Ancient history

Godfrey of Bouillon:the one who did not want to be king

Godfrey of Bouillon as a Christian valiant, on a fresco (1416-1424) in the baronial hall of the Château de la Manta, Saluzzo. • WIKIMEDIACOMMONS

"I will not wear a crown of gold where Christ wore a crown of thorns. On July 22, 1099, Godfrey of Bouillon had just refused the title of King of Jerusalem for that of "Attorney of the Holy Sepulchre". A week earlier, the Christian armies had invaded the Holy City, and it was Godfrey who took the lead.

Praised for his piety, the Duke of Bouillon would become a model of chivalry throughout the West, appearing among the Nine Preux embodying the ideal of chivalry.

A burning faith

Godefroi is a leading man long before the crusade. Born around 1061 between Picardy and Lorraine, he counts Charlemagne among his ancestors. At 15, he inherited the Duchy of Lower Lotharingia, which stretches from Brabant to Luxembourg. He is then one of the richest characters of his time. Great feudal of total loyalty to Henry IV, head of the Holy Empire, he spends his time fighting against the enemies of his suzerain. He belonged to the first circle of the emperor, and some claim that he fought alongside him during the capture of Rome against the papacy, around 1084.

But this life of war and opulence wearies Godfrey. An ardent faith, which he inherits from his mother, Ide de Boulogne, burns him. An exclusive faith that can be found even in his behavior. “Godefroi de Bouillon has always been single, and no children are known to him,” explains his biographer Pierre Aubé. He administered his lands with such justice that his vassals even complained about his going on a crusade! " No matter. Godfrey is imbued with the call launched in Clermont by Urban II in November 1095. He sells his domain to the Bishop of Liège, and, accompanied by his brothers Baudouin and Eustache, raises his army. Direction the Holy Land, which must be delivered from the Turks.

"Valour Itself"

Godfrey crossed Germania and the Kingdom of Hungary to arrive in Constantinople at the end of the year 1096. As a diplomat, he promised the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Comnenus, unlike other barons, to return the conquered lands to him in exchange logistical support from the Greeks. The dangers encountered by the Crusaders in Asia allow Godfrey to put his talents as a knight to work. As he quickly established himself at the head of the expedition, the Duke was described by the anonymous chronicler of the First Crusade as "valour itself".

He shines on the battlefields. In Dorylée, in 1097, it was Godfrey who arrived first to free the troops of Bohémond de Tarente, surrounded by the Turks. In Antioch, he was the first to charge the Muslim troops who besieged the Crusaders, forcing them to retreat. Finally, in Jerusalem, he climbed one of the towers built by the Christians to storm the city. From there, Godfrey riddles his enemies with arrows and enters the city at the head of his knights.

But devotion takes over. According to the chronicler Albert of Aix, while the Crusaders put the inhabitants to the sword and pillaged their houses, Godfrey "wrapped himself in a woolen garment and he went, barefoot, present before the sepulcher of our Lord Jesus Christ. »

Exemplary selflessness

Because if there is one point on which Godfrey stands out from his peers, it is his disinterestedness. While Bohémond disputes the possession of Antioch with Raimond de Saint-Gilles, Godefroi thinks only of the goal of the crusade:to gain the tomb of Christ. More than his merit, it is this total absence of personal ambition that will push the barons to entrust him with the government of Jerusalem. "The sources say that it was out of humility that Godfrey refused the title of king, but it is possible that it was because he did not feel up to it," said Pierre Aubé.

When Godfrey died in 1100, his brother Baudouin did not hesitate to become the first Frankish monarch of Jerusalem. “Baudouin had considerable importance in the political construction of the Latin states of the East, but he was eclipsed by the fame of his brother. The imagination of Christianity focuses on this modest colossus. The legend of Godefroi de Bouillon was born.

Find out more
Godfrey of Bouillon, P. Aubé, Fayard, 1985.

The Looting of Jerusalem
The city was practically destroyed by the Crusaders, who showed incredible violence. Raymond d'Aiguilhe, who took part in the battle, testified:“Among the Saracens, some were stricken with death, which for them was the sweetest fate; others pierced with arrows were forced to leap from the top of the towers, others still, after having suffered a long time, were delivered to the flames and consumed by them. Heaps of heads, hands and feet could be seen in the streets and squares of the town. The footmen and the knights marched on all sides only through the corpses. Inflated or minimized or according to propaganda, the number of victims was probably around 30,000, the majority of whom were Muslims, to which were added almost all of those who had not evacuated Jerusalem, whether they were Jews (about 2,000), Christians from Armenia, Syria or the Orthodox Church. Christian sources depict the extent of the carnage and the heaps of rotting corpses which the few survivors of the massacre had to evacuate from the city:number," reads the Anonymous History of the First Crusade (Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymitanorum) .