The Crusades stand as one of the key historical milestones of the Middle Ages. Backed by the Catholic Church, European Christians launched eight separate missions to take the Holy Land from Muslim control between 1096 and 1291. Led by Europe’s elite, the Crusades were documented in great detail by the leaders of the church as well as the people who fought them. Their leaders, their movements, and their outcomes are well known to history.
The story of the Children’s Crusade of 1212 brings to mind powerful images of throngs of medieval European children gathering together in faith to wrest Jerusalem from the Muslims. The events of the two expeditions fascinated 13th-century audiences, and chroniclers wrote different accounts decades after the Children’s Crusade ended. Historians, however, are hampered by a lack of detailed, primary sources about these popular movements of the early 13th century. Most consider that the events recorded by later chroniclers may be legendary or exaggerated.
The Children’s Crusade was not an official crusade—which had to be sanctioned by a pope—nor does there exist solid evidence that it was supported predominantly by young children. Nevertheless, it was a mass movement, inspired by the desire to defend and spread Christianity in the early 1200s.