Story of the Crusades - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Holy City is Won

Jerusalem, through the clear atmosphere, rising out of the deep umbrageous valleys which surround it, is reflected in a fiery splendour in the morning sunlight.

Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!

FARRAR: Life of Christ.

Psalm cxxii.

It was with high hearts that the remnant of the crusading host, now much reduced, took the road to the Holy City, the end of all their endeavours. With little difficulty they made their way along the smiling plain of the River Orontes, and then keeping close to the coast line between the mountains of Libanus and the sea, passed through the famous cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Joppa.

From the last of these they turned inland, and taking possession of the little town of Ramleh, supposed to be the burial place of St George, the patron saint of England, the leaders held a council to consider their next movements.

Those who cared most for the mere worldly success of the undertaking were now strongly of opinion that they should leave Jerusalem untouched for the present, and attack the true centres of the power of Islam, Babylon and Alexandria. Others reminded these men of the real object of the Crusades, and asked scoffmgly how they hoped to seize great and populous cities if they could not first capture the little town of Jerusalem. The worldly-minded gave way, but consoled themselves by capturing villages and farms on the route of march. The rest, more serious minded, "set their faces steadfastly to go towards Jerusalem." "And those to whom the Lord's command was dearer than lust of gain, advanced with naked feet, sighing heavily for the disdain that the others showed for the Lord's command."

Whilst resting at Emmaus at nightfall of June 6, 1099, a little band of Christians living at Bethlehem crept into the camp and told the leaders a doleful story of the cruelty and oppression of Islam. The information that the birthplace of the Lord was near at hand quickened every pulse. Sleep was forgotten, and a hurried march begun which brought them in a few hours to the top of Mount Mizpeh, whence, with swelling hearts, they watched the sun rise upon the sacred walls of the Holy City.

"Jerusalem! Jerusalem!"

The cry, restrained and reverent, filled the morning air, as the great host fell prostrate and kissed the hallowed soil.

By its natural position the city was exceedingly difficult to take by assault, for it stood upon a rocky plateau, guarded by the two steep valleys of Kedron and Hinnon.

It was, moreover, defended by about forty thousand picked Saracen warriors—a band equal in number to that of the besiegers, but possessing far greater advantages as to position and supplies.

With the utmost confidence, however, the Crusaders took up their posts. Robert of Normandy being stationed on the north, Godfrey of Bouillon and Tancred on the west, while Count Raymond advanced to Mount Sion on the south.

It was clear from the first assault that they had undertaken no light task, and meantime the usual horrors of famine and thirst made their appearance in the camp. There was little shade in that region; the groves around had been cut down to provide wood for the " machines of war," and the chief water supply—a spring which bubbled up every other day—was soon choked by the corpses of men and beasts who had trodden one another down in the wild attempt to obtain drink.

The springs further off had all been poisoned by the Saracens, and when the supplies of fruit began to fail, it seemed as though the army would never possess the strength to attack the city again.

A still worse calamity was the quarrelling which now broke out again among the leaders. Tancred was bitterly censured for having set up his banner over the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, Raymond for having taken to himself the post of honour on the sacred Mount of Sion. The rank and file, following the example of their chiefs, gave themselves over to laxity, disobedience, and personal feuds.

Once again it was necessary to invigorate the faith of the Crusaders, and accordingly Peter the Hermit declared that the dead Adhemar had appeared to him with words of severe rebuke for the sins of the camp, and the promise that the city should fall if the army would march barefoot round it for the space of nine days. A council was summoned, at which the noble Tancred was the first to make up a long-standing quarrel with Count Raymond; a feeling of good-will and reconciliation was spread abroad; and it was determined to make a fresh attempt in a spirit of more fervid religious zeal.

On the 12th of July 1099, while the Saracens were setting up crucifixes upon the ramparts, and insulting their Christian foes by spitting and throwing mud upon them, a solemn procession, fully armed, singing psalms and litanies, made its way around the walls; and a sermon preached from the Mount of Olives by Arnulf, the future Bishop of Jerusalem, roused even the most despondent to do his best for the cause of God.

On the next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, assaults were made, but without much success. On the Friday the Crusaders, having been reminded that it was the day of the Lord's Passion and Death, came to the work with new vigour, "even the women and the children," writes the historian, "were eager to do their part on that field."

But when Count Raymond fought on the south of the city it seemed as though success was hopeless. His wooden tower, which protected the archers, was burnt by the throwing of flaming oil from the walls, and his men were driven into utter confusion. Suddenly, when retreat seemed inevitable, a marvellous portent was seen. On the Mount of Olives, on the further side of the city, appeared a knight in glittering armour, waving a flaming sword over Jerusalem. The rumour quickly spread that it was St George come to the aid of the Crusaders. "Deus vult! Deus vult!" they shouted, and in the vigour of their assault the outer wall was won.

The explanation of the occurrence was soon clear. At the further side of the city the stone-slingers of Godfrey of Boulogne had at length driven the Saracens from the ramparts. Seizing and lowering the drawbridge, and scrambling up the walls by scaling ladders, the Teuton host, headed by Bernard of St Valery, leapt upon the battlements. A certain unknown knight waved his sword in signal of victory from the top of Mount Olives, and this had been the sign which put new heart into Count Raymond's men.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Crusades by E. M. Wilmot-Buxton


At the very hour at which their Saviour breathed His dying words upon the Cross, the red-cross standard was first seen to float over the walls of the Holy City.

From the horrors of bloodshed that followed the capture of Jerusalem we can but turn away in disgust.

"Such a slaughter of pagan folk had never been seen or heard of; none know their number save God alone."

This wanton cruelty can indeed only be excused when we remember that it was the firm belief of those days that "whosoever killeth an infidel doeth God service."

After that scene of slaughter and violence the leaders of the Crusaders walked, bareheaded and barefooted, dressed in long white mantles marked with the red cross, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to offer thanks for their success. Amongst them stood Peter the Hermit, the real moving spirit of the Crusade, in spite of his mistaken zeal as a leader of men.

It is said that many of the Christian inhabitants of the city recognised him as the unknown pilgrim who had promised to rouse on their behalf the nations of the west, and they clung to his raiment with tears of gratitude. It is the last glimpse we have of that enthusiastic personality, and we may be content to leave him there, at the moment when his great aim had been accomplished.

A week later a meeting of the chieftains was called to elect a king of Jerusalem. None were eager to obtain a post of honour so difficult to maintain, and most were anxious to return to their own dominions. The crown was first offered to Robert of Normandy, who, "impelled by sloth or fear, refused it, and so aspersed his nobility with an indelible stain." So writes an English chronicler of his day, but it must be said in Robert's defence that, even as it was, he had tarried too long to make good his claim to the kingdom of England against his grasping brother Henry, and that his fair dukedom of Normandy stood in immediate peril from the same cause.

Finally, by universal consent, the crown fell to the lot of Godfrey of Boulogne, in many respects the noblest Crusader of them all. But he, with characteristic modesty, refused to wear a crown of gold in the place where his Lord had worn a crown of thorns, and so he was known only by the title of the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre. Some say that Count Raymond had previously been offered the position of king, and had refused to take it, hoping possibly that he might obtain the honour without the full responsibility. Ho ever this might be, we find him, on Godfrey's acceptance, ily retiring to the Tower of David, which stronghold had been seized from the Saracens by his men. At first he refused to give it up, and when forced to do so, declared with childish fury that he would go home at once.

Suddenly the intelligence that a vast army of Egyptians had gathered at Ascalon recalled men from such foolish bickerings, and united them once more for a time against the common foe. Although outnumbered by ten to one, the Crusaders were again victorious, for the enemy, according to the account of an eye-witness, seemed paralysed at the very sight of the Christians," not daring to rise up against us." But this victory only served to fan the flame of the constant feud between Godfrey and Raymond. The latter had calmly accepted the allegiance of the people of Ascalon on his own responsibility. Godfrey naturally claimed the city as part of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Rumour accuses Raymond of having given back the town to the Egyptians rather than let it pass into the hands of Godfrey. He was scarcely pacified with the governorship of Laodicea, which was handed over to him when the other chieftains returned to Europe. Of those who had so gallantly turned their faces towards the East, Godfrey and Tancred remained in Jerusalem, Bohemond was ruler of Antioch, Baldwin of Edessa, Raymond of Laodicea.

The reign of Godfrey, first King of Jerusalem in all but name, lasted for barely one year. Gentlest of all the Crusaders, save where the "infidels" were concerned, and noblest of the knights of the chivalry of his age, he lived long enough to win the respect, if not the affection, of even the Moslem population of his kingdom, and to settle the latter upon a system scarcely differing from that of a feudal over-lordship in France or England.

His end came after an expedition undertaken to aid Tancred further up the coast. As he returned, he ate some fruit at Jaffa sent him by the Saracen ruler of Caesarea. Immediately afterwards he was seized by sickness, and a rumour went round that the fruit had been poisoned. His one anxiety was now to return to the Holy City he had loved, and for which he had fought so well; and there he breathed his last in the July of 1100, and was laid to rest in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In spite of all the intrigues of the partisans of Bohemond, the ambitious ruler of Antioch, the followers of the late king would have none but Baldwin, his brother, as his successor. The latter, therefore, was brought from Edessa, and became the first king, in name as well as in deed, of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Let us now glance for a moment at the fate of some of those whose fortunes we have so far followed.

You will remember that among those who turned recreant before the siege of Antioch was Stephen of Blois, son-in-law of the Conqueror. When he returned to his wife Adela, she, with the blood of her father hot in her veins, bade him return and fulfil his oath. About the same time that he again turned his face to the East, a crowd of unruly Lombards, more eager for mere adventure than for the cause of God, set out for the Holy Land, and after a riotous sojourn at Constantinople, crossed the Bosphorus. There they were joined by Count Stephen, who begged the Emperor Alexios to furnish them with a guide to Jerusalem. The latter at once offered them Count Raymond, of stormy memory, who was staying at Constantinople at the time. With him came the news that Bohemond of Antioch, over confident, had fallen into an ambush whilst on a foraging expedition, and was a prisoner in the hands of the Saracens.

Association with Raymond for however brief a period most assuredly resulted in a quarrel, and consequently there was a sharp difference of opinion as to the most advantageous route.

The Lombards would go across Asia Minor, rescue Bohemond, and possibly attack Bagdad, the centre of Moslem rule; whilst Count Stephen wished to follow the original road by way of Antioch.

Raymond elected to side with the latter, and together they set off upon a journey in which they were harassed hour by hour by their foes. The Lombards left without a guide, decided to follow in the rear, and had decidedly the worst of it, many of them being cut down by the Turks, who lay in ambush along the road. An engagement with the latter went against the Christians, a panic ensued, and, in the midst of the confusion, Raymond and his men rode off, and returned by sea to Constantinople, leaving his companions to their fate. With the utmost difficulty the remnant of the followers of the unfortunate Stephen made their way in the same direction.

After the usual recriminations were over, Count Raymond found himself next involved with Duke William of Aquitaine, who, with a great rabble of followers, had been stirred up by the news of the taking of Jerusalem, to seek high adventure in that quarter for himself. Other smaller expeditions followed, and setting off from Constantinople, fell straight into the hands of the Turks, who beset the track to the Holy Land. Of all these so-called Crusaders, barely one thousand survived to reach Antioch in the spring of 1102, and to make their way to Jerusalem.

Meantime Count Bohemond, having escaped from his two years' captivity, had not only resumed his position at Antioch, but had seized upon Raymond's territory of Laodicea as well. He was now the open and declared foe of Alexios of Constantinople, who had done his best to get the count into his hands by paying a huge ransom —a ransom which Bohemond himself had outbidden, and so won his freedom. Leaving Tancred to rule for him in Antioch, Bohemond now sailed to France, married the daughter of Philip I., with whose assistance he invaded the territory of the Emperor with a large army. Alexios, as usual, gave in and bribed him into a pretence of alliance, but a year later, when Bohemond had returned to Italy to gather fresh forces, death put an end to his fiery hopes and ambitions.

Meanwhile, when Bohemond on his escape was once more ruler of Antioch, Raymond, driven from Laodicea, had, as we have seen, joined the so-called "Aquitainian Crusade" for a time, and then set himself to win new territory by besieging the town of Tripoli. It is much to his credit that though, as his historian puts it, "he might have lived in abundance in his own land," he never ceased to fight while there was land to be won for Christendom. It is difficult, however, to avoid the suspicion that he was largely influenced by desire to serve his own personal ambitious ends. With but three hundred companions, Raymond attempted to carry on the siege of Tripoli; and there, an old and worn-out man, he died by the shores on which he had fought for the past six years.

The unfortunate Stephen of Blois had, meanwhile, wiped off the stain of desertion by his death in battle on the side of King Baldwin, against the Saracens; and Tancred, after holding Antioch for three years subsequent to the death of Bohemond, as regent for his little son, died of a wound received in a conflict with the Moslem foe.

Thus, by the year 1112, the only survivor in the East of that gallant band of crusading chieftains was Baldwin, brother of Godfrey, now King of Jerusalem.

In his reign were firmly established those great Orders of Knighthood, the Knights Templars and the Hospitallers, and the whole "Kingdom of Jerusalem" was settled upon a stronger basis—a strength, however, which was more apparent than real. Baldwin was a wise and skilful ruler, showing little of that mean and treacherous spirit which had distinguished his earlier career. He died in 1118, after a reign of seventeen years.