In 1212, two groups involving children embarked on crusades to the Holy Land. They are generally lumped together and known as the Children's Cruade. They were not true crusades in the sense that the pope did not call for a crusade and nor did he sanction it (or them).

One group (from Germany) was led by a shepherd called Nicholas. They had been inspired, according to History Guide, by an earlier group from France. When they arrived in Rome, they were told by Pope Innocent III to return home.

The earlier group, also led by a shepherd, Stephan of Cloyes, got to Marseilles where they boarded ships under false pretenses - they were sold into slavery. They had been advised by the French King Philip II to return home.

According to Brittanica.com, the participants of at least one of these groups took the Crusader's vow, and this vow was recognized as valid by the church, but it is not clear whether this recognition was at the time of the crusade or at some later point.

I can't find any reference to any response of the Pope to this first group. Was there any, or did the pope just react to the second group (from Germany) because they turned up in the Papal States? Also, did the church take any action to prevent further groups of 'unofficial' crusades involving children?

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    If I remember right, the church did little or nothing. I think (again from memory) that Pope Innocent III did use their example when he called for the 4th Crusade - "They put us to shame. We sleep while they rush to recover the Holy Land." Oct 24, 2017 at 23:31
  • That's interesting (though I think you mean the 5th Crusade). Seems like the pope was more interested in getting another crusade going than preventing another tragedy. Oct 24, 2017 at 23:45
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    According to Wiki, started in 1213 and dragged on until 1221. Oct 24, 2017 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


I think there is a good reason we can't find Pope Innocent III's response...it appears there was none and it's questionable if he had the opportunity to make one.

From all accounts I can find, the generally accepted number for the First Childrens crusade is in the range of 30'000 (Low end about 15k, one Christian site has 300k on it). The timeline on this Crusade is quite short (June 1212 to Dec-ish 1212). Stephen of Cloyes leads the group of children to Marseilles and by that time his numbers have dwindled (food and children attempting to return home). Upon reaching Marseilles, Stephen expected the ocean to part and reveal the path to Jerusalem...when it didn't, another portion of the remaining children turned on him and attempted the return home. We can almost call this point the conclusion of the Childrens crusade...I'm unsure on the remaining number at this point, but they were able to fit onto 7 ships in total which leads me to believe the numbers involved were under 1000 at this point.

It's possible Pope Innocent III wasn't aware of this Children's Crusade until after it 'mostly' disbanded after the sea failed to part for them. The only reason he was able to make a statement to the second group was because they appeared on his door step before their numbers started to decline. Communication in Medieval times wasn't quick after all.

Kinda hate posted a non-answer answer, but all research points to there being no statement to the point where it's questionable if Pope Innocent III knew of the French Childrens Crusade until afterwards.


I think the argument can be made that the Pope here never considered the 2 children's campaigns as separate 'crusades' and rebuking the 1 was rebuking them both (therefore he didn't need to rebuke the French campaign individually). When he refers to the childrens crusade afterwards as "These children put us to shame. They rush to recover the Holy Land while we sleep." he seems to be referring to them collectively, and if that's true it's a reasonable assumption he felt the one response dealt with both.

  • i think you're probably right about there being no response at the time, but i was wondering if he referred to it later. Dec 15, 2017 at 20:09
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    @sempaiscuba - I'm not sure if that line is referring to the French version led by Stephan, or if it was in reference to the German one led by Nicholas that actually met the pope (actually the book your link goes to seems to confuse the 2 different childrens crusades as 1 pretty heavily). Pope Innocent IIIs reaction almost has me thinking that the 2 childrens crusades were the same one and in rebuking 1 he rebuked both? Not sure, thats simply speculation.
    – Twelfth
    Dec 15, 2017 at 21:06
  • @LarsBosteen - Given the amount of confusion in these sources I'm seeing and the number of times the 2 children crusades are mixed and represented as one, it's possible Innocent III thought he rebuked the Childrens crusades in it's entirety after speaking with Nicholas, and didn't need to address them separately. Maybe? speculation, cannot back that up
    – Twelfth
    Dec 15, 2017 at 21:08
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    @sempaiscuba - agreed. Included a edit footnote to include the potential that he felt his one statement addressed both. I've seen references that both Child Crusade leaders were expecting the seas to part for them as part of their journey, which would suggest they were either semi-coordinated or their efforts were heavily confused as one. What I'm really curious about now is who was the figure that called their self Jesus and told Stephan (and potentially Nicholas) to embark on this crusade (only text on it that I can find is 'we will never know').
    – Twelfth
    Dec 15, 2017 at 21:53

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