The First Crusade part II: The arrival of the Main Crusaders

To Constantinople

The main body of the First Crusade began to depart in mid-August 1096, just as the pope had requested. The plan was for the various armies to make their way to Constantinople, where they would combine their forces with the Byzantines for the march east. Among the greater lords was Godfrey of Bouillon, a member of the family of the counts of Boulogne. Godfrey was a second son, yet one with substantial resources. Henry IV had made him Duke of Lower Lorraine in 1087, and he had worked hard to consolidate and expand his other holdings. Once he took the cross, however, his efforts were transformed from consolidation to liquidation. To raise the sums necessary to transport himself, his brother Baldwin of Boulogne, and a sizable retinue of knights to the East, Godfrey sold off a number of properties and settled many ongoing disputes to his disadvantage. Although he made considerable financial sacrifice, Godfrey clearly planned to come home after the
crusade. He did not relinquish his claim to Lower Lorraine, nor to a nucleus of other rights and properties with which he could rebuild power upon his return. He traveled to Constantinople via Hungary. King Colman had already had his fill of crusaders destructively crossing his lands, but Godfrey gave over his brother Baldwin as hostage for his army’s good conduct. His troops made their way in an orderly manner to Constantinople, where they arrived on December 23, 1096.

The emperor’s oath

Godfrey was not the first crusader to make it to the great city. Hugh of Vermandois, the brother of the king of France, left Europe at the same time but took a more direct route and a much smaller force. For Emperor Alexius, the crusade presented both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, he was pleased that his request for aid had met with such success. Thousands of Christian soldiers were now mobilized to fight the enemies of Byzantium. On the other hand, these Western barbarians were not altogether trustworthy. He was understandably concerned that the empire not exchange a Muslim enemy for a Christian one. When Hugh arrived, his men camped in the suburbs, while he was invited to the marvelously rich imperial palace in the city. There, Alexius engaged in the time-honored Byzantine practice of overawing foreigners with the fabulous wealth of the ancient empire. Hugh was impressed but not distracted. Like other crusade leaders, he was curious about the role the emperor planned to play in the expedition. Alexius bestowed rich gifts on Hugh and professed his desire to add imperial forces to the crusade’s numbers and to lead personally the armies against the infidel. Before he transported foreign armies across the Bosporus, though, Alexius felt only justified in asking them to show their good faith. He politely requested that Hugh swear an oath that any lands the crusade should capture that had previously belonged to the
empire should immediately be returned to the emperor. He also asked for an oath of loyalty to himself while the crusade remained in his domains. Since the crusaders had never planned to go beyond the far-flung borders of the old Roman Empire, this oath would effectively give all conquests to Alexius. Hugh stalled, not certain what other magnates had planned and not wanting to go out on a limb himself. In the meantime, the emperor kept him in sumptuous luxury in the city but refused to allow him to return to his troops. Under great pressure, Hugh at last relented and took the emperor’s oath.


Godfrey and the Emperor Alexius

Shortly after Godfrey arrived in Constantinople’s suburbs, he received a similar invitation to the palace of the emperor. From Hugh, Godfrey knew the emperor’s intentions, and he did not much care for the particulars of the oath. He declined the invitation, but the emperor was not so easily put off. Alexius sent word that he would not transport Godfrey’s army across the Bosporus until Godfrey had sworn loyalty and given his word that reconquered territories would not be stolen from the Roman Empire. When Godfrey remained aloof, the emperor cut off provisions to his army. In retaliation, the crusaders pillaged the suburbs, forcing Alexius to reopen the markets. For three
months, the army stubbornly waited, all the while demanding to be taken to Asia. Exasperated, Godfrey finally ordered his troops to attack Constantinople itself. In January 1097, the crusaders assaulted the mammoth Theodosian land walls near the imperial palace of Blachernae. Godfrey’s troops, however, were far too meager to seriously threaten the largest and best defended city in the
Western world. In retaliation, the emperor ordered a sortie of imperial soldiers to attack the crusaders. After his forces were roughly pushed back from the walls, Godfrey at last decided to come to terms. On January 20, he took an oath to Alexius and he and his men were promptly transported across the Bosporus.

Bohemond of Taranto

The forty-year-old Bohemond of Taranto got a later start than Godfrey. Bohemond was the son of the Norman leader Robert Guiscard. Before his death in 1085, Guiscard had left his lands east of the Adriatic Sea to Bohemond, and those to the west in southern Italy to his younger son, Roger. In 1082, that seemed a fair division, given that Robert and Bohemond had captured Durazzo and were in the process of the conquest of Greece. But by 1085 an allied force of Byzantines and Venetians had erased most of the Norman gains just before Robert Guiscard himself died of plague. Bohemond was left with practically nothing. Since then, he had managed to cobble together a lordship for himself in southern Italy, but it was not impressive. More than any other crusading leader, Bohemond was ambitious for personal gain. He had once believed that he would rule in Thessalonica or perhaps even Constantinople. Although his hopes had been dashed, he still looked to the east as an opportunity for power and wealth. For the Byzantines, Bohemond seemed to present the most dire threat. Because Bohemond was a crusader, Alexius was obliged to make smooth his trip from Durazzo to Constantinople, a journey that Bohemond had fought his way across a little more than a decade earlier. The Byzantine citizens along the via Egnatia, the old Roman road that led to the eastern capital, could not help but look on the hated Normans with suspicion and dread. Bohemond, however, had his eyes on greater things. He carefully monitored his men, making certain that they were on their best behavior. He wanted to make clear to the emperor that his crusading army was no threat at all to the Byzantine Empire.

Bohemond took the the oath

Bohemond arrived at Constantinople in early April 1097, not long after Godfrey’s forces had been ferried across the straits. The Norman leader gratefully accepted the emperor’s invitation to meet with him in the palace and listened intently when Alexius asked him to swear the same oath that Hugh and Godfrey had already sworn. From the emperor’s perspective, the timing of the crusading leaders’ arrival at Constantinople could not have been better. One by one, he was able to negotiate with each of them in isolation. As one leader agreed to take the oath, it made it more difficult for the next leader to refuse. Bohemond was not opposed to taking the oath in any event. It seems likely that the Norman prince suggested that Alexius appoint him commander in chief of the imperial forces in Asia, something that would have given Bohemond effective control over the entire enterprise. But Alexius was not willing to go that far in this friendly reconciliation. Instead, he replied cordially and in a noncommittal fashion, and Bohemond took the oath. His troops were then taken across the Bosporus to join the other crusaders assembling in Asia Minor.

Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse

By far the most powerful magnate to take up the cross was Raymond, Count of Toulouse. This fifty-five-year-old warrior had spent most of his life extending his power over thirteen counties in southern France—almost the entire region. His wealth, lands, and armies were greater than those of most kings, including the king of France. Moved by the preaching of the crusade, Raymond decided to finish his life in the service of God. He divested himself of all of his properties, giving them to his son, and with his wife prepared for the departure east. Raymond was among the first nobles to take the cross; indeed, he was probably informed of the crusade by Urban II before the Council of Clermont. It was probably the pope’s desire that Raymond serve as a commander in chief, or at least principal leader, on the holy enterprise. To signify this, Urban appointed Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy, as papal legate to the crusade and instructed him to accompany the army of Raymond. It was a great army, far larger than any other single lord could muster. Raymond left in October 1096, but he had a difficult journey through the Veneto and Dalmatia before arriving in Durazzo. For the remainder of his journey, he was given a Byzantine escort, whose mission it was to protect the local population from his army. There was more than one skirmish between the escorts and crusaders,
and some pillaging did occur. At last, Raymond arrived at Constantinople on April 21, 1097.

Raymond and the Emperor, crossing the Bosporus

By now, Raymond had heard of the progress of the other crusading lords and was aware of the oath that they had sworn to the emperor. He probably also heard of Bohemond’s attempt to take control of the crusade. Raymond was not like the other crusade leaders. More mature and powerful, the count of Toulouse would not so easily be manipulated by this cunning emperor. When asked to take the oath, Raymond responded that he had come to serve God; he would not take another as his lord. The other crusading magnates across the Bosporus urged Raymond to relent so that they could get under way. He refused. Raymond clearly saw himself as the leader of the Latin (i.e., Catholic) forces. He did not want to be forced to accept Bohemond as commander in chief if Alexius decided to appoint him as such. Instead, Raymond proposed that if the emperor himself would take the cross and command the crusade, then he would gladly take his oath. Alexius replied that nothing would make him happier, but that he could not leave Constantinople at present. In the end, a compromise was reached. Raymond swore to respect the property and person of the emperor, a lukewarm oath not uncommon in southern France. With that, Raymond and his forces were transported across the Bosporus. The crusading army, what Riley-Smith has called the “second wave,” was assembled.


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