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Alexius and Godfrey of Bouillon

Posted by on February 6, 2013

The first army to arrive in Constantinople was that commanded  by Godfrey of Bouillon: they arrived on the shores of Constantinople in December 1097, just weeks before Christmas.

Alexius I Comnenus was prepared to meet this second army of western Catholics, but in no way was he looking forward to it. The annihilation of the People’s Crusade tested his patience, but also made him much more wary of these crusaders. Not that Alexius trusted them in the first place. Peter the Hermit’s followers stole mercilessly from the people of Constantinople. If Alexius had ferried them across the Bosphorus any later than August 1096, war might have broken out between his people and the crusaders. For that reason alone, Alexius grievously mistrusted them. He may have even feared their military prowess and unquenchable lust for land and wealth. Yet, Alexius needed their help to repel the Turkish advance and he was prepared to use them to his advantage. Alexius believed that the crusaders would be an effective tool in his reconquest of Asia Minor, including the key Syrian city of Antioch, a city that once belonged to Byzantium.

The crusaders equally distrusted the Emperor Alexius. While many took up the cross for religious motives, others — especially Bohemond of Taranto, Tancred of Hauteville and Baldwin of Boulogne — were ardently determined to obtain an eastern kingdom for themselves. These men were well aware of the Emperor’s ambitions and resented them simply because his ambitions coincided with their own. It was also highly possible that the crusaders were quite jealous of their eastern Greek brethren.

Constantinople was unlike any city in Europe: it was large — about half a million people lived there; quite large by late eleventh century standards — it was also a city that was wealthy in material goods and history. Europeans marveled at the Basilica of St. Sophia and at statues of Byzantium’s forefathers that dated back to the days of Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. When the crusaders saw these statues and relics unbeknownst to Europe it was no wonder why they felt inferior to the Greeks.

Furthermore, the lesser-nobles, knights, men-at-arms and pilgrims believed that the Emperor would assume control of the Crusade and pave the way to Jerusalem. But Alexius did not care about the lands that lay south of Antioch and he had no desire to guide the crusaders once they had fulfilled their duty to his empire.

Alexius realized that, if he was to successfully save his empire, he had to subdue the western Catholics. The only way he was going to accomplish this was if he flaunted his wealth; not with arrogance, but with kindness and generosity. So, Alexius summoned Godfrey and few of his leading nobles to his imperial palace.

According to the twelfth century chronicler, Albert of Aix, “The Emperor sat in majesty on his throne, and did not rise to give the kiss to the Duke (Godfrey) or anyone. But the Duke, together with his men, bowed with bended knees to kiss so glorious and great and Emperor. When at last all had received the kiss, according to rank, he spoke to the Duke in these words: ‘I have heard that you are the most mighty knight and prince in your land, a man most prudent and of perfect trust. In the presence of this multitude and more to come, I, therefore, take you for my adopted son; and all that I possess I place in your power, that through you my empire and lands may be saved and freed.’ ”

Alexius then made Godfrey swear an oath: whatever territory in Asia Minor Godfrey and his army captured, would be handed over to Alexius. Godfrey, recognizing the need for the Emperor’s aid and counsel, offered his vassalage to Alexius. Alexius, in turn, sealed the oath by showering Godfrey and his men with gifts of gold, silver, exotic purple fabric and valuable war horses. Knowing that other Latin armies would soon arrive on the shores of Constantinople, Alexius sent Godfrey’s army across the Bosphorus to set up camp. The last thing he wanted was a build-up of Latin troops encamped outside his city’s walls.

Sources Used:

Armstrong, Karen. Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. New York; Anchor Books, 2001.

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of The War For The Holy Land. Ecco; New York, 2011.

Krey, August C. The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesss and Participants. Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1921.


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