Godfrey of Bouillon, First Crusader

Godfrey of Bouillon equestrian statue

Er&Red/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain


Godfrey of Bouillon was also known as Godefroi de Bouillon, and he was best known for leading an army in the First Crusade, and becoming the first European ruler in the Holy Land.

Godfrey of Bouillon was born in about 1060 C.E. to Count Eustace II of Boulogne and his wife Ida, who was the daughter of Duke Godfrey II of Lower Lorraine. His elder brother, Eustace III, inherited Boulogne and the family's estate in England. In 1076 his maternal uncle named Godfrey heir to the duchy of Lower Lorraine, the county of Verdun, the Marquisate of Antwerp and the territories of Stenay and Bouillon. But Emperor Henry IV delayed confirming the grant of Lower Lorraine, and Godfrey only won the duchy back in 1089, as a reward for fighting for Henry.

Godfrey the Crusader

In 1096, Godfrey joined the First Crusade with Eustace and his younger brother, Baldwin. His motivations are unclear; he had never shown any notable devotion to the Church, and in the investiture controversy he had supported the German ruler against the pope. The terms of the mortgage agreements he drew up in preparation for going to the Holy Land suggest that Godfrey had no intention of staying there. But he raised considerable funds and a formidable army, and he would become one of the most important leaders of the First Crusade.

Upon his arrival at Constantinople, Godfrey immediately clashed with Alexius Comnenus over the oath the emperor wanted the crusaders to take, which included the provision that any recovered lands that had once been part of the empire be restored to the emperor. Though Godfrey clearly had not planned to settle in the Holy Land, he balked at this. Tensions grew so strained that they came to violence; but ultimately Godfrey took the oath, though he harbored serious reservations and not a little resentment. That resentment probably grew stronger when Alexius surprised the Crusaders by taking possession of Nicea after they had besieged it, robbing them of the opportunity to plunder the city for spoil.

In their progress through the Holy Land, some of the Crusaders took a detour to find allies and supplies, and they ended up establishing a settlement in Edessa. Godfrey acquired Tilbesar, a prosperous region that would make it possible for him to supply his troops more readily and help him increase his number of followers. Tilbesar, like the other areas acquired by the Crusaders at this time, had once been Byzantine; but neither Godfrey nor any of his associates offered to turn any of these lands over to the emperor.

Ruler of Jerusalem

After the Crusaders captured Jerusalem when fellow crusade leader Raymond of Toulouse refused to become king of the city, Godfrey agreed to rule; but he wouldn't take the title of king. He was instead called Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Protector of the Holy Sepulchre). Shortly thereafter, Godfrey and his fellow crusaders beat back a force of encroaching Egyptians. With Jerusalem thus secured — at least for the time being — most of the crusaders decided to return home.

Godfrey now lacked support and guidance in governing the city, and the arrival of papal legate Daimbert, archbishop of Pisa, complicated matters. Daimbert, who shortly became the patriarch of Jerusalem, believed the city and, indeed, the entire Holy Land should be governed by the church. Against his better judgment, but without any alternative, Godfrey became Daimbert's vassal. This would make Jerusalem the subject of an ongoing power struggle for years to come. However, Godfrey would play no further part in this matter; he died unexpectedly on July 18, 1100.

After his death, Godfrey became the subject of legends and songs, thanks in large part to his height, his fair hair and his good looks.


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Snell, Melissa. "Godfrey of Bouillon, First Crusader." ThoughtCo, Oct. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/godfrey-of-bouillon-1788906. Snell, Melissa. (2021, October 6). Godfrey of Bouillon, First Crusader. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/godfrey-of-bouillon-1788906 Snell, Melissa. "Godfrey of Bouillon, First Crusader." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/godfrey-of-bouillon-1788906 (accessed June 8, 2023).