Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon
Godfrey of Bouillon

One of the first European nobles to depart on the First Crusade in 1095 was Godfrey of Bouillon. Godfrey led his troops from France to Constantinople and fought alongside other armies through Asia Minor to Jerusalem. After the crusaders took the city, they elected Godfrey as their ruler. Godfrey of Bouillon was the second son of Count Eustace of Boulogne and Ida, the daughter of the duke of Lower Lorraine.

Godfrey’s mother designated him her heir, but when her father died Emperor Henry IV confiscated the duchy, leaving Godfrey the county of Antwerp and the lordship of Bouillon in the Ardennes. Godfrey nevertheless served the emperor loyally in his campaigns in Italy and Germany, and as his reward in 1082 Henry invested him as duke of Lower Lorraine, but as an office rather than a hereditary fief.

Cluniac monastic influences permeated Lorraine, and their pro-papal teachings may have influenced Godfrey to take up the cross. Godfrey’s administrative skills were not sharp and perhaps he realized his future as a duke was limited and saw the Crusades as a way to achieve more.

Although he never gave up his imperial office, he sold and mortgaged some of his lands, an indication that he had no intention of returning from the Holy Land. Each of these reasons, and a genuine enthusiasm for the cause, probably influenced his response to the pope’s call. After blackmailing Jewish communities and selling parts of his holdings, Godfrey amassed funds to equip a large force.

The number of men following him gave him a great deal of prestige among other crusade leaders and drew more men to him. He was personable and with his tall, athletic frame and blond hair he appeared the ideal northern European knight and a perfect leader.

By the time the crusaders took Jerusalem, there were only two viable candidates to lead the city, Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey. Age, experience, and his relationship with the church probably made Raymond of Toulouse the better candidate, but he was unpopular.

He too openly considered himself the secular leader of the crusaders, and his comrades viewed him as arrogant and too friendly with the emperor in Constantinople. The electors initially offered the leadership to Raymond. He refused, and said he would not wear a crown in the city where Christ wore his crown of thorns, hoping the comment would discourage others from taking the throne.

The electors offered the role to Godfrey, who hesitated, and then said he would accept the position on the grounds that he would not have to take the title of king, but could be known instead as Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri, a phrase that has been translated as “Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher” or “Defender of the Holy Sepulcher.”

Godfrey appeared sincere in his belief that the church should be the ultimate ruler in the Holy Land. After he accepted his role as ruler, Godfrey tricked Raymond into giving over control of the Tower of David, the military key to Jerusalem.

Raymond, powerless and furious, left on a pilgrimage. Initially Godfrey’s forces included approximately 300 knights and 2,000 infantrymen. He had to defend Jerusalem, the port of Jaffa, and other towns, including Lydda, Ramleh, Bethlehem, and Hebron, from hostile native forces that occupied the countryside between towns.

After falling out with Raymond, Godfrey’s relations with his nobles cooled, but most answered his call to defend the kingdom. Gradually Godfrey extended his power over the rural areas of Judea and Samaria. His reputation increased rapidly.

As his powers in the Levant increased, Godfrey’s powers in his own lands waned and he found himself increasingly at the mercy of other nobles in the Holy Land. His vassals used his cordial nature to their advantage, while churchmen knew he could not deny the church and used his trust to undermine his authority.

He needed replacements and ships, his nobles wanted political favors, and Godfrey was in no position to resist their demands. In June 1100 after a period of intense negotiations and travel, Godfrey collapsed at a hostel in Jaffa.

Rumors of poisoning passed through the court, but he likely had typhoid. He hung on for nearly a month while politicians hovered around his sickbed, ready to take what they could on his death. He died July 18, 1100.

Godfrey of Bouillon, at times a weak and unwise ruler, was nevertheless successful in his attempts to establish and expand his kingdom and earned respect for his courage, modesty, and faith. He was buried as the first Christian ruler of Jerusalem on the hill of Golgotha, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of the Crucifixion.