Having taken the crusader’s vow and raised an army of thousands, why did Stephen II of Blois forsake the enormous prestige associated with crusading and risk shame and accusations of cowardice by abandoning the First Crusade? Then there is also the fact that the cost of crusading was enormous as crusaders bore most (if not all) of the military and other expenses. Why did he basically throw everything away by leaving?

Stephen was apparently close to his wife Adele, daughter of William the Conqueror and sister of Henry I of England, but even she felt he had not fulfilled his vow. Perhaps regretting what he had done, Stephen did later go on another crusade and was killed in the Holy Land in 1102.

None of the online sources I’ve seen give a clear reason, but I can think of a number of possible ones:

  • he fell out with other leaders of the crusade

  • he felt that Antioch, after a lengthy siege, could not be taken and that the crusade was doomed to fail

  • Wikipedia says he fled the battlefield at Antioch, implying he was coward

  • he was in poor health after such a long siege in what, to a north European, was a hostile climate

  • he ran out of money.

Is there any evidence as to which (if any) of the above reasons might be correct.

  • 2
    ref: "the enormous prestige associated with crusading", this is something that couldn't be taken for granted before the 1st Crusade.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 10:20

3 Answers 3


Stephen of Bloch "deserted" the First Crusade at a critical time in the Siege of Antioch. It's true that the Crusaders had beaten off two relief expeditions and were about to capture the city. But there was a third, larger relief expedition on the way, and the Crusaders were low on food.

Stephen's worst fears were realized when the besiegers became the besieged. They managed to defeat the Turks countersiege by breaking through from the inside, but that is a rare, unexpected result. The likelihood was that they would have been forced to surrender or starve.

Stephen may have left thinking that "discretion was the better part of valor," that escaping and living to another day was better than "certain death." He did not realize that the Crusaders had a chance to survive.

  • 2
    Your answer makes a good circumstantial case for what seems to be the most likely reason (so upvote), but is there any more direct evidence for this or do we only have circumstantial evidence to go by? Is there anything in the chronicles of the time? Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 7:39
  • So basically you are endorsing the "coward" theory, right? Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 7:44
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    @FelixGoldberg I would say "sensible" theory. Crusaders managing to break the siege was a one-time miracle that couldn't be predicted.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 7:52
  • 3
    @FelixGoldberg: I would call it the conventional wisdom theory, that defenders can survive a siege only 1) if they are well provided with food and outlasting the besiegers, or 2) if they are relieved from the outside. One almost "never" sees a besieged army conducting self-relief, that is, beating back a siege on its own.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:16
  • 1
    @Felix Goldberg. I think the reason Tom Au gives is the most plausible - he's right to state that the crusaders' breaking of the counter-siege was unexpected. Added to that, the crusaders were not in a good shape after besieging Antioch for so long. That some should panic and flee is perhaps not surprising, but I was also wondering if Stephen, like Raymond of Toulouse, did not agree with Bohemond of Taranto becoming Prince of Antioch if he could lead the crusaders to victory. Either way, I would like to see some evidence and sources if there are any. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:25

I saw your question and the one reason you can rule out is written in his own words. In his last letter to his wife March 29th 1098 he brags about having doubled the amount of money she had given him to go on crusade. If that were true why did he and the other crusaders in his charge have issues with food and equipment

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    A link to that letter would be nice. As for food, one can't always get what one wants while on a campaign in a distant land... Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 1:57

I am currently writing my masters on cowards of the crusades and Steven is chapter 1. Here is what I have found out and come to the conclusion: First I agree with the writer he was not poor maybe not as rich as he was but was not poor. His wife gave him a lot of money to go on the crusade she basically forced him to go and then shamed to go back when he fled. The answer in my opinion sits between being not in the best of health and seeing Kerbogha's army advancing. At the time he left he was in good standing with the other crusaders. The evidence I have found does not state anything different. It was only after he left that they turned on him.

  • 3
    Adding references would improved your answer. Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 17:53

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