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The Crusaders Lay Siege to Jerusalem: June 7, 1099

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations, Part I.

Meanwhile, a more organized force was gathering for the long march to the Holy Land. Thousands of warriors and their leaders had made a solemn vow to fight until Jerusalem was taken. Sewing a red cross to the front of their cloaks, these warriors came to be called “crusaders” (from the Latin word crux, meaning “cross.”) They were engaged, they believed, in a holy task. They were “taking up the cross.”

Three crusader armies eventually converged on Constantinople: the men of the Rhineland under Godfrey of Bouillon and his brother Baldwin; the men of southern France under Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Count Raymond of Toulouse; and the men of northern Europe, joining the Normans of the heel of Italy, led by Count Bohemond of Taranto.

“Four Leaders of the First Crusade” by Gustave Doré
“Four Leaders of the First Crusade” by Gustave Doré

The Christian forces seemed formidable to their Turkish foes. The knights wore steel helmets and covered themselves in long coats of chain mail. An Arab or Turkish warrior wore a tunic of mail, but only a soft head covering and leather leggings. The Christian warriors were trained to make massed charges with their heavy cavalry. They advanced like a huge wall of iron with lances at rest and supported by infantry. But Arabic and Turkish warriors excelled as light cavalry; they were mobile and deadly in a cut-and-turn technique.

After receiving oaths of loyalty from the crusader leaders, the Byzantine emperor hastily sent the “Frankish” force (as the Byzantines called them) off to Asia Minor, where they were lucky enough to find the Muslims so distracted by local rivalries and religious differences that they were unable to resist the invaders effectively. After taking the great city of Antioch in Syria, the crusaders moved against Jerusalem. In June 1099, after three years on their armed pilgrimage, the crusaders finally came in sight of the towers of Jerusalem. Only one in five of their number had survived the trip. Beholding the holy city, the crusaders knelt and wept.

On June 7, 1099, the crusaders laid siege to Jerusalem, a major fortress defended by walls and towers. The final assault broke through the defenses on July 15, and the army poured into the city. In the frenzy of attack, the crusaders slaughtered defenders and ordinary citizens alike. At dawn, having conquered the city, the crusaders wept with gratitude for survival—and with shame for their atrocities. The next day, July 16, 1099, the exhausted crusaders trooped into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks to God for their victory and pray forgiveness for their sins.

Godfrey of Bouillon made lord of Jerusalem
Godfrey of Bouillon made lord of Jerusalem

The victorious crusaders, amid great rejoicing, set up a Christian feudal kingdom in Jerusalem. They offered the crown first to Raymond of Toulouse, who had commanded the siege of Jerusalem, but he refused to be “a king in Christ’s kingdom.” Godfrey of Bouillon accepted the crown but asked to be called Prince of Jerusalem and Duke of the Holy Sepulchre, not king.

Godfrey fell ill and died in 1100, after reigning only a few months. His brother, Baldwin, count of Edessa and ruler of Syria (two lands the crusaders had conquered on their way to Jerusalem), was asked to take his brother’s throne in Jerusalem. Baldwin did not share his brother’s humility and was crowned king, not prince, of Jerusalem in 1100. Under his 18-year rule, the kingdom was secure and prosperous.

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