Childhood & Early Life
Godfrey was born in 1060, in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, to Count Eustace II of Boulogne and Ida, daughter of Duke Godfrey of Lower Lorraine. Some sources claimed that Godfrey was born in Baisy in Brabant, Belgium. He had an older brother named Eustace III and a younger brother named Baldwin I.
In 1076, Godfrey’s maternal uncle, Godfrey the Hunchback, who was childless, named him the heir to the duchy of Lower Lorraine, the county of Verdun, the margraviate of Antwerp, and the territories of Stenay and Bouillon. The duchy of Lower Lorraine was important because it was a safety zone between France and Germany. Thus, the German king, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, decided to keep it for his own son and give Godfrey the lordship of Bouillon and the margraviate of Antwerp. This was probably done to test Godfrey’s loyalty.
As a vassal of the German Empire, Godfrey aided King Henry IV against Pope Gregory VII in the War of the Investitures, fought in Europe. He helped Henry IV in the Great Saxon Revolt against Rudolf of Swabia. He also battled alongside Henry IV when he won Rome from the pope. As a reward for his loyalty, Godfrey got his duchy back in 1087.
During this period, Godfrey had to return to his own lands, as Count Albert III of Namur and two other minor counts attacked his territories. The widow of his uncle, Matilda of Tuscany, too, claimed the land as her own. His brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, supported him in restoring the land. Though he took over as Godfrey IV, the duke of Lower Lorraine, he did not have much power in the German Kingdom or in Europe.
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Later Life & the First Crusade
In November 1095, the new pope, Urban II, gave a call at Clermont, urging all the nobles and commoners to participate in a crusade to free the Holy Land of Jerusalem from Islamic rulers. The pope promised that all the sins of the crusaders would be forgiven, as a result of the act. Additionally, there were opportunities for nobles to win lands and build duchies. Many came forward to be part of the crusade.
Godfrey either sold or mortgaged his lands in Liège and Verdun to local bishops and church leaders to raise money for a large army. His two brothers also joined him in the crusade. Other noblemen who led large armies included Count Raymond of Toulouse, who was the oldest and most well-known of the noble leaders and had the largest army; the pope’s assistant, Bishop of Le Puy, Adhemar; Prince of Taranto, Bohemond, who was a fierce Norman warrior; and Robert of Flanders.
Pope Urban’s other purpose for calling for the crusade was to help the Christian-ruled Byzantine kingdom that was under Muslim threat. Just before the First Crusade, from April to October 1096, numerous peasants and soldiers marched toward Jerusalem. Reportedly, they were involved in a massacre of Jews, which came to be known as the “Rhineland Massacres.”
In September 1096, Godfrey and his army reached Hungary, and met King Coloman to request for a free passage through his country. The king granted a peaceful passage and also took Baldwin hostage.
As they reached the Byzantine Empire (the other armies also reached in the next months), they were willing to help recapture the Byzantine land from the Seljuk Turks, according to Pope Urban’s call. However, the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, put a condition that the crusaders should take an oath of loyalty that they would restore the captured lands to Alexius. The crusade leaders made changes to the oath and promised to return the conquered lands.
From May 14 to June 19, 1097, the crusade army laid siege to the city of Nicaea. Godfrey participated in this war with his army, but the main battle was fought by Prince Bohemond. As soon as the city fell to the crusaders, they noticed the Byzantine flag on the city walls. They came to know that Alexius I had taken the city through a discrete pact with the Turks. This strained the relations between the Byzantines and the crusade leaders.
This was followed by the Battle of Dorylaeum with the Turks on July 1, 1097. Godfrey and his men played a significant part in this clash near the city of Dorylaeum in Anatolia.
They laid siege to the city of Antioch from October 21, 1097, to June 2, 1098. The armies faced a hostile war. Because of the long duration of the siege, some of the army men lost hope and returned home. Though Alexius had agreed to help, when he heard about the situation, he did not attempt to support them. As he did not keep his promise, the crusaders decided that they were not bound by his oath anymore.
After the city of Antioch was conquered, Bohemond chose to make it his own duchy. There, the crusaders faced another army, led by Muslim leader Kerbogha from Mosul, but they defeated his forces.
Many of the crusade leaders remained behind. Godfrey’s brother Baldwin stayed back in his new state of Edessa, while Bohemond remained in Antioch. Bishop of Le Puy had died in Antioch. The remaining leaders and forces were not sure of proceeding to Jerusalem.
Finally, Raymond and Godfrey marched with their armies to Palestine, where they faced North African Muslims, or the Fatimids, who had won Jerusalem from the Turks in August 1098. The crusaders continued the “Siege of Jerusalem” from June 7 to July 15, 1099. They placed wooden ladders over the walls to enter the city. Godfrey and his knights crossed the walls to conquer Jerusalem. The major battle on July 14 and 15 (1099) culminated in the recapture of the Holy Land.
Count Raymond of Toulouse refused to take the throne. Godfrey consented to be the ruler but declined the title of “King.” According to him, he could not wear a “crown of gold” where Christ had worn a “crown of thorns.” Thus, in 1099, he became the “Advocatus sancti Sepulchri” or the “advocate”/“defender”/“protector” of the ‘Holy Sepulchre.’
In August 1099, Godfrey fought back the attack of the Fatimids of Egypt and protected the Kingdom of Jerusalem by winning the Battle of Ascalon. He also began rebuilding the port of Jerusalem at Jaffa. He faced disapproval from Dagobert/Daimbert, the archbishop of Pisa, who became the patriarch of Jerusalem. Daimbert wanted the Holy Land to be under the governance of the church, which created conflict. However, Godfrey died unexpectedly on July 18, 1100. There are many versions of the cause of his death, but the circumstances of his death remain unclear.
Godfrey was succeeded by his brother, Baldwin I, who became the first king of Jerusalem.