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Children's Crusade

The Children's Crusade (1212) is the name given to a possibly fictional and curious attempt to 'free' the Holy Land inspired by the 12-year old French boy Stephen de Cloyes. What really happened is not exactly clear.

It is believed that Stephen de Cloyes began preaching at Saint-Denis, claiming that he had been visited by Jesus and told to lead the next Crusade. Through a series of supposed portents and miracles he gained a considerable following, possibly as many as 20,000 children joined him. He led his followers southwards towards Marseille, it is said he believed that the sea would part when he would arrive, so that he and his followers could march to Jerusalem, which did not happen. At Marseille two merchants gave passage on seven boats to as many of the children as would fit. The children were taken to Tunisia and sold into slavery.

The tale has been interpreted as a later gloss on the widespread plight of the landless young in France and elsewhere in Europe. Other sources believe the tale is a union of two smaller movements of children from France and Germany in the early 13th century. Nicholas, a German shepherd boy, is said to have led a group of approximately 20,000 children across the Alps (most of them died from exposure, starvation, kidnapping, murder, etc.) and into Italy. However, their hopes on reaching there never bore fruit, and what few may have reached the Holy Land were most likely sold into slavery and prostitution. Some historians speculate that the entire crusade is fiction, as there is no real evidence that any such event occurred, in the 13th or in any other century.

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The Children's Crusade is the sub-title of Slaughterhouse-Five, a book by Kurt Vonnegut.