but unlikely. While girls could be officially married at 12 and boys at 14, they were usually still too young to rule. A 14-year-old monarch was almost always under the guidance of a regent, so a 14-year-old, especially a girl of high birth, taking part in the leading of an army seems unlikely. Florine could not have been much older, since her presumed parents, Duke Eudes I of Burgundy, and Sibylle, daughter of the Count of Burgundy, married around 1080.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Florine was illegitimate. This could explain her absence in the Burgundian genealogical sources. If so, she could have been born before her father’s marriage and closer to her majority in 1097. She still would have been a young woman at the time of her death, since Eudes was born around 1058-1060. Her betrothed, Sweyn, himself was illegitimate. His father, King Sweyn II of Denmark had many illegitimate children, five of them would become Danish kings.
The identity of Florine’s first husband, the “Prince of Philippi” is unknown, as well as the land he ruled. Florine’s father did indeed depart on crusade in 1100 and died in Tarsus (in present-day Turkey) in 1103. An alternative explanation is that Florine accompanied her father on the expedition, and was married to a Macedonian lord, and was killed in an expedition around 1102. If true, this would mean that she probably had no connection with Sweyn of Denmark and the events of 1097.
We will never know the truth about Florine of Burgundy, but what I can assume from the few sources I have found about her, she probably was real. There are many women from this period who are only known about from one source. I assume that Florine was illegitimate, but cannot find any sources for this. If she was real, Florine probably did not expect to be in combat, but only participated because of the desperate situation the army was in. Florine and Sweyn’s story has been accepted as fact for centuries, and become a popular topic in poetry and literature. In 1855, author William Bernard McCabe told her tale in his novel Florine, Princess of Burgundy: A Tale of the First Crusaders.
Albert of Aachen’s History of the Journey to Jerusalem, Volume 1
Bysted, Ana L, Jensen, Carsten Selch, Jensen, Kurt Villads, and Lind, John H.; Jerusalem in the North: Denmark and the Baltic Crusades, 1100-1522.
Cawley, Charles; Medieval Lands: Burgundy Dukes.
Jensen, Kurt Villads; Crusading at the Edges of Europe, Denmark and Portugal, C.1000-C.1250.
Video: “Did Woman Warriors Exist?”