Godfrey of Bouillon was a French nobleman and one of the most eminent leaders of the First Crusade launched in the 11th century to liberate Jerusalem.
He was originally a Frankish knight who initially didn’t have any significant possessions. Over time, he served Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV loyally and was in time rewarded with the duchy of Lower Lorraine.
When the First Crusade was declared in 1095, Godfrey sold his lands, gathered an army of knights, and led them to the Holy Land for battle. After securing many victories over Muslim armies, he was among the first to enter the city of Jerusalem as it was captured by the Christian forces.
Although hailing from a noble family, Godfrey didn’t have any major possessions or prospects until he inherited the duchy of Lower Lorraine from his uncle. The duchy was on the border between France and Germany, making it a strategically important one.
Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, wouldn’t let Godfrey have complete control over the duchy before testing his loyalty. Godfrey proved his loyalty over the subsequent years by supporting Henry IV despite the many controversies that racked his reign. This resulted in his control over the entire duchy by 1087.
Despite his rise to significance as the Holy Roman Emperor, Godfrey truly made his place in history when he decided to take part in the First Crusade. After Pope Urban II called for the Crusade, Godfrey was quick to sell his lands or get loans against them and amass a sizable army of knights. In time, he was able to create a sizable army of thousands of knights.
He then led this army on the way to Jerusalem, joining other Crusader armies on the march. The first major battlefield for the Crusaders was the Byzantine Empire where they helped relieve the Seljuk threat by retaking many Byzantine cities.
Once the Crusader armies reached the Holylands, battles with the Seljuk Turks continued. Godfrey and his army weren’t the most prominent participants in these contests, overshadowed by the larger armies and more influential persons of Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond. However, his army played a decisive role at many critical points.
He was able to save the vanguard of the Crusader army in the Battle of Dorylaeum and steadfastly remained a part of the difficult siege of Antioch. Finally, as the few princes remaining on the battlefield as the Crusaders drew close to Jerusalem, Raymond and Godfrey were the most eminent leaders among them.
The knights of Godfrey’s army played a decisive role in taking Jerusalem from the hands of Fatimids in 1099. During the siege of the city, Godfrey was able to scale the city’s walls with his knights and was among the first to enter it.
Subsequently, a council of the Crusader leaders was called culminating in making Godfrey the ruler of Jerusalem. He refused to take the title of “King” and after assuming control of the city, successfully expanded his control over neighboring towns and cities. His reign as Jerusalem’s ruler was short-lived and he died by the end of 1100, succeeded by his brother Baldwin as the new ruler.