Baldwin I of Jerusalem: Early Life, First Crusade, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Reign, & Death
Baldwin I of Jerusalem was one of the most remarkable figures of the First Crusade. Yet, many would agree he is one of the most overshadowed crusaders, often pushed into the background for his more famous brothers, Eustace III of Boulogne and Godfrey of Bouillon.
As a medieval ruler and a devout Catholic, Baldwin helped stabilize the religious landscape of the Holy land and ultimately earned the reverence and affection of many Muslims both in his days and in present-day. Without the brilliant mind of Baldwin I, the city of Jerusalem would never have risen to the heights it did at the time of his death in 1118.
Originally known as Baldwin of Boulogne, this king of Jerusalem etched his name in the history of crusades by becoming the head of the first Crusader state of Edessa (present-day Şanlıurfa, Turkey). For eighteen years, he was up against overwhelming oppositions from Muslim-dominated cities like Damascus and Cairo, yet he managed to rise above the waves and preserve the Kingdom of Jerusalem, keeping it from the reach of the Muslims throughout his reign.
Born as the youngest son of Eustace II of Boulogne and Ida of Bouillon, Baldwin’s astounding personality forged a difficult but rewarding path for him. As could be expected of many youngsters in his era, the young Baldwin originally wanted to be a priest or a member of the clergy. But fate had different plans for him.
While at the seminary, Baldwin realized he was not called for a priestly life. He abandoned that dream and birthed another one: He craved for the more exciting life of a knight and signed up for it.
While living in Normandy, Baldwin married Godehilde (or Godvere) of Tosny. Godehilde’s father was the charismatic Raoul II of Tosby, a nobleman man known around Normandy and beyond. According to historical accounts, Baldwin and his wife lived in the court of his older brother, Eustace III of Boulogne, but often paid visits to Godehilde’s family in Northern France.
Around 1097, Godehilde died after suffering as short illness. Historians believe Godehilde and Baldwin might have had children but they did not survive to adulthood.
In order to preserve his rule in Edessa, Baldwin married Arda, whose father was a noble man named Tathoul of Marush. It is alleged that Arda’s father assured Baldwin a dowry of about 60,000 pieces of gold and silver but was only able to provide 7,000.
When Arda was unable to produce an offspring after a while, Baldwin forced her into a convent in Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards, Baldwin set his sights on Adelaide del Vasto, a well-to-do widow of Roger I of Sicily, reputed as the last great leader of the Normans.
Historians seem to agree that Baldwin was never in love with any of his wives. He only used them as a pawn in his political gimmicks.
There are no records of any known children of Baldwin. It is widely believed that the remarkable warrior of the First Crusade died childless.
Leadership role in the First Crusade
By the end of the 11th century the Muslims had taken over Jerusalem and in some way hampered the pilgrimages of Christians to the Holy Land. Worse still, the Seljuk Turks had threatened to invade the Byzantine Empire and seize the prized capital of the empire, Constantinople.
While this was happening. the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Urban II, was finishing off his visits to France and Italy. He decided to crown these tours with a meeting in Piacenza and Lombardy (both cities in Italy).
At the council, urgent request for military support was made by Alexius I Komnenos, ruler of the Byzantine Empire. Around this time, most of Asia Minor had began falling into the hands of the Seljuks.
In November, 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade by urging Christians across Europe to rise up and fight against the Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land.
The Pope also assured the crusaders that God will forgive all their sins and grant them eternal glory if they endeavor to join the crusade.
Inspired by the message of Urban II, Baldwin took up the Cross and accompanied his older brothers – Godfrey and Eustace III – to the First Crusade.
They departed Europe on August 15, 1069 and arrived in Constantinople on December 23, 1069. There, the Eastern Roman Emperor Alexios I was able to get the leaders of the Crusaders to swear fealty to him. It was also agreed that the Crusaders would return whatever captured territories from the Muslims (i.e. Seljuk Turks) to the Byzantine Empire.
Reasons why Baldwin took part in the First Crusade
He was accompanied by his wife and young children. This indicated his desire to remain in the East permanently. There was nothing major back home that would tempt him to return. His brother, Godfrey, had mortgaged a significant portion of his estates and domains in order to fund the military campaigns in the Holy Land.
Baldwin and Tancred’s military expeditions in Cilicia
About six months after arriving in Constantinople, the Crusaders were able to defeat Kilij Arslan, the Seljuk Sultan of Rum, in the Battle of Dorylaeum on July 1, 1097. Taking place near the city of Dorylaeum (near the city of Eskişehir, Turkey), the Crusaders fielded 4000 men against Arslan’s 3000.
After the victory at Dorylaeum, Baldwin and a Norman companion called Tancred, the great-grandson of Norman lord Tancred of Hauteville, conducted military expeditions in Cilicia in southern Anatolia (present day Turkey). There, Baldwin received tremendous support from the local Armenians. The two men’s relationship fractured over disagreement about the capture of Tarsus.
How Baldwin established the County of Edessa, the first Crusader state
Baldwin swerved off the path of the crusade and traveled towards the east to Mesopotamia. Contrarily, the main crusader army journeyed toward Antioch.
En route to Mesopotamia, Baldwin accepted an invitation to visit the Armenian city of Edessa (now Urfa in Turkey), a Byzantine city located beyond the Euphrates River. There, he built a friendship with Thoros II, the ruler of Edessa, who later adopted Baldwin as his son and heir.
Thoros’ invitation was borne out of fear as the inhabitants of the city dreaded the invasion of the Turks. Thoros had hoped that if Baldwin’s relocated to Edessa, the latter would help fight against the Seljuks if the need arose.
Baldwin honored an invitation from Thoros of Edessa to help in defending the city from the Seljuks. He first convinced the Greek Orthodox ruler to adopt him as his son and heir. He later went on to capitalize on the protests (mainly from the Armenian sections, i.e. Monophysite, of the city) against Thoros and took control of the city. On March 9, Thoros and his wife were assassinated by enraged Armenians as he tried to flee the city.
Baldwin would then go on to establish the first Crusader state, the County of Edessa, on March 10. Per the oath that Baldwin and the Crusaders swore to Alexius, the city of Edessa should have returned to the Byzantines; however, Baldwin kept the city.
Although Baldwin was able to expand the County of Edessa during his reign from 1098 to 1100, his discriminatory policies against the locals made him a bit unpopular. There were even some assassination plots made against him.
Importance of Edessa during the First Crusade
The city of Edessa was an eye candy for many warlords. First of all, it was a very wealthy city and was strategically important. The fortress county of Edessa offered protection to the crusader state of Antioch and granted the crusaders the ability to access Jazeera and other Muslim territories. Legend holds that Baldwin helped Antioch, i.e. during the 8-month Siege of Antioch, with much of Edessa’s resources.
Those resources were crucial in enabling the Crusaders capture Antioch, which became the second Crusader state, the Principality of Antioch. Bohemond of Taranto, the uncle of Tancred, was made the principality’s first prince.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem
Eventually in 1099, the Christian crusaders succeeded in taking back Jerusalem from the Turks. They proposed that Raymond of Toulouse, the nobleman who had captained the army, be crowned king of Jerusalem.
Raymond rejected the proposal which was later passed on to Godfrey of Bouillon, who had fought courageously in the sieges of Nicaea, Dorylaeum and Antioch.
Although Godfrey agreed to rule, he declined the title of king, preferring instead to be named “Advocatus sancti Sepulchri” (Protector of the Holy Sepulcher). It is alleged that his refusal of the title of king arose from a deep religious loyalty towards Jesus. Why wear a gold crown when the master had worn a crown of thorns?
Many years later, a papal legate in the form of Daimbert, Pisa’s archbishop, arrived in Jerusalem with a message from the pope. Without mincing words, he proclaimed that Jerusalem was going to be ruled by the Church. Godfrey hence was demoted as Daimbert’s vassal. Godfrey’s displeasure about this change in status led to a fight for control of the city of Jerusalem that would continue through the years.
Reign of Baldwin I of Jerusalem
In 1100, Godfrey died unexpectedly. Baldwin was requested by the nobles to replace his deceased brother as Protector of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
One year after assuming this title, Baldwin led another war in the south shortly after fighting off the Egyptian Fātimids.
As a reward for his incredible valor, the title of king was bestowed upon him by Daimbert. He proceeded to anoint Baldwin at his coronation in Bethlehem on December 25, 1101 (though another record shows 1100).
In a quest to expand the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Baldwin took over the coastal ports between 1101 and 1110. He conquered Caesarea, Acre, Tripoli, Beirut and Sidon in that order.
It is worth noting that the nature of Baldwin’s policies hinted at his farsightedness, especially regarding religion. His administration was notable for its religious freedom that allowed the various Christian groups such as the Armenians and Maronites and even the Muslims to practice their faith freely.
Baldwin not only preached tolerance and respect for the different religions, he put his own ideals to good practice. For instance, he ensured that, like the churches, the mosques were also protected.
Baldwin had zero tolerance for oppression, especially of the minority religious groups. He was smart enough to know that his kingdom would thrive in the light of his own loyalty and respect for his subjects. Disloyalty on his part could very well spell doom for him if his own subjects returned the favor and betrayed him to his foes.
In addition to his glorious legacy, Baldwin, in 1115, supervised the construction of the Castle Of Montreal and set about creating a strong monarchy. He took steps to make sure that the Kingdom had the military strength needed to thrive even in the face of the fiercest opposition.
Another highlight of Baldwin’s reign was his ability to create an impressive regional force from the originally small military base of Jerusalem.
There are those who feel that Baldwin’s establishment of the County of Edessa was a means to establish himself. But even if that were true, Baldwin’s situation would not be unique to him. It was quite normal for the First Crusaders or medieval knights to be driven by the desire to please God and a hunger for secular success.
How did Baldwin I die?
Baldwin died on 2 April, 1118 at the town of El’ Arish in present day North Sinai Governorate of Egypt. The Crusader king was buried in the Calvary Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre next to his brother Godfrey of Bouillon.
At the time of his death, Baldwin had turned the kingdom of Jerusalem into one of the most powerful cities in the region. Quite certainly, Baldwin deserves as much recognition on the pages of the history as has been given to other veterans of the crusades.
For starters, Baldwin founded the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This may surprise many of our readers as his brother, Godfrey, is most often credited with the founding of the kingdom. This is partly true.
However, at the time of Godfrey’s death, Jerusalem was still at its budding stages and scarcely looked like a kingdom. During his 18-year reign, Baldwin was able to cleverly blend diplomacy and warfare to make the city one of the most dynamic economies of his day. Jerusalem became a more compact Kingdom when Baldwin allied with Italian trading cities like Genoa.
His County of Edessa was inherited by his cousin Baldwin of Bourcq in 1100. Similarly, upon his death in 1118, his cousin inherited his throne in Jerusalem. Baldwin II’s reign lasted from 1118 to 1131. And upon his death in 1131, he was in turn succeeded by his daughter Melisende and her husband Fulk the Younger.