Godfrey of Bouillon was born around 1060 as the second son of Eustace II Count of Boulogne and Ida, daughter of Godfrey, Duke of Lower Lorraine and his wife, Doda). His birthplace was probably Boulogne-sur-Mer, although one 13th-century chronicler cites Baisy, a town in Lower Lorraine (Belgium). As second son, he had fewer opportunities than his older brother and seemed destined to become just one more minor knight in service to a rich landed nobleman. However, his uncle on his mother’s side, Godfrey the Hunchback, Duke of Lower Lorraine, died childless and named his nephew, Godfrey of Bouillon, as his heir and next in line to his duchy of Lower Lorraine. This duchy was an important one at the time, serving as a buffer 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 in 1076 that he would place it in the hands of his own son and give Godfrey only Bouillon and the Margraviate of Antwerp as a test of Godfrey’s abilities and loyalty. Godfrey served Henry IV loyally, supporting him even when Pope Gregory VII was battling the German king in the Investiture Controversy. Godfrey fought alongside Henry 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, as his uncle’s widow, Matilda of Tuscany, was claiming them. 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. 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.
In 1095 Urban II,the new Pope, called for a Crusade to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim forces and also to aid the Byzantine Empire which was under Muslim attack. Godfrey took out loans on most of his lands, or sold them, to the bishop of Liège and the bishop of 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 Raymond 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 papal legate and bishop of Le Puy, travelled with him. There was also the fiery Bohemond, a Norman knight from southern Italy, and a fourth group under Robert II, Count of Flandria.
Each of these armies traveled separately, some going southeast across Europe through Hungary and others sailing across the Adriatic Sea from southern Italy. Godfrey, along with his two brothers, started in August 1096 at the head of an army from Lorraine (some say 40,000 strong) along “Charlemagne’s road”, as Urban II seems to have called it (according to the chronicler Robert the Monk)—the road to Jerusalem. After some difficulties in Hungary, he arrived in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, in November. The Pope had, in fact, called the Crusade in order to help the Byzantine emperor Alexius I fight the Islamic Turks who were invading his lands from Central Asia and Persia.
Godfrey and his troops were the second to arrive (after Hugh of Vermandois) in Constantinople. During the next several months the other Crusader armies arrived. Suddenly the Byzantine emperor had an army of about 4000 to 8000 mounted knights and 25,000 to 55,000 infantry camped on his doorstep. But Godfrey and Alexius I had different goals. The Byzantine emperor wanted the help of the Crusader soldiers to recapture lands that the Seljuk Turks had taken. The Crusaders however had the main aim of liberating the Holy Land in Palestine from the Muslims and reinstating Christian rule there. For them, Alexius I and his Turks were only a sideshow. Worse, the Byzantine emperor expected the Crusaders to take an oath 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 in 1085. Godfrey and his knights of Lorraine played a minor role in the siege of Nicaea, with Bohemond 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.
Godfrey continued to play a minor but important role in the battles against the Muslims until the Crusaders finally reached Jerusalem in 1099. Before that time, he helped to relieve the vanguard at the Battle of Dorylaeum after it had been pinned down by the Seljuk Turks under Kilij Arslan I, with the help of the other crusader princes in the main force and went on to sack the Seljuk camp. After this battle and during the trek through Asia Minor some sources suggest that Godfrey was attacked by a bear and received a serious wound which incapacitated him for a time. In 1098 Godfrey took part in the capture of Antioch, 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 had been breached and were no longer in effect. Bohemond, the first to enter the city gates, claimed the prize for himself. A Muslim force under Kerbogha, from the city of Mosul, arrived and battled the Crusaders, but the Christians finally defeated these Islamic troops.
After this victory, the Crusaders were divided over their next course of action. The bishop of Le Puy had died at Antioch. Bohemond decided to remain behind in order to secure his new principality and Godfrey’s younger brother, Baldwin, also decided to stay in the north at the Crusader state he had established at Edessa. Most of the foot soldiers wanted to continue south to Jerusalem, but Raymond IV of Toulouse, by this time the most powerful of the princes, having taken others into his employ, such as Tancred, hesitated to continue the march. After months of waiting, the common people on the crusade forced Raymond to march on to Jerusalem, and Godfrey quickly joined him. 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. The Fatimids had taken Jerusalem in August 1098. The Crusaders would be battling them for the final prize of the First Crusade in the siege of Jerusalem.
It was in Jerusalem that the legend of Godfrey of Bouillon was born. The army reached the city in June 1099 and built a wooden siege tower (from lumber provided by some Italian sailors who intentionally scrapped their ships) to get over the walls. The major attack took place on July 14 and 15, 1099. Godfrey and some of his knights were the first to take the walls and enter the city. It was an 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. He endowed the hospital in the Muristan after the First Crusade.
Once the city was returned to Christian rule, some form of government had to be set up. On July 22, a council was held in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Raymond of Toulouse refused to become king. Godfrey did no damage to his own piety by accepting the position, but only as secular leader, and not as King, instead claiming an unknown or ill-defined title (advocatus sancti sepulchri).
As was typical of Godfrey’s Christian ethics he refused to be crowned king “upon the plea that he would never wear a crown of gold where his Saviour had worn a crown of thorns”. The exact nature and meaning of his title is thus somewhat of a controversy. Although it is widely claimed that he took the title Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (“advocate” or “defender” of the Holy Sepulchre), this title is only used in a letter which was not written by Godfrey. Instead, Godfrey himself seems to have used the more ambiguous term Princeps, or simply retained his title of dux from back home in Lower Lorraine. Robert the Monk is the only chronicler of the crusade to report that Godfrey took the title “king”. During his short reign, Godfrey had to defend the new Kingdom of Jerusalem against Fatimids of Egypt, who were defeated at the Battle of Ascalon in August. He also faced opposition from Dagobert of Pisa, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was allied with Tancred. Although the Latins came close to capturing Ascalon, Godfrey’s attempts to prevent Raymond of St. Gilles from securing the city for himself meant that the town remained in Muslim hands, destined to be a thorn in the new kingdom’s side for years to come.
In 1100 Godfrey was unable to directly expand his new territories through conquest. However, his impressive victory in 1099 and his subsequent campaigning in 1100 meant that he was able to force Acre, Ascalon, Arsuf, Jaffa, and Caesarea to become tributaries. Meanwhile, the struggle with Dagobert continued; although the terms of the conflict are difficult to trace. Dagobert may well have envisaged turning Jerusalem into a fiefdom of the pope, however his full intentions are not clear. Much of the evidence for this comes from William of Tyre, whose account of these events is troublesome; it is only William who tells us that Dagobert forced Godfrey to concede Jerusalem and Jaffa, while other writers such as Albert of Aachen and Ralph of Caen suggest that both Dagobert and his ally Tancred had sworn an oath to Godfrey to accept only one of his brothers or blood relations as his successor. Whatever Dagobert’s schemes, they were destined to come to naught. Being at Haifa at the time of Godfrey’s death, he could do nothing to stop Godfrey’s supporters, led by Warner of Grez, from seizing Jerusalem and demanding that Godfrey’s brother Baldwin should succeed to the rule. Dagobert was subsequently forced to crown Baldwin as the first Latin king of Jerusalem on December 25, 1100.
“While he was besieging the city of Acre, Godfrey, the ruler of Jerusalem, was struck by an arrow, which killed him”, reports the Arab chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi. Christian chronicles make no mention of this; instead, Albert of Aix and Ekkehard of Aura report that Godfrey contracted an illness in Caesarea in June, 1100. It was later believed that the emir of Caesarea had poisoned him, but there seems to be no basis for this rumour; William of Tyre does not mention it. It is also said that he died after eating a poisoned apple. In any event, he died in Jerusalem after suffering from a prolonged illness. Godfrey never married.
- January, 01, 1060
- July, 18, 1100
- Jerusalem, Israel