Crusade of the Poor

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The Crusade of the Poor was an unauthorised military expedition undertaken in the spring and summer of 1309 by from England, Brabant, northern France and the German Rhineland. Responding to an appeal for support for a crusade to the Holy Land, the men, overwhelmingly poor, marched to join the small professional army being assembled with Papal approval. Along the way, they engaged in looting, persecution of Jews and combat with local authorities. None of them reached the Holy Land and their expedition ultimately dispersed.[1]

Acre, the last remaining city of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, fell to the Mamluks in 1291. In August 1308, Pope Clement V issued instructions for the preaching of a crusade to be launched against the Mamluks in the spring of 1309, this was to be a small, preliminary expedition led by the Hospitallers, a religious military order. The preaching of the crusade was to solicit funds and prayers, not direct participation on the part of the laity; in early 1309 the crusade was postponed until the autumn. In June and July 1309, Clement sent letters reminding those bishops charged with the preaching of the crusade north of the Alps that they were to solicit only funds and prayers and to discourage participation.[2]

Already in the spring of 1309, however, large groups of would-be crusaders, perhaps tens of thousands, began marching towards the Papal court at Avignon, these men had apparently "taken the cross", that is, stitched crosses onto their clothing in imitation of the First Crusaders, but been rejected by the bishops preaching the crusade. They marched on Avignon intending to join the Hospitaller army, the chronicle sources, most notably the Annales Gandenses, agree that they were mostly poor: landless peasants, agricultural labourers and underemployed urban artisans. There were a few wealthier German townsmen and even some knights, but the higher nobility was not represented.[2]

The "Brothers of the Cross", as the poor crusaders were known, engaged in widespread robbery and plunder to fund their march, the Jews became a favoured target. Over 100 Jews who took refuge in the castle of Born in the Duchy of Guelders were massacred. When the crusaders besieged the castle of Genappe in Brabant because it was sheltering Jews, Duke John II of Brabant sent an army to chase them off, they suffered heavy losses in the fighting with ducal troops. Despite the lack of leadership and planning, the crusader hordes arrived at Avignon in July.[2]

The "Brothers" asked Pope Clement to upgrade the planned expedition into a full crusade to legitimise their actions and permit them to fulfill their vows. Instead, Clement granted a 100-year indulgence to any German who had taken the cross—and to anyone who had financed such a one—but was unable to fulfill his vow to go to the Holy Land on account of the lack of ships, the Hospitallers steadfastly refused to ship any of the "Brothers". Thus, the entire body of crusaders, unable to fight on their own, was forced to disperse, the Hospitaller expedition finally set sail from the Italian port of Brindisi in early 1310. Rather than go to the Holy Land, it sailed for the Byzantine island of Rhodes, where it participated in the final conquest of the city of Rhodes in August.[2]

See also[edit]

In addition to the Crusade of the Poor, there were four other major, unsanctioned "popular" crusades constituted by the lower classes:


  1. ^ Gary Dickson, "Crusade of 1309", in Alan V. Murray (ed.), The Crusades: An Encyclopedia, 3 vols. (ABC-CLIO, 2017), vol. 1, pp. 311–13.
  2. ^ a b c d Gábor Bradács, "Crusade of the Poor (1309)", in Jeffrey M. Shaw and Timothy J. Demy (eds.), War and Religion: An Encyclopedia of Faith and Conflict, 3 vols. (ABC-CLIO, 2017), vol. 1, pp. 211–12.