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The army of Godfrey of Bouillon, 1096-1099 : Structure and dynamics of a contingent on the First Crusade

The army of Godfrey of Bouillon, 1096-1099 : Structure and dynamics of a contingent on the First Crusade

By Alan V. Murray

Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, Vol.70 No.2 (1992)

Introduction: The army led in the First Crusade by Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lotharingia, set off on its journey to the Holy Land about the middle of August 1096. It marched up the Rhine, down the Danube and through the Balkans, arriving at Constantinople on 23 December. Only at this point did the army encounter other groups which had travelled through Illyria or over the Adriatic from Italy, as well as those crusaders traditionally, if somewhat inaccurately referred to as the ‘People’s Crusade’, who had arrived the previous summer and remained in Asia Minor since their defeat at the hands of the Turks at Nicaea on 21 October. From this point these diverse groups constituted a united Frankish army, but nevertheless each of the original contingents, usually described as exercitus by the writers who wrote about the crusade, clearly retained its separate identity within it, and continued to function as the basic military unit in battle and on the march at least until the capture of Jerusalem in the summer of 1099.

Historians have traditionally stressed the composition of these contingents as an important factor in determining the character of the nobilities of the four crusader states subsequently established in Syria and Palestine. However the composition of only two contingents has been discussed in any detail, those of the Normans of Normandy, led by their duke, Robert, and the Normans of Southern Italy, led by Bohemund and his nephew Tancred. The army led by Godfrey has by contrast been surprisingly neglected considering how it is generally assumed to have contributed to the nobility of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Leaving aside the vexed question of numbers, the aim of this essay is to examine the composition of this army, in the first instance by identifying as many of its participants as possible, and discussing their relationship to Godfrey and to one another. It also examines those political factors which may have influenced participation in the crusade, and conversely, non-participation, and goes on to discuss how the composition and structure of this army developed in the course of its march from Western Europe to Palestine.

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