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Godfrey De Bouillon
In the year 1094 the Turks besieged the Holy City of Jerusalem, then ruled by the Fatimite caliphs, and took it. Pilgrims were then subjected to every form of violence and insult. The Greek emperor Alexius Comnenus, whom the Turks had recently defeated, implored the assistance of the great Christian states against this new and formidable foe. Pope Urban, to whom the letter was addressed, summoned a council of nobles and prelates in Auvergne and, with solemn and weighty words, appealed to the princes and soldiers of France who were seated before him. He reminded them of the national exploits of their fathers, whom Charles Martel and Charlemagne led against the Saracens, and called on the sons of such fathers to achieve yet greater deeds. As the burning words dropped from his lips they lighted a flame in every heart, and the whole assembly suddenly rose, and shouted with one voice, "It is God's will! It is God's will!" Urban caught up the cry: "Yes, without doubt, it is God's will. He has dictated to you the words, let them be your war-cry, and be this your badge!" As he spoke he held up a crucifix. The great meeting was moved like one man; and, falling on their knees, all confessed their sins, received absolution, and took vows of service in the Holy War. A red cross, embroidered on the right shoulder, was the common sign assumed by all the soldiers, who thence acquired the name of "Crusaders." Estates were pawned and sold to obtain money for the expenses of the undertaking, and many commercial cities purchased important liberties from their lords at this favorable opportunity. The chief of one of three great divisions into which the Christian army was formed was a man whom we have taken as the very type and model of a true Crusader,-Godfrey de Bouillon.
Godfrey De Bouillon entering Jerusalem.
The Crusaders advanced in excellent order, and, after twice routing the Turkish army of defence, commenced the siege. Godfrey is said to have distinguished himself by a feat of skill on one occasion during this assault. A gigantic Turk, who was the hero of the Moslem army, had greatly harassed the Christians by his wondrous success in the use of the javelin. Having spent his shafts one day, he ascended a tower, and showered masses of rock on the besiegers, whom he at the same time abused and defied to combat. The Christian archers played upon his person, without bringing him down; until Godfrey grasped a cross-bow, and at one shot pierced the giant's heart. The siege lasted seven weeks; and was prosecuted with such vigor and ingenuity by the Crusaders that the Turks were on the point of yielding, when Alexius, who had sent a body of Greeks with the army, craftily procured to himself the glory of conquest by instructing his general to intrigue with the enemy secretly, and persuade them to yield to his power, on condition of protection. The Greek general so worked upon the fears and hopes of the garrison, that his advice was accepted; and, to the surprise and anger of the Franks, the emperor's flag one day appeared on the towers of Nice, and the city surrendered. This act of perfidy reopened the jealousy between the Eastern and Western Christians, which Godfrey had labored to extinguish; and from this time may be dated the rise of those internal divisions which eventually proved so fatal to the Crusaders.
Leaving Nice, the Crusaders advanced in two divisions, both without guides, and through a hostile and desert country. The Turks, in great numbers, followed in their rear. Godfrey and the Count of Toulouse headed one division; Bohemond, Prince of Tarentum, and Robert, Duke of Normandy (son of William the Conqueror), the other. The latter body had separated from the former at some distance, and was traversing the plains near Dorylaeum, in Phrygia, when a sudden attack was made upon it by a powerful army of Turks. The Christians were taken by surprise, while exhausted with heat and fatigue, and in an unfavorable situation. In spite of the heroic valor of Bohemond, Robert, and other knights, the battle was turning against them, when Godfrey's division, to which a message had been despatched, came up. He shouted aloud the Crusaders' war-cry: "It is God's will!" and the whole army, echoing the shout, by a gallant charge retrieved the fortunes of the day and completely routed the Turks. After this success the Crusaders resolved to march in a single body, and thus prevent a recurrence of the hazard which they had escaped. The Turks preceded them, burning the crops as they went, and the Christians, in consequence, suffered fearful privations from famine during the march. Hundreds perished from exhaustion. The horses died for want of sufficient food and water; and knights were seen either walking on foot, or riding on oxen and asses, carrying their own armor. In passing through Pisidia, an anecdote is related of Godfrey which is characteristic of his courage and gallantry. He was wandering among the recesses of a forest in pursuit of game, which was needed for the supply of the troops, when he came upon a private soldier of the army, who was defending himself from the attack of a bear. Godfrey struck at the beast, which at once turned on its new assailant, inflicting a deep wound in his thigh. Another stroke from the skilful hunter's arm terminated the contest; but the blood streamed from his wound so rapidly, that he scarcely reached the camp alive. The grief of his soldiers was intense, as they beheld their beloved leader stretched on a litter, and borne into his tent as if dead. The skill of his physicians and a long interval of rest triumphed over the weakness occasioned by the loss of blood, and Godfrey once more appeared at the head of his army.
Antiochetta, the capital of Pisidia, attempted no resistance; and here the main body of the Christians recruited for some time. Meanwhile, a party of Crusaders, headed by Baldwin, brother of Godfrey, and a famous knight named Tancred, had been sent forward to clear a passage for the army. Tancred subdued the city of Tarsus; but his victory was usurped by Baldwin, whose ambitions and covetous nature bore no resemblance to that of his brother. Tancred, a man after Godfrey's heart, surrendered this conquest for the sake of peace; but, when Baldwin showed symptoms of repeating his injustice, resisted by force. Tancred was defeated, but a reconciliation took place between the combatants. Baldwin, who had no real interest in the success of the Crusade, soon afterwards turned aside into Mesopotamia, where he made himself master of Edessa, and formed a Christian state there. Though founded by merely personal ambition, this eventually proved of great assistance to the Crusaders, by checking the progress of the Turkish arms in Asia.
The main body now crossed the Taurus, after a tedious and painful passage, and presented itself before the walls of Antioch, then ruled by an independent Turkish emir named Accien. This city was especially dear to the Christians, as the first in which their title had been assumed; and the sight of its walls roused their flagging spirits. Some of the generals advised that the siege should be deferred for some months, until reinforcements arrived, and the winter was over; but the majority of the chiefs, among whom Godfrey was conspicuous, confident of success, and dreading the depressing influences of delay, urged an immediate attack, which was accordingly made. The Turks adopted the stratagem of apparently neglecting to defend the city; and the Christians, falling into the snare, scattered their forces. The licentiousness of some of their number, moreover, proved fatal to their vigilance, and a sudden sortie of the garrison inflicted deadly havoc. The siege was then commenced in earnest; but the city was so strongly guarded, that months elapsed without any impression being made upon its walls; and disease, famine, and the inclemency of the season, united with the missiles of the Turks to weaken the Christian force. Many of the leaders (Robert, Duke of Normandy, among them), withdrew in cowardly disgust at the failure of the siege and the pressure of want; while despair drove many of those who remained to courses of reckless vice. Godfrey, firm to his duty and strong in faith, aided the exertions of the clergy in encouraging the spirits of his troops, and restraining their profligate excesses. A timely supply of provisions from some of the Armenian monasteries, and a brilliant victory obtained by Bohemond and the Count of Toulouse over an army which the Sultans of Aleppo and Damascus had sent to the succor of Antioch, rewarded Godfrey's confidence and infused new vigor into the hearts of his army. This was needed to sustain the brunt of a desperate encounter which shortly afterward took place between the besieged and their besiegers. A reinforcement of Italian Crusaders having arrived, it was suddenly attacked by a large Turkish force, and thrown into disorder. Godfrey, who had been engaged on the siege, rapidly marshalled his men, and fell upon the enemy. A sortie of the garrison was immediately made, and a fearful conflict ensued under the walls of the city. The Turks were put to flight with immense loss, and the Christians pursued them up to the very gates. In this scene of carnage, Godfrey's recorded feats of valor approached the incredible. His sword clave the stoutest armor asunder at a blow. A gigantic Arab horseman offered him single combat, and broke his shield by way of challenge. Godfrey rose in his stirrups, and smote the Arab on the shoulder with such tremendous force as to split his whole body in twain; half of which, with the head, fell into the river Orontes, while the remainder, yet clinging to the terrified horse, was carried back into the city.
Notwithstanding all these exploits, the Turks held out, and were only defeated at last by stratagem. This was achieved by the skill of Bohemond, who intrigued with Phirous, one of the leaders of the garrison, for the surrender of the city, upon favorable terms to himself. Bohemond stipulated with his fellow-chiefs that the principality of Antioch should be granted him in return for his services; and, after some opposition, this was conceded. Phirous managed the perilous task of admitting the Crusaders with the utmost adroitness. At the dead of night the walls were scaled by Bohemond and his followers, and Antioch was taken, in June, 1098, after a siege of eight months. Accien, its prince, and 6,000 Turks, are said to have fallen on this eventful night.
The Crusaders had no sooner obtained this signal success than they were in their turn besieged by an army raised by the Sultans of Mossoul and other cities. Antioch had just sustained so long a siege, that the Christians found scarcely any provisions on their entrance, and their besiegers now cut off all supplies from without. Famine soon raged in the city to such an extent, that horses, roots, leaves, leathern shoes, and even human bodies, were eagerly devoured by the starving soldiers. Godfrey shared his scanty meals with his comrades, and is related to have slain his last charger for food. Desertion from the ranks now occurred in great numbers, and despair led many to blaspheme who were ashamed to fly. To add to the misery of the Christians, they learned that the Emperor Alexius, who was advancing with reinforcements, had judged their case hopeless, and retraced his steps. The city was now scarcely defended, and many proposed to surrender it, even on degrading terms, so that their lives were spared.
Godfrey and the clergy again exerted themselves successfully. They ventured to challenge the Turkish army to a combat of picked troops; and when the proposal was spurned, boldly advanced to attack the whole force. The appearance of the Crusaders, as they marched out of the city, must have been indeed pitiable. Privations had so reduced them, that many had no clothing. Some were nearly fainting from weakness. The barons and knights proceeded chiefly on foot, and camels and asses supplied the place of horses to most of those who rode. Yet the burning zeal of the Christians made the march seem like a triumphal procession; and while the clergy sang hymns of consolation and victory, the soldiers responded with the war-cry, "It is God's will! It is God's will!" The Turkish general, fearing nothing from an army so scantily provided with the means of war, was taken by surprise, but hastily arranged his troops in order of battle. The sight of several natural prodigies, such as the sudden appearance of a meteor, and the favorable direction of the wind, acting upon the superstitious fancy of the Christians, impelled them to extraordinary exertions. The Moslem forces, on the other hand, were weakened by the existence of rivalries and discords in their midst, and lacked the stimulus which the Christians derived from desperation. The attack was commenced by a volley of arrows, followed by a charge of the Turkish and Arabian archers, which the Crusaders not only steadily sustained, but vigorously returned. Godfrey, who commanded their right wing, broke the left wing of the Moslem; but the latter had encompassed the river with a large force, and attacked the Christians in the rear. In spite of the heroism of Godfrey and Tancred, who slaughtered all that ventured to compete with them, and the brave resistance of the whole army, the enemy was evidently gaining ground, when (according to the historians) three horsemen, in brilliant armor, suddenly appeared at the head of a reinforcement descending from the adjacent mountains. Some of the clergy seized on this circumstance to reanimate the Crusaders. "Behold your heavenly succor!" cried a bishop. "Heaven has sent the holy martyrs, George, Demetrius, and Theodore to fight for you!" As he spoke, the whole army seemed inspired with irresistible strength; and, shouting the well-known war-cry, made another vigorous charge which broke the Moslem ranks. The Sultan of Mossoul fled, and his immense force dispersed in the utmost disorder. The extravagant number of 100,000 is said to have fallen in this engagement.
The Crusaders, instead of proceeding at once to Jerusalem, remained for several months in Antioch, employing the time in re-establishing Christianity in that city, and sending to their brethren in the West for further aid. The delay was prejudicial, as the disputes between the rival chiefs, which the din of war had silenced, again broke out, and disease committed terrible ravages in the camp. Certain expeditions, however, were made in the neighborhood, and several towns fell into the hands of the Christians. Meantime, news arrived that an army of Egyptian Arabs-who acknowledged the Fatimite caliphs, and had as yet resisted the attempt of the Turks to usurp dominion over all the followers of the Prophet-had captured Jerusalem. The Crusaders, filled with indignation, resumed their march to the Holy City, conquering on their way several towns. Embassadors were sent from the Caliph of Cairo with superb presents to the Christian leaders, and proposals of peace between them and the Egyptians. But Godfrey would not be bribed to accept the humiliating terms proposed; one of which was, that only unarmed Christians should be admitted into the city. The embassadors were sent back with the answer that the Crusaders were on their march, and, if opposed, might extend their conquests even to the Nile.
By daybreak on June 10, 1099, the Christian army came in sight of Jerusalem. The spectacle transported all with mingled feelings of joy, reverence, and remorse. Some fell on their knees and prayed; others kissed the sacred soil; many wept for their sins; and the air ever and anon resounded with the shout: "It is God's will!" The siege was commenced at once, Godfrey fixing his camp on Mount Calvary. The Egyptians had prepared for a protracted defence, by strengthening the fortifications and furnishing the garrison with ample provisions. They had likewise ravaged the neighboring country, and filled up the cisterns so as to harass the besiegers as much as possible. Owing to these impediments the Christians made slow progress. After various disappointments, however, they at length manufactured engines of great size and strength, shaped like towers, which were to be wheeled up to the walls, so as to enable the besiegers to enter by means of drawbridges. On July 14, 1099, at daybreak, the Crusaders were in arms, and at the same moment the assault was made on various points. Godfrey stood on his wooden tower, which was stationed near one of the gates, and by voice and action stimulated his soldiers to deeds of daring. His death-dealing javelin never missed its aim. The Egyptians employed every possible agent of defence,-showering down boiling oil, combustible materials, and various descriptions of missile, on the heads of their assailants. During the first day the Crusaders were repulsed at every point; but on the morrow fortune turned. The first half of the day was with the Egyptians, who cast lighted torches against the wooden engines of the Crusaders, and effected the destruction of many. Godfrey was, as usual, conspicuous, and became the mark of repeated attacks,-the cross of gold which surmounted his tower especially enraging the Moslem. An incident, supposed to be supernatural, was the immediate cause of the Christians' success. Godfrey and the Count of Toulouse at the same time observed the figure of a knight on the Mount of Olives, who with his buckler signalled to the Christians that they should enter the city. The two leaders, animated by a common feeling, cried out, "Behold St. George!" The enthusiasm of the Crusaders from this moment was irresistible. Godfrey's tower was first pushed close beside the walls, and in spite of flame and missile the drawbridge was lowered. Then, accompanied by several of his bravest knights, he dashed into the city. Others followed at the same point; the gates were broken down, and Jerusalem was taken. A horrible carnage of the Moslem ensued, in which Godfrey, although unable to check, refused to share. His first act was to retire from his comrades, and with three attendants to repair, unarmed and barefooted, to the Church of the Sepulchre. His vow was accomplished, and the desecration of one holy site atoned for by the preservation of another yet holier. This act of devotion, so worthy of the true Crusader, recalled from carnage those who had forgotten their vows in the thirst for vengeance, and the whole army, led by the clergy, followed him to the same church in penitential procession.
Godfrey's work was now nearly ended, and his reward came. The leaders of the army, soon after the capture of the city, held a council for the purpose of deciding to whom should be given the crown of Jerusalem. No decision was arrived at; so many various opinions being expressed, and so many interests at stake. Ten of the most esteemed chiefs were then formed into an elective body, and proceeded to make careful inquiries into the fitness of those who were proposed for the kingly office. Godfrey took no part, it would seem, in either discussion or inquiry, and displayed no sort of anxiety as to his own claims. But the clergy and the mass of the soldiers were devoted to him,-endeared as he was by a thousand memories of his piety, courage, and generosity. On all hands the electors heard his praises sounded, and, to the joy of the whole army, they concluded their labors by announcing the choice to have fallen upon him. But, to the surprise of all, he declined the offered rank. "I will not wear a golden crown," said he, "in a city where my king and Saviour has been only crowned with thorns." All that his fellow-chiefs could persuade him to accept was the title of Defender and Baron of the Holy Sepulchre, though he did not deem it right to refuse the kingly authority.
He soon had occasion to exert his power, for the Caliph of Cairo had by this time collected a large army, and was on his march to Jerusalem. The Crusaders, though unfitted for a fresh campaign, prepared to defend their conquest, and, at the head of his troops, Godfrey advanced toward Ascalon, where the enemy was stationed. A battle took place on the adjoining plains, in which the Moslem force was routed with terrific slaughter. The city itself would have fallen but for the covetous spirit displayed by the Count of Toulouse, who, unable to obtain a promise that the possession of the place should be given him, deserted Godfrey with all his men. A quarrel ensued between the two leaders, but was terminated through the influence of their brothers in arms,-Godfrey being ready to forgive any injury to himself for the sake of the common cause.
The Crusade was now completed, but Godfrey's duties as king were yet to commence. He set about fulfilling them with activity, fortifying various important positions, subduing revolts of hostile tribes, dividing the conquered territories equally among his generals, according to the feudal system, and summoning an Assize, or Assembly of his wisest councillors to draw up a code of laws. This code, which long remained in operation, amply testified to the legislative wisdom of the Crusaders. But the new state was not long favored with his presence to enforce and exemplify its constitution. In returning from a successful expedition against some Arabs of Galilee, he was met by the Emir of Caesarea, who offered him a present of fruits. Godfrey tasted a cedar apple, and immediately was seized with illness. He died, not without suspicion of poison having been thus administered, shortly after reaching Jerusalem, commending to his comrades the care of the holy places, and the state which he had founded. His age scarcely exceeded forty years.
One of the most celebrated and beautiful Italian poems, the "Jerusalem Delivered" of Tasso, has "the pious Godfrey" for the presiding hero of the glorious scenes which it narrates. But there are no grounds for supposing that his fame belongs to romance rather than history. Contemporary writers have painted his portrait in no less flattering colors than Tasso has used, and the poet's affectionate fancy has scarcely exaggerated the tribute which the soberest historian may feel warranted in rendering to the memory of the great and good Crusader, Godfrey de Bouillon.
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