With Jerusalem conquered and slowly being cleaned up from the stench and disease of rotting body parts, the big question was who should become its ruler.
The Princes’ Crusade set out with a number of ambitious aristocrats, but by three years later, the ranks had thinned. The Duke of Normandy, Count of Flanders and Count of Boulogne all seemed content with their original lands and titles back home, and the French King’s brother had gone home. There were five remaining noblemen, and two had already seized territory as Count of Edessa and Prince of Antioch.
So the last three contenders were Raymond Count of Toulouse, who had a lovely patrimony back in southern France but was determined to become the ruler of something in the Holy Land; Godfrey of Bouillon—brother to Count of Edessa and Count of Boulogne, himself (insecurely) Duke of Lorraine but definitely still in the hunt for more titles; and Tancred, nephew of the new Prince of Antioch and grandson of the Norman who conquered southern Italy.
Tancred was hotly ambitious but lower in status, so he didn’t really have a chance at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was considered to be the center of the world; it was also where Christ would return. It was even the principle city of the region in secular terms, since Tel Aviv didn’t exist and Jaffa was just a small port. But overall, it was the Holy City, center of the world.
On July 22, they held a council at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Raymond of Toulouse stated that he could not be King in a city where Jesus had worn a crown of thorns. It is almost certain that he hoped the other princes would insist on electing him anyway; Bohemund had pulled a similar stunt at Antioch, allowing them to reject him and then come back in a panic and “force” to him lead. But instead, Godfrey of Bouillon quickly agreed that it would be a really impious act to be king in the city where etc., so he offered to be an uncrowned ruler. The others in the council just as quickly accepted his offer.
Raymond felt that the council had been rigged by the other Normans. This time, the breach between the disappointed prince and the successful one could not be bridged. Raymond pulled his forces away from Jerusalem and began to act independently. When Raymond’s army did not coordinate with the others, their forces were cut in half. They had already left knights behind in Cilicia, Edessa, and Antioch. The remaining knights had to guard Jerusalem and be prepared to assault other Muslim-held cities, which meant every town except the Antioch and Jerusalem: Jaffa, Ascalon, Acre, Tyre, Sidon… There were just not enough boots on the ground.
The council had to determine more feudal hierarchy, creating and assigning titles. Tancred was made Prince of Galilee, so that he was responsible for holding the land between Antioch and Jerusalem. Other knights were made Counts of Haifa, Nazareth, and Beirut, assigned to be vassals to Tancred. Even smaller towns and regions were assigned to be under them. In this way, the Crusaders could divide governing, taxation, and defense as efficiently as they knew how.
We usually remember Godfrey as King Godfrey of Jerusalem, even though he turned down the title and remained, officially, only a Duke (“dux”). He acted as a king, trying to mediate disputes and use the collective knights and infantry to extend their territory. His first challenge came quickly as the Fatimids rode in force to take back Jerusalem. Jerusalem was captured on July 15, and by August 10, Godfrey was leading the troops southward to meet the Fatimids in the desert.
During those few short weeks, a monk had discovered a fragment of the True Cross. Our modern minds find this very hard to believe; but it only matters to the story that everyone at the time believed it. The True Cross came to have its own cult, in a sense, people whose faith largely centered around knowing that the relic was here and could be carried with the troops or in procession to church before a battle. In this case, both the True Cross and the Holy Lance of Antioch were carried by priests in front with the Crusade’s leaders. Reluctantly, Raymond of Toulouse came too.
Al-Afdal led the Fatimid army himself, and although numbers are uncertain, he probably had twice as many men as the Latins. His intent was a siege of Jerusalem, but the Crusaders met him outside Ascalon (modern Ashkelon). It’s hard to believe, but the Crusaders found the Fatimids and prepared an attack before Fatimid scouts had alerted al-Afdal. They forced a battle in the open fields, and in this first Battle of Ascalon, the Crusaders won relatively easily and very decisively. When al-Afdal fled, he left behind a lot of plunder for the knights to carry away. Ascalon itself refused to surrender, and the Crusaders had no will to batter it down.
Most of the leading knights now went home. They had vowed to go to Jerusalem, and they’d done it. The only leaders who stayed behind were the ones primarily interested in the new feudal structure of this hot, dry place: Tancred Prince of Galilee, Godfrey of Jerusalem, Bohemund Prince of Antioch, and Baldwin Count of Edessa. Many more unsung knights also went home, leaving a very small force to guard Jerusalem. Over the next year, a fresh wave of pilgrim knights helped build it up again, but from this time, Godfrey began finding his men often outnumbered.
Godfrey spent most of his time away from the city, staging battles and sieges of all the nearby coastal towns still ruled by Fatimid Muslims. But in June 1100, he became ill outside Caesarea and died.
Godfrey’s only heir was his younger brother in Edessa. So Baldwin left Edessa with his Armenian wife Arda, and came to Jerusalem. This time, he accepted a real coronation. On Christmas Day, 1100, he was crowned in Bethlehem.
A distant cousin of Godfrey and Baldwin, the younger Baldwin of Bourg, inherited the County of Edessa. He had been the older Baldwin’s right hand man, so he was well prepared to take over. He married a local girl, and soon after, new Crusaders arrived and included his best friend from home, Joscelin of Courtenay. Edessa’s power shifted from Count Baldwin and Sir Baldwin, to Count Baldwin II and Sir Joscelin. Count Baldwin II and the new King Baldwin of Jerusalem are both major players in the story going forward.