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Old April 23rd, 2012, 01:00 PM   #1

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The Shepherd's Crusade 1251


The defeat of Louis IX at the Battle of Mansourah and the capture of the King of France and a good number of his army in 1250 sent shockwaves across Europe. The Seventh Crusade had failed, and bad news travelled quickly. In Venice violence and public disorders erupted onto the streets of the city and in France a miasma of mourning hung heavy over the realm. Yet in one corner of the French Kingdom this was not the case, there reactions to this news took a much more aggressive and active turn.

In the spring of 1251 in the regions of Flanders, Piccardy, Hainault and Brabant the people took action. Spontaneously and in a relatively confused manner to begin with, as such spontaneous actions often are, crusade preaching and funding sprang up. Money and men would be sent eastwards to ransom the imprisoned monarch, and help continue the fight to liberate Jerusalem. What clerics described as shepherds and other rustic simple people gathered together in their parishes and rural communities, all with the intention of aiding their King in the Latin East, and joining him there in the fight. They were critical of the failure of their nobles, their social elites and betters, who had not lived up to the task set for them. Their intention was to succeed where their betters had failed. In a manner reminiscent of the Children’s Crusade in 1212 these groups of pastoureaux, literally shepherds, gathered and adopted the appearance of religious processions. They marched on Paris bearing with them religious banners and icons, singing hymns and encouraging those they met to take the cross and join them, offering absolution for their sins. They claimed divine messages and visitations from the Virgin Mary. The effects of the crusade preaching that had been conducted in the areas prior to Louis’ crusade in 1244-1248 could clearly be felt and scene. This as with the Children’s Crusade before it was an outpouring of popular religious devotion. They carried on their banners images of the cross and the lamb, the latter perhaps helping to give them their name.
Yet this was not a rabble of rustics, chaotically meandering across NE France. There was clear cohesion and organisation within the different groups. They were articulate and directed, especially in their anti-clericalism, criticisms of clerical financing, venality and other abuses were made. The failings of the nobility, especially in concerns to the Regency were highlighted. Their protestations and lamentations fell in line with notions of collective sin and its responsibility for failure in their monarch ventures. Coming from more distant regions of the French Realm, especially those with a long Crusading history and pedigree, one must wonder if their desire to play a more central role upon the stage of French politics may have added to their motivations. Initially they were welcomed by Blanche of Castile, Louis’ mother and head of the Regency council that governed the realm in his absence. Food, shelter and supplies were made available to them. However this soon changed, their social radicalism and anti-clericalism soon drove a wedge in their ranks and those of their supporters. Some drifted away, though others certainly seem to have made it to the Latin East, assisting Louis upon his release from prison and helping in his ventures in Palestine until he finally left in 1254. Upon news of the arousal of the people of the NE other regions soon took up the banner, Normandy and Berry likewise saw the emergence of such common crusading spirituality and calls for the assistance of the King and the purging of France’s collective sin.

However the Regency council wary of the message that the Shepherds brought, or some of them, for the rising of such spontaneous groups across the country hardly permitted a homogenous unit, declined to back them in their mission and rejected some of their demands. Some departed and left for their homes, others turned to violence and brigandry. Violence erupted in Rouen and Orleans, priests and friars were everywhere the victims of attacks and threatened. In Bourges rioting occurred, under the command of a leader known as the Master of Hungary, suspected of being a renegade monk, this was certainly ammunition for those who had disapproved of the Shepherd’s actions and message. Jews were attacked; synagogues burnt, before the city’s populace turned on them and hacked the Master of Hungary to death, reminiscent of Louis own policy on exploiting the Jews of his realm to finance his campaign. The remnants of this group continued their violence and terror all the way to Bordeaux before being finally stopped.

The Shepherd’s Crusade, clamped down on by the authorities when it turned violent and lacking any major support to push forward to the Latin East slowly fizzled away by the end of the year. Yet its appearance, as with the Children’s Crusade, demonstrated the level to which crusading evangelism had penetrated all levels and mentalities of civil society. A society that was distinctly more articulate and aware of itself and sophisticated than before. Their choice of targets and accusations display a clear understanding of the social and economic problems of society in the mid-13th century. The Shepherds were by no means politically ignorant or innocent of the events about them. Yet this was not necessarily a revolt of the proletariat, the Shepherds were intensely loyal to the crown and their King, hostage in a foreign land, claiming that they were the ones expressing royal interests and preserving royal agenda’s, rather than the political elites themselves.
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