Godefroi de Bouillon

Bouillon Castle Entering across the stone bridge Looking up the side of the walls The rock face was cut away from the castle From the Austria Tower 75 metres above the river Templar helmet and shield Godefroi's farewell
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture The falconry exhibition Waiting his turn My better side Surprise The American Fish Eagle Every dollar bill should have one

Knight Crusader

17 September 2010

For four days I had been guiding two Canadians, Bruce and Tom, about the battlefields whilst they carried out a lot of research. On their last full day with me I said that I was intending to head to the Portes Ouvertes at the Abbey of Orval as there were very few opportunities for ordinary folks to actually visit the brewery.

Having finished our visit there I then wanted to go and visit the Castle at Bouillon, home of the man who retook Jerusalem in 1099 and nephew of Mathilde who was the lady who had her wedding ring returned by the fish at Orval, giving rise to legend of its foundation.

The castle is a real one, a château fort in French. It guards the north-south route between what used to be upper and lower Lotharingia (in France that would be Lorraine). So much so that the Americans during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 realised that a couple of anti-tank guns mounted in the castle would command the entire valley.

For five generations the Dukes of Ardenne lived here. The fifth Duke, Godefroi (Godfrey) sold his entire Duchy to Otbert, Bishop of Liège, in 1096 in order to pay for his place in the first Crusade. Although he had the option to buy back his estate Godefroi would never return.

Godefroi was born in 1060; the second son of Count Eustache II of Boulogne sur Mer and Ida of Lorraine. As a second son things did not look too favourable for the young Godefroi until his uncle the Duke of Lower Lorraine died childless, naming Godefroi as his heir.

In theory Godefroi should have inherited everything but Henry IV of Germany (and future Holy Roman Emperor) only allowed him to take possession of Bouillon and Antwerp. Godefroi proved to be a faithful servant to the Emperor throughout his battles with Pope Gregory VII.

He also had to contend with his irate aunt, because Mathilde of Tuscany was far from being some poor, romantic, recently bereaved country girl, which is what you might think reading the Orval legend.

In reality she was extremely powerful and extremely miffed that her husband had, according to her, cheated her out of her due inheritance.

Battles raged and it was only in 1087 that Godefroi was granted his entire duchy having proved his loyalty to Henry.

The First Crusade

Godefroi would have remained a backwoods duke if it were not for Pope Urban II's call in 1095 for a Crusade to reconquer Jerusalem.

Having sold off his lands, Godefroi set out in August 1096 with his two brothers, Eustache and Baudouin at the head of an army of Lorraine numbering, some say, 40,000 men.

There were a number of these Crusader armies led by some of the great noblemen of the time. Each had his own particular agenda. The most powerful of the leaders was Raymond IV of Toulouse (who had the great hero Tancrède amongst his knights).

Having taken Antioch in 1098 the leaders seemed unsure as to what their next step should be until Raymond was pushed by his own foot soldiers to get a move on and advance on Jerusalem. This he did, being swiftly followed by Godefroi.

The Crusaders arrived before Jerusalem in June 1099 and began preparing to assault its walls. On 14th July the assault on the city began and the following day Godefroi and his knights were the first to set foot inside Jerusalem.

Somebody had to govern and having refused to wear a crown in the city where Christ wore thorns, Godefroi was proposed a title suggesting that he would be the Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.

Of course all of these powerful European noblemen were looking to increase their own lands and power in the captured territory and Godefroi was forced to spend the next year battling as much with his fellow Christians as much as the supposed enemy.

In June 1100 Godefroi fell ill - rumours of poison swell the chronicles of the time. He died in Jerusalem on the 18th July and whilst the Patriarch Dagobert might well have had notions about taking power in the Pope's name, it was Godefroi's younger brother Baudouin who would be crowned by the very same Dagobert on the 25th December 1100. The first King of Jerusalem.


Meanwhile - back at the Castle

The Prince-Bishops of Liège would own the castle for the next six hundred years. In 1430 Count Everard III de la Marck was made governor and his family ruled in the Bishop's name. However, by the 15th Century the governors were also calling themselves the Duke's of Bouillon.

When Charlotte died childless in 1594 the estate went to her husband, Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne a Marshal of France, close friend of Henri IV and importantly for the time: a Protestant.

Henri went on to marry Elisabeth of Orange-Nassau and one of their children was the Marshal General of France, Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne after whom the citadelle in Arras is named.

The Duchy of Bouillon was invaded by Louis XIV in 1676 during his war with the young Dutch Republic and Bouillon became a French protectorate by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678.

(Charpentier wrote a Te Deum for the signing of the treaty. The prelude is better known to most people as the fanfare to the Eurovision Song Contest.)

With the coming of the French Revolution the Duchy was invaded and subsumed into the French Republic. Following Waterloo it was given to the Netherlands, who would lose it during the 1830 Belgian Revolution.

The castle's appearance was transformed by the French military architect Vauban to account for the increasing power of artillery and the Dutch also added refinements during their period.

Above all though the castle is remarkably well preserved perched high above the Semois river. To get in you have to cross over two bridges spanning great cuts made in the rock. At the far end of the 370 metre long castle the rock was again hewn away to separate the walls from the cliff.

An inscription above the entrance tower gives thanks to Louis XIV (Of France) for ensuring that the Tour d'Auvergne family remained masters of Bouillon.

The castle well was bored through the solid rock to the river 70 metres below.

There is a maze of tunnels and stairs to explore and we would have liked to have had more time to explore - Bruce would have liked to have had a better head for heights as well.

From the upper ramparts there are fabulous views over the Semois River - on which the French infantry, 20 km to the east, were massacred in August 1914.

In the Arsenal is Godefroi's room which again has been carved out of the rock face. Prussian troops used it as a hospital after the battle at nearby Sedan in 1870.

Outside on the main courtyard we watched a display of falconry given in French and Flemish. We were treated to a couple of owls, a peregrine falcon, a vulture and an American fish eagle.

A volunteer was required and Bruce was quite happy to volunteer: Tom.

Standing on a large plate with a tin pot on his head and a piece of meat in his gauntlet Tom was so certain that he was about to have the eagle launched at him that he only saw the buzzard swooping in from over the battlements at the last moment.

The highlight of his holiday.


Tom - Falconer by appointment

So I stand on the plate, right ?

So I stand on the plate, right ?

Everything is perfectly safe

Everything is perfectly safe

Incoming !

Incoming !

Now where are you goin' ?

Now where are you goin' ?

OK - so where's the bird ?

OK - so where's the bird ?


See also

Orval's brewery

Rail Day at Longueau

Vytautas's visit

Jon's 60th Birthday

Quend Plage

Anthony's visit