As you probably know from history class back in high school, the crusades were well known during the time of the Middle Ages. With the word crusade comes the thoughts of French, German, and other European knights that traveled into the Middle East to "take back the holy lands" from the Muslims that occupied the region at the time.

What you may not know is that at some points of the time there were large groups of children ranging to over thirty-thousand children, whom felt that by faith alone, could take back the holy lands. The children involved were around the age of 12.

Stephen de Coyes’ Crusade

In the year of 1212 AD, a group of these children met in Vendome, France following a 12-year-old shepherd boy by the name of Stephen de Cloyes marched on to Jerusalem. This meeting was brought together because of Stephens’ claim that he received a letter from the King of France, which originated from Jesus. His band of crusaders grew rapidly because he was said to have done miracles for the crowds.

Among the thousands of children were peasant boys who had been allowed to go along with some noble children who joined without telling their parents. Without the aid of maps, weapons or even food, their march took them through southern France after which the reached the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way there, the children passed through many towns begging for food and shelter. Though mostly unsuccessful at getting food and shelter, they received much enthusiasm from parents and priests as to their quest.

Once the group reached Marseilles, the Mediterranean failed to part as Stephen had thought it would. Thus, Stephen enlisted the help of some merchants whom granted the group to come aboard. Of the seven ships that set sail, two of them ships sank drowning hundreds. The rest of the children were enslaved and sold in Algeria.

Of the ships that made it through the storm, the children onboard were later sold to Saraceans as was arranged with the two merchants. After many of the children were initially sold into slavery in the city of Bougie in Algeria. Many others were shipped down into Egypt at which they reached Alexandria. Of the remaining 700, 18 died for not converting to Islam while others were bought by a governor in Egpyt who had an interest in European culture. One priest who grew up working for this governor was later allowed to return to his home in France. At which comes the source of these details of which parents of the lost children questioned him.

The two merchants aforementioned were later caught in the act of kidnapping Emperor Frederick for the Saracens. As such, it would seem that the merchants received what they deserved.

Nicholas’ Crusade

A second crusade in 1212 AD, led by a German youth called Nicholas along with seven-thousand followers, brought around twenty-thousand children to their deaths on a treacherous march through the Alps. Those who did not die or turn back (one third of the original crusaders) reached Rome at which point, Pope Innocent halted their crusade deeming it foolish. When only two thousand children returned, furious parents who lost their sons on the march later hanged the father of Nicholas, who advised his son to take on the crusade.

In other cases, when children actually reached the holy lands, things didn't turn out as planned. The main idea in the minds of the children was that the Muslims couldn't possibly think to kill children and would therefore lay down their swords and give in to them. This however, was not the case.

The source of crusaders for the two crusades mentioned could possibly have come from groups of very poor peasants that had been expatriated into the countryside and such because of economic troubles of the time. Most prominently in France and Germany, these peasants were “compelled” to sell off their lands. These groups where sometimes called pueri which in Latin means “boys.” A possible misinterpretation in later news sources of the time however interpreted the earlier texts as being about children without completely knowing the true meaning of the word. This leads one to think that the crusades mentioned could have been with much older people. Though this is possible, the outcomes of the two crusades still would have happened as they did, children or not. The term pueri is somewhat similar to how “ farm town” people in the US will be considered “country boys,” often used in a derogatory sense. Thus, the French shepherd boy Stephen de Cloyes and Nicholas of Germany most likely came from groups of pueri, each uniting many groups forming religious journeys.

The Children’s Crusade is also known for its’ being an alternate title for the book written by Kurt Vonnegut called Slaughterhouse Five. The connection here is that Kurt Vonnegut writes about World War II and the young people fighting on both sides. This then elaborates into how wars will always be with us creating a need for soldiers that are much younger. This relates to how the Children’s Crusade was basically the idea of going to war with Muslims using children as young as six years old.

These crusades could possibly be the origin of the Pied Piper legend.

References:, © 2000 Steven Kreis
Cartoon Activities in World History, © 1987 J. Weston Walch

In addition to a really horrible event in the Middle Ages, the Children's Crusade was a not-so-horrible (though perhaps questionable) part of the 1963 Birmingham Campaign of the American Civil Rights Movement, during which over a thousand school children marched downtown to talk to the mayor, many of them getting arrested as a result.

In 1963, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, with Martin Luther King, Jr. leading, launched a campaign to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Some desegregation was being forced by the courts, but when, for example, public parks could no longer be segregated, the city opted to close them rather than allow integration. To force the city to negotiate and ultimately eliminate segregation, the protesters would non-violently break the laws they wanted changed, accepting the inevitable arrest. Well into the overarching campaign, a protest doing just this using school children was organized by Rev. James Bevel. On the first day of the campaign, over a thousand African American children left school, gathered at the Sixth Street Baptist Church, and then marched on downtown to talk to the mayor get arrested. Some were reportedly as young as eight years old.

It kind of makes you look bad when your protesters peacefully accept arrest, and doubly so when they're not scruffy ruffians, but nicely-dressed youth as compliant as can be as you shuffle them off to jail by the hundreds. Some of the most famous Civil Rights Movement images occurred during this campaign. You may have seen the one of a police dog attacking a young teen, or the firehose being turned on a bunch of kids. Better a fire hose than rubber bullets, but it was still enough to anger the general public.

Naturally, the kids were released--at least some of them that evening or the following day. Annnnd they marched again. The Children's Crusade lasted three days and actually succeeded in overfilling the Birmingham jails--one of the original goals of the broader Birmingham Campaign--though since these weren't hardened criminals the police just used a stadium as a holding pen for some.

This was perhaps the protest that really ended the Birmingham Campaign--on May 10, 1963, local officials agreed to end segregation downtown stores and release all jailed protesters if the protests ended. A few days later, the Board of Education said any student participating in these protests would be suspended or expelled. This went to court and the protesters quickly won.

Though effective, Malcolm X and others objected to putting children on the firing line. There's definitely a case to be made that it was irresponsible to allow young children to participate in the protests, but at least for those old enough to understand and support the cause, there's additionally a case to be made for letting them take a stand for their own freedom.'s_Crusade_(civil_rights)

the little children shall lead them...

A modern day children crusade occurred recently in Nairobi, Kenya. A nine year old child was hit and killed by a speeding minibus. This enraged children from several schools so much they went on a drunken rampage. Hundreds of students barricaded roads, pelted traders, vehicles with rocks, looting shops, burning a vehicle and consuming the contents of a beer wagon. The children some as young as five years old crusaded in the Nairobi streets for about 8 hours. These children were rioting because their angry at the lack of respect and concern for their safety. They were crusading for speed bumps.

I can't say what all the reasons and events were that led up to this assault on the city. All I have is a short article from oddly enough news. I can only speculate at the passionate angry animalistic rage that flowed through the children of Nairobi on that Monday. Some might have felt a righteous fire as they took over the suburb of Dandora. Some would have not needed a reason just an expression of their ire, a violent physical reaction against their environment. Maybe they were having fun being a part of something bigger then themselves. Whatever the reasons may have been the children at the least made the adults pay attention to them and their frustrations. The outcome of this incident remains to be seen. I truly hope the adults take their punishment and do the required community service of speed bumps and a generous dose of road caution in favor of pedestrians.

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