THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE
The child spake nobly: strange to hear
His infantine soft acemits clear
Charged with high meanings, did appear.
E. B. BROWNING: A Vision of Poets.
URING the ten years that followed the taking
of Constantinople, Pope Innocent tried to stir
up another Crusade, which he hoped should
actually fulfil its high ideals.
But the old enthusiasm for the Holy War had died
down. The chief kingdoms of Europe were too busy
quarrelling with one another to have leisure to think of
the distant lands of the East. John of England was
getting into trouble both with his own people and with
the Pope himself; Philip Augustus of France was
building up his kingdom into a great and united nation; Otho
of Germany and Frederick IL, grandson of Barbarossa,
the Crusader, were in fierce conflict with regard to
While Europe was thus absorbed in more or less selfish
aims and ideals, a bitter cry for help was heard from the
East. A terrible famine, followed by pestilence, both
caused by the failure of the Nile to overflow its banks
and fertilize the soil, had reduced the people of Palestine
and Egypt to a state of absolute misery. Mothers were
 said actually to have killed and eaten their own babes in
their extremity of hunger, and hundreds of people simply
lay down and died by the roadside.
The extreme limit of misery and human desolation
was reached when to famine and pestilence was added
an earthquake which destroyed whole cities. Heavy,
indeed, seemed the hand of God upon His land, and there
were not wanting many who said that He was punishing
it for past sins and present negligence, since Jerusalem
was still in the hands of the infidel.
Suddenly, while Pope Innocent was vainly trying to
rouse Europe to undertake a Sixth Crusade, an
astonishing movement began to be seen amongst the children of
the different lands. Throughout France and Germany
boy leaders drilled their little regiments, fastened on the
Cross, and prepared seriously to go forth to the Holy
War. At first they met with opposition, and ridicule;
but such was the earnest zeal of these little people that
even the most hardened onlooker ceased to jeer or hinder.
Mothers, with aching hearts, saw their little ones march
forth, and put out no hand to prevent them, and as the
procession passed along the high roads, the children
swarmed out froze cottage and castle to join the ranks.
From Germany a band of seven thousand children set
out for the port of Genoa, from whence they hoped to
embark for the Holy Land. They were led by a boy
named Nicholas, who swayed them by the most
extraordinary power, and was almost worshipped by his little
But to get to Genoa, they had to cross the Alps, and
there cold and hunger left thousands of the poor mites
dead upon the mountain side. The remnant, a sad and
sorry spectacle, ragged, starving and dirty, made its
 way at length into Genoa. There they hoped to find
friends and help to cross the sea; but the citizens of the
port looked with scant favour upon the little Crusaders,
and the Senate ordered that they should forthwith depart
from the city. Some wealthy inlitbitants, kinder of heart
than the rest, adopted a few of the fairer and more
attractive children; a few more struggled on to Rome
to lay their cause at the feet of the Pope. The rest,
heart-sick and weary, tried to struggle back to their
homes. Enthusiasm was long since dead, they were
laughed at, as failures, and saddest of all, when they were
asked why they had left their homes, they now made
weary answer that "they could not tell."
THE CHILDREN CROSSING THE ALPS
Few indeed, ever saw their native land again.
Another band of German boys and girls succeeded in
reaching the port of Brindisi, where they were actually
put on board ships bound for the East. What was their
fate remains a mystery; they were never heard of more.
The largest band of all staried from Vend6me in
France, under the leadership of a nameless
shepherdboy, who wore a little sheepskin coat and carried a
banner upon which was worked a lamb.
He seemed to possess a magic power over his playmates,
for at the sound of his clear, high young voice, hundreds
and thousands of children flocked to his banner and
received the cross from his hands. Not even grown
persons, not even the most obstinate parent could stand
against his persuasions and entreaties. Full of devotion,
full of zeal, the children marched upon the long road to
Marseilles, singing psalms and hymns, and crying
"O Lord Christ! Restore to us thy Cross!"
"You know not what is before you," said the wise
 greybeards of the villages through which they passed.
"What do you mean to do?"
"To get to the Holy Land," was the invariable and
Weary and hungry, with their ranks much thinned
by fatigue and the hardships of the way, the Child
Crusade entered Marseilles with gallant hearts. For
they fully expected that they would find the sea cleft
asunder by a miracle, and a pathway prepared for them
to the other side. When they found they were mistaken,
some turned their faces homeward; but most stayed to
see if by any means they could get boats to take them to
the Holy Land. To them came presently two merchants,
Hugh Ferrens, and William Beco, or Porcus, who had
already discovered how to make a fortune by selling
European children as slaves to the Saracens.
Approaching the eager little ones with kindly words, they offered
to lend them seven ships wherein they might be taken
across the sea to their destination.
Joyfully the children agreed and set forth with songs
and merry cries, cheered by a vast multitude who
watched them from the shore. Of that bright-faced
band not one ever reached the Holy Land or returned
to Europe to tell the tale. At the end of two days, two
of the ships were wrecked in a terrible storm and all on
The rest escaped this peril, and sailed on to Alexandria
and other ports, where the poor little passengers were
landed and sold as slaves to the Saracens. Twelve of
these are said to have won the martyr's crown, because
they preferred to die rather than renounce their faith, a
few reached the Christian city of Ptolemais after a time,
and told their sad story to the enraged inhabitants, the
 rest were condemned to a life of slavery among the sons
Theirs is a sad story, yet we may find in it the awakening
of that spirit of devotion which seemed to have died
out in Europe.
Pope Innocent, when he heard of this Crusade, might
well say, "These children are a reproach to us for
slumbering while they fly to the succour of the Holy
From that time preparations for the Sixth Crusade
began in good earnest.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics