As with the previous post this is not an exhaustive piece on the Peasant’s Crusade or the People’s Crusade as it is also known – it’s an introduction.
Pope Urban II preached crusade at the Council of Clermont in November 1095. The idea was that the crusaders would set off the following summer. However, before the various military leaders could get themselves organised an army of about 50,000 peasants marched in the direction of Constantinople.
The peasants were led by Peter the Hermit. He had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but was prevented from entering the city by the Seljuk Turks. It is possible that he was one of the inspirations for Urban II’s sermon but more factually we know that he preached crusade in France and then began gathering his army under the authority of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. His licence to preach included England.
For the people who joined Peter the Hermit there was the religious element of the crusade to consider but also the fact that it enabled peasants to leave the land which many of them were tied to by the feudal structure. However, as the vast majority of them were not wealthy there came the problems of having to take entire families and living off the land.
By spring 1096 Peter was in the Rhineland where preaching crusade led to a massacre of Jews. This killing spread with the crusade. At Mainz the Bishop hid numbers of Jews in his palace but they were still murdered. In part it was religious intolerance – torah scrolls were destroyed. The Jewish population was targeted and murdered. Another element was the opportunity to acquire money and goods.
At Cologne, Peter had to stop to resupply but here, initially at least, the Jewish community was largely saved by their gentile neighbours who hid them in their own homes. Unfortunately the crusaders sought them out when they moved into hiding in nearby villages -and killed them anyway. None of it makes happy reading.
At this time, whilst Peter halted, a party of impatient crusaders led by Walter the Penniless contained on their journey. As this army led journeyed south stealing and living off the land there were confrontations between the crusaders and the local Christian populations.. At Semlin about 4,000 Hungarians were killed and a number of crusaders took refuge in a chapel where they were burned to death. The rest of the crusaders continued on their way setting Belgrade on fire. They were attacked on the way to Sofia resulting in the loss of many of their untrained soldiers. Peter travelling after Walter’s group came to Semlin to find the town wall hung with things taken from Walter’s crusaders.
Peter and his army eventually arrived in Constantinople in July 1096. They were not what the Emperor Alexios wanted not least because he was now expected to care for an untrained army that included impoverished men, women and children – think rabble rather than army. There are questions as to whether Alexios sent Peter and his People’s Crusade off across the Bosphorus without guides in order to get rid of them or whether they continued into Turkish territory despite having been told to wait but that is a matter for debate.
At Dracon, in Turkish held territory Peter and his army were attacked and fought the Battle of Civetot. It was a disaster for the People’s Crusade. Most of them were killed or enslaved.
Duncalf notes that the chroniclers of the period did not write much about the People’s Crusade not least because they did not assist the main or Princes’ Crusade although Peter the Hermit turns up on other occasions in the story of the First Crusade because he joined with the army of Godfrey of Bouillon. There other narrative accounts which are contemporary including that of Anna Komnina the daughter of Emperor Alexios.
I am sorry if there are any really terrible spelling mistakes – this version of WordPress changes spellings to what it thinks they should be, based on the pattern the misspelling makes and I cannot always see where changes have happened even reading the post through before hitting the publish button.
For a more extended account of the People’s Crusade follow this link: https://www.historynet.com/first-crusade-peoples-crusade.htm
Duncalf, Frederic (1921) The American Historical Review, Volume 26, Issue 3, April 1921, Pages 440–453, https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/26.3.440
Kostick, Conor (2008), The Social Structure of the First Crusade. Brill