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One of the most curious of the popular movements inspired by a desire to deliver the Holy Land. St. Louis, King of France, had gone on the Crusade (1248), leaving the regency to his mother, Blanche of Castile. Defeated at the battle of Mansourah (8 Feb., 1250) and taken prisoner, he regained his freedom by surrendering Damietta, embarked for Saint-Jean d'Acre, and sent his brothers to France to obtain relief. But Blanche of Castile endeavoured in vain to send him reinforcements, neither nobles nor clergy showing good will in this respect. At this juncture the shepherds and labourers rose up, announcing that they would go to the king's rescue. About Easter (16 April), 1251, a mysterious person whose real name is unknown but who was soon called the "Master of Hungary", began to preach the Crusade in the name of the Blessed Virgin to the shepherds in the north of France. He was sixty years of age and aroused wonder by his long beard, his thin face, and his always-closed hand, which held, it was said, the map given to him by the Blessed Virgin. He drew crowds by his eloquence, and distributed the Cross among them without authorization from the Church.

The movement spread rapidly — from Picardy to Flanders, then to Brabant, Hainault, Lorraine, and Burgundy. Soon an army of 30,000 men was formed, carrying a banner on which was depicted the Blessed Virgin appearing to the Master of Hungary. The movement was equally successful in the towns, and the citizens of Amiens furnished provisions to the army. However the Pastoureaux soon showed themselves hostile to the clergy, especially to the Friars Preachers, whom they accused of having induced St. Louis to go to Palestine. Moreover, a host of idlers, robbers, cut-throats, and fallen women joined their ranks, and thenceforth with growing audacity they slew clerics and preached against the bishops and even the pope. Blanche of Castile seems to have imagined that she could send the Pastoureaux to the relief of St. Louis, and summoning the master to her she questioned him and dismissed him with gifts.

Emboldened by this reception the Pastoureaux entered Paris, and the grand-master, wearing a mitre, preached from the pulpit of St. Eustache. Clerics and monks were hunted, slain, and thrown into the Seine, the Bishop of Paris was insulted, and the University of Paris was compelled in its own defence to close the Petit-Pont between the Cité and the left bank of the Seine. The Pastoureaux then left Paris and divided into several armies which spread terror everywhere. At Rouen the archbishop and his clergy were expelled from the cathedral (4 June, 1251). At Orléans a large number of university clerics were killed and thrown into the Loire (11 June). At Tours the Pastoureaux took by storm the convent of the Dominicans and desecrated the churches. The credulous populace regarded them as saints and brought them the sick to be cured. At last Blanche of Castile realized that she had been mistaken and commanded the royal officers to arrest and destroy them. When they reached Bourges the clerics and priests had fled, whereupon they seized the possessions of the Jews, sacked the synagogues, and pillaged the city. An attempt was made to imprison them, but they broke down the gates. A troop of citizens pursued and halted them near Villeneuve-sur-Cher. The Master of Hungary was slain, together with a large number of his followers. Some reached the valley of the Rhône and even Marseilles ; others went to Bordeaux, whence they were driven by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and Governor of Guienne in the name of the King of England, who caused their leader to be thrown into the Gironde.

Another leader went to England and assembled some shepherds who, learning that the Pastoureaux were excommunicated, killed him. Henry II ordered the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports to take measures to prevent their invasion of his kingdom. Some of them submitted, and after having received the Cross at the hands of clerics set out for the Holy Land. Ecclesiastical chroniclers assert that the Pastoureaux had concluded with the sultan a secret treaty to subject Christianity to Mohammedanism. "It is said that they have resolved first to exterminate the clergy from the face of the earth, then to suppress the religious, and finally to fall upon the knights and nobles in order that the country thus deprived of defence may more easily be delivered up to the errors and incursions of the pagans " (Letter from the Guardian of the Paris Friars Minor to his brethren at Oxford ; Chartularium Univ. Parisiensis, Paris, 1889, I, 225). This is obviously a fable, but as a matter of fact this popular movement, sincere and somewhat mystical in origin, soon acquired an anarchistic character.

The same is true of the second movement of the Pastoureaux in 1320 during the reign of Philip V. In the north of France a suspended priest and unfrocked monk preached the Crusade to a band of peasants, thundering against the indifference of the king and the nobles with regard to the deliverance of Palestine. As in 1251, the ignorant mystics were soon joined by ruffians of every description whose object was to profit by their simplicity. Clad in rags and armed with sticks and knives they marched on Paris, liberated the prisoners in the Châtelet, and defied the king, who merely intrenched himself in the palace of the Cité and in the Louvre. From Paris they went to Berry, thence to Saintonge and Aquitaine to the number of 40,000, pillaging as they went. At Verdun-sur-Garonne five hundred Jews imprisoned in a dungeon strangled one another so as not to fall into their hands. They were often aided by the people of the cities and even the middle-class citizens applauded the massacre of the Jews. In reply to the papal excommunication they marched to Avignon, and then resolved to embark like St. Louis at Aigues-Moretes. But the Seneschal of Carcassonne assembled his men at arms, closed the gates of the city against them, and drove them into the neighbouring marshes, where hunger dispersed them. The soldiers then organized hunting parties which resulted in the hanging of thousands of the Pastoureaux, but for a long time a number of their bands continued to lay waste the south of France.

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