Count Stephen of Blois and his personal band of warriors were some of the last troops to add their strength to the diverse army of the First Crusade. It all began when Pope Urban II, on November 27 1095, called on Christians to embark on an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Answering this papal cry, Count Stephen worked with Count Robert Curthose of Normandy and Count Robert of Flanders to organize a Crusader army. Their mobilization was slower than most of the other major noblemen involved in the Crusade, including Count Hugh of Vermandois, Bohemond of the Italian Normans, Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, Count Baldwin of Boulogne, and Count Raymond of Toulouse. It was by September or October of 1096, just shy of a full year after Pope Urban made his speech, that Count Stephen and the Roberts were ready to start their march. They reached Italy by the end of the year, and Count Robert of Flanders quickly ferried his troops across to the lands of the Empire of Constantinople in December. Yet, Count Stephen and Robert Curthose of Normandy delayed until the new year, finally shipping their own armies across in April of 1097. After passing through Constantinople, and giving oaths to Emperor Alexios I (r. 1081-1118), Count Stephen and Count Robert of Normandy finally joined up on June 3 with the rest of the Crusaders, who had been besieging Nicaea since May 14, 1097. Defenders of Nicaea, avoiding direct negotiation with the Crusaders, ultimately surrendered their city to Emperor Alexios of Constantinople on June 19 1097.
Departing from Nicaea, the Crusaders set out for their next major target, Antioch. The group did not stay together during their march—Count Stephen was with Bohemond and the Roberts, while other leaders such as Godfrey, Raymond and Hugh were off doing their own thing. This would prove to be a problem, because an opposing army in the region was setting up an ambush for the crusaders.
Leading the local resistance was Sultan Kilij Arslan I of the Rūm Turks (r. 1092-1107). At Dorylaeum, he forced a confrontation with the isolated and vulnerable part of the Crusader force in which Count Stephen was marching. Kilij Arslan’s army nearly won the battle, but Godfrey, Hugh and Raymond were able to lead Crusader reinforcements to the battlefield in time to change the momentum of the battle and ultimately win the day. After surviving the ambush, the crusaders continued their march to Antioch, arriving at the city on October 20, 1097.
As sieges go, the assault on Antioch was an uncomfortable, slow-moving, and poorly-supplied affair. Crusaders persisted in besieging the city for over seven months. Count Stephen of Blois remained in the starving and sickly siege camp from October 20, 1097, through June 2, 1098. Yet, by that much later date, the count of Blois had finally had enough of crusading. He decided to abandon the siege and the Crusade entirely. On that June 2 day, Count Stephen left the siege camp at Antioch and began marching for home. His departure was ill-timed, for while Count Stephen was dreaming of home, Bohemond had been cultivating a relationship with an insider in the besieged city. On June 3, only one day after Stephen left, Bohemond and his inside man orchestrated the downfall of Antioch. Stephen’s early exit, and the quick fall of the city just after he left, caused Count Stephen to become the object of ridicule and heckling by fellow crusaders. Fulcher of Chartres (c. 1059-1127), one of Stephen’s companions since the beginning of the crusade, put these criticisms in writing:
“Stephen, Count of Blois, withdrew from the siege and returned home to France by sea. Therefore all of us grieved, since he was a very noble man and valiant in arms. On the day following his departure, the city of Antioch was surrendered to the Franks. If he had persevered, he would have rejoiced much in the victory with the rest. This act disgraced him. For a good beginning is not beneficial to anyone unless it be well consummated” (Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, I.16.7).
Fulcher’s observation was proven true with the example of Hugh, who left immediately after the capture of Antioch and the subsequent defense of the newly captured city against the army of Kerboga of Mosul (on June 28, 1098). Hugh began his journey home at the beginning of July and, unlike Count Stephen, his departure was not begrudged by the other Crusaders.
Pressure on Count Stephen continued to mount as the remaining leaders of the First Crusade continued to meet with success. In addition to Bohemond claiming Antioch, Duke Godfrey gained control of Jerusalem (c. 1099) and his brother, Baldwin, wrested leadership over Edessa (c. 1098). Badgered by his family, and hoping to restore his tarnished prestige, Count Stephen took up the crusader’s mantle again in 1101. Unfortunately, he died in battle in 1102.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image from manuscript BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 381 (Chroniques de France ou de St Denis), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the British Library).
- Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, translated by Martha McGinty (1941), in The First Crusade edited by Edward Peters. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971, 1988.