Peter the Hermit: Straddling the boundaries of lordship, millennialism, and heresy
By Stelios Vasilis Perdios
Master’s Thesis, Iowa State University, 2012
Abstract: Peter the Hermit: Straddling the Boundaries of Lordship, Millennialism, and Heresy demonstrates how eleventh and early twelfth century wandering preachers established millennial spiritual lordship over their popular movements. Peter the Hermit’s Popular Crusade exemplifies this.
Millennial spiritual lordship accessed millennial undercurrents of medieval society at the time and often the reform movements of the church. Such lordship stood just outside the traditional secular and spiritual lordships of the period. Indeed, a millennial spiritual lord could find himself being accused of heresy, since the energies that drove reform also drove supposed heretical movements. These kinds of lordships also followed patterns typical of millennial movements.
Although Peter the Hermit was not accused of heresy, he was not officially supposed to go on the First Crusade. Had his energies been directed inward, toward the church, he would have been charged with heresy, just like some of his contemporaries and later preachers.
Other itinerant preachers examined include: Robert of Arbrissel, Tanchelm of Utrecht, and Henry of Le Mans.
Introduction: When is a hermit not a hermit? When he is Peter the Hermit who led the Popular Crusade in the year 1096. Peter may have, indeed, been a hermit sometime before embarking on this endeavor. Both nineteenth century and modern historians point to this possibility. But Peter the Hermit is better known for his “unhermit-like” behavior. He preached Pope Urban II’s call to crusade against the Muslims of the Holy Land. He raised an army of paupers with the goal of marching from northern France to conquer Jerusalem. These hosts never reached their destination. Peter had lost control of his followers just beyond Constantinople in Anatolia, and the Turks soon slaughtered them except for Peter himself. He had already escaped back to Constantinople.
Perhaps even more remarkable, the deaths of thousands of Peter’s followers seemed to mean little or nothing to the main armies of the First Crusade. Later, when they arrived in Constantinople, they allowed Peter to join them. He served with them as a priest who blessed them before battle and even as an ambassador to parley with the enemy. He witnessed the capture of Jerusalem and the slaughter of its citizens. Indeed, if Peter had remained a reclusive hermit during all of these events, he probably would not have entered the pages of history.