The Rotrou dynasty, counts of the Perche, a district between Chartres and Alençon in northern France, exemplifies a repeated commitment to the crusading ideal from 1096 to the beginning of the thirteenth century.
The family’s earliest crusader, Count Rotrou II (10991144), took part in the First Crusade (1096-1099) and is an important figure in Old French crusading epics, particularly the Chanson d’Antioche. He is known to have returned to Jerusalem on at least one other occasion, and he also fought against the Muslims in Spain, where he was governor of Tudela for a number of years (c. 1123-c. 1135).
Rotrou II’s eldest son, Rotrou III (1144-1191), had no connection with the East until the late 1180s, when he acted as an envoy between the two crusading kings Richard I of England and Philip II Augustus of France. On the Third Crusade (1189-1192) Rotrou served with Philip’s forces and died at Acre in July 1191. His son Count Geoffrey III (1191-1202) had accompanied Richard, probably because he was married to Matilda of Saxony, Richard’s niece, and Geoffrey remained in the Holy Land for more than a year after his father’s death, leaving the Perche to be ruled by Matilda and his younger brother Stephen. King Richard mentions Geoffrey by name as a crusading comrade in his best-known song, “Ja nus hons pris.”
Geoffrey’s participation in the crusade left him debt-ridden, and the Cluniac priory at Nogent-le-Rotrou paid him the substantial sum of £200 Angevin for his confirmation of their rights. Nevertheless, he figured as one of the leading lights in the planning of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) before his sudden death in March 1202. Stephen took over the contingent from the Perche and proceeded to Venice but fell ill and did not sail for Zara and Constantinople. He may have disagreed with the diversion of the crusade by its leaders, for he preferred to make his way independently to the Holy Land, where he spent at least one campaigning season before rejoining the crusaders in 1204-1205. He was made duke of Philadelphia (mod. Alaflehir, Turkey) by Baldwin I, Latin emperor of Constantinople, but was killed at the battle of Adrianople (mod. Edirne, Turkey) (1205).
After the death of Geoffrey’s son Thomas (1202-1217), Geoffrey’s brother William, bishop of Châlons-en- Champagne, became count of the Perche (1217-1226). It was in response to a letter from William that Pope Honorius III redirected to the Albigensian Crusade the proceeds of a tax intended to fund campaigns in the Holy Land.
The family’s crusading connections were consolidated in marriage alliances. Rotrou II’s sister Matilda married Viscount Raymond of Turenne, who also took part in the First Crusade and the conflict in Spain. Rotrou II’s daughter Philippa married Helias, son of Count Fulk of Anjou, who later became king of Jerusalem (1131-1142), and useful information about the family is preserved in the unlikely source of William of Tyre. Rotrou II’s second wife, Hawise, married as her second husband Robert (brother of King Louis VII of France), who played a minor role in the Second Crusade. Matilda (Richenza), the wife of Geoffrey III, was a daughter of Henry the Lion of Saxony, himself a crusader, and her second husband, Enguerrand of Coucy, took part in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229).