Beyond the Walls The Journey of a French Peasant

Death, Dying, and the Culture of the Macabre in the Late Middle Ages
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Urban carefully considered the request and decided on a plan so far-reaching that it would change the course of history. On August 11, , he sent out letters requesting his bishops to join him at Clermont, France. On Tuesday, November 27, the crowds that had assembled were too large to be housed in the cathedral, where the council was meeting, so the papal throne was set up on a platform outside the east gate of the city. Peter the Hermit—also known as Peter of Amiens because he was born in that French town—had never been within miles of any pope, but that did not prevent him from telling his followers that it was he who had persuaded Urban to preach the crusade.

Peter was certainly among the first to preach it, but it is now known that there were many others who were advocating the same thing. It was, nonetheless, Peter who became the de facto leader for many of the Crusaders. A former soldier, Peter was a short, elderly man whose face was almost as long and sad as that of the donkey he always rode.

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His garments were filthy. His bare feet had not been washed in years. He ate no meat or fruit, living almost entirely on wine and fish. In , Peter had made a pilgrimage to Palestine, but he was unable to reach the Holy City. His higher-ranking followers, most notably the capable French knight Walter Sansavoir or Sans-Avoir , or Walter the Penniless, brought thousands of men-at-arms with them.

German leaders such as Gottschalk and Orel formed similar armies, but probably on a smaller scale. Both Alexius and Urban wanted armies, not rabble. In the spring of , Peter halted at Cologne.

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By nightfall on the 29th the fighting was over. The duke married while in exile the princess of Monaco, a lady of very shady antecedents. But though Louis Blanc is right in saying that the evil that Napoleon did, lived after him in the memories of thinking men, it is also true that those born since the fall of the Second Empire can have no idea of the general Page 66 enthusiasm that still lingered in France in Louis Philippe's reign, round memories of the glories of Napoleon. She died soon after the Restoration. Keep track of everything you watch; tell your friends. All citizens have a right to concur, either personally, or by their representatives, in its formation. He had passed the years of his exile in various European countries, but the principal part of his time had been spent at Hartwell, about sixty miles from London, where he formed a little court and lived a life of royalty in miniature.

Although he had always given his every coin to the poor, he now realized that he could not lead his followers on such a journey without a war chest. Walter, impatient with the many delays, had already set out from France. Permission was granted, and the passage was completed with little incident.

Alexius had established stores along the route of the approaching Westerners, but they could not begin to feed the hordes approaching his borders. He now learned that a second, much larger throng, was also on its way. Hostility toward the Hungarians grew until an argument over the sale of a pair of shoes sparked a riot, and the Crusaders attacked the townsfolk. Shops and markets were looted, and hundreds of Hungarians were killed. Governor Nicetas, a conscientious but lackluster leader, requested guidance from Constantinople. At Belgrade, Walter demanded food for his followers, but the available supply was far too small to feed such a multitude.

Walter and his troops began to pillage the countryside, forcing the local commander to call out his troops. Several Crusaders were killed.

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Walter finally made it to Nish, where Nicetas sent the crusading horde on to Constantinople under escort. By the time Peter reached the Hungarian border, his ranks had swelled to close to 20, Stealing lumber from houses, his men built rafts to cross the river. The local troops, mostly Pecheneg mercenaries, were sent in barges to keep the crossing orderly, while local inhabitants retired to the mountains. Many of the Pecheneg soldiers were captured and put to death, while Belgrade was looted and torched.

After a seven-day march, Peter arrived at Nish on July 3. His very first act was to demand food. When Peter was asked to supply hostages as a guarantee of good conduct, Geoffrey Burel and Walter of Breteuil were handed over. This was Christian territory, and several local people joined the Crusaders. The next morning, the Crusaders set out for Sofia, but as they were leaving Nish, a group of Germans who had quarreled with some of the townspeople the night before set fire to a cluster of mills.

When Nicetas heard of the incident, he sent troops to attack the rear guard and take hostages. A man named Lambert ran to Peter with the news, and Peter turned back to talk with Nicetas and to ransom the captives. During the conference, wild rumors once again spread among the Crusaders. A large company of them attacked the town but was driven off.

When a still larger group resumed the assault, Nicetas unleashed his army. The Crusaders were completely routed. Many were killed, while others were captured and spent their remaining years as slaves. Peter lost his chest of money. He, Rainald of Breis, Walter of Breteuil and some others spent the night huddled in the mountains, believing that they were the only survivors. In reality, about one-fourth of their company had been lost. On July 12, the remaining Crusaders reached Sofia, and from there they proceeded, under Imperial escort, to Constantinople, arriving on August 1.

Urban raised no hand to stop the persecution, even though he was in the area where the worst excesses took place. The German contingents who followed Peter, especially the one led by the Swabian Count Emich von Leiningen, became notorious for their cruelty. Emich first attacked the Jews of Spier, 12 of whom were saved through the intervention of the local bishop. At Mainz, Emich laid siege to the city and demanded ransom from the Jews to spare their lives.

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The ransom was paid, but Emich stormed the city anyway. The Jews sought refuge in the palace of the archbishop, a relative of Emich, but he was driven from the city. With their situation hopeless, the Jews chose quick death to the more agonizing doom they could expect at the hands of the Christians. Since suicide was prohibited under Jewish law, they first killed their elderly brethren and then each other. About 1, Jews died in Mainz, but its chief rabbi and some 50 survivors sought asylum in Rudesheim, where the archbishop had retreated to his country villa.

The archbishop agreed under condition that the Jews convert to Christianity—at which point the rabbi, crazed with rage, seized a knife and attacked him.

Finally the Jews in the Rhineland were all murdered or bled dry, and large groups of Germans started out on the road previously traveled by Walter and Peter. While the Crusaders had previously limited their thefts to Jewish property, they now stole from fellow Christians along the way. Another German band, led by a nobleman named Volkmar, reached Prague at the end of May and fell upon its Jewish community.

Kolomon, the only king in Europe who afforded his Jewish subjects any protection, had already experienced the unruly behavior of the earlier waves of Crusaders and was less willing to tolerate this new contingent. In sum, as many as 10, Crusaders were killed by the Hungarians. The few survivors turned back or established new homes along the path of the march, none having reached Constantinople. Constantinople must have been an incredible sight to the Europeans who did reach it.

Like all the major cities of the Middle East, it had lavish buildings and public art. Central water supplies served the rich at least, and street lights were common. Emperor Alexius was anxious to assess Peter and received him at court. Lean, ugly, burned brown by the sun, still dressed only in his ragged and filthy cloak, Peter must have seemed an odd figure indeed amid the silks and splendor of the Byzantine courtiers.

Europe in the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500)

How many monasteries, and how many places there are in it, of wonderful work skillfully fashioned! How many marvelous works are to be seen in the streets and districts of the town! It is a great nuisance to recite what an opulence of all kinds of goods are found there; of gold, of silver, of many kinds of mantles, and of holy relics. Portrayed by her enemies as a heretic, a witch, and a madwoman, she was later pardoned and eventually recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.

Today, she is a national hero of the French.