Jacob of Hungary

Jacob of Hungary surnamed the Master, a fanatic and adventurer, and the chief of the Pastoureaux or Shepherds, is supposed to have been a native of Hungary, though nothing definite is known as to his origin. In his youth he joined the Cistercian' order, but is said to have afterwards embraced Islamism: this, however, is a matter of doubt, some even reversing the order of his conversion from one faith to the other. He was also represented as having learned the occult arts from the Moors of Spain, and also as having been a traitor to France. At any rate, we find him at Easter, A.D. 1251, heading a popular movement in favor of king St. Louis, then a prisoner at Caesarea. The king, apparently forsaken by the nobility and clergy, was the idol of the people. Jacob traveled through the provinces, preaching a crusade in which none but the poor and lowly should take part, God having forsaken the opulent and the great on account of their pride, and the clergy on account of their licentiousness. He claimed to have visions, to have received a direct message from the Virgin, etc. "He was an aged man," says Milman, "with a long beard, and pale, emaciated face; he spoke Latin, French, and German with the same fluent persuasiveness; he preached without authority of pope or prelate." The eloquence of the Master of Hungary stirred the lowest depths of society. The shepherds, the peasants, left their flocks, their stalls, their fields, their ploughs; in vain friends, parents, wives remonstrated; they tool no thought of sustenance. So, drawing men after him "as the loadstone draws the iron," he soon had a large number of followers, who received the name of Pastourels or Pastoureaux, from the fact that the first and the most of his followers were shepherds or peasants. Both the magistrates and queen Blanche, thinking they might become instrumental in securing the liberation of the king, encouraged them for a time. Soon, however, their ranks were swelled by a number of vagrants, thieves, highwaymen, and all the scum of the population, attracted by the prospect of spoils. They had started from Flanders in the direction of Paris, and when they reached Amiens they numbered 30,000. These recruits wore daggers, swords, battle-axes, and all the implements of warfare. Received and entertained by the citizens of Amiens, they gained new adherents, and their number swelled to 50,000, and on their arrival at the gates of Paris they were a formidable band of 100,000 armed men. Sismondi says: "Their hatred of the priests was as great as their hatred of the infidels. They had preachers who never had been ordained; their teachings were far from orthodox, and they assumed the right of setting aside ecclesiastical discipline; they granted divorces, and permitted marriages which the priests denounced as contrary to the canons." They were especially bitter against the monastic orders, and a number of monks were murdered by them. The authorities began to regret having encouraged them; yet they were allowed to enter Paris, and Jacob went so far as to officiate publicly in the church of St. Eustache. Several murders marked their stay in the capital. Finding his forces considerably increased, Jacob divided them into several bands, under pretense of embarking them at different points for the Holy Land. One of these bands went to Orleans, where they massacred all the priests and monks they could find; and thence to Bourges, where, the priests carefully keeping out of the way, they attacked the Jews, demolishing their synagogues and plundering their houses. Effective measures were at last taken to put a stop to these excesses. They were excommunicated by the Church, and the authorities invited the people to arm against and war on them. Jacob was still in the capital. One day, by order of the queen, an executioner mingled with the crowd who surrounded him, and, while he was preaching, cut off his head with a single blow of the axe. At the same time, a number of knights charged on his followers, who were dispersed. The other bands met with the same fate, and an end was put at the same time to the depredations and to the sect. See Matthew Paris, Hist. Anglae; Guillaume de Nangis, Chronicles in Spicil.; Matthew of Westminster, Historia; Chronicles de St. Denys; Sismondi, Hist. des Franais, 7, 475 sq.; Dufey, Dict. de la. Conversation. article Pastoureaux; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Géneralé, 26, 167 sq.; Milman, Latin Christianity, 6, 57 sq.; Semler, Versuch e. Kirchengesch. 1, 545 sq.

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