THE STORY OF THE EMPEROR ALEXIOS AND THE FIRST CRUSADE
Nought is more honourable to a knight
Nor battle doth become brace chivalry
Than to defend the feeble in their right
And wrong redress in such as wend awry
While those great Heroes glory got thereby.
SPENSER: Faery Queene.
N the August of 1096, the first great army of the
Crusaders began to move towards the East, under
the command of Godfrey of Boulogne, together
with his brothers Eustace and Baldwin.
This Godfrey, leader of the Teuton host, is thus
described by one of his own day: "He was of a
beautiful countenance, tall of stature, agreeable in
his discourse, of excellent morals, and at the same time
so gentle that he seemed better fitted for the monk than
for the knight. But when his enemies appeared before
him, and the combat was at hand, his soul became
filled with a mighty daring; like a lion, he feared
not for his own person; and what shield, what buckler,
could withstand the fall of his sword?"
Four other armies set out after him in due course,
travelling by land to Constantinople; for, in those
days, not even the stoutest general could face the
 horrors of a sea-voyage in the untrustworthy vessels
of the Mediterranean shore.
Marching through Europe in perfect order, Godfrey's
troops met their first check on the borders of Hungary.
Here they not only found the track marked out by
the bodies of those who had perished in the previous
year, but a distinct air of hostility was seen in the
attitude of the people. Knowing nothing of the actual
facts, Godfrey cautiously arranged for a meeting
with King Carloman. Matters were explained on both
sides and a mutual arrangement was made by which
Godfrey's troops were allowed to pass through Hungary
buying food as they went, while Baldwin, the brother
of Godfrey, with his wife and children remained behind
as hostages until the Crusaders should arrive at the
further boundary—the River Save.
"So, day by day, in silence and peace, with equal
measure and just sale, did the duke and his people
pass through the realms of Hungary."
DUKE GODFREY MARCHING THROUGH HUNGARY
Once within the Emperor's domains, one would have
thought the Crusaders on safe ground. But this was
by no means the case. The second army of the Crusaders,
which started almost at the same time as the first,
was led by the brother of the French King, Hugh of
Verrnandois, a headstrong and self-willed prince. He
chose, together with Robert of Normandy, son of
the Conqueror, and some less important leaders, to
make his own way through Italy in disorderly fashion;
and after leaving in that pleasant land many of his
followers with Duke Robert, he embarked at Bari
for the East. A tempest cast him on the Austrian
coast, which was under the Emperor's rule. Hugh
at once despatched four and twenty knights dressed
 in golden armour to demand a fitting reception for
himself and his followers; and was answered by the
arrival of an armed escort, which led him as a prisoner
before the Governor. There was some excuse for the
conduct of Alexios, extraordinary as it seems; for,
so far, the hordes of so-called Crusaders had brought
such desolation and destruction upon his land that
he had come to the conclusion that the Turks, at this
time apparently inactive, were safer neighbours than
the troops of Christendom. But Alexios was as wily
as he was timid. After a short imprisonment, Hugh
was brought to Constantinople and treated as the
honoured guest of the Emperor—treated indeed so well
that he fell a victim to his host's perfidious charm,
did homage to him, and promised to persuade the
other chieftains to follow his example.
This was the state of affairs when Godfrey of Boulogne
appeared on the plains of Thrace, and hearing of
the imprisonment of Count Hugh, he sent at once a
peremptory message to demand his release. This
demand met with absolute refusal, upon which Godfrey
promptly gave orders to ravage the surrounding country.
Immediately alarmed, as usual, by the prospect
of armed conflict, Alexios implored Godfrey to desist
and to meet him in friendly conference at Constantinople.
To this Godfrey agreed, and was met by Hugh himself
outside the city walls. The latter sang the praises
of the Emperor with enthusiasm, but Godfrey was still
on his guard. A warning had reached him from some
French merchants living in the city that treachery
was meditated; and he therefore refused either to
enter within the walls or to partake of the rich food
which the Emperor sent to the camp.
 Then Alexios vainly tried to persuade the Crusader
to settle his army for the winter in the luxurious quarters
of the Greek nobles across the Bosphorus, where they
would act as a buffer between Constantinople and
hostile forces from the East, at the same time removing
themselves to a safe distance from the city.
This also Godfrey refused; and the alarm of the
Emperor grew into panic when he realised that the
army of another Crusader, Bohemond, his ancient
enemy, who had already established a claim upon a
large part of his Empire, was fast nearing his boundaries.
It was absolutely necessary to make friends with Godfrey
before the arrival of the dreaded Bohemond. As there
seemed a possibility of the Crusaders, in their wrath
at the refusal of supplies, attacking the city itself, a
compact was made. Godfrey had no desire to use
up his strength in fighting fellow-Christians, and readily
accepted the Emperor's terms. The son of Alexios
was sent as hostage to his camp, and the leaders,
on their side, swore fealty to the Emperor for the time
they were obliged to remain on his borders, and
forthwith entered the city in peace and security.
But Alexios was still consumed with secret terror
of the vast host which had swarmed into his land;
and, on the pretext of an insufficient food supply, he
managed to persuade Godfrey, after a brief sojourn,
to transport his troops across the Bosphorus. With
his usual craft, he then arranged that the vessels which
had taken them over should immediately return.
Meantime the dreaded arrival of Bohemond, Prince
of Tarentum, had actually taken place. A weak
attempt was made to drive him back by force;
but this was quickly overcome, and when Bohemond
 sent the prisoners taken in the conflict back to the
Emperor with an indignant and reproachful message, the
wily Alexios promptly disowned all knowledge of the
affair, professed the most affectionate regard for his
ancient enemy, and sent him a pressing invitation to
visit the capital city.
Now Bohemond was of a very different nature from
the simple and upright Godfrey of Boulogne. He
was an excellent leader, bold and skilful in warfare,
but his character was warped by a mean, designing,
and crafty spirit which entirely incapacitated him from
playing a heroic part. When met by Godfrey in
Constantinople and informed by him of the terms made
with Alexios, he declared at first that nothing in heaven
or on earth should induce him to swear fealty to his
former foe. The Emperor ceased to press the matter,
and merely treated him with more than ordinary
magnificence of hospitality. Then, as though by
chance, the Count was one day taken by an officer to
a great room in the palace, crammed with costly jewels,
ornaments of gold and silver, rich silks and brocades.
The man's weak point had been observed too well.
"What conquests might not be made if I possessed
such a treasure!" cried Bohemond.
"It is your own!" replied the officer. The promise
of an independent lordship near Antioch completed
the bribe, and Count Bohemond was no longer to be
Of very different stuff was Raymond, Count of
Toulouse, the first to volunteer but the last of the
Crusading chiefs actually to set out for the East. He
was now over fifty years of age, and, declaring that
that was the last journey he should ever make, he
 determined to be well prepared. With the idea of
choosing a route as yet untried by his predecessors,
Raymond took his way through Lombardy into the
desolate country of Dalmatia and Slavonia.
"It was already winter," says a writer of the time,
"when Raymond's men were toiling over the barren
mountains of Dalmatia, where for three weeks we saw
neither beast nor bird. For almost forty days did we
struggle on through mists so thick that we could actually
feel them, and brush them aside with a motion of the
hand." The weak, the sick, and the old suffered terribly
from the attacks of the wild natives upon their rear;
the bareness of the country gave no chance of even
purchasing food, much less of foraging. It was with
intense relief that they entered the Emperor's domains,
"for here," writes one of the travellers, "we believed
that we were in our own country; for we thought that
Alexios and his followers were our brothers-in-arms."
In this belief the troops of Raymond found themselves
mistaken, for they were harassed on all sides by the
Emperor's soldiers. Alexios, as usual, disclaimed all
responsibility, and begged the Count to hasten to
Constantinople. There, to his disgust, the old warrior
found that Godfrey, Bohemond, and the other leaders
had all taken the oath of fealty, and were very anxious
that he should follow their example. This Raymond
emphatically refused to do. "Be it far from me,"
said he to Alexios, "that I should take any lord for
this way save Christ only, for whose sake I have come
hither. If thou art willing to take the cross also, and
accompany us to Jerusalem, I and my men and all
that I have will be at thy disposal."
Meantime came news to the Count that the army
 he had left when he accepted the call to Constantinople,
had been attacked by the troops of the perfidious
Emperor, whose aim, possibly, was to frighten Raymond
into submission; but he had quite mistaken his man.
Furious at this treachery, Raymond called upon his
colleagues to join him in an attack upon the capital.
But here he met with unexpected opposition. Bohemond,
indeed, went so far as to threaten that if an open conflict
took place, he would be found on the side of the Emperor,
and even Godfrey urged most strongly that he should
overlook everything rather than weaken their cause
by fighting against fellow-Christians.
Strangely enough, though Raymond accepted
unwillingly the advice of Godfrey, his upright character
and vigorous simplicity seem to have won the respect
and affection of the Emperor more than all the rest.
It is true that Raymond refused steadfastly to pay
him homage, "and for that reason," says the chronicler,
"the Emperor gave him few gifts"; but we read
in the record of the daughter of Alexios, who gives us
a vivid account of this period, "One of the Crusaders,
Count Raymond, Alexios loved in a special way, because
of his wisdom, sincerity, and purity of life; and also
because he knew that he preferred honour and truth
above all things."
By this time such remnants of the army as had
lingered in Italy under Robert of Normandy, together
with all that was left of the rabble led by Peter the
Hermit, had joined the main body of the Crusaders
and were ready to advance upon the Turkish strong-hold of Nicaea.
The full array of the armies of the First Crusade,
before they were decimated by war and famine, must
 have constituted a truly overwhelming force. Their
number must have been about six hundred thousand;
in the words of the daughter of Alexios, "all Europe
was loosened from its foundation and had hurled itself
against Asia." The horsemen wore coats of mail, with
pear-shaped shields, each with its own device, and
carried a long spear and short sword or battle-axe.
The foot-soldiers bore the cross-bow or long-bow, with
sword, lance, and buckler. "They were covered,"
says a Saracen historian, "with thick strong pieces of
cloth fastened together with rings, so as to resemble
dense coats of mail."
Such was the appearance of the host which now
marched upon the stronghold of Nicaea to begin a
siege which is memorable for the light it throws upon
the despicable character of the Emperor Alexios.
When the Crusaders first drew near to the city,
says one of them, "the Turks rushed to war, exultingly
dragging with them the ropes wherewith to bind us
captive. But as many as descended from the hills
remained in our hands; and our men, cutting off their
heads, flung them into the city, a thing that wrought
great terror among the Turks inside."
After this defeat the Sultan David deserted the city
and hastened away to rouse his countrymen to give
active help at this crisis; and the Crusaders, much
encouraged, renewed the siege. The great obstacle
to success was the fact that the city was protected on
the west by a lake, which made it impossible to surround
the walls. Aid was sought of Alexios, who sent boats
from which skilful archers poured their arrows against
the ramparts. It was evident that these must very
 Knowing this to be the case, the Emperor sent a
secret envoy to offer the Turks better terms than could
be expected from the Crusaders, if they would give
up the city to him.
Hence, just as the latter were preparing to make
their last assault, they saw, with a disappointed fury
that can be imagined, the Imperial flag floating from the
citadel. The glory and the spoils of victory were both
with Alexios, and though he tried to smooth the
matter over by lavishing gifts upon the Crusaders, the
feelings of the latter were truly expressed by Count
Raymond when he said, " Alexios has paid the army
in such wise, that, so long as ever he lives, the people will
curse him and declare him a traitor."