Godfrey De Bouillon, the hero of the first crusade, born in South Brabant about 1060, died in Jerusalem, July 18, 1100. He was the son of Eustace II. of Boulogne, brother-in-law to Edward the Confessor. In 1076 he succeeded his maternal uncle, Godfrey the Humpbacked, duke of Lower Lorraine, in a part of his possessions. He espoused the cause of the emperor Henry IV. in the memorable struggle with Pope Gregory VII., slew the rival emperor Rudolph of Swabia in the battle of Molsen (1080), and a few years later planted Henry's banner on the walls of Rome, which he was the first to scale. In reward for these services he became duke of Lower Lorraine. The idea, however, that he had committed sacrilege by violating the city of St. Peter sat heavy on his soul. As soon as the crusade was proclaimed, he mortgaged his lands to the bishop of Liege, in order to procure funds for the enterprise, and set out in the spring of 1096, with his brothers Eustace and Baldwin, for the Holy Land, at the head of 70,000 foot and 10,000 horse, French, German, and Lorrainers. Godfrey, who belonged to both the French and German nations, and spoke both tongues with ease, soon became the virtual leader of the whole vast expedition. (See Crusades.) He was not tall, but his strength was prodigious.
It is said that with one blow of his sword he clove asunder a horseman from head to saddle, and with one back stroke would cut off" an ox's or camel's head. When in Asia, having one day lost his way, he found one of his companions in a cavern engaged with a bear; he drew the beast's rage upon himself, and slew it, but the serious bites he received kept him long in his bed. Alexis Comnenus agreeing to provide the western army with supplies on condition that the crusaders would expel the Turks from his dominions, Godfrey conquered Nicaea and in 1098 Antioch, where his soldiers were short of provisions, the Greek emperor having failed to keep his promise. They regained their courage on the supposed discovery of the lance which pierced the side of the Saviour on the cross; and after a siege of 38 days, Godfrey, with only 20,000 men remaining of his army, captured Jerusalem, July 15, 1099. He tried, but in vain, to restrain the excesses of his soldiers, and a fearful massacre ensued. Elected king, he refused to assume a royal crown on the spot where the Saviour had been crowned with thorns, and, accepting only the title of duke and administrator of the Holy Sepulchre, surrendered to the patriarch the kingdom of Jerusalem, while he watched over the defence of the city, which was threatened by a vast Egyptian army.
Godfrey soon died, probably of care and anxiety, after having founded a monastery in the valley of Jehoshaphat. He was buried on Calvary, and was succeeded by his brother Baldwin I., who assumed the title of king of Jerusalem. Godfrey's exploits have been celebrated by Tasso.