In the long and winding road of Crusades, the Children’s Crusade (1212) is an enthralling paradigm of the ways in which history can be multiply interpreted or even misinterpreted.
In the turmoil of the Middle Ages, a French young shepherd boy, Stephen of Cloyes, was preaching the crowds in the name of Jesus Christ, claiming that they should follow him in a Crusade that would peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity.
Eventually, in 1212, Stephen motivated a crowd of perhaps 30,000 children who followed him to Italy. Stephen journeyed towards the Mediterranean in the faith that the sea would part on their arrival, granting them easy passage to the Middle East. Yet, this never happened. Taken on merchant ships, they were transferred to the Middle East, most likely Tunisia, where they were sold into slavery.
The story has another side, though.
In the turmoil of the Middle Ages, a German young shepherd boy, Nicholas, was preaching the crowds in the name of Jesus Christ to follow him in a Crusade that would peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity.
Eventually, in 1212, Nicholas motivated a crowd of perhaps 50,000 children who followed him to Italy. Nicholas journeyed over the Alps to Italy to take the ship to Palestine. Upon arrival to the Holy Land, they were sold into slavery. Pope Innocent III declared that these children put Christianity to shame.
Although it sounds like a captivating story, especially for those interested in medieval history, there is adequate evidence suggesting that the Children’s Crusade never actually happened.
The precise origin of the Children’s Crusade is unknown because the alleged event took place so many years ago. However, as so many sources cited the story as real, Children’s Crusade passed in history as led by a French or German boy who had received visions from Jesus. But, here appear the first two oppositions. First of all, the alleged miracles that should facilitate the passage to the Middle East never happened. Secondly, recent research studies have revealed that the word ‘children’ was wrongly translated from the Latin word ‘pueri’ that means ‘boys’ and not ‘children’. In effect, ‘pueri’ could also mean the landless poor in its slang, and rather snobbish, meaning.
Evidence seems to suggest that the alleged Children’s Crusade was, in effect, a dissimilar crew of landless people who wandered Europe due to economic changes that forced many poor people to sell their lands and properties and relocate. In fact, as the European population grew, the pressure put on the family lands increased proportionally. These people were often referred to as ‘pueri’.
In such turbulent conditions, landless people urged to join a Crusade in the search for charity and a better future. Hence, although the interpretation of the word was mistaken, the idea of promoting a Children’s Crusade was far more appealing to the later authors, given the interest in medieval history and the Crusades in particular. Also, the period was characterized by extreme ignorance, superstition and fanaticism. The astonishing spectacle of a Children’s Crusade was inspiring to the intense religiosity of the Middle Ages.