William of Tyre, from A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea

[Click on image to enlarge] William, archbishop of Tyre (c. 1130–1184 or 1185), wrote the major Latin source for later Western histories of the Crusades, describing events up to the time of Saladin's reconquest of Jerusalem from the Christians (1187). Born in the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem and educated both in the Middle East (the conquest of Jerusalem had attracted many Western scholars to the city) and in the West, William was a remarkable linguist. In addition to Latin, he knew French, Arabic, and Greek. Deeply involved in the political and ecclesiastical affairs of the Christian kingdoms established in the Middle East after the First Crusade, in writing his history William collected and drew upon earlier accounts of the crusades as well as upon his personal familiarity with the area. His chronicle, especially in a French translation, became the standard one for the Middle Ages. William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England, translated William's history of the First Crusade from the French and published it in 1481 under the title Godeffroy of Boloyne, or The Siege and Conqueste of Jerusalem.

Europeans of the later Middle Ages looked back on the Conquest of Jerusalem as one of the most heroic events of all times, and Godfrey of Bouillon, who had been only one of the leaders, became, with Charlemagne and King Arthur, one of the three Christian Worthies. The following text is a modernized version of Caxton's translation. It confirms, in most respects, the facts of Ibn Al-Athir's History, though from a very different perspective.

[The Taking of Jerusalem]

The people of the duke Godfrey and the other barons which were with him, as I have said, fought with much asperity against their enemies on their side and delivered to them a very marvellous assault. They had done so much that their enemies waxed weary and wearily and slowly defended themselves. Our men had advanced, and had filled the moats and taken the barbicans >> note 1 in such wise that they came flush against the walls; therefore the defenders did not put up much resistance, except to shoot at times down from the walls or through loopholes. The duke commanded his people who were on the castle >> note 2 to set on fire the bundles of cotton and sacks of straw that they hanged against the walls. They carried out his command. Then a smoke arose so black and so thick that they could see nothing. The wind was northeast and blew upon the Turks that were at defense on the walls in such wise that they might not open their eyes nor their mouths, but of necessity they had to void the place they were supposed to defend. The valiant Duke Godfrey, who carefully attended to the work, perceived that they were departed. Then he commanded that they should diligently draw up two pieces of timber that had fallen down from the wall, >> note 3 as ye have heard before. This was done anon in such wise that the two ends of the two trees were laid upon the castle, and the two other ends upon the wall. Then he commanded that the side of the castle that could be lowered >> note 4 should be let down upon the two pieces of timber. And thus was the bridge made good and strong upon the timber of their enemies. The first that entered and passed by the bridge upon the walls was the Duke Godfrey of Bouillon and Eustace his brother with him. After these twain came two other knights that were also brethren, which also were fierce, noble, and hardy. The one was named Ludolf and the other Gilbert. They were born in Tournai. Anon there followed them a great number of knights and of people afoot, as thick as the bridge might sustain. Anon the Turks perceived that our men were entered into the town and saw the banner of the duke upon the walls. And they were routed and abandoned the towers and descended into the town, and put themselves into the straight and narrow streets to defend themselves. Our people saw that the duke and a great part of the knights were now entered and that they had taken I know not how many towers. They did not wait for any command but dressed ladders to the walls and went up. * * * This was upon a Friday about the ninth hour. It is a thing to be believed that our Lord did this by great significance, for on this day and about that hour he suffered a right cruel death on the cross in the same place for the redemption of man. Therefore the sweet Lord wanted that the people of his true pilgrims should get this town and deliver it out of servitude and thralldom of the heathen men and make it free to Christian men so that his service might be had therein and increased.

The valiant duke Godfrey of Bouillon, the knights, and the other men of arms that were with him descended from the walls all armed into the town. They went together through the streets with their swords and spears in hand. All them that they met they slew and smote right down, men, women, and children, sparing none. There might no prayers nor crying of mercy avail. They slew so many in the streets that there were heaps of dead bodies, and one might not go nor pass but upon them that so lay dead. The men on foot went into other parts of the town in great bands, holding in their hands great poleaxes, swords, mallets and other weapons, slaying all the Turks that they could find, for they were the men of the world whom our men had greatest hate unto and gladliest would put to death. They were then come into the middle of the city. * * * I may not rehearse to you nor cannot the feats of every man by himself. But there was so much blood shed that the channels and gutters ran all with blood, and all the streets of the town were covered with dead men, in such a wise that it was great pity for to see, had it not been of the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Click on image to enlarge] Into the inner part of the temple were fled the greater part of the people of the town because it was the most sovereign and royal part of the town. And the said place was fast shut and closed with good walls of towers and gates. But this availed them but little, for furiously Tancred, who led a great part of the host with him, ran thither and took it by strength and slew many therein. And it was said that Tancred found therein great possessions and gold, silver, precious stones, and cloth of silk. He made all to be borne away. But afterwards, when all was set to rest, he rendered all and made it all to be brought into the common. The other barons, who had searched the town and slain all the Turks that they encountered, heard say that within the cloister of the temple were fled all the remnant of their enemies. They all came together there and found that it was true. Then they commanded their men that they should enter into the place and put them all to death. And so they did. It was a well-fitting thing that the heathen men and false misbelievers, who had fouled and shamefully defiled [the place] with their mahometry and foul law of Mohammed, should pay there for their false rites and that their blood should also be shed where they had spread the ordure of miscreance. It was an hideous thing to see the multitude of people that were slain in this place. They themselves who had slain them were sorely annoyed to behold them thus, for from the sole of the foot to the heel was none other thing but blood. There was found that within the enclosure of the temple were slain 10,000 Turks, not counting them that lay in the streets and other places of the city. Then the common people of the pilgrims ran searching the lanes and narrow streets. When they found any of the Turks that had hid themselves, were it man or woman, anon he was put to death. The barons had devised before the town was taken that every man should have the house in the town that he took and seized first, and it should be his with all appurtenances. Wherefore it was so that the barons set their banners upon the houses that they had conquered. The lesser knights and men of arms, their shields; the men on foot set their hats and their swords in order to show the tokens that the houses were then taken and seized to the end that none other should come into it.


© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page    
Home