A few years ago it would have seemed unbelievable that young women from good homes would get it into their heads to join a band of fanatical killers and go off to a foreign land … but it’s not the first time.
Nine hundred years ago, Christian crusaders set out to conquer the Holy Land from the Muslims. Volunteers left Western Europe and took their women with them. Some, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, were of noble birth. Others were of more humble origin.
They thought they were embarking on a big adventure. The Church assured them that the conquered lands would be theirs to settle and enjoy. They were told that their sins would be forgiven and a place in heaven was assured. The idolatrous natives would either convert to the true religion of Christ, or suffer the consequences.
History tells us that the natives had other ideas and the noble-minded Christians were defeated after a long and bloody struggle. The chronicles recount that, before that happened, bands of children from Germany and France were seduced into joining the crusaders in an effort to prop up the failing state.
The kids gathered in the southern ports of France and boarded ships. They expected the Christian captains to take them east to the Holy Land. But the ships sailed south to Muslim North Africa where they were sold into slavery. The boys were put to work as labourers and the girls became sex slaves. Later generations referred to that little episode as the Children’s Crusade.
Stories of the Children’s Crusade have been told many times and lavishly illustrated. My picture comes from a publication of the Victorian era.