Peter the Hermit and The People’s Crusade

This is a story that has been posted on my other blog, Crusades and Crusaders.

The first army that left for the Holy Land was that of Peter the Hermit’s. It wasn’t an actual army because the vast majority of his followers were peasants and laymen; many men had taken their entire families with them. Only a small minority of Peter’s following were knights, commanded by the pious knight, Walter Sans Avoir (The Penniless).

Nevertheless, Peter had amassed a great following–historians estimate that his following was anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people–large enough to be considered, at that time, an army. Today, Peter the Hermit’s expedition is widely known as the People’s Crusade.


13 April 1096

Adele was glad that Peter had decided to let his army of pilgrims rest in the district of Cologne. She had walked–surrounded by many people she did not know–for several days and some nights. Adele was starving and so exhausted, she feared if she took one more step forward, she would faint. So, she plopped herself down on the soft grass. It must have rained the night before, Adele thought, because the grass was quite damp. It seeped through her clothes, but it was warm and the sun shone brightly, so she didn’t feel cold.

Adele was with many of the pilgrims outside the city walls, yet she felt all alone. Her sisters traveled at the head of the crowd with Peter and Father Marc, while she walked far behind, near the rearguard. She scanned the crowded field but couldn’t find them anywhere. The bishop of Cologne had already let them into the city and invited them to spend Easter with him at his palace. They were probably, at this very moment, seated at the bishop’s large table, filling their empty bellies with delicious food of all kinds.

The bishop and townspeople here had received Peter well. Everyone loved and admired Peter. He was the embodiment of genuine Christianity: He gave everything he owned to his followers. Everywhere they travelled, people followed Peter; they dedicated their lives to him and to his call for Holy War against these so-called evil Muslims in the Holy Land. Men knelt before Peter, women kissed his hands; few of the villagers even plucked pieces of course fur from Peter’s tunic. Yet, Adele didn’t understand why he couldn’t persuade Father Marc to be more kind to her.

Adele fell back, arms outstretched, her long blond hair splayed in every possible direction, forming a halo around her head. Tears flowed freely down her face. Peter, Father Marc, Elle and Josie were so satisfied, they didn’t think about her or talk about her, other than to say how horrible of a person she is. That was why no one looked for her.

She traced her fingers over the wooden beads of her mother’s rosary. “I wish you had never left us, Mother. Nothing is going well. Neither Father Marc or Peter had fulfilled their promise to you. I have no one to talk to and no money to buy food and clothes. And it’s all because of them.”

“What are you talking about, and why are you crying?”

Adele sat up straight and twisted her torso until she was staring at the person who interrupted her thoughts. He looked to be no older than she; he was scrawny and his thick, brown curls were matted. He wasn’t handsome, but there was something about his demeanor that calmed Adele. She couldn’t find a word to describe it, yet she was glad that she had someone to talk to. At last.

She wiped her eyes dry with the sleeve of her cloak. “I am terribly hungry and tired and….I don’t know if I want to continue on this pilgrimage.”

The boy reached into his sack and pulled out a loaf of bread.

Adele’s eyes bulged open. “Where did you get that?”

A mischievous grin spread across his face. “I stole it from the monastery’s bakery, when the baker wasn’t there of course.”

Adele gasped. They had stopped at two monasteries on their journey and had relied on the monks’ good will. Unfortunately the monks had not enough food to feed all of the pilgrims, so many pilgrims went more than one day’s travel hungry, including Adele. As much as she wanted to at time, she didn’t bring herself to stealing food from the monks, or from the villagers whose towns they passed through. She was still hurting from the quarrel she had with Father Marc, so the last thing Adele wanted was to bear the additional burden of guilt.

The boy laughed. “A pious girl, you are. You’d rather starve to death than commit one little act of sin, wouldn’t you?”

Adele shook her head. “A starving girl who chooses not to steal is not a pious girl. She is simply abiding by the law of the land.”

“I meant not to insult you. In fact, I wish I was as good as you.” He broke off a large piece and handed it to Adele. “Here. Don’t let yourself die of starvation.”

“Many thanks,” Adele said, taking the chunk of bread from him. She broke off a small piece and placed in on her tongue. It was still soft and tasted delicious. She suddenly didn’t care how this boy obtained this loaf of bread; she was glad she had something decent to eat.

“My name is Simon,” he offered, sitting on the grass close beside her.

Adele began to tingle all over. She had never been this close to a boy before, so she didn’t know whether to feel excited or afraid. “I’m Adele.”

“Adele. You are really pretty, you know that?”

She blushed deeply. No one had ever told her that, not even her mother when she was alive. And Father Marc thought she was a wretched girl; he told her that the day before they left Josselin.

“Yes you are,” Simon insisted. “You are the prettiest girl I’ve ever met…seen.”

Adele chuckled lightly. “Thank you, Simon. You sure know how to flatter a lady.”

He shot her a wide grin. “That’s what I’m here for. So tell me; why are you alone? Have you taken up the cross without your family’s permission?”

Adele bit down hard on her lower lip. She thought about Elle and Jose spending their visit here in comfort and with plenty of food to eat. Tears pricked her eyes. “I have no family.”

“Well, I came with my father, mother and two older brothers.”

“Then, why are you not with them?”

Simon shrugged one shoulder. “I wanted to see more of this great city.”

“But you have not yet entered the city’s gates. And, have we not seen enough land already?”

“I never grow tired of new sites, me lady. This land may be poor, but it’s still beautiful, and I enjoy every moment of it.”

A faint smile crept across Adele’s face. “I bet the Holy Land is far more beautiful than here.”

Simon nodded his head. “You are probably right.

If interested, you can read more articles on Crusades and Crusaders.




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