The Mysterious Children’s Crusade *1212


The Children’s Crusade was a failed attempt in which children from across Europe were led to a disastrous end. The Crusade took place in 1212.

The precise details of the crusade are shrouded in mystery and many even question whether this crusade ever took place. However, there are several pieces of evidence from history that show that a crusade involving children did take place. All versions of the event confirm that the misplaced adventure ended in tragedy.

Stephen of Cloyes

One of the leading figures in the Children’s Crusade was Stephen of Cloyes. Stephen was a boy aged 12 who claimed that he had a divine vision. He asked for an audience with the King of France. His keen religiosity attracted the attention of others and soon he had inspired tens of thousands of boys, both young and old. His followers grew to a size of around 30,000.

Many of these followers claimed that they could work miracles. Stephen of Cloyes then reportedly led his followers towards the Mediterranean Sea, claiming that the sea would part to give them a path. However, this didn’t happen and the followers became disheartened.

According to some accounts, many of the young followers were sold into slavery in Tunisia.

Nicholas of Germany

Nicholas of Germany was another young shepherd who drummed up a similar enthusiasm among young children across Germany. Like Stephen of Cloyes, he was able to mass up a large following. He then led his followers across the Alps. Many of the followers couldn’t survive the journey and died while many others returned.

Around 7,000 of his band reached Genoa and some chose to live in the city as its citizens. However, Nicholas continued to journey further toward Pisa. According to some accounts, some of the children among his followers were able to board Palestine-bound ships in Pisa and finally reached the Holy Land. Nicholas went on to meet the Pope and was asked to return home.

History or Myth

Many of the particulars related to the Children’s Crusade are not known for sure. For instance, it isn’t known how many people actually participated in the two efforts led by Stephen of Cloyes and Nicholas of Germany. It is, however, known for certain that many of the followers were young boys.

The actual end of both crusades is also not known. Some sources claim that the boys who followed these two leaders eventually returned home. Others tell that they chose to stay in the coastal towns after the failure to reach the Holy Land. As per some accounts, many of the followers were also sold into slavery or died of starvation and other hardships along the way.

Lack of Support

It is interesting to note that the Children’s Crusade received no formal support from any of the reigning monarchs. In fact, the King of France indirectly told the leaders of the crusade to return home. In addition, the Church and the Papacy also lent no support to these attempts. In fact, the clergy and the Church looked at these attempts with suspicion. However, no direct attempts were made either by the monarchs of the day or the Church itself to put an end to these crusading efforts.

A Crusade of the Poor

Most of the historic accounts related to the Children’s Crusade confirm that the main participants in these crusades were people who were at the margins of society. These included poor young boys and girls, widows, shepherds, workers, unmarried individuals, and others with no permanent station or address in society.

Many of these probably saw a sense of redemption in being a part of the effort. Notably, both leaders of the Crusade were also poor young boys who hailed from similar social circumstances.