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Medieval England was the backdrop for what was considered one of the darkest moments in Western civilization and one that hurt the Catholic Church. A series of eight wars, spanning from 1096 to 1270, the crusades were religiously inspired, probably more so with the start of the first. However the view today has many looking at the crusades as a time of greed and ambition. This is something far from the meaning of the word crusade, that of a noble or praiseworthy pursuit.These medieval military campaigns were wars against the Muslims from the Middle East. When the Muslims had captured Jerusalem in 1076, therein began the struggle for the Christian’s City of God with the Muslims, fighting for the Dome of the Rock, where Muhammad had sat and prayed.

In between the Fourth Crusade from 1201 to 1204 and the Fifth Crusade of 1218 to 1221, was a crusade called the Children’s Crusade which took place in 1212. It all started when a twelve year old French shepherd boy, named Stephen, approached King Philip with a letter he said had been given to him by Jesus Christ while he tended sheep. The letter instructed Stephen to carry on the Crusade.

Naturally King Philip sent him home. But Stephen would be a leader like the men before that had travelled from town to town encouraging others to join the previous four crusades. Within a month’s time this eager young man had amassed thousands of children, of course being the stuff legends are made of, in certain places in history there might have been more touted, as many as thirty thousand and possibly all under the age of twelve.

After their blessing and being sent on their way, word would spread to Germany. As the French children waited for the sea to divide like the Red Sea did for Moses, a boy named Nicholas in Germany received his own letter instructing the Germans to convert the infidels in their own Crusade.

Pretty much to my surprise and hopefully the surprise of many parents, these children were great in number. Many made it far in their quest, even though the ones that survived the early parts of their Crusade either went home or stayed in new countries when they decided not to continue their Crusade. A great number that continued on were lost along the way, some died at sea, some made it to Africa after a storm and sea and lived in captivity, some “comfortable captivity” if the were smart and could be purchased by the governor of Egypt who wanted to learn new things.

Unfortunately, the Children’s Crusade was not the last crusade, as the wars carried on via four more crusades following the attempts of Stephen and Nicholas.

For a great read on Stephen and Nicholas’ journeys, see HistoryGuide.org’s reference to a portion of Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades.

Submitted by: Violette DeSantis