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Pastoureaux Massacres

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Pastoureaux - The Pastoureaux ("Shepherds") were French religious fanatics of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, who were to lead a "Shepherd's crusade."  Supposedly, Louis IX (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 was either improsoned in Egypt or had regained his freedom by surrendering Damietta. All accounts agree he dispatched his brothers to France to obtain relief. But no relief was forthcoming from nobles or clergy.

The shepherds and laborers rose up, announcing that they would go to the king's rescue. About Easter (16 April), 1251, a mysterious mendicant friar, who was soon called the  "Maître de Hongrie," ("Master of Hungary") began to preach the Crusade to the Shepherds in the plains of Picardy.  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 of the Church.

The movement spread rapidly -- from Picardy to Flanders,  to Brabant, Hainault, Lorraine, and Burgundy. An army of 30,000  or 60,000  men was formed, carrying a banner showing the Blessed Virgin appearing to the Master of Hungary. 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 the pope. Blanche of Castile may have imagined that she could send the Pastoureaux to the relief of Louis. She summoned the master to her, questioned him and dismissed him with gifts. The Pastoureaux were forbidden to go to the left bank of the Seine, where they might inflame the university. The crowd of shepherds split up and left the city, becoming increasingly unruly. In  Rouen, they expelled the archbishop and supposedly threw priests into the Seine river. In Tours they attacked monasteries. Another group, under the Master, reached Orleans on June 11, only to be   denounced by the bishop, whom they also attacked, along with other clerics. They brawled with the university students in the city as well, as Blanche might have feared would happen in Paris. Moving on to Amiens, and then Bourges, they also began to attack Jews.

At this point, Blanche ordered the mobs to be rounded up and excommunicated. Most surrendered without a fight, but the group led by the Master resisted outside Bourges, and the Master himself was killed in the fight.

One or more of the Pastoureaux went to England and assembled some followers. But these, learning that the Pastoureaux were excommunicated, killed the leader. Henry II ordered the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports to take measures to prevent their invasion of his kingdom. Ecclesiastical chroniclers claimed that the Pastoureaux had concluded with the sultan a secret treaty to subject Christianity to Mohammedanism, an unlikely fable.

In the spring of 1320 there was a renewal of "Pastoureaux" persecutions. King Phillip IV had expelled the Jews and cancelled the debts to them. But King Louis X had invited the Jews to return and had helped them to collect the debts. In the north of France a suspended priest and unfrocked monk began to preach the Crusade to a band of peasants, thundering against the indifference of the king and the nobles with regard to the deliverance of Palestine. They wanted to launch a Crusade against Palestine, or alternatively, evict the Muslims from Spain. Phillip V would not back them. They burnt the Chatelet. They marched south to Aquitaine on their way to Spain. They attacked castles, royal officials, priests, and lepers along the way, but most especially they attacked Jews. There were attacks at Saintes, Verdun, Cahors, Albi, and Toulouse, which they reached on June 12.  The governor of Toulouse arrested and imprisoned  some of the leaders; but the monks set them free during the night. All the Jews of Toulouse who had taken refuge in the stronghold of Château-Narbonnais were massacred, except those who received baptism. Many Jews living in the cities on the banks of the Garonne fled to the Château of Verdun. There, besieged by the mob, one slew the other, except the last two, who cast themselves from the battlements to the ground. The Pastoureaux  destroyed 110 Jewish communities in the south of France, among them those of Castel-Sarrasin, Agen, Albi, Gaillac, Condom, Bigorre, and Mont-de-Marsan. Pope John XXII tried to stop the massacres in vain. The massacres in France  ceased only with the death of their chief, who was mortally wounded before Montpellier.

The massacres then spread to Spain which they entered in July. Despite the protection of King James II of Aragon, the Pastoureaux massacred the Jews. At Monclus, they killed 300  Jews, At Tudela and in Navarre all the Jews were killed, while at Lerida, in Catalonia, seventy of Jews were murdered. However, King James II suppressed the pastoureaux, killing 2,000, while the remainder were put to flight. (source: Jewish Encyclopedia  New Advent Encyclopedia).  

Meanwhile however, a new rumor gripped France in 1321. The Jews were said to be in league with the king of Tunis and the lepers to poison Christians by poisoning the wells, using a mixture of urine, herbs, human blood and the sacred host. About 5,000 Jews were murdered, and in addition to confiscating the property of the Jews, the authorities fined them 150,000 livres.  (Flannery, Edward, The Anguish of the Jews, Paulist Press, 2004 p 108)

Ami Isseroff

March 29, 2009

Additional Sources

Barber, Malcolm. “The Crusade of the Shepherds in 1251.” Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Meeting, 1981, of the Western Society for French Historical Studies. PL (1984):1–23.

——.“The Pastoureaux of 1320.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 32 (1981):143–66.

Dickson, Gary. “The Advent of the Pastores (1251).” Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 66 (1988):249–67.


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: pogrom

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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