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Godfrey of Bouillon: Leader of the Crusade

Posted by on November 24, 2013

The odds of victory were stacked heavily against the Franks. Not only were they isolated, their army wasn’t big enough to encircle the entirety of Jerusalem. Granted, Jerusalem’s geographical setting didn’t allow for a full encirclement. The army was about 15,000 strong, but only 1,300 were knights. The Franks also lacked the resources necessary to mount an offensive. Not to mention, they faced a fierce, well-equipped and large Egyptian garrison.

In order to mount any kind of offensive, the Franks had to divide their army in half. It’s very possible that Jerusalem’s native Christians acted as guides to the Franks because only they knew the places where Jerusalem was most vulnerable to attack. So, based on their advice, Godfrey of Bouillon positioned the majority of the troops at the north wall, between the Quadrangular Tower and the Damascus Gate: Raymond of Toulouse positioned a small contingent of warriors — his own Southern French vassals — on Mount Zion near the Zion Gate.

It was at that time that Godfrey emerged as the leader of the Crusade because he displayed the greatest military prowess and prudence out of all the princes. It was those traits that compelled the majority of the army to recognize him as their true leader. Unlike Count Raymond, Godfrey never used any tool to win the people’s support, and he never bribed the other princes into recognizing him as their leader.

Since the Holy Lance scandal, Count Raymond lost a significant amount of support, if not all of it. The other princes abandoned him and joined forces with Godfrey. Even Raymond’s own Southern French vassals lost much respect for him. However, Raymond was their lord. He had, most likely, funded their participation in the Crusade. So, if they abandoned him, they risked losing all financial support and any lands they owned. For those reasons, they didn’t join forces with Godfrey.

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The siege began once the army settled in their positions. That was on June 7th, the day they arrived. Thomas Asbridge suggested that the crusaders possessed only one scaling ladder. But there was absolutely no way they would have been able to besiege the city with only one ladder. The Egyptian garrison would have effortlessly crushed their efforts and the First Crusade would have come to an abrupt end. The Franks must have had with them at least a few mangonels because they were somehow able to put up a strong resistance against the Egyptian garrison. Regardless, that did not improve their situation. A few mangonels and one, or two, scaling ladders were not going to ensure victory. The only things that were going to save the Franks were their faith and their native Christian allies.

Meanwhile, Iftikhar kept watch on the road to the west, the one that led up to the Jaffa Gate. He was confident in the city’s battlements, the food provisions it offered, and in his garrison. But he hoped Al-Afdal would arrive soon with a relief force because Iftikhar did not know how long he was able to hold out against the Franks.

As the days went by, the crusaders began to face serious problems. Their food and water supplies grew short. There was no freshwater nearby because all of the wells had been poisoned. The only source of fresh water nearby was in the pool of Siloam. But that was located directly below the south wall. The Franks did not venture near there because of the Muslim archers who guarded that wall. Thanks to native Christian intelligence, the Franks learnt of streams that ran through the Judean landscape further away from the city. That source of water was the Franks’ only saving grace.

“During the siege, we suffered so badly from thirst that we sewed up the skins of oxen and buffaloes, and we used to carry water in them for the distance of six miles,” wrote Fulcher of Chartres.

The Franks were greatly relieved to know there was water somewhere, but they could not escape Iftikhar’s watchful eye. When Iftikhar learnt what they were up to, he sent a small force after them. “The Saracens used to lie in wait for our men by every spring and pool where they killed them and cut them to pieces,” Fulcher wrote. No doubt, several, if not hundreds, of pilgrims and soldiers died at the hands of the Muslims while fulfilling their most basic need: drinking water. The crusaders at that point knew their expedition was on the brink of destruction. If they didn’t take Jerusalem soon, they would all be annihilated.

Sources Used:

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

Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades: The First Crusade. Vol.1. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Ed. Tyerman, Christopher. Chronicles of the First Crusade. Penguin Classics; London; New York; Penguin Classics, 2012.

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