The Medieval crusades have been seen as something very brave, courageous and honourable. Also, we tend to forget that we (the Christian part of the world) didn't come out victorious. No, far from
One of the episodes that is impossible to forget even today is the two Children's Crusades in 1212. The first one was instigated by a 12 year old shepherd-boy called Stephen (or Etienne). He approached the French king Philip and handed him "a letter from Jesus" who he said had appeared to him while he was tending the sheep. Presumably Jesus had ordered him to go and preach the Crusades to the public. Now, the king didn't believe him or wasn't too impressed by him,but he himself was undismayed by this fact and started to preach wherever he had a chance to bring out the message to someone.
Actually, he seems to have been an oral genius who caught the attention of a lot of people - and circa 20-30,000 thousand children who wanted to follow him. Some of these children were of noble birth and they had eloped their wealthy homes to join his "army". At Marseilles two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, offered them ships, free of charge - and from then on nobody knew anything about them: They disappeared and were not to be seen or heard of for 18 years.
However, in Germany a boy by the name of Nicholas entered on the same course. He and his cohorts - also many girls - set out on their way to Palestine, but the losses were heavy, due to starvation and other hardships. When many of them gave up their plans to go to Palestine they were too exhausted to go back home, but decided to stay where they were, i.e. in Italy. Some of the dead children's parents were so enraged by Nicholas, who by this time had disappeared, that they took his aged father and hanged him.
As to Stephen's company who had set out in three ships then two of these vessels were shipwrecked and all aboard drowned. This they learned when a young priest returned home to Europe after 18 years of captivity in a Muslim country. He told that those on the third ship were taken to Muslim slave markets and they learnt the hard way that those two merchants who had proposed to help them actually had set them up for sale. They were betrayed by them, but some years later they in their turn were hanged for attempting to kidnap the Emperor Frederick. Some of the sold Christian children were killed for not being willing to accept Islam, but others were lucky enough to be bought by the governor of Egypt, al-Kamil, who treated them very kindly and who set them to work as interpreters, teachers, etc. without demanding that they became Muslims.
All in all these sad stories of committed, but betrayed children should be better investigated than they are. Most of them are mere myths, but it's a historical fact that these groups of children set out as crusaders just as did the grown-ups ...
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