This is part of the Medieval European History Metanode.

The Peasants Crusade (1096-1096) was rallied in response to the same problems that precipitated the First Crusade. Two preachers called the peasants of France to leave their fields and go to fight in the Holy Land: Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless. Famine, civil war, and sickness made rural France an unpleasant place in which to live, so the peasants went quite willingly in droves. This Crusade was unorganized, and many of the people who went had no idea what they were doing, where they were going, or what they were in for. The nobility of England who passed by these Crusaders viewed them "with contempt as persons who had altogether lost their wits," according to Ekkhard of Aurach in Hierosolymita (ca. 1101). The deeds of any peasants who did manage to fight with the noble Crusaders of the First Crusade were considered part of that First Crusade.

See also GeneralWesc's The Crusades node.
The Peasant's Crusade (also known as "The People's Crusade") wasn't an "officially sanctioned" part of the crusades, though it took place when the First Crusade was getting underway (it wasn't discouraged by the church, either). Probably known better for its actions before reaching the Holy Land.

Pope Urban II had made the call for such an endeavor, intending the armies to be made up mainly of clergy and soldiers, but others were caught up in the desire to fight the infidel. Peter the Hermit (also Peter of Amiens, the French town where he was born) was one such man.

In fact, he claimed he was the one who persuaded Urban to preach for a crusade (he wasn't). He was a former soldier and his appearance was of a short, old man, who rode a donkey, and wore dirty clothes. He lived mostly on wine and fish. An earlier (unsuccessful) pilgrimage to Palestine was probably part of what spurred him on (people took part in the crusades for generally religious reasons, without intending immense bloodshed—though it was true that they had been promised by the pope that participation would result in "remission of sins" as well as claim to any booty they found).

Apparently charismatic and forcefully convincing in his preaching, Peter was able to gather forces of thousands of people from amongst the poor, including women and children. His followers saw him as almost divine and even saintly. They traveled through Europe on the way toward the Holy Land. Other similar groups of "the masses" also took that route. Unlike the more papally preferred groups, these were disorganized and fueled more by emotion and zeal (and possibly the hope to escape the living conditions of medieval Europe with a little adventure and gold in the service of God).

They were also cash-poor. By spring 1096, Peter had already realized they were in trouble. One of his high-ranking followers, Walter Sansavoir (Sans-Avoir or "Walter the Penniless") had already gone on ahead with another group and arranged for consent of passage through Hungary. Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, of the Byzantine Empire, arranged food to be left for the crusaders along the route but there was not nearly enough to feed the great numbers who participated.

(Alexius was the one who put the idea of the crusades in Urban's head. The Turks had destroyed most of his army and he was running out of money due to his predecessors. At a council led by Urban, Alexius had spoke of the horrors and sins that the Turks had visited on Christians in his realm. Later he asked for help to rebuild his army, little expecting that the pope would call upon members of the church for a full-blown military campaign.)

Aside from dwindling supplies, there was little to report until the group reached the small Hungarian town of Semlin. There, several of Walter's men had broken the law and gotten themselves disarmed and expelled. Their clothes and armor were hung from the town walls. When the following group arrived, rumors spread about what had happened and resentment and the potential for hostility festered. Over an argument about a pair of shoes, a large number of Peter's followers (over whom he had no direct control; he possibly was unaware of the incident when it took place, being farther ahead of that part of the group) rioted, killing some 4000 Hungarians as well as looting and destroying parts of the town.

Meanwhile, Walter's group had reached Bulgaria. The governor of Belgrade, not having been informed of the coming arrival of the group (perhaps "warned" would be a better term) closed the city gates to them and said there was not enough food to feed the crusaders. In response they began pillaging the countryside. A local leader called up some troops who were able to chase over a hundred of them into a small church where they were burned to death.

By the time Peter's group reached Belgrade, there were nearly 20,000 people and control was mostly illusory. Local troops (mostly mercenaries) had been sent to aid in a river crossing and to attempt to maintain some sense of order (the area's inhabitants had wisely " headed for the hills"). The crusaders attacked the escorts, capturing and putting many to death. Belgrade was looted and burned.

At Nish, he offered some of his own men as hostages to guarantee good conduct and procure food and supplies. Unfortunately, as they left, some of the rear guard, who had quarreled with townspeople, torched some mills. Though when he heard of it, Peter attempted to work out a solution, other members of the group attacked the town (initially driven off, a second group attacked it again). The army was sent against the crusaders and after three days of fighting around 10,000 were killed, some were captured and enslaved, and the group lost its chest of money. Upon reaching Sofia, they were given an imperial escort to Constantinople.

Other groups of crusaders following Peter were even worse, taking out their righteous religious zeal on European Jews. Peter and company had already extorted money from them to finance the crusade (they were the "murderers of Christ"), but it was one Count Emich von Leiningen (sometimes Emico), in particular, who cut a murderous path through Europe.

European Jews, while never being truly accepted in Christian Europe, had been allowed to live their lives without any real problems (their importance to the economy cannot be dismissed). In May of 1096, the crusaders changed all that. The first attack took place in Speyer, Germany, where eleven Jews refused forced conversion/baptism were murdered. Fortunately for some, a local bishop (who, unlike the crusaders, was aware of the canon restriction against forcing conversion) allowed the area Jews to reside in his castle for protection.

Following that, at Worms, the crusaders looted and sacked the synagogue and homes of Jewish people. All the adult Jews who refused to convert and didn't commit suicide (by killing each other; see below) were stripped, murdered, and buried together. Around 800 people. Some of the children were also killed, while others were taken away, baptized, and raised as Christians.

The tide turned to Mainz, where Emich demanded ransom for the lives of the Jewish citizens. Despite it being paid, they attacked anyway. The bishop tried to protect them but eventually was forced to flee the mobs (some claim he abandoned them and took some of the plunder afterward).

But Emico and the rest of his band held a council and, after sunrise, attacked the Jews in the hall with arrows and lances. Breaking the bolts and doors, they killed the Jews, about seven hundred in number [other estimates range from 800 to 1300, whether it accounts for suicides, I am unaware], who in vain resisted the force and attack of so many thousands. They killed the women, also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex. The Jews, seeing that their Christian enemies were attacking them and their children, and that they were sparing no age, likewise fell upon one another, brother, children, wives, and sisters, and thus they perished at each other's hands. Horrible to say, mothers cut the throats of nursing children with knives and stabbed others, preferring them to perish thus by their own hands rather than be killed by the weapons of the uncircumsized.
Albert of Aix
About fifty survivors, including the chief rabbi escaped the massacre and sought asylum at the villa of an archbishop in Rudesheim. He only agreed if they were to convert. Enraged, the rabbi attacked him. The other survivors were killed as a consequence.

From there, the path spread to Trier, Metz, Cologne, Regensburg, and Prague. After the killing stopped, which only lasted about a month, as many as 8000-10,000 Jews had died. The Jewish population in the Rhineland was decimated.


Note on the suicides (as well as the many who allowed themselves to die): During the slaughter, Jews enacted the Kiddush Hashem, which literally means "sanctification of the name (of God or G-d, in deference to Jewish people)." It involves a "willingness to die as a Jewish martyr."
According to Jewish law, there are three actions that are proscribed, so much so that death is preferable. 1. If you are told to kill someone else or be killed yourself. 2. If you are told to commit a deviant sexual act. 3. If you are told to commit idolatry.

During the pogroms of the middle ages, the issue of kiddush hashem arose because Jews were being forced to convert. In Europe, where the dividing line between Christian and Jew was clear, and Christianity being considered idolatry (trinity) - the choice was between conversion and death.
(www.jewish.com/askarabbi/History/Medieval_era/)

(Sources: www.thehistorynet.com, www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/firstcrusade/Overview/Overview.htm, www.jewishgates.org/history/jewhis/crusade.stm, Medieval Sourcebook at www.fordham.edu, and David E. Stannard's 1992 American Holocaust: Columbus and the conquest of the New World)

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