In the year 1212 AD, a young French shepherd named Stephen, armed only with a strange letter, appeared at the court of King Phillip of France. He tried to convince the monarch that god had called upon him to defeat the Muslims through a crusade composed entirely of children. He claimed that the letter he brought with him was from god himself, who appeared to him whilst he was tending to his sheep and told him to lead this new crusade. King Phillip was not impressed with the idea and thought Stephen crazy so he told him to go home.
Ignoring what the king had said, Stephen continued on with his plan and began to preach in front of the church of Saint Denis. He proclaimed that he would lead a band of children to the rescue of Christendom. He preached that weapons were not necessary for the journey, for they could defeat the Muslims with faith alone. He also declared that he would part the seas like Moses did. In about a month’s time, Stephen was able to recruit thousands of children to his cause and they then set out on their journey to reclaim the Holy Land
The journey was nothing short of treacherous. Many of the children traveled southward by foot, few of whom had shoes. The summer was unusually hot and a drought caused many to die on the long march. Eventually they reached Marseilles, where Stephen attempted to part the seas. When he failed to do so, some of the children left in anger, but many stayed with their supposed prophet.
Two merchants told Stephen that they could take him and his followers across the sea to Palestine. Stephen accepted the proposal and 7 ships set out for the Holy Land. Along the way, two of the ships sank because of the storm, drowning all onboard. The remaining 5 ships carried onto Algeria, where the children realized they were brought there to be sold into captivity. Many of the children were sold in Algeria, and the rest were taken to Egypt, where the merchants could fetch a better price for them. Most of the children lived out the rest of their lives as slaves, while some of the more fortunate ones became translators, teachers, and secretaries for their Muslim overlords.