The People's Crusade - Peter the Hermit

When the Normans had finally conquered England and the two Cicilies, hordes of military adventurers were without work and ready to throw in with anyone who promised to appease their thirst for glory and plunder. Peter of Amiens, known as Peter the Hermit was a maverick preacher without a church and his indignance at the oppression of Christians in Palestine grew into fanaticism. Pope Urban II first held a council at Piacenza, in which he broached the scheme, and then crossing the Alps, convened a larger and more representative council in France at Cleremont. The pope called upon the people of Europe to aid him in rescuing the Holy Sepulcher. Peter's zeal was enthusiastically seconded by the pope and as Urban called them to arms, Peter whipped them into fury and recruited thousands of peasants for the crusade. Peter set out about March, 1096 and reached Constantinople in July.

Peter is described as an unkempt old man, wearing no shoes and living on fish and wine, he was the most effective preacher of the Crusade. Preaching inside the churches and outside in the streets and highways, he carried a huge cross before him. Everywhere he preached, his proposal was met as if a call from heaven. Deus lo volt! Deus lo volt, cried the people, "God wills it." The council freed Crusaders from taxes and ordered that debtors who joined their ranks should not be pursued.

The People's Crusade demonstrated the millennial and apocalyptic outlook of the European lower and middle classes. People yearned for an escape from the frustration of a meager existence. Recapturing Jerusalem seemed to play only a part in Urban's plan but this is exactly what intoxicated the masses. In the eyes of the poor, it was an armed and militant pilgrimage of the greatest and most noble kind. They had no thought of returning but meant to take Jerusalem from the infidels and in settling there, turn it into a Christian city. For the knights, the cross was a symbol, to conquer in the name of the Lord, but the peasants were taking up the cross of Jesus and following Him into not just into the earthly Jerusalem but the Heavenly one, a land flowing with milk and honey. They were entering into the realm of the miraculous and fully expected spiritual and material blessings. The People's Crusade was a holy adventure, called not by barons and Kings but by God Himself.

The first forces to move eastward were not armies but throngs of undisciplined people. Peter and his hordes of peasants weren't about to wait for their armored lords and knights to lead the way, they set out on foot with neither weapons nor provisions. The whole thing seemed to them so miraculous that they thought they could go out like the seventy disciples of Jesus, without staff, scrip or purse. Through France and Germany, Peter recruited more ignorant peasants, many of them serfs, living off the land, many of them women and children starving from crop failure. They sought to make their way by the valley of the Danube, and thence southward to Constantinople. Many were recruited from the Rhineland urban communities. These were disreputable people of all kinds, wharf rats, beach bums, thieves, outlaws, beggars, charlatans, prostitutes, old men, adventurers, fugitives, ex-convicts, described as the scum of Europe. They were repeatedly attacked by the Christians of Hungary and Bulgaria through whose lands they had to pass. Panhandling and looting as they went, they were no more than unruly mobs. Most of them reached Constantinople, getting a cold reception there, they got a hot one from the Turks.

Never before in history had there been such a sight as these masses of practically leaderless people moved by an idea. Ignorant fanatics marching without order or discipline, panhandling, pillaging, burning, and plundering the countries that they traversed. The delusion was so great that whole families joined in these wild expeditions, farmers were seen driving their carts with their family in the line of march, boys with their toy swords, pretending every stranger for a Turk, and every new town for Jerusalem. Many died along the way from famine, fatigue, disease, or from the sword of the people they had outraged. Their excesses had indelibly stigmatized the holy cause in which they were engaged. It would be hard to imagine a people less fitted for the task of a holy war.

Two great mobs committed such excesses in Hungary as to provoke the Hungarians to massacre them. Christian blood was up and a third mob began a pogrom of the Jews in the Rhineland, they thought that the slaughter of the Jewish race would be a great propitiation for the Crusade's success. Myriads of innocent Jews were massacred with every torture and indignity that malice could suggest; by mutual consent, whole families committed suicide. The Crusaders came like a swarm of locusts feeding on the countries they passed. Two other groups under Peter got through and approached Constantinople.

The trouble brought upon the Byzantines by this first mob of Crusaders was a portent of things to come. The Byzantines, who had hoped for the loan of a few hundred well-trained knights, were appalled at the prospect of the enormous armies of riff raff about to descend on them from the west. They burned houses on the way and looted everything that they could carry, committing outrages as they went. The multitude was divided into two parts, one under Peter and the other under Walter the Penniless. They were in a pitiable plight when they reached Thrace and all might have perished if the Emperor Alexius had not sent to rescue them and they were quickly shipped across the Bosporus. They quarreled amongst themselves in Asia Minor, murdered the Christian inhabitants, scored no success against the Turks, and were eventually massacred rather than defeated by the Seljuks in 1096. Gibbon accepts the figure at three hundred thousand perishing before a single city was rescued from the infidels. The whitened bones of these earliest crusaders were scattered over the landscape to give later crusading armies a silent salutation. Peter escaped and returned to Constantinople to await the crusade of the princes.
[03, 05, 07, 08, 14, 25, 48, 58, 76]

The Lord has given Christians the grace to reconcile the children to their Fathers

As One Body

  • We prepare for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb
  • Harvest the Fruit of the Latter Rain
  • Follow Him as the Army of the Lord into His Glory

Help To Prepare A Holy Bride!

Issue Oriented Discussion Newsletter

Index | Search This Site | Aristide.Org | The Latter Rain | Babylon the Great | The Kingdom | The Nicolaitans | Jezebel
The Baptism With the Holy Ghost | The Grand Delusion | World Trade Org | Liberation Theology | Jay Atkinson | Alphabetical Index