It is often hard to make sense of how children fitted into society inthe past – we are told that teenagers were invented in the late 1950s, we are told that children were not valued or loved because they often died young, they are often depicted as little adults. But this story shows something else: initiative, faith, organising ability, bravery, and of course, tragedy. This is from The Medieval World Europe 1100-1350 by Frederick Heer:
“Faith at its purest and most innocent was inherent in one fo the most horrifying and disastrus episodes of he whole epoch, the Children’s Crusades. The magnates put their trust in the sword; a Christian used the sword to fight for the Kingdom of God. But in the 12th centiry there were signs of a spiritual awakening, particularly among women and children, in which St Fancis and some of the religious sects were also to play their part. The Cross took on a different complexion and became the sign in which love alone, and not force, could conquer. After a century of catastrophe, masacre, and continual defeat, the Crusading idea took on a new form in the hearts of simple people and of children, who dared to hope that where force had failed the power of naked love might yet succeed.
There is no discoverable connection between te 2 Children’s Crusades, which started in the same year, 1212, one in the Rhineland, the other in the Loire valley. A 10 year old boy, Noicholas, preached the Children’s Crusade in Cologne and is said to have recruited about 20,000 children. When they reached Italy, many of the girls were thrust into brothels and others taken into service as maid-servants. The Bishop of Brindisi tried to restrain them from crossing the sea. Innocent III, however, was deeply affected, and although he released the girls from their crusading vows, let the boys to ern their own release when they shuld be of age. Those who did carry on with the journey werw sold in the East as slaves. A remnant returned, ill-used and disilusioned.
In France, a boy called Stephen from a village near Vendome is alleged to have collected together about 30,000 children. At Marseilles they fell into the hands of crooks and were sent to Alexandria to be sold as slaves; 2 ships foundered on the way.
The Children’s Crusades should not be rearded merely as an episode, but as an echo of the deep-seated unrest which was disturbing the conscience of the masses. Inocent III, generally acounted as one of the shrewedest and most ruthless plitical realists of his time, is supposed to have said: “These children put us to shame; whilst we are slumbering they set forth gaily.” Above all, the miracles associated with Stephen’s Crusade (animals, birds, fishes and butterflies are said to have joined it) point forward to 2 other figures. St Francis and St Joan of Arc were borne on the stream of the same religious tradition, welling up from the same hidden depths… Joan of Arc… was asked during her judicial examination, “Is it true that you and your banner go into battle in a cloud of butterflies?” Butterfies, anciently reputed to be the vearers of the sould (a belief already met with among Egyptians) also fluttered about the heads of Stephen an the youthful Francis of Assisi. The naive and young needed their butterflies if they were to rise above the bitter realities of the day. “