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The Children's Crusade is the name given to a variety of fictional and factual events in 1212 that combine some or all of these elements: visions by a French and/or German boy, an intention to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity, bands of children marching to Italy, and children being sold into slavery. Several conflicting accounts exist, and the facts of the situation continue to be a subject of discussion among scholars.

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The long-standing view[]

The long-standing view of the Children's Crusade is some version of events with similar themes. A 12 year old boy, Stephen of Cloyes, began preaching in France claiming that he had been visited by Jesus and told to lead a Crusade to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity.[1] Through a series of supposed portents and miracles he gained a considerable following, including possibly as many as 20,000 children. He led his followers southwards towards the Mediterranean Sea, where it is said he believed that the sea would part when he arrived, so that he and his followers could march to Jerusalem, but this did not happen. Two merchants gave passage on seven boats to as many of the children as would fit. The children were either taken to Tunisia and sold into slavery, or died in a shipwreck on the island of San Pietro (off Sardinia) during a gale. In some accounts they never reached the sea before dying or giving up from starvation and exhaustion. Scholarship has shown this long-standing view to be more legend than fact.

Modern research[]

According to more recent research[2] there seem to have been two movements of people in 1212 in France and Germany. The similarities of the two allowed later chroniclers to lump them together as a single tale.

In the first movement Nicholas, a shepherd from Germany, led a group across the Alps and into Italy in the early spring of 1212. About 7,000 arrived in Genoa in late August. However, their plans didn't bear fruit when the waters failed to part as promised and the band broke up. Some left for home, others may have gone to Rome, while still others may have traveled down the Rhône to Marseille where they were probably sold into slavery. Few returned home and none reached the Holy Land. The second movement was led by a "shepherd boy"[1] named Stephen of Cloyes (a village of near Châteaudun) who claimed in June that he bore a letter for the king of France from Jesus. Attracting a crowd of over 30,000 he went to Saint-Denis where he was seen to work miracles. On the orders of Philip II, on the advice of the University of Paris, the crowd was sent home, and most of them went. None of the contemporary sources mentions plans of the crowd to go to Jerusalem.

Later chroniclers embellished these events. Recent research suggests the participants were not children, at least not the very young. In the early 1200s, bands of wandering poor started cropping up throughout Europe. These were people displaced by economic changes at the time which forced many poor peasants in northern France and Germany to sell their land. These bands were referred to as pueri (Latin for "boys") in a condescending manner, in much the same way that people from rural areas in the United States are called "country boys."

In 1212, a young French puer named Stephen and a German puer named Nicholas separately began claiming that they had each had similar visions of Jesus. This resulted in these bands of roving poor being united into a religious protest movement which transformed this forced wandering into a religious journey. The pueri marched, following the Cross and associating themselves with Jesus's biblical journey. This, however, was not a prelude to a holy war.

Thirty years later, chroniclers read the accounts of these processions and translated pueri as "children" without understanding the usage; thus the Children's Crusade was born. The resulting story illustrates how ingrained the concept of Crusading was in the people of that time— the chroniclers assumed that the pueri must have been Crusaders, in their innocence returning to the foundations of crusading characteristic of Peter the Hermit, and meeting the same sort of tragic fate.

According to Matthew Paris, one of the leaders of the Children's Crusade became "Le Maître de Hongrie," the leader of the Shepherds' Crusade in 1251.



According to Raedts[2] there are only about 50 sources from the period that talk about the crusade, ranging from a few sentences to half a page. Raedts categorizes the sources into 3 types depending on when they were written: contemporary sources written by 1220, sources written between 1220 and 1250 (the authors could have been alive at the time of the crusade but wrote their memories down much later), and sources written after 1250 by authors who received their information second or third generation. Raedts does not consider the sources after 1250 to be authoritative, and of those before 1250, he considers only about 20 to be authoritative. It is only in the later non-authoritative narratives that a "children's crusade" is implied by such authors as Beauvais, Roger Bacon, Thomas of Cantimpré, Matthew Paris and many others.

Scientific studies[]

Prior to Raedts, there had only been a few scientific publications researching the Children's Crusade. The earliest were by Frenchman G. de Janssens (1891) and German R. Röhricht (1876). They analyzed the sources but did not analyze the story. American medievalist D. C. Munro (1913-14), according to Raedts, provided the best analysis of the sources to date and was the first to significantly provide a convincingly sober account of the Crusade sans legends.[3] Later, J. E. Hansbery (1938-9) published a correction of Munro's work, but it has since been discredited as based on an unreliable source.[2] German psychiatrist J. F. C. Hecker (1865) did give an original interpretation of the crusade, but it was a polemic about "diseased religious emotionalism" that has since been discredited.[2]

P. Alphandery (1916) first published his ideas about the crusade in 1916 in an article, which was later published in book form in 1959. He considered the crusade to be an expression of the medieval cult of the Innocents, as a sort of sacrificial rite in which the Innocents gave themselves up for the good of Christendom; however he based his ideas on some of the most untrustworthy sources.[4]

Adolf Waas (1956) saw the Children's Crusade as a manifestation of chivalric piety and as a protest against the glorification of the holy war. [5]

H. E. Mayer (1960) further developed Alphandery's ideas of the Innocents, saying children were the chosen people of God because they were the poorest, recognizing the cult of poverty he said that ""the Children's Crusade marked both the triumph and the failure of the idea of poverty."[6]

Giovanni Miccoli (1961) was the first to note that the contemporary sources did not portray the participants as children. It was this recognition that undermined all other interpretations (except perhaps Cohn's).[7]

Norman Cohn (1971) saw it as a chiliastic movement in which the poor tried to escape the misery of their everyday lives.[8]

Peter Raedts' 1977 analysis is considered the best source to date to show the many issues surrounding the Children's Crusade.[1]

Popular accounts[]

Beyond the scientific studies there are many popular versions and theories about the Children's Crusades.

Norman Zacour in the survey A History of the Crusades (1962) generally follows Munro's conclusions, and adds that there was a psychological instability of the age, concluding the Children's Crusade "remains one of a series of social explosions, through which medieval men and women - and children too - found release."

Steven Runciman gives an account of the Children's Crusade in his A History of the Crusades[9] Raedts notes that "Although he cites Munro's article in his notes, his narrative is so wild that even the unsophisticated reader might wonder if he had really understood it".

Donald Spoto, in a book about St. Francis of Assisi, said monks were motivated to call them children, and not wandering poor, because being poor was considered pious and the Church was embarrassed by its wealth in contrast to the poor. This, according to Spoto, began a literary tradition from which the popular legend of children originated. This idea follows closely with H. E. Mayer.

Australian novellist Bryce Courtenay's Sylvia chronicles the history of a young woman caught up in the Children's Crusade and her dealings with various key players including Nicholas of Cologne and various members of the clergy in Cologne.

In the arts[]

  • La Croisade des Enfants (1902), a seldom-performed oratorio by Gabriel Pierné's, featuring a children's chorus, is based on the events of the Children's Crusade.
  • Cruciada copiilor ( en. Children`s Crusade ) (1930), a play by Lucian Blaga based upon the Crusade.
  • The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi (1963), opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti, describes a dying bishop's guilt-ridden recollection of the Children's Crusade, during which he questions the purpose and limitations of his own power.
  • The Children's Crusade (1964), children's historical novel by Henry Treece, includes a dramatic account of Stephen of Cloyes attempting to part the sea at Marseille.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, references this event and uses it as an alternate title.
  • Crusade in Jeans (Dutch Kruistocht in spijkerbroek), is a 1973 novel by Dutch author Thea Beckman and a 2006 film adaptation about the Children's Crusade through the eyes of a time traveller.
  • A Long March To Jerusalem (1978), a play by Don Taylor breathes much life and color into the story of the Children's Crusade.
  • An Army of Children (1978), a novel by Evan Rhodes that tells the story of two boys partaking in the Children's Crusade.
  • "Children's Crusade" (1985), is a song by Sting that juxtaposes the medieval Children's Crusade with the deaths of English soldiers in World War I and the lives ruined by heroin addiction.
  • Lionheart (1987), a little known historical/fantasy film, loosely based on the stories of the Children's Crusade.
  • "Sea and Sunset" (1989), short story by Mishima Yukio.
  • The Children's Crusade (1993), comic series by Neil Gaiman.
  • Yndalongg (1996), a 10" released by the Austrian musical duo The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud features a track based upon the story of the Children's Crusade. The same song is also featured on their 1999 release Rest on your Arms reversed.
  • The Fire of Roses (2003), a novel by Gregory Rinaldi
  • The Crusade of Innocents (2006), novel by David George, suggests that the Children's Crusade may have been affected by the concurrent crusade against the Cathars in Southern France, and how the two could have met.
  • Sylvia (2006), novel by Bryce Courtenay, story loosely based around the Children's Crusade.
  • Crusade in jeans (2006) Dutch title Kruistoch in Spijkerbroek based on a novel by Thea Beckman.

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Russell, 1989
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Raedts, 1977
  3. Munro, D.C. (1913-14). "The Children's Crusade". American Historical Review. 19:516-24.
  4. Alphandery, P. (1954). La Chrétienté et l'idée de croisade. 2 vols.
  5. Waas, A. (1956). Geschichte der Kreuzzüge
  6. Mayer, H.E. (1972). The Crusades
  7. Miccoli, G. (1961). "La crociata dei fancifulli". Studi medievali. Third Series, 2:407-43
  8. Cohn, N. (1971). The pursuit of the millennium. London.
  9. Runciman, Steven (1951)."The Children's Crusade", from A History of the Crusades.