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Illustration of Godfrey of Bouillon (central figure) from William of Tyre's Histoire d'Outremer, in the care of the British Museum.

Godfrey of Bouillon: Leader in the First Crusades and Ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

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Godfrey of Bouillon was a medieval Frankish nobleman best known for his role as one of the main leaders during the First Crusade. As a consequence of this successful military expedition to the Holy Land, Godfrey became the first ruler of the newly-established Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey is said to have refused to accept the title ‘King’, choosing to adopt the title of Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri , which means ‘Advocate / Protector of the Holy Sepulchre’ instead.

Early Life of Godfrey

Godfrey of Bouillon was born in 1060, and was the second son of Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, and his wife, Ida, the daughter of Godfrey III (the Bearded), Duke of Lower Lorraine. Whilst his elder brother, Eustace III, was heir to the County of Boulogne and was to inherit the family’s estate in England, Godfrey was named as the heir of his maternal uncle, Godfrey IV (the Hunchback). When this uncle was assassinated in 1076, Godfrey inherited his lands, which included the Duchy of Lower Lorraine the County of Verdun and the Marquisate of Antwerp.

Godfrey of Bouillon, from a fresco painted by Giacomo Jaquerio in Saluzzo, northern Italy, in 1420.

Godfrey of Bouillon, from a fresco painted by Giacomo Jaquerio in Saluzzo, northern Italy, in 1420. ( Public Domain )

Yet, not all of these territories fell into Godfrey’s hands immediately. For example, whilst he was the heir to the Duchy of Lower Lorraine, this duchy was taken by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, and given to his son, Conrad II of Italy. This territory, however, would be restored to Godfrey in 1089, as a reward for his loyalty to the emperor.

During the War of the Investitures, which pitted Henry IV against the pope, Gregory VII, Godfrey, as a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire, sided with emperor. As a reward for his support to the emperor, Godfrey was created Duke of Lower Lorraine in 1089.

Godfrey Joins the Call to Arms

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II was in Clermont (in the Auvergne region of modern day France), where he preached the crusade. It was here that the call urging the men of Christendom to take up arms to aid their fellow Christians in the east was first issued. Both peasants and nobles were inspired by the pope’s message, and took the cross, or gave alms to fund this enterprise. Godfrey was one of the nobles who responded to the pope’s call to arms. Accompanying him was his younger brother, Baldwin, who would first become the Count of Edessa, and then inherit the Kingdom of Jerusalem from his brother.     

Other important nobles who took the cross and served as commanders of the First Crusade included Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, Bohemond I, Prince of Taranto, and Stephen II, Count of Blois. The various contingents of crusaders travelled to the east from their homelands using different routes, gathering outside Constantinople before pushing into enemy territory. Godfrey, Baldwin, and their army travelled overland through the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary, and then into Byzantine territory, reaching Constantinople two days before Christmas in 1096.

Godfrey depicted with Bohemond, Raymond IV of Toulouse, and other Crusaders.

Godfrey depicted with Bohemond, Raymond IV of Toulouse, and other Crusaders. ( Public Domain )             

In Constantinople, the relationship between the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius Comnenus, and the crusaders was strained since the beginning. At one point, for instance, a false rumor that their leaders had been taken into custody at the emperor’s command caused the crusaders to launch an attack on Constantinople,

“there was reported to these people the false rumor that the counts had been taken into custody at the Emperor's command. Thereupon, the Latin legions surged together in a huge crowd and moved upon Byzantium and without delay utterly destroyed the palaces which are situated toward the swamp called Argyra. At the same time, they tried the walls of the city, not with siege machines, for they were not at hand,”

In the end, Alexius succeeded in persuading the leaders of the crusade to do him homage, and to promise to acknowledge him as their overlord when they reconquered Byzantine territories from the Turks. In return, the emperor promised to provide support and supplies during the crusaders’ march through Asia Minor,

“He (Godfrey) came to him (Alexius) and in solemn manner took the oath which was demanded of him: that whatever cities, lands, or fortresses be should thenceforth capture from the barbarians (which cities, lands, or fortresses had formerly belonged to the Emperor) he would in good faith hand over to the military leaders or prefects who should be sent by the Emperor for this very purpose.… He then crossed the Strait and pitched his camp at Pelecanum, the Emperor seeing to it that an ample supply of necessities was provided everywhere.”

Sixteenth-century bronze statue of Godfrey of Bouillon from the group of heroes surrounding the memorial to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor in the Hofkirche, Innsbruck.

Sixteenth-century bronze statue of Godfrey of Bouillon from the group of heroes surrounding the memorial to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor in the Hofkirche, Innsbruck. (CC BY-SA 2.5 )

By the middle of 1099, Godfrey (and what was left of the crusading army) came before Jerusalem. Despite the differences between the leaders of the crusade, they had managed to stay united during their march into enemy lands, winning some battles against the Turks, and conquering a fair amount of territory. Now, with their ultimate goal before their eyes, the crusaders began to besiege the holy city, which at that point of time, was under the rule of the Fatimid Caliphate. About a month later, Jerusalem fell to the crusaders.

A Leader of Jerusalem

Eight days after the fall of Jerusalem, a king was to be elected, the process of which was described by William of Tyre as follows,

“Some say that in order to proceed to an election which was pleasing to God and which took account of individual merits, the princes called in some of the household of each of the great leaders, made them take a solemn oath, and questioned them about the conduct and habits of their lords so that they would tell the truth without any admixture of falsehood…. When the Duke (Godfrey)’s household were questioned among the others, they replied that, among all the Duke's actions, the one which most irritated his servants was this: that when he entered a church, even after the celebration of the liturgy had been finished, he could not be drawn out. Rather, be demanded of the priests and those who seemed experienced in such matters an account of each picture and statue. His associates, who were interested in other things, found this boring, even nauseating. Further, his meals, which had been prepared for a certain and appropriate hour, grew cold and most unappetizing because of these long and vexing delays.…At length, after consulting with one another and after many deliberations, they unanimously elected the lord Duke.”   

Godfrey remained in in the east for the rest of his life, and died in Jerusalem in 1100. The circumstances of his death, however, are unclear, as there are there are a number of conflicting historical accounts regarding it. Some of the causes of Godfrey’s death have been said to be: being shot by an arrow, dying of an illness, and being poisoned (possibly via a poisoned apple).

Featured image: Illustration of Godfrey of Bouillon (central figure) from William of Tyre's Histoire d'Outremer, in the care of the British Museum. Photo source: Public Domain

By Wu Mingren                                

References

Bréhier, L., 1909. Godfrey of Bouillon. [Online]
Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06624b.htm

Halsall, P., 1997. Medieval Sourcebook: The Crusaders at Constantinople: Collected Accounts. [Online]
Available at: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/cde-atcp.asp#gesta1

Halsall, P., 1997. Medieval Sourcebook: William of Tyre: Godfrey Of Bouillon Becomes "Defender Of The Holy Sepulcher". [Online]
Available at: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/tyre-godfrey.html

Keen, M., 1968. The Pelican History of Medieval Europe. London: Penguin Books.

Siteseen Ltd., 2014. Godfrey of Bouillon. [Online]
Available at: http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/famous-medieval-people/godfrey-of-bouillon.htm

Snell, M., 2016. Godfrey of Bouillon. [Online]
Available at: http://historymedren.about.com/od/gwho/p/Godfrey-of-Bouillon.htm

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