BY HARRY CoEN AND JOE JENKINS PETER MAN'DELSON, Minister without Portfolio and Millennium Dome supremo, proved he is in need of a refresher course in medieval history after delivering a gaffe-riddled speech last week. Mr Mandelson claimed erroneously that Peter the Hermit, the French crusader, led European peasants to Jerusalem for Christian celebrations in time for the first millennium.
Speaking at the Yellow Pages UK Web Awards ceremony in London, Mr Mandelson said: "There are a lot of people who have not fully recognised the brilliance of our plans. When I hear the criticisms of the media, I think back to the first millennium, which was celebrated in Jerusalem, and there was a dome then. Leading the visit there was a Frenchman by the name of Pierre l'ermite, or Peter the Hermit. It was said that 'by his eloquent preaching he was able to lead a great number of peasants' to the first millennium dome."
But according to historian John Julius Norwich, Mr Mandelson has blundered. In his book Byzantium.. The Decline and Fall, Norwich explains that Peter, a "fanatical" monk, led 40,000 French and German peasants and a handful of minor German knights across Europe in 1096 in an abortive attempt to march on Jerusalem.
After a series of unfortunate incidents — including an argument over a pair of shoes, which culminated in the butchering of 4,000 Hungarians — the People's Crusade, as it came to be called, floundered under siege at the castle of Xerigordon, in what is now western Turkey.
Catholic novelist Piers Paul Read, who is writing a book on the Knights Templar, said that Mr Mandelson — who has disappointed Christians with plans for a token Spirit Zone in the Dome — should spend more time in the library. "He should get his facts straight," he said.
Although Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands since 638, Christian pilgrims were admitted to worship there without hinderance. Just not Peter the Hermit in time for the first millennium.