Godfrey, a Knight of the Crusades
Of the summons that came to the knights of Christendom
There has never been a time in the world's history when there were not wrongs to be righted and evils to be battled against; nor were the days of chivalry different from other days. Always there were knights who set themselves to defend the right and vanquish the wrong, and always there was work for them to do. In the days of King Arthur there were dragons and giants to fight, and perilous quests into wild regions to be undertaken, and above all there was the honor of the Round Table to be upheld. The foes of Charlemagne and the peers of France were the Moors and Saracens, heathen peoples from the East who would spread over the fair lands of Europe with their barbarian ways and their strange religion, and kill and drive out the Christian peoples if they were not opposed by a strong and relentless army of warriors. And the knights of that age were victorious and drove out the enemy and saved their country from the hordes of the East, although in the years of that strife the lifeblood of many noble knights was shed.
To the knights of a later day there came yet another call to service, and this was the fashion of its coming. It was a pious custom of that time for men whose sins weighed heavily upon them, or who sought a purity which their lives of strife and bloodshed could not bring them, to lay aside their arms, and putting on the robes of pilgrims, to make long and perilous journeys over land and sea to the sacred places of the Christian faith. But Jerusalem and all the Holy Land were in the hands of the heathen peoples whom Charlemagne and his knights had driven back from Europe. So these pilgrims returned with tales of the shameful treatment which they had received and of the insolence of the barbarians, who desecrated the holy places and heaped insult and violence upon all Christians. And the hearts of knights everywhere burned at these tales, and they said it was a shame and a disgrace to Christendom that such things should be.
It was in the year 1095, three hundred years after Charlemagne had waged his wars against the Saracens, that Urban, the head of the Christian church, called a great council of all the people of Europe to consider the state of the Holy Land. It was to be held in the little French village of Clermont, and for days before the assembly opened the whole valley was dotted with white tents, for the villages could not accommodate the throngs of travelers who had journeyed thither from Italy and Germany and all of Christendom. No building could hold the multitude of people, so the meeting was held in the great open square of the town, and even then the streets leading in all directions were packed with men and women. Knights in shining armor stood next to peasants who had left their plows and traveled weary miles afoot to the gathering; nobles in rich robes jostled against monks and priests; highborn ladies stood beside beggars; but none had a thought for any one but the man who stood on the platform in the center of the square. The pope sat there in his gorgeous robes of office, yet the people looked not at him, but at the small man with bare feet and uncovered head, whose coarse hermit's gown was worn and ragged and whose face was thin and haggard from exposure and fasting. This was Peter the Hermit, whose fame had spread over all Europe. A deep silence fell upon the people as he stood forth, with a great wooden cross in his hand, and poured out his story in a voice that was often broken by sobs and tears. He told of the things he himself had seen in the Holy Land. He pictured the horrors which were practiced there by the infidels who ruled the city in the pride of their bloody conquest. He himself had stood by and seen the holy places profaned and mocked, and Christians loaded with irons and dragged away to slavery and death. Ministers of God were torn from the churches and beaten with rods. None were safe from the lustful hands of the heathen.
He paused and stood for a moment with bowed head before the people. Then in a ringing voice he cried out: "Men of Christendom, I tell you these things shall end. I have had a vision, and in that holy place itself I heard the voice of God, and these were the words that came to me: 'Arise, Peter, go hastily to thine own land and call upon the people, telling what thou hast seen. The time has come when my holy city shall be cleansed and my people saved.' Arm yourselves, therefore, ye men of Christendom, and prepare for war, for these things shall not be."
As Peter sank back, worn out with emotion, Pope Urban rose and spoke to the weeping multitude: "Yes, brethren, weep for your sins and this evil which has come upon Christendom. But weeping is not enough. It is in your courage that the Christian Church must hope. Remember the heroes who amid danger and glory delivered your land from these heathen peoples. But for the exploits of Charlemagne and his peers France would be in like state with Palestine.
"Christian warriors, arise. Too long you have sold your swords to him who would offer you a chance to fight, and cared not for what cause you battled. Too long you have been a terror to your fellow-citizens because you forgot the purpose of your knighthood and sought only for strife that ye might display your prowess. To-day the knights of Christendom have found a true cause to defend. Go and fight against the barbarians for the deliverance of the holy places."
"God wills it! God wills it!" the assembly shouted in wild enthusiasm.
"Yes, God wills it!" said Urban. "Let those words be your war-cry, and the cross your symbol. Wear it upon your shoulders and your breasts; let it shine upon your arms and your standards. It will be to you the surety of victory or the palm of martyrdom."
Once more the people responded, "The cross! the cross! Give us the cross!"
And the multitude pressed forward and received from pope or bishop or priest a red cross of silk or cloth. Knights and nobles, priests and monks, fastened it upon shoulder or breastplate, and he who wore it was henceforth known to all the world as one who would bear the cross to Palestine to defend the faith, and was therefore called a crusader.
Of Godfrey and his army
Of all the knights who pressed forward to receive the red cross on that November day at Clermont, none was destined to win such fame and honor as Godfrey of Bouillon, the hero of our tale. When he knelt to receive the emblem, Urban welcomed him joyfully.
"Now God be praised!" he cried. "Godfrey of Bouillon joins this cause. The renown which his valor has brought him already shall be increased a thousandfold by the victories he shall win for the faith."
When the pope had fastened the cross upon the young man's shoulder, Godfrey would have risen, but Urban bade him kneel yet a moment more, and put into his hands a sword, saying: "Son Godfrey, I give you a new sword, consecrated to this service. Draw it only in this cause to which you have to-day pledged yourself, and you shall win with it great victories and render untold service to the glory of God."
So Godfrey returned to his home with a new light in his eye and a new purpose in his heart; and as he journeyed through the provinces over which he was ruler, he found that the news of the Crusade had spread before him, and that men and women of all ranks were carried away with enthusiasm for this new cause. Knights, esquires, and pages met him as he rode through his duchy and begged him to let them enroll under his banner and journey with him to the Holy Land. Noble ladies stripped off their jewels, and wealthy merchants brought forth their hidden stores of gold and poured them at his feet, entreating him to use them to defend the faith.
Pope Urban had done well to rejoice when Godfrey joined the cause. He was a young man famous even in those days of chivalry and honor for the nobility of his character and the purity of his life. His prowess in battle and his skill in every exercise of arms had carried him into the highest ranks of knighthood, and it was said that no youthful knight in Christendom wore his honors more modestly or ordered his life with more wisdom and grace. As soon as it was known that Duke Godfrey would lead an army to the Holy Land, the flower of chivalry flocked to his standard. When he was ready to set forth, there rode behind him ten thousand knights who were the best in all Europe.
They were a fair sight, those knights, as they set forth from France on that long journey. At the head of the army rode Godfrey, a tall and knightly figure in coat of mail, with silver helmet. He had laid aside the insignia of his rank and his richly em blazoned shield, and carried only a round buckler bearing the red cross of the crusader. With him rode his brothers, Baldwin and Eustace, and his esquire, Sigier. Ten thousand knights on horseback followed, clad in coat of mail, and wearing helmets of silver or steel, according to their rank. Every shield was ornamented with the device of the knight,—a lion, a leopard, a star, a tower, a bird, or some like symbol,—and from every lance floated a pennon of red, blue, green, or white.
Behind the knights marched an army of eighty thousand foot soldiers, and on the breast of every one of that marching throng shone the red cross, and from every lip rang the battle cry of the crusader, "God wills it!"
The story of the long march to Palestine may be read in the chronicles of the Crusades. The soldiers went through many lands and endured great hardships and perils. As they crossed from Europe and came into the lands of the East, the Turks and Arabs met them and opposed them in fierce and bloody battles. It was three years from the time when they started, when they came into the land of Palestine, and in those years many gallant knights had laid down their lives. Pestilence and fever had attacked the army and wrought even more havoc than the savage enemy, so that the number of men who came to the Holy Land was less than forty thousand of those who had set out so bravely from France.
Duke Godfrey had suffered many perils, but had come safe through them all. At one time he had been grievously wounded in an attempt to save a soldier who was being killed by a bear, and had lain ill for many weeks in his tent. Then the men of the army despaired for the first time, and said, "Who will lead us and how can we go farther if our beloved leader be taken from us?" But the fever turned and Godfrey recovered, though it was many weeks before he could leave the litter in which he was borne over the weary stretches of desert and mountain, and ride his horse again.
But at last the day came when the standard bearers of the army, coming to the top of a hill, raised the cry, "Jerusalem! Jerusalem!" and the crusading host rushed forward to gaze upon the city of their dreams. As they looked across the valley at the Holy City, the warriors forgot the perils and sorrows of the way and raised a mighty shout, "Jerusalem! God wills it!" And every prince and knight, and every page and esquire and priest, fell upon his knees and gave thanks to God. When they arose the horsemen did not mount again, but walked beside their steeds, and many of the soldiers stripped the gay pennons from their lances and removed their shoes, walking bare foot as they neared the Holy City. As they marched they sang the words of the prophet of old, "Jerusalem, lift up thine eyes and behold the liberator who comes to break thy chains!"
Of the taking of Jerusalem
A few days after their arrival the crusaders made a fierce attack upon Jerusalem, but the walls were high and the fortifications strong, and the army was beaten back. Then Godfrey saw that the city could never be taken without engines of war, and he set his soldiers to find building materials of wood and iron and stone with which they could construct machines for attack. With the greatest difficulty they built three huge wooden towers, each higher than the city walls, which could be rolled on wheels. One of these was to be commanded by Duke Raymond, another by Tancred, and the third by Godfrey. But as they built, the Saracens strengthened their defenses so that it seemed as if the city were well-nigh impregnable.
At daybreak on the morning when the attack was to be made, Raymond came to Godfrey's tent and, seeing him, exclaimed in astonishment: "What is this, my lord? Where is your breastplate and your coat of mail? And where your helmet? What meaneth this?"
And Godfrey replied: "When Pope Urban gave me this sword at Clermont, making me a knight of the Crusade, I vowed that on the day when I attacked Jerusalem I would not fight as a prince and commander, but as a common soldier of God. To-day I am fulfilling my vow."
When Raymond heard this, he told the other princes of Godfrey's decision, and they all followed his example of humility.
From their towers the Christians made their attack, and from the walls of the city the Turks fought, casting huge stones and boiling pitch and heavy arrows upon the soldiers as they tried to scale the ramparts. Raymond's tower was broken down and burned, and Godfrey and Tancred could scarce hold their own. Hour after hour the conflict waged, and the hearts of the crusaders grew fearful as they saw their men falling on every side, but on the top of the highest tower they could see Godfrey leading them, and their hearts were strong again. The Turks threw sacks of blazing straw upon the wall where Godfrey was attacking, making a barricade of flame which choked and stifled the crusaders as they pushed forward. For a moment they fell back, and the Turks shouted with joy, thinking the victory won. But at that moment a knight was seen on the Mount of Olives, radiant in glittering white armor, and waving toward the Holy City a white shield marked with the red cross. Godfrey, the first to see this strange warrior, shouted: "St. George to our aid! The saints fight for us!"
At that moment the wind changed and drove the flames towards the Saracens, so that they fell back. That was Godfrey's chance. He dropped the drawbridge from his tower, and sprang across it to the wall of the city. Brave knights followed him, driving back the Turks, and Godfrey stood victorious on the walls of Jerusalem.
A frightful slaughter followed, as the Christians dashed into the city. Godfrey fought as long as there was need, but when he could not restrain his men from massacring their hated foe even after all resistance had ceased, he threw away his bloody weapons and went with three companions to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Barefoot and, without arms he entered the church, and kneeling there, gave thanks that Jerusalem had been rescued from the infidels.
When the other crusaders heard of this pious act, they ceased their bloody work and came and offered up their prayers with him. And the priests chanted a new anthem to the kneeling multitude, repeating over and over the words of the prophet, "You who love Jerusalem, rejoice with her, rejoice with her."
When the barons and lords came together after the conquest of Jerusalem, they decided to elect a king who should remain in the Holy Land and guard the Holy City. Godfrey was chosen to this office because of his great wisdom and valor and piety, and he fulfilled his duties faithfully and gained many victories. But it was only for one year. A fever came upon him, and he died just twelve months after the capture of the city. He was buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and his sword was hung upon the walls of the church. Over his grave was laid a stone with the words, Here lieth the victorious Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, who won all this land to the Christian faith."