Godfrey of Bouillon

views updated Jun 11 2018

Godfrey of Bouillon

c. 1060
Boulogne, France, or Baisy, Belgium

July 18, 1100

Knight and duke of Lower Lorraine, leader of the First Crusade and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

William of Tyre, "History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea," in The Crusades: A Documentary History">

"He was a religious man, mild mannered, virtuous, Godfearing. He was just, he avoided evil, he was trustworthy and dependable in his undertakings.... He was considered by everyone to be most outstanding in the use of weapons and in military operations."

William of Tyre, "History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea," in The Crusades: A Documentary History.

Godfrey of Bouillon (pronounced boo-YOHN) was a medieval knight, or trained soldier, as well as a duke of the region of Lower Lorraine (in present-day northwestern Germany). He played a major part in directing military operations in the latter part of the First Crusade (1095–99), the European Christian mission to retake the Holy Land in Palestine from the Islamic and Turkish forces that held it. One of several powerful families of landed nobility who raised and commanded armies against the Muslims, or faithful followers of Islam, he was chosen, after Jerusalem fell to the Christians in 1099, as the first ruler of what was called the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

From Minor Knight to Major Crusader

Godfrey of Bouillon was born around 1060 in either Boulogne in France or Baisy, a city in the region of Brabant (part of present-day Belgium). During Godfrey's lifetime this region was part of the German or Holy Roman Empire, a loose collection of principalities, or small royal states. Godfrey was the second son of Count Eustace II of Boulogne and Ida of Lower Lorraine. That he was the second son was very important to Godfrey's future. In the Middle Ages it was the first son who inherited the lands of the parents. As the second-born son, Godfrey had fewer opportunities. Were it not for a bit of family luck, he would have become just one more minor knight in service to a rich landed nobleman. It happened that Godfrey the Hunchback, his uncle on his mother's side, died childless, naming his nephew, Godfrey of Bouillon, as his heir and next in line to his duchy (region) of Lower Lorraine. This duchy was an important one at the time, serving as a buffer (safety zone) between the kingdom of France and the German lands.

In fact, Lower Lorraine was so important to the German kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire that Henry IV, the German king and future emperor (ruled 1084–1105), decided that he would place it in the hands of his own son and give Godfrey less important lands in exchange, as a test of Godfrey's abilities and loyalty. Godfrey served Henry IV loyally, supporting him even when Pope Gregory VII (the leader of the Catholic Church) was battling the German king over who should have more power in Europe, the church or the secular (nonreligious) powers of the kings and princes. Godfrey fought with Henry IV and his forces against the rival forces of Rudolf of Swabia and also took part in battles in Italy when Henry IV actually took Rome away from the pope.

At the same time, Godfrey was struggling to maintain control over the lands that Henry IV had not taken away from him, for the widow of his uncle said that these lands should have come to her. Another enemy outside the family also tried to take away other bits of his land, and Godfrey's brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, both came to his aid. Following long struggles, and after proving that he was a loyal subject to Henry IV, Godfrey finally won back his duchy of Lower Lorraine in 1087, becoming Godfrey IV, duke of Lower Lorraine. Still, Godfrey would never have had much power in the German kingdom or in Europe if it had not been for the coming of the Crusades.

Godfrey Takes Command of Crusader Forces

In 1095 Urban II (see entry), the new pope, called for a Crusade (holy war) against the Islamic forces that held Jerusalem and other religious locations in Palestine. Crusader fever caught on throughout Europe, partly because of the power of the pope but also because there were many knights and second and third sons, such as Godfrey, who were looking for opportunities outside Europe. The pope promised that all sins would be forgiven for anyone who served in the Crusades, but there was also talk of lands to be won there, of new duchies that could be carved out of Muslim lands.

Godfrey took out loans on most of his lands or sold them to the bishops, or regional church leaders, of Liège and Verdun. With this money he gathered thousands of knights to fight in the Holy Land. In this he was joined by his older brother, Eustace, and his younger brother, Baldwin, who had no lands in Europe. He was not the only major nobleman to gather such an army. Raymond of Saint-Gilles, also known as Raymond of Toulouse, created the largest army. At age fifty-five he was also the oldest and perhaps the best known of the Crusader nobles. Because of his age and fame, Raymond expected to be the leader of the entire First Crusade. Adhemar, the assistant to the pope and bishop of Le Puy, traveled with him. There was also the fiery Bohemund, a Norman knight who had formed a small kingdom in southern Italy. He had Viking blood in his veins and fought like a warrior of old, going into battle himself and fiercely combating the enemy until they perished. For Bohemund this Crusade was simply another chance to add lands to his kingdom. There was also a fourth group under Robert of Flanders. No kings participated in this First Crusade.

Each of these armies traveled separately, some going southeast across Europe through Hungary and others sailing by water across the Adriatic Sea from southern Italy. Their first destination was Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, or eastern Roman Empire. The pope had, in fact, called the Crusade in order to help Alexius I (see entry), the emperor of this eastern Christian kingdom, fight the Islamic Turks who were invading his lands from Central Asia and Persia.

Godfrey and his troops were the first to arrive in Constantinople, just before Christmas 1096. During the next several months the other Crusader armies arrived; suddenly, the Byzantine emperor had an army of about four thousand mounted knights and twenty-five thousand infantry (foot soldiers) camped on his doorstep. The Crusader leaders Godfrey and Alexius I had different goals. The Byzantine emperor wanted the help of these professional soldiers to recapture lands that the Seljuk Turks, his enemies to the east, had taken. The Crusaders, however, had the main aim of taking the Holy Land in Palestine from the Muslims and setting up a Christian occupying force there. For them, Alexius I and his Turks were only a sideshow. Worse, the Byzantine emperor expected the Crusaders to take an oath, or promise, of loyalty to him. Godfrey and the other knights agreed to a modified version of this oath, promising to help return some lands to Alexius I. By the spring of 1097 the Crusaders were ready to march into battle.

Their first major victory, with Byzantine soldiers at their side, was at the city of Nicaea, close to Constantinople, which the Seljuk Turks had taken some years earlier. Godfrey and his knights of Lorraine played a minor role in this action, with Bohemund successfully commanding much of the action. Just as the Crusaders were about to storm the city, they suddenly noticed the Byzantine flag flying from atop the city walls. Alexius I had made a separate peace with the Turks and now claimed the city for the Byzantine Empire. These secret dealings were a sign of things to come in terms of relations between Crusaders and Byzantines.

On to Jerusalem

Godfrey continued to play a minor role in the battles against the Muslims until the Crusaders finally reached Jerusalem in 1099. Before that time, he took part in the attack on the fortified city of Antioch in 1098, which fell in June of that year after long and bitter fighting. During the siege some of the Crusaders felt that the battle was hopeless and left the Crusade to return to Europe. Alexius I, hearing of the desperate situation, thought that all was lost at Antioch and did not come to help the Crusaders as promised. When the Crusaders finally took the city, they decided that their oaths to Alexius I were no longer in effect. Bohemund, the first to enter the city gates, claimed the prize for himself. A Muslim force under Karbugah, from the city of Mosul, arrived and battled the Crusaders, but the Christians finally defeated these Turkish Islamic troops.

A Bloody End

When the Crusaders took Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, they seemed to forget the tenets, or ideals, of Christian behavior. Only the Arab Muslim commander of the city and his guards were allowed to leave unharmed. The rest of the inhabitants of Jerusalem—Muslims and Jews alike—were murdered by the Crusaders. Since they were the only ones left alive in the city, the Crusaders assembled at the Holy Sepulchre, or tomb of Jesus Christ, to pray.

Raymond d'Aguilers, one of the Crusaders who took part in this bloody massacre, left a written description of the scene, as found in "The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem: Collected Accounts":

Now that our men had possession of the walls and towers, wonderful [extraordinary] sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth,it will exceed [strain] your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies [lack of respect for sacred things]. The city was filled with corpses and blood. Some of the enemy took refuge in the Tower of David, and, petitioning Count Raymond for protection, surrendered the Tower into his hands.

At this point another Crusader, named Fulk of Chartres, takes up the awful tale:

Some Saracens, Arabs, and Ethiopians took refuge in the Tower of David, others fled to the temples of the Lord and of Solomon. A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to escape from our gladiators [professional soldiers]. Many fled to the roof of the Temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this Temple almost ten thousand were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.

After this victory, the Crusader army headed south. The bishop of Le Puy, the pope's assistant, had died at Antioch. Bohemund remained behind to secure his new kingdom, and Godfrey's younger brother, Baldwin, also stayed in the north at the Crusader state he had established at Edessa. As they traveled south into Palestine, the Crusaders faced a new enemy. No longer were the Seljuk Turks the rulers of these lands. Now the Christian army had to deal with armies of North African Muslims called Fatimids, who had adopted the name of the ruling family in Cairo, Egypt. These Fatimids had taken Jerusalem in August 1098. The Crusaders would be battling them for the final prize of the First Crusade.

It was in Jerusalem that the legend of Godfrey of Bouillon was born. The army reached the city in June 1099 and built wooden ladders to climb over the walls. The major attack took place on July 14 and 15, 1099. Godfrey and some of his knights were the first to get over the walls and enter the city. Once inside, the Crusaders went wild, ultimately killing every Muslim man, woman, and child. Jews were also slaughtered. It was a shameful end to three years of fighting by the Crusaders, but they had finally done what they had set out to do in 1096—namely, to recapture the Holy Land and, in particular, the city of Jerusalem and its holy sites, such as the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Jesus Christ.

Once the city was captured, some form of government had to be set up. So popular was Godfrey that the other knights chose him to rule what became known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The knights wanted to crown Godfrey king, but he refused such a title, saying that he would not wear a golden crown in a place where Christ had worn a crown of thorns. Instead, he took the title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre. He had his work cut out for him, for soon his army shrank as a result of the loss of knights, some of whom returned to Europe and others of whom competed with one another to create their own kingdoms, or states, in the Holy Land. Godfrey successfully repulsed, or fought back, an attack by Egyptian Muslim forces and also began rebuilding the port of Jerusalem at Jaffa. In June 1100 he led a force to help the Christian soldiers at Damascus, Syria, but on the way he fell ill and was taken back to Jerusalem, where he died on July 18.

Because Godfrey never married, there was no son to take over from him. Instead, his brother Baldwin took the title of king, ruling in Jerusalem until his death. This set the tone for other states formed in the Holy Land. Rather than becoming church lands run by the pope, they ended up in the hands of the Crusader noblemen, who created their own little kingdoms much as they had done in Europe. Godfrey's remaining lands in Europe were soon divided up into smaller holdings.

With the fall of Jerusalem the First Crusade came to a close. Crusader states such as the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli, and the Principality of Antioch were created in these former Muslim lands along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Jerusalem was regarded as the unofficial capital of these lands. Godfrey's fame spread as a result of his position as the first Christian ruler of the city following the Crusades. Thanks to his good looks and his fighting ability, he became a symbol of the perfect knight, finding his way into medieval histories of the Crusades as well as romances, or early stories, of the Crusades sung by troubadours, or wandering entertainers. The reality was somewhat different. Bohemund was the real military leader and Raymond of Toulouse the best-known nobleman at the time. Godfrey's own brother Baldwin was the first king of Jerusalem. Godfrey really did not lead the Crusader armies until the siege of Jerusalem. It seems he was chosen because he was respected by the other knights and had no obvious negative qualities. Every special event needs a romantic hero, and Godfrey ended up being the hero of the First Crusade.

For More Information


Andressohn, John C. The Ancestry and Life of Godfrey of Bouillon. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.

Brundage, James A. The Crusades: A Documentary Survey. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962.

"Godfrey of Bouillon." In Historic World Leaders, Europe: A–K. Edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1994.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.

Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. Volume 1: The First Crusade. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Web Sites

"Crusaders at Constantinople: Collected Accounts." Internet MedievalSourcebook.http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/cde-atcp.html (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"The First Crusade." The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies.http://www.the-orb.net/encyclop/religion/crusades/first_crusade.html (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"Godfrey of Bouillon." New Advent.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06624b.htm (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem: Collected Accounts." Internet Medieval Sourcebook.http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/cde-jlem.html#raymond1 (accessed on June 26, 2004).

Godfrey of Bouillon

views updated May 29 2018

Godfrey of Bouillon

The French crusader Godfrey of Bouillon (ca. 1060-1100) was one of the chief lay leaders of the First Crusade and the first ruler of the newly formed state of Jerusalem.

Godfrey was the second son of Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, and Ida, daughter of Godfrey II, Duke of Lower Lorraine. After years of delay Emperor Henry IV finally confirmed him in the duchy of Lower Lorraine. When he and his brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, joined the First Crusade, Godfrey was nevertheless obliged to pledge his castle in Bouillon, as well as the lordship of Verdun, to the bishop of Liège, presumably to help finance the expedition.

The crusaders reached Constantinople shortly before Christmas, 1096. For several months there were promises and betrayals and armed skirmishes with the Byzantine troops. Finally the whole force of crusaders, now swelled by the Norman contingent and Bohemund's army, crossed the Bosporus and set out for Nicaea. When Jerusalem was captured in July 1099, the higher clergy and the greater barons offered the crown to Godfrey, having failed to convince Count Raymond to take it. Godfrey accepted the leadership but claimed instead the title of Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Defender of the Holy Sepulcher). This made him lay warrantor of the newly won lands, allowing the Church to preserve, initially, its own interests. The ecclesiastical claims to Jerusalem and its dependent towns were advanced by the forceful Daimbert, Archbishop of Pisa, who, backed by Bohemund, became patriarch a short time later. Godfrey, who in reality had little effective power, took an oath of homage to Daimbert and managed to retain control of his small state until his death on July 18, 1100, near Tiberias. According to Moslem sources, he was killed in battle.

Godfrey was the first Western ruler in Jerusalem, and this undoubtedly helped form the legend in later literature in which he was transformed into the model for the valorous Christian knight, the Chevalier au Cygne (Swan Knight). Dante, in the Divine Comedy, places him with the warrior-saints in Paradise. There is, however, no reliable evidence for his unusual piety or for his extraordinary chivalric qualities. His chief accomplishment remains the establishment of a workable feudal administration in Jerusalem based on customary fief holding and oaths of loyalty. That he was able to do this in the face of overt and continual hostility from friends and enemies says much about the character of the man.

Further Reading

The most satisfactory and dispassionate biography of Godfrey is John C. Anderssohn, The Ancestry and Life of Godfrey of Bouillon (1947). Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades (1951-1954), and Kenneth M. Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades (1955-1962; 2d ed. 1969), provide helpful background material. □

Godfrey of Bouillon

views updated May 08 2018


First Crusader king of Jerusalem; b. probably c. 1060; d. July 18, 1100. Godfrey, the second son of Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, and Ida, daughter of Godfrey II, "the Bearded," of Upper Lorraine, could trace his descent on each side from Charlemagne. In 1076 his maternal uncle Godfrey, the "Hunchback" of Lower Lorraine, named him his heir. Thus he acquired the castle of Bouillon, about 50 miles north of Verdun, and certain other smaller allodial holdings. In 1087 he was invested with the Duchy of Lower Lorraine by Emperor Henry IV. Although not, perhaps, as deeply religious as contemporary chroniclers indicated, Godfrey did possess a simple piety. This, combined with the spirit of adventure, which was then strong among his French neighbors, no doubt prompted himalone among the major princes of the Empireto join the First crusade. The army that he led across Europe through Hungary numbered about 1,000 cavalry and 7,000 infantry. Notable among his associates were baldwin, his younger brother and successor as King of Jerusalem, and Baldwin of Bourg. Godfrey's role in the Crusade reveals him as somewhat lacking in administrative capacity and as capable of occasional pettiness and obstinacy. Nevertheless, he won general respect; and when raymond of toulouse refused the crown of Jerusalem, he was the choice of the other leaders. He was doubtless entirely sincere in believing that the Holy City should be under ecclesiastical rather than lay jurisdiction, and thus in also assuming the modest title of Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher (July 22, 1099). Similar feelings, combined with his desperate need for reinforcements, no doubt prompted him to accept the investiture of Jerusalem from the patriarch and papal legate, Daimbert of Pisa. Godfrey was not a strong ruler, but with extremely limited resources he preserved and stabilized a state that, despite his promises to Daimbert, was to survive him as a lay kingdom (see jerusalem, kingdom of). He died after governing the infant state a few days less than one year.

Bibliography: j. c. andressohn, The Life and Ancestry of Godfrey of Bouillon (Bloomington 1947). s. runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 195154) v.1. m. w. baldwin and k. m. setton, eds., A History of the Crusades (Philadelphia 1955) v.1.

[m. w. baldwin]

Godfrey of Bouillon

views updated May 14 2018

Godfrey of Bouillon


French nobleman and a leader of the First Crusade (1095-1099). In 1099, Godfrey gained the title "Protector of the Holy Sepulchre," and defended the crusaders' gains against an invading force from Egypt. Godfrey, who was handsome, dashing, and died young, later became the focus of legends that portrayed him as a perfect Christian knight.

Godfrey of Bouillon

views updated Jun 11 2018

Godfrey of Bouillon (d. 1100), duke of lower Lorraine and leader of the First Crusade in which Jerusalem was captured; he is often taken as the type of a Christian knight and war-leader, and is traditionally one of the Nine Worthies.