By Theodore Shoebat
After King St. Louis lost the battle of Mansura against the Turkic Khwarizim and Egyptian Muslims in the year 1250, in which his soldiers were either wiped out or (like him) captured, and he was eventually released, he settled in and ran the Latin Kingdom of the Holy Land until 1254. During this time, Louis found out that a number of Templars were making secret negotiations with the Sultan of Damascus in hopes of having lands returned to them. King Louis was enraged that they were making land deals behind his back. Louis called for all the Templars to come to him, and in his presence, ordered them to kneel and beg for forgiveness, and to surrender all of their possessions to him. He did not wish to make peace with the Sultan of Damascus while the Sultan of Egypt had so many of his men held as hostages after the defeat at Mansura which had crippled France so much.
Tens of thousands of Catholic French fighters were slaughtered in Egypt fighting the Turkic and Egyptian Muslims, that many people in France were full of anger against the Church, seeing that it was the clergy who backed the crusades. As the Catholics in the Middle East were facing Muslims and their fellow European Christians who were seeking their own interests, back in France a new wave of anticlericalism soared through the souls of the people. A man named Roger began to garner the following of the youth as he tickled their ears and told them that they would be the generation that would lead a new crusade against the Islamic world and be victorious, without the Church. Roger was essentially forming the medieval version of the counter-jihad movement. As the counter-jihad movement of today says that they will defeat Islam without Christianity and the virtues of the Faith (hence why virtually all leaders of the counter-jihad back Sodom), so Roger and his movement claimed that they would defeat the jihad and take Jerusalem without the approval of the Church.
What the mob who followed Roger did not know was that he, who they called the “master,” was initially a wizard learned in the magical arts. Roger had made a compact with the Sultan of Babylon, that he would start an entire movement of youths, aged 25 or 30 or 16, under the pretense of a crusade. Once the youths would be in Egypt, the Muslims would easily slaughter them because of their lack of training, and Roger would receive four gold besants for each Christian head. After this agreement was made, Roger prophesied that the Muslims would defeat the king of France, Louis IX. The Sultan cheered at such a thought, gave Roger an immense amount of gold and silver, and kissed him on the mouth. He would now become a seemingly harmless lay preacher who would sojourn to shepherd villages in the countryside and gain the people to follow him. When he arrived to France, specifically in Picardy, he took a certain powder and tossed it into the air as a sacrifice to the devil. After this, he approached a number of youthful shepherds and, being a very deceptively uplifting talker, said: “Through you, my sweet children, will Outremer [the Kingdom of Jerusalem] be delivered from the enemies of the Christian faith.”
With such flattery that satisfies itching ears, within a very short time, entire multitudes followed him. They became very popular amongst the common folk to the point that they could say whatever they pleased without worry. In less than eight days he had more than thirty-thousand followers, all fervent for his teachings. Like all heresies, the group claimed to be orthodox to deceive the naive, preaching the Cross and the salvation of Christ.
But this was all a facade. Roger, once seeing that he had such a huge following, could no longer hide his poisons, and began to preach against the Sacraments, holy water, and the Holy Cross. Some of the higher members claimed to have had visions from angels and conversed with them, and also to have had the power of healing. So bewitched were the followers that they gave away great amounts of food to the higher members and Roger, and they would even beg them to take away their homes and possessions.
They gave Roger whatever he asked. Roger grew his beard long to appear as a holy man. He — so typical of cults — even began to dissolve marriages for no reason whatsoever, and to take all of the children from families so that the number of his cult grew to sixty thousand. They attracted the lowest sort: outlaws, thieves, heretics, apostates, pagans and prostitutes. From what appeared to be a mere sect, became a gang of violent ruffians holding axes, swords and knives.
When clergymen, who had the awareness of the presence of a cult leader, warned the people against the leader and his teachings, the multitude grew enraged and declared that the group consisted of good people, and that the clergy were just envious. Roger, being filled with hatred for the clergy, ordered his followers to attack all the priests that they encountered. They reached Paris, Roger met with the queen of France, Blanche, and deceived her with the greatest sophisms. She, as a result, thought them to be orthodox and enacted a policy of toleration for them.
She went so far as to command that no one speak against them because she believed that they were working on behalf of God. She was deceived as Eve was deceived, and as Roger beguiled her like the old serpent, he taught his men that whoever murdered a priest or cleric would receive forgiveness of sins. In other words, he promoted human sacrifice; human blood for redemption. It was because of the queen’s toleration for them that they began to grow and preach, and thrive. Because of this confidence, they began to physically attack clergymen and Catholic laymen, killing many of both. Meanwhile Roger gave the appearance that he himself was a priest, and dressed as a priest, all for the sake of appearing orthodox, just as Cain appeared peaceful before murdering his brother.
As he put on this facade, his men lurked about the city to murder Catholic scholars. When the Dominican Friars in Tours began to preach against them, they wrecked their houses, looting their property, and severally wounded four of them. They took eleven Friars and whipped them mercilessly in the middle of the city as a public spectacle. They entered a church, took the Eucharist and hurled it to the floor mockingly. They took a statue of the Virgin Mary, hacked its nose off and gouged out the eyes. They looted the churches. The shepherds in the city of Orleans broke into the major university there and slew several priests. One day when Roger was walking over the bridge over the Loire River, he passed by a random priest, and when he was close enough he pulled out his sword, hacked him to death, and then dumped the body into the water.
When these heretics would linger about the city, clerics and scholars locked their doors. Throughout France they attempted to attack and destroy towns and cities, and to butcher their inhabitants. All of this went on without much concern from the common French people, for at this time religious fervor declined, fear of heresy also was lacking; in fact the common people praised these heretics, and this is the result of such hatred for the Church and for orthodoxy. It is the consequences of such “madness of the common folk, offering the sick to be cured by men like this, namely murderers, assassins and thieves, and, when they were not cured or did not even improve, preaching the virtues of [these] wretched men.” (1)
The master then led his followers to attack a Jewish area in the city of Bourges. Jews were protected under the government in France, but what is there to expect from a mob of heretics? They tore up their books and looted their money and their silver. They then began to annihilate the Jews in the area completely. After this cruel blood bath they left, but not without the anger of a nearby burgess who chased after Roger and slew him. It was said that his last word before death was the name of Muhammad. Many of the other Shepherds were tracked down and, rightfully, put to death.
When the remainder tried to cross the sea to make it to Egypt and fulfill the prophecy of Roger, the leaders amongst them were arrested and thrown into prison. Under interrogation they confessed their scheme of bringing in youths to Egypt to be killed and receive money from the Muslims. After this, they were justly hanged.
Aside from making money from the Muslims, the ultimate goal of the Shepherds was to destabilize France by eliminating the Catholic Church’s presence within the country, and then next to obliterate it’s military might, in order to make the country completely open to Islamic attacks. Thus one medieval chronicle explains:
“It is said that their design had been first to exterminate the clergy from the country, secondly to eliminate the religious, and later on to turn against the knights and nobility, so that the land would thus be bereft of all protection and would more easily be exposed to the errors and attacks of the pagans.” (2)
One of the most prestigious and reputable medieval scholastics, Roger Bacon, also wrote that Roger and the superior Shepherds were agents to the Muslims:
“It is greatly to be feared lest the Tatars and the Saracen, while remaining in their own territories, send to the Christians men through whom they may, by means of astrology, spread misfortune and provoke dissension among the princes, for the Christians’ enemies make the greatest efforts to arouse war and dissension among them. This kind of thing has many times occurred, although the foolish multitude does not reflect whence it originates. The wise are in no doubt that these men were agents of the Tatars or the Saracens, and that they possessed some device whereby they mesmerized the people.”
The story of the Shepherds makes one think about the importance of being aware of pretexts. Groups and speakers may present to you truth, but they may be doing so to hide a sinister intention behind the facts. Roger was correct to say that Islam was of the devil, but he was using this to gather youths to be slaughtered by Muslims. It is correct that the Church did support the Crusades, and that the crusade in Egypt was a disaster, but Roger was using this reality to spark hatred against the Church and foment violent against the clergy. Whatever sort of criticism that Roger had of the Church was all a pretext for his ultimate goal, and that was to break down Christendom and make money while doing so. An awareness of pretext is essential if one does not wish to fall for propaganda and commit evil while thinking himself as doing good for ‘a cause’ (which is the pretext). What the story of the Shepherds also shows is that by this time, the 13th century, the spirit of anticlericalism was alive in France, a sprout that would grow and linger and manifest itself in its most violent incarnation in the French Revolution.
Let us return to the Holy Land. King St. Louis had left the Holy Land, leaving the Latin Kingdom without a central leader. A war then broke out within the Holy Land, not between Christian and Muslim, but between Christians. The three merchant peoples, Venetians and Genoese and Pisans, began to kill one another in 1256. The Venetians and the Genoese had a dispute over the land of a monastery that was located right in between their own areas of Jerusalem. Tensions imploded and the Genoese and Pisan allies seized the land and then attacked the Venetian quarter. Philip de Montfort backed the Genoese and Pisans and expelled the Venetians from Jerusalem. A civil war broke out, with the Venetians on one side, and the Genoese and Pisans on the other. (3)
The Latin Kingdom did not want a civil war to tear it apart, and so a peace was settled in October of 1258. But a new threat had arisen, and it was not infighting nor Muslims, but Mongol pagans who had arrived from Central Asia and demanded the Hospitallers and the Templars to recognize their rule. Aleppo and Damascus were already conquered by the Mongolians, and the prince of Antioch and the king of Armenia had made treaties with them. The Mamluk Sultan of Egypt was having none of this and was resolute to fight the Mongols. He requested from the Christians free passage through their territory, which they gave. But when the Sultan asked for military backing from the Christian military orders, they refused. The Mamluks fought the Mongols and crushed them on September 3rd, 1260, right just south of Nazareth.
Three years later, in early 1263, the Latin Kingdom opened negotiations with the Mamluk Sultan. Part of the agreement was to free prisoners, but the Templars refused to free their Muslim captives because they were skilled craftsmen who were quite profitable for the military orders. King St. Louis traveled to Tunis in 1270 to launch another crusade, but he fell ill and died in the North African land. But in 1271, the English Prince Edward the Longshanks arrived in the Holy Land to fight against the Mamluks. He arrived at a time when the Mamluks were immense territory, with Christian castle after castle falling to their hands. Edward’s expedition in the Holy Land brought a degree of peace, and the Sultan agreed to a twelve year truce in 1272.
The Christian military orders then began to quarrel over who was going to rule the Latin Kingdom in Jerusalem, and it was during this time that the Sultan broke the treaty. His eyes were fixed upon the last Crusader bastions. He seized the headquarters of the Hospitallers at the castle of Margat in 1285, and then the Mamluk Egyptians planned to take the Crusader state of the County of Tripoli in Lebanon. The Templar Master, having an informant in the Egyptian army, knew the attack was coming and warned Tripoli, but he was met with disbelief. The County of Tripoli fell to the Mamluks in 1289.
The Mamluks were now set on Acre, the final Crusader bastion.
In August of 1290 reinforcements had arrived in Acre from Europe, but these did not understand the custom of peace that the Christian and the Muslims had developed, and they began to slaughter Muslims in the city and the surrounding countryside. This was not something that was common, given that the Christian Europeans who had been living in the Holy Land were able to maintain peaceful relations with local Muslims. The Sultan of Egypt demanded reparations, and the Templar Master said that the Christians who were held as his hostages should be released. The Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights had their doubts and said that the people who did the killings were new to the land did not understand customs. But the Sultan was not eased by any of this, and prepared to invade Acre. The Templar Master warned of the coming attack on Acre, but like before he was not believed because he was seen as a friend of Muslims.
On April 5th, 1291, the Mamluks arrived at Acre with 160,000 foot soldiers and 60,000 horsemen. Acre only had 50,000 people, and two-third of those were civilians.
The city had sturdy walls; few did come to her aid: Philip IV saw the hunted Acre with a cold heart, and Edward the Longshanks, with a benumbed soul, deemed Acre as not as important as invading Christian Scotland. So few warriors had come, but many a saint arrived with ready hands to defend the last city which stood as the light in a dark land, as a small flame in a region plunged in the gloomy confusion of heresy. Many a saint came with sword and spear to prevent the lips of the heathen from blowing out this last candle of Christendom in the Muslim world. (4)
In Acre, the year 1291, one may have beheld the assembly of the Christians from Cyprus, Naples and Sicily, Athens, Tarento, and Armenia; those valiant knights of the Order of St. Lazarus, of the Venetians, the Pisans, the Genoese, the Florentines, all gathered together to defend their last portion of the Holy Land against the heretics–the Muslims–who had warred to destroy the Holy Trinity, and replace the Cross with the crescent. One can just sense the energy of divine fervor emanating from such a body of troops who strived with fiery zeal to preserve God’s nation from the corruption of His enemies. You can only imagine what zealous ideas were instilled within these mens’ hearts, and we are greatly reminded, with this ardent love of the Holy Land, of the words of a preacher named Martin who proclaimed in a sermon decades before this military assembly:
“Christ has been expelled from his holy place–his seat of power. He has been exiled from that city which he consecrated to himself with his own blood. Oh, the pain! … The Holy Land, which Christ impressed with his footprints, in which he cured the lame, caused the blind to see, cleansed lepers, raised the dead–the land, I say–has been given over in the hands of the impious. Its churches have been destroyed, its shrine polluted, its royal throne and dignity transferred to the gentiles. That most sacred and venerable Cross of wood, which was drenched with the blood of Christ, is locked and hidden away by persons to whom the word of the Cross is foolishness, so that no Christian might know what was done with it or where to look for it. Virtually all of our people who used to inhabit that frontier have been eliminated, either by the enemy’s sword or an already prolonged activity. And so now, true warriors, hasten to help Christ. Enlist in his Christian army. Rush to join the happy ranks.” (5)
But within such a gathering came a most damning contention between Charles of Anjou and Hugh III, the king of Cyprus, who both wanted to take the throne of Jerusalem for themselves. This friction, arising from the pride of men’s hearts and not of pious aspiration, was to the advantage of Qalawun, who charged into Acre with a mighty army, with the goal of taking the last retreat of the Crusades; but he had died before he could fulfill his want, and his mission was resumed by his son Al-Ashraf Khalil.
The walls of the city were breached by a torrent of Muslim fighters and flooded the streets. Melee after melee was done, with men fighting one another on the streets. The master of the Templars was struck with a wound so deep that it killed him, and the master of the Hospitallers was given a grave gash. The patriarch of Acre tried to make an escape on a boat, and after allowing many to get on with him, the boat could not withstand the weight and the patriarch drowned. A renegade Templar took on of his Order’s ships and tried to escape. Any person who wanted to get onto the ship he would charge them heavily. Many Christians stood by, waiting for a ship to come to their rescue. But they waited in vain. The Mamluks charged and butchered them. It was not just civilians who were slaughtered. All of the Teutonic knights — with the exception of their Grand Master — were killed. All of the knights of St. Thomas of Acre and of the Order of St. Lazarus, were slaughtered.
The Marshall of the Templar fortress negotiated the terms of surrender. But the Muslim Mamluks cared not for peace, and they entered the fortress and began to rape and rob the villagers — and not even boys were spared of their abominable rage. Women ran aghast and were consumed with terror as they fled with children tightly embraced in their arms. The Muslims caught them and violently pried the young ones from their mothers’ hands, and cruel slaughter under the hands of sinister heretics commenced. The Marshall hoisted up the Templar’s black-and-white banner of war and the fighting continued. Some of the villagers were able to escape during the evening by boat to Sidon. The following morning the Sultan offered terms of peace. The Martial left the fortress to negotiate, but the Muslims took him and beheaded him. Fighting continued.
One building of the city was not yet taken by the Muslims, and the Crusaders put up a fight to keep it; but in ten days Muslim miners broke down its foundation and forced it to collapse. Khalil, with his armies of Muslims, successfully besieged and vanquished Acre on May of 1291. (6) Most of the inhabitants of the city were slaughtered, and the entrance of the principle church was taken and became the portal to the mosque of Nasr bin Kalaoun. (7)The nuns remaining in Acre were looked upon with contempt by the Islamic warriors of the crescent, who would put all these chaste women to the sword. The last crusader kingdom in the Middle East was now gone.
Grief, despair, and carelessness was now the sentiments of the West. Pope Nicholas IV attempted to revive the crusading spirit, sending letters to kings and bishops to rile their souls, but all was done without success. Pope Nicholas IV saw no new crusade before he died in 1292. (8) The last Crusader enclave in the Muslim world was now gone.
Back in Rome — with the Pope now deceased — the Seat of St. Peter was being quarreled over by Italian and French cardinals. Tribalist sentiment was strong, and would lead to a further break down of Christian unity in Europe. But this is for the next article on this series on the decline and fall of Christendom.
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(1) Annales monastery de Burton, in Peter Jackson’s Seventh Crusade, ch. 8, document 94, p. 191
(2) Annales monastery de Burton, in Peter Jackson’s Seventh Crusade, ch. 8, document 94, p. 191
(3) Kelly Devries, To Dominate the Mediterranean: Genoa and Venice, in Lacey, Great Strategic Rivalries, p. 194
(4) Carroll, A History of Christendom, vol. iii, ch. viii, p. 324
(5) In Thomas F. Madden, in his Crusades, part 5, p. 101
(6) Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity, part iii, 5.1; Carroll, A History of Christendom, vol. iii, ch. viii, p. 324; James M. Powell, The Loss of the Holy Land, in Thomas F. Madden’s Crusades, part 7, p. 171
(7) See Butcher, The Story of the Church of Egypt, vol. ii, part ii, ch. xxiv, p. 177; Walsh, Warriors of the Lord, ch. 4, p. 111; Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, p. 152
(8) Carroll, A History of Christendom, vol. iii, ch. viii, pp. 324-325