Above: The Children’s Crusade, by Gustave Doré
Although disregarded by historians and seldom mentioned in Chronicles of the Crusades, the legend of the Children’s Crusade is a romantic notion worthy of a glance.
As the story goes, disappointed that the Crusaders were unsuccessful in maintaining the Holy Land, after the Battle of Hattin in 1187, a group of children decided to take up arms in the name of Christendom.
The leader was a young shepherd boy named Stephen of Cloues, who having seen a vision of Christ appearing as a pilgrim seeking a morsel of bread, decided to launch his own crusade against to Jerusalem. Various accounts of the story put the number of unarmed juvenile warriors at between 30,000 and 100,000 strong. Whether the events actually happened or not is a matter of opinion, but certainly if they did, the numbers are grossly inflated as they often were during the times.
Around the same time and for the same alleged motivations a similar group dispatched from Germany under the helm of a young man named Nicholas. It is said that countless thousands died of starvation along the way to their destination.
Stephen had promised the army that when they arrived at the sea, it would part allowing them passage to the Holy Land. Of course the sea did not part, but there were seven ships on hand who offered them safe passage on their quest. The story tells of how two of the shops split in half at high seas drowning its 1400 occupants. The rest never made the voyage to the holy Land, but rather wound up in Egypt, where they were sold to the Moslems as slaves.
At the end of the day, the story of the Children’s Crusade is probably little more than a fantasy, but what remains important is that it was born of a religious fervor that stemmed form the Crusades. A belief that the innocent could make a difference.