The Military Orders
Part One: The Templars
"[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side,
for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected
by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons
Bernard de Clairvaux, c. 1135, De Laude Novae Militae
( In Praise of the New Knighthood)
In early 1119, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, two battle-hardened
veterans of the First Crusade, approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with
a proposal for the creation of a new monastic order. But rather than seeking
a cloistered life of contemplation, this new Order would serve by protecting
pilgrims as they traveled to the Holy City.
Although Jerusalem had fallen into Christian hands in 1099, the "e;Frankish"e;
conquerors made up only a fraction of the population. Beyond the walls of the
great cities and strongholds, insurrectionists and bandits abounded, making
the pilgrim routes often more dangerous to the faithful than they had been before
the Holy City came into Christian possession. Consequently, the knight's proposal
appealed to King Baldwin, and he granted their request, gifting them and their
seven brother knights with a headquarters on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount
was believed to be Solomon's Temple (in reality, it was the Al Aqsa Mosque),
and it was from this place that the new Order took its name: the Poor Fellow
Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon. As a monastic order, the
knights swore themselves to poverty, and chose as an emblem two knights riding
upon a single horse.
The fame of this odd new order of "e;monkish knights"e; spread rapidly,
and drew the attention of a powerful patron, the famed Cistercian orator, Bernard
of Clairvaux. It was primarily Bernard's efforts that brought the knights of
the Temple to both the attention of the Pope, and official Church endorsement,
at the Council of Troyes in 1129. With the Church's patronage, and Bernard's
continued preaching of the "e;new knighthood of Christ"e;, the Templars'
fame spread; and with that fame came new brother knights and donations of money,
land, even mercantile interests, throughout Europe. So swift was the Temple's
rise that by 1139, only twenty years after its inception, Pope Innocent II declared
the Order free of obedience to all authority except his own, freeing the brother
knights of all taxes, feudal obligation and travel restrictions throughout Christendom.
The Templars were organized similarly to Bernard's Cistercian Order, with a
strong, hierarchical chain of authority. When a member was received into the
Order, he was required to willingly sign over all of his wealth and goods to
the Order, and to take vows of poverty, chastity, piety, and obedience. Most
brothers joined for life, although some were allowed to join for a set period
of years. Sometimes a married man was allowed to join for a set time or to fulfill
a vow, if he had his wife's permission, but he was not allowed to wear the white
mantle of a brother knight. These "e;irregular"e; knights were known as
confrere, and were not considered full members of the Order.
Local chapters of the Order were preceptories, and combined the qualities of
monastery and castle. Each was governed by a preceptor, who functioned as an
abbot and military governor. All Preceptors within a given kingdom reported
to a single Master of the Temple, who, in turn, was subject to the Grand Master
in Jerusalem. The Grand Master was appointed for life, and oversaw all military
and financial matters, although he had an extensive command staff, organized
much like a royal household.
The specifics of the Templar's "e;Rule"e; or code of behavior was penned
by Bernard of Clairvaux and Hugues de Payens, and consisted of 72 clauses, based
largely on the Cistercian Rule, but adapted for the needs of the "e;new knighthood"e;.
The Rule included governance over every aspect of life: how often a knight was
to pray, how often he was permitted to eat meat, what types of robes he was
to wear, how many horses he could have, etc. As monks, full brothers of the
Order were forbidden physical contact of any kind with women, even members of
their own family. As the Order grew, more guidelines were added to the Rule,
eventually reaching several hundred in length.
The Templars ranks were actually divided into a three-tier system of aristocratic
knights, lower-born sergeants, and the clergy. Knights were required to have
been born to families of knightly rank, and served as the Order's heavy cavalry
and commanders. Each knight was attended by one to two squires, who were generally
"e;confrere"e; - non-members of the Order, either hired for a specific
time or volunteers who had taken an oath to serve the Order for a set period
of time. Beneath the knights in the Order and drawn from the lower classes were
the sergeants, professional fighting men, who served as light cavalry, infantry
commanders and administrators. Finally, the third Templar class was the chaplains,
ordained priests who saw to the Templars' spiritual needs. Although the Order's
number swelled to somewhere between 15,000 - 20,000 members by the turn of the
13th century, only about 10% of this number were actual knights. The vast majority
of the rest were comprised of sergeants and support staff.
Knights of the Order wore the now famouswhite
mantle and white robes, which had been granted to them at the Council
of Troyes in 1129. The right to bear the red cross over the breast was likely
granted at the start of the Second Crusade in 1147. The robes and mantle were
not only a uniform, but the sole garments of the knights; they were forbidden
to dress otherwise. Sergeants and confrere were distinguished by a black tunic
with a red cross on front and back, and a black or brown mantle, and were required
to be "e;in uniform"e; only while they were in service.
The knights put their special freedoms and growing wealth to good use, and
rapidly built a network of priories and preceptories throughout Europe and the
Levant. They also developed an efficient, well-trained military machine; an
elite fighting force that became one of the key lines of defense for the Kingdom
of Jerusalem. With a vow of not turning from battle unless outnumbered by more
than three to one, the Order developed a reputation of near invincibility. But
the Templars were also shrewd tacticians, and this combination of military acumen
and fearlessness often allowed them to wield far more influence on the field
of battle than their number would have suggested.
The military reputation of the Temple was cemented at the Battle of Montgisard,
in 1177. Saladin had marched an army of over 25,000 men from the south to pin
down the forces of the sixteen year-old leper king, Baldwin IV, about 500 knights
and several thousand infantry, near Ascalon. Eighty Templar knights and their
own entourage attempted to reinforce the army and bring Saladin to battle. Seeing
them as too small a force to be worth engaging, Saladin turned his back on them
and led his army towards Jerusalem.
Once Saladin and his army had moved on, the Templars joined with King Baldwin,
and pursued north along the coast to Montgisard. Here they found that Saladin
had permitted his army to temporarily spread out to pillage villages on their
way to Jerusalem. The Templars took advantage of the Saracen's disorder to launch
a surprise ambush directly against Saladin and his bodyguard. Caught completely
unawares, Saladin's army was spread too thin to adequately defend themselves,
and he and his forces were forced to fight a desperate retreat south. From here,
things only got worse, as the Sultan was harassed and attacked by Bedouin nomads.
By the time he arrived back in Egypt, only a tenth of his army remained, and
his entire bodyguard of Mamelukes had been slaughtered, most in battle against
the Templars. Although the battle only bought the Kingdom of Jerusalem a year's truce, the victory, and the Temple's role in it, became the stuff of legend.
Although relatively small in number, the Templars routinely joined other armies
in key battles, their reputation allowing them to claim the vanguard or defense
of the army's rear during a retreat. Although the Order's focus remained the
Levant, by the late 12th century, the Temple was contributing growing numbers
of knights to the Iberian "e;Reconquista"e;.
The Horns of Hattin
After the death of King Baldwin IV in 1186, the throne passed to his sister,
Sibylla, and through her, to her husband, Guy of Lusignan. This was in large
part due to the support of the Temple.
While handsome, brave, skilled in personal combat and from a powerful, old family,
there were many reasons to distrust the wisdom of making Guy king. A relative
newcomer to Outremer, he had little understanding of the delicate balance of
power that Baldwin, or his predecessors had maintained by acknowledging and
protecting many of the unique social and legal institutions of the native population.
Worse, Guy's crusading zeal was matched with his crass opportunism. In 1184,
he attacked a tribe of Bedouin shepherds who had paid a tribute to the local
Christians for allowing them the privilege of grazing their sheep. Guy and his
men massacred as many of the tribe as they could and drove away the rest along
with their flock. Although reprimanded by Baldwin, Guy continue to pray off
of subject Muslims, straining racial tensions within the kingdom.
Further, while an excellent field commander once battle was enjoined, Guy had
shown little skill as a tactician or strategist, and suffered from indecisiveness.
Unfortunately, he had also been a patron of the Temple, which was itself chomping
at the bit for a chance to engage Saladin, after the long series of truces that
had been maintained by Baldwin, and his eagerness for battle may have been part
of what led the Temple to throw Sibylla and Guy its support.
Certainly, if the Temple wanted war, its opportunity, and near destruction
of its presence in the Levant, came on July 4, 1187, at a place called the Horns
of Hattin. The Horns are so called for the two rocky peaks that rise over the
brush covered slopes behind Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. It was here that
Saladin brought an army of over 12,000 mounted men to meet the forces of Jerusalem.
The exact numbers of King Guy's forces are unknown, but while his army has been
estimated at 15 - 20,000 men, no more than 1,000 were knights, hastily assembled
by depleting the garrisons of the surrounding cities.
At the urging of the Templar Grand Master, the Christian army set out for Tiberius
in the early morning hours of July 3rd, leaving in their wake a well-watered
camp to trek across the dessert, under the hot desert sun. By evening of July
3rd, the crusading army arrived at a plateau below the Horns of Hattin, having
yet to find any water. Saladin's men had come before them, and blocked the only
Panic began to set in, and many men set out from the plateau to quench their
thirst, only to be captured by Saladin's men. The Moslems then set the dry grasses
covering the hill ablaze, exacerbating the Christian's thirst and desperation.
By morning, Saladin's men had completely enclosed the crusaders, and as dawn
approached, the Moslem horns called the attack. Half-mad with thirst, and dramatically
outnumbered, Guy's army charged recklessly into the enemy. The battle was a
slaughter. By the end of the day, only a small contingent of knights, charged
with protecting King Guy and his command tent, still stood.
The leaders were then rounded up and taken to Saladin's camp. The common soldiers
were sold into slavery. The barons and knights were to be ransomed back to their
people, with the exception of the Military Orders. Each Templar and Hospitaller
was forced to his knees and beheaded. Saladin spared none except for the Grand
Master of the Temple, Gerard de Ridefort. As for Guy, Saladin is said to have
told him, "e;Have no fear. It is not the custom of kings to kill kings."e;
Guy was released the following year from a prison in Nablus. He was ultimately
forced to renounce his claim to the throne of Jerusalem; although he would later
purchase Cyprus from the Templars and found a dynasty of Cypriot kings that
survived for three hundred years.
Accusation and Trial
Although the Temple's fortunes rebounded during the Third Crusade, even the
gains of Richard I (the Lionheart), could not restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem,
only fortify its remains for a time against the inevitable. In 1291, the city
of Acre, which has served as the kingdom's capital for a century, fell to the
Mameluke Sultan Baibars, thereby extinguishing the last vestiges of "e;Outremer"e;.
With the Holy Land back in Muslim hands, the Military Orders' raison d'etre
came into question. The Hospitallers fell back to their fortresses at Rhodes,
Cyprus and Malta, and turned their eyes to protecting the eastern Mediterranean
sea lanes against the ascendant Mamelukes. Other Orders sought enemies of the
faith closer to home. Since the 1220s, the Teutonic knights had launched successful
crusades against the Prussians, and now turned their attentions to the Lithuanians
and Orthodox Russians. Only the Iberian Orders were largely unaffected by the
fall of the Holy Land, as their battle had always been on the borders of their
own homeland. As the Levantine Crusades came to an end, the Spanish Reconquista
was entering a new phase of aggression, and the Iberian Military Orders were
in the forefront.
But the Temple's focus had been tied to the fortunes of Outremer. While the
Temple had become increasingly involved in the Reconquista, the Iberian wars
simply did not justify the vast network of preceptories dotted around Europe
that made the Order omnipresent in the daily affairs of the Christian kingdoms.
The Templars still owned vast land holdings, businesses, and shipping interests,
and they still functioned as a bank or store-house for the personal valuables
of some of the wealthiest European nobles and merchants. Since the Order was
still not subject to any but the Pope, its wealth, military power and legal
freedoms effectively made it a "e;state within a state,"e; bolstered by
an army that had the legal authority to freely pass across any borders, but
now had little clear purpose. It seemed only a matter of time before the Templars
sought to create their own "e;monastic state"e;, as the Hospitallers were
doing in Rhodes, and the Teutonic Order was seeking to do in the Baltic. But
while Rhodes and Russia were on the fringes of Roman Christendom; the Templar's
European power-base was in France, England, Italy and Spain. It was thus little
surprise that the rulers of Europe began to eye the Temple suspiciously.
Unfortunately for the Order, it was about to run afoul of the one man with
the authority to bring it to heel, the Pope. The Avignon papacy, or as it became
known, the "e;Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy"e; had already begun,
and the new pope, Clement V, was a weak man, at precisely the same time that
France was being ruled by a particularly aggressive, and ambitious, king: Philip
IV ("e;the Fair"e;). Philip was deeply in debt to the Templars from a
failed war with the English, and had made several attempts to ingratiate himself
with the Order, even suggesting a role for himself as a member - while still
maintaining his throne. Precisely what Philip proposed with his membership,
and what this meant continues to be debated by historians, but the Order refused.
Meanwhile, Pope Clement sent letters to both the Templar Grand Master Jacques
de Molay and the Hospitaller Grand Master Fulk de Villaret to discuss the possibility
of merging the two Orders; an idea to which neither was amenable. But as their
overlord, both agreed to meet with the Pope. During this meeting, de Molay and
Clement discussed charges that had been made two years prior by an ousted Templar,
which both agreed were likely false. Or so de Molay thought. Clement did not
drop the matter, but sent a written request to King Philip, asking for his assistance
in the investigation.
This gave Philip the opportunity for which he had been waiting. On Friday,
October 13, 1307, Philip ordered de Molay and scores of other French Templars
to be simultaneously arrested across France, on the charges of heresy and blasphemy.
Under torture a number of knights, including Grand Master de Molay, confessed,
and Philip sent the confessions to the Pope. Clement issued the bull Pastoralis
Praeeminentiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest
all Templars and seize their assets. While a number of monarchs followed the
orders, others delayed, allowing the knights a chance to flee.
As hearings to determine the Templars' guilt or innocence began, many of the
knights, now freed from torture, recanted. Many determined to defend themselves
in public trials, but Philip moves swiftly, and used the forced confessions
to burn over fifty Templars at the stake while the Papal hearings were still
proceeding. The proceedings dragged on; until the king then made it quite clear
to Clement that he was willing to use force if the Pope did not comply with
his wish to have the Order disbanded. At the Council of Vienne in 1312, Clement
issued the Vox in excelso, which officially dissolved the Order. However, if
Philip has expected to seize the Templars' assets, he was thwarted, for Clement
also issued the Ad providam, which turned over most of the Order's wealth and
holdings to the Hospitallers.
As for the leaders of the Order, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and Geoffrey
de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, recanted their confessions and were declared
guilty of being relapsed heretics. They were sentenced to burn alive at the
stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. According to legend, de Molay called out from
the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before
God. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting
accident before the end of the year. Although de Molay's curse is likely the
stuff of legend, that legend spread quickly, and probably helped begin the Templar
"e;mystique"e; that continues to this day.
The remaining Templars were arrested and tried throughout Europe, but few were
convicted. Many joined the other military orders, while the Templars of Portugal
simply changed their name to the Knights of Christ. In Scotland, the already
excommunicated King Robert the Bruce refused to take any action against the
Order, and many English Templars may have simply fled north, just as many German
and Italian knights are believed to have slipped into Switzerland, were the
papacy's power was weak.
Thus the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of
Solomon passed into history and mythology, and lives on primarily in the speculations
of Masonic historians and conspiracy theorists today. The Roman Catholic Church
has long held the position that the persecution of the Templars was unjust,
and that Pope Clement was pressured by King Philip to disband the Order. The
Vatican set the matter to rest in October 2007, the 700th anniversary of the
Templars' arrest, when the Vatican published secret documents about the trial
of the Knights Templar, including the Chinon Parchment, a record of the trial
of the Templars, showing that Clement initially absolved the Templars of all
heresies in 1308, before formally disbanding the Order in 1312.
Barber, Malcolm.The Trial of the Templars, 2nd edition, Cambridge University
Barber, Malcolm.The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.
Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Frale, Barbara (2004). "e;The Chinon charter - Papal absolution of the last
Templar, Master Jacques de Molay"e;, Journal of Medieval History 30 (2):
Howarth, Stephen,The Knights Templar, Marboro Books, 1991
Partner, Peter.The Knights Templar and their Myth. Destiny Books; Reissue
Upton-Ward, JM.The Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Rule of
the Order of the Knights Templar. The Boydell Press, 1992
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