The Children's Crusade
"The Children's Crusade" refer to
an actual event that occurred around 1212.
On this page is a synopsis
and also a lengthier related excerpt
(below) from "Deus lo Volt! Chronicle of the Crusades"
by Evan S. Connell.
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Synopsis of the Children's Crusade
The Children's Crusade is a mysterious event
that took place around 1212, when, according to scattered comments
in chronicles, thousands of children undertook to free the Holy
Land. Actually, according to the reports, there were two separate
crusades each led by a shepherd boy, Stephen in France and Nicholas
in Germany, who, independent of each other, marched to points
in Italy where the movements dissipated.
The readings suggest the children had believed
that the reason for the other Crusades' failures were due to
the sins of the adults involved. They thought that their innocence
would allow them to regain the Holy Land.
Several accounts maintain that many of the
children, in both cases, were deceived into thinking that ships
waiting for them were to transport them on their march to the
Holy Land. In truth they were sold into slavery at the ports
they reached. This was little different from other instances
of slave trading involving children, apart from the particular
ugliness of the circumstances.
In both instances of the crusade the number
of children estimated to have been involved are staggering and
the ends they met are incredibly tragic.
Children originally numbering 20,000 were led
by Nicholas to various locations in Italy with the hope of continuing
to the Holy Land. By the time they arrived their number had
been greatly diminished by hunger, exposure (they had crossed
the Alps), kidnapping, and murder. In Italy their hopes never
materialized and, although it would appear that some reached
the Holy Land, they were likely taken into slavery and prostitution.
Stephen led a group of 30,000 children which
arrived at Marseille. According to an account by Aubrey of Trois
Fontaines they were provided with seven ships to transport them
to the Holy Lands. Two of the ships were lost in a storm off
the Island of Peter, where some of the bodies of the children
were washed up. Pope Gregory, according to Aubrey, built a church
(Ecclesia Noworun Innocentium) on the island where pilgrims
came to see the children's bodies which miraculously had never
decomposed. The other children, arrived in Egypt, where instead
of fighting for the cross were sold as slaves.
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Excerpt from "Deus lo Volt"
The following is an excerpt (p. 331-338) taken
from "Deus lo Volt! Chronicle of the
Crusades" by Evan S. Connell. An amazing book written
in the voice of a knight of that time (highly recommended).
In the year 1212 children resolved to do what
kings and prices could not. They would march overseas to liberate
the Holy Sepulcher. In the province of Orleannais a shepherd
boy named Stephen from the village of Cloyes began to preach
a doctrine never heard before. He declared that while tending
his flock near Cloyes he was approached by a stranger, a pilgrim
returning from the Holy Land, who asked him for something to
eat. And when Stephen shared his food the pilgrim revealed himself
to be Jesus Christ, saying that the innocent of France would
succeed where kings had failed. He appointed this boy Stephen
to lead the march and gave him a letter addressed to King Philip
Augustus who was spending that summer at Saint Denys, burial
place of Frankish kings since the time of Dagobert. Here, too,
was the Oriflamme kept, holy standard of the realm. Concerning
the identity of this stranger who claimed to be our Lord, chronicles
report little. Mayhap some heretic thinking to reach the king.
By himself he could not gain audience, but it is known how children
work marvels and by means of an artless shepherd boy he thought
to reach court with his diabolic argument.
The young shepherd set out for Saint Denys
and preached while he walked, exhorting other children. He likened
himself to Moses, subserving a new crusade, pausing at castles
and villages. Thus he gathered children out of their homes and
led them off and it was said no lock or bolt could prevent them.
Neither plea not threats dissuaded them. Chanting in the common
tongue, singing, joyously they marched at his heels and listened
with delight to his every word.
To Saint Denys, therefore, he walked to see
the king. And at the sepulcher of martyred Dionysius, garbed
as though he were yet in the field near Cloyes, crook in hand,
this child apostle spoke of suffering in Jerusalem, Christians
enslaved. Many who listened thought they could hear groans,
cries for help, clanking chains. He pointed to the shrine of
Dionysius thronged with pilgrims and compared it to the tomb
of Jesus vilified by Saracens. He likened Jesus to a banished
king, Jerusalem to a captive queen. He spoke of a dream in which
the sea rolled apart for him and for those who followed him.
He displayed the letter to King Philip Augustus. He said that
one day he was unable to find his sheep because they had left
the pasture, but discovered them in a field of grain. He began
beating them to drive them out, at which they dropped on their
knees to beg forgiveness, and by this sign he knew he was appointed
to liberate the Holy City. Documents from those days testify
that outside the sepulcher of Dionysius he performed miracles.
If this boy Stephen gained audience with the
king has been debated. But it is know that on account of the
children Philip Augustus consulted his advisors and learned
men at the University of Paris, after which he ordered the children
to disperse. They refused. Instead, like thistle on the breeze
they gathered at Vendome, high and low, descending from castles
on the mountains, emerging from wretched mud hovels, singing
while they marched, holding wax tapers, waving perfumed censers,
bringing copies of the red silk Oriaflamme with gold flames
scattered. And if asked how they would accomplish what grown
men could not, they replied that they were equal to the will
of God and whatever He might wish for them, that would they
humbly and gladly accept.
News of these crusading children got to Germany
and Lotharingia quick as a storm. The Benedictine William at
his monastery near Guines wrote of it. The monk Reiner at Liege
wrote of it. And in Cologne the monk Godfrey wrote that a child
called Nicholas began to preach outside the Byzantine cathedral
where bones of the Magi rest in a golden casket. They say Archbishop
Raynuldus brought back these inestimable relics from the sack
of Milan. Whatever the fact, thousands came to worship. Nicholas
preached to all who approached, holding up the metal cross in
the form of Tau. But he did not preach the slaughter of Muslims,
saying that the holy word of God would illuminate their lives,
would convert them, would cause them to abhor the wicked faith
of Mahomet and worship Jesus.
They set forth about the time of the Pentecost,
according to the annal of Cologne, and left behind their plows
and carts, abandoned the animals they pastured. Many took up
pilgrim costume, wide brimmed hat, palmer's staff, gray coat
and a cross sewn to the breast. By repute they numbered twenty
thousand. Some leapt and danced like storks prepared to migrate.
Thus wrapped in mighty delusions they walked from Cologne to
Basle, to Geneva, traversed the Alps near Mount Cenis, by which
time half had been lost, murdered, starved, frozen, drowned
in raging mountain streams, devoured by famished wolves.
In August they reached the gates of Genova,
but three thousand more had disappeared. Nicholas petitioned
the Senate, begging hospitality for one night, explaining that
the sea would divide next morning as it divided for Moses and
they would march on to Jerusalem. His petition was granted.
But at dawn the waves broke without remission. Therefore the
children marched to Pisa, thinking they had missed their appointment.
How many perished on this journey is not known. The Senones
chronicle that two shiploads of children sailed from Pisa to
the Holy Land. What became of them is not recorded. Others wandered
uncertainly toward Arezzo, Firenzi, Perugia. It may be that
a few walked to Rome where they met the pontiff. Without doubt
some reached the port of Brindisi where a Norwegian named Friso
sold the boys into slavery, the girls into brothels. Illi de
Brunusio virgines stupranteur. Et in arcum pessimum venumdantur.
Concerning Nicholas, one document from those
days asserts that he came at length to the Holy Land where he
fought bravely at Acre, later at Damietta, returning unharmed.
Perhaps. But when the citizens of Cologne learned what happened
to their children they hanged his father.
As for Stephen, thirty thousand innocents gathered
beneath his standard, a woolen cross affixed to the right shoulder
of each. When they set out they were accompanied by animals
and birds, overhead a cloud of butterflies, which are bearers
of the soul. They leapt and shouted as did the German children,
and sang for joy. O Jerusalem! O Jerusalem! Our feet shall stand
within thy walls!
Through the fruitful heart of France they marched
south to Lyons, beside the Rhone to Valence, Avignon, Marseille.
Stephen traveled at this leisure in a chariot fitted with carpets
and a decorated canopy protecting him from the August sun. Twelve
youths from noble families surrounded him, forming the honor
guard, each handsomely mounted, holding a lance. It is said
that while Stephen was a child in years, ten or twelve, he was
adept at vice, lecherous, quick to benefit from his role as
saint and prophet. If he stood up to address the multitude thousands
pressed forward. On such occasion many were trampled or suffocated.
Those nearest him would reach out to pluck a thread from his
coat, a splinter from the cart, a hair from the mane of the
horse that drew him, much as it was Peter the hermit.
At Marseille they found the sea unyielding.
Waves curled and broke, adamant. Now two agents of Satan slipped
out of the darkness. William Porcus. Hugo Ferreus. Concerning
the first, some have called him a merchant of Marseille while
others think he was Genoese sea captain of high repute. Yet
again, he is called William de Posqueres who fought at the siege
of Acre with Guy de Lusignan. As to Hugo Ferreus, most think
him viguier of Marseille, which is to say the viscount's representative
and traded in the Holy Land. No matter. Without cost, for love
of God, absque pretito, causa Dei, so these knaves declared,
would they charter what vessels were required, enabling a fervent
army of Christ to reach Jerusalem. Seven vessels these traffickers
obtained. What sort is not known? Gulafres. Dromonds. Bazas.
For eighteen years Europe did not learn the
fate of these children, not until a priest who had accompanied
them returned. Of all who embarked at Marseille he alone came
back to say what happened. West of Sardinia rises a deserted
islet, Acciptrum, referring to falcons that nest among the cliffs.
Three days out from Marseille a furious storm drove two vessels
against this rocky islet. All aboard were lost. The remaining
vessels bore south to Africa and the slave market at Bujeiah.
Here the Frankish children were sold. Some vanished in Bujeiah.
Others went to Alexandria where the governor, Maschemuth, put
them to work cultivating his fields. Sultan Malek Kamel bought
seven hundred. Some few did set afoot in the Holy Land but were
carried away to Damascus or Baghdad where they were decapitated
or drowned or shot by archers if they did not renounce out Lord.
Was this done by the instinct of the devil?
Cloyed with the blood of martyred men, did Satan in his blackness
desire a cordial of children's blood to slake his thirst? Gregory,
who was pontiff in those days, groaned with despair when he
learned of how these children suffered and died. Have they not
put us to shame? He wondered aloud. Have not these innocents
perished while we slept?
He thought to raise a monument in their honor.
That islet called Accipitrium where the two ships foundered
was deemed appropriate. Many small corpses had washed ashore
during the storm and fishermen who sometimes visited the place
had buried them. His Holiness directed that a church should
be constructed, the bodied of these children exhumed and reburied
within. If they were found wondrously uncorrupted or not long
has not been argued. The church is named Ecclesia Noworun Innocentium,
which recalls the murdered children of Bethlehem, and was so
endowed that twelve prebends live nearby, praying incessantly.
All things flow constantly from God as water flows from a spring,
tending ever to return.
Belgicum, Albericus, Thomas de Champre, and
others make some mention of these innocents, none at length.
The foolish little army had come quickly and gone. Besides,
in those days the Church was bent on purifying Languedoc.
No one knows what became of Stephen, although
an English monk, Thomas of Sherborne, while traveling through
France long after the children vanished was held captive for
eight days by a militant group of shepherds. This monk spoke
of an old man commanding the shepherds who had been a slave
in Egypt and promised the Sultan he would lead an army of Christians
into bondage just as he had led Frankish children into slavery
when he was a child. So he journeyed here and there preaching
with no authority, claiming Our Lady had empowered him to conscript
herdsmen and ploughmen by virtue of their simplicity to recover
the Holy Land. Country folk left their flocks and herds to follow
this old man. For, said they, God Almighty hath chosen the weak
to confront the strong. Exiles, thieves, rogues, all came swarming.
And whoever challenged their passage they would attack. Their
master preached a doctrine of anger and venom that attacked
various orders and deviated madly from conventional Christian
doctrine. At the city of Bourges this all ended when this mob
and its leader was attacked and ran down, most all slain, including
the mad old man, the rest dispersed back to whence it came.
If the furious old man who led them was Stephen
of Cloyes has been much debated. If he surrendered the ghost
in boiling surf at Accipitrum, lost his head at Damascus, mayhap
lived out his years in Muslim slavery, or if he declined to
board the Judas ships and turned back to Cloyes, who shall decide?
He with all who followed him had put their trust in Almighty
God, expecting to win by faith what mounted knights could not
through force of arms. They had gone armed with belief in lieu
of steel. For love of our Lord they undertook the voyage, not
for wealth or high repute. Those who devote their lives to Him,
will they ever be disappointed at His reward?