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This in the first in a planned series of articles regarding the Templars, each of which will discuss and explain certain aspects of the Order such as its rise, major battles in which it participated, it’s philosophy, influences, and its ultimate demise. This article will cover the rise of Order from a small group of 9 knights to the most powerful military monastic Order of the Middle Ages.

When we picture a crusader we often imagine them wearing full chainmail armour covered in white tunic emblazoned with a red cross this is the uniform of a Templar knight. With the fall of Jerusalem to the First Crusade on the 13th of July 1099 and the Crusader victory at Ascalon a month later a new Kingdom in the Middle East was established.[1] It has been argued quite successfully by many scholars that one of the major reasons Crusaders were able to conquer the area was the death of several pivotal individuals in a variety of Muslim states causing instability and the divisions of Islam between the Fatimids in Cairo and the Seljuks in Baghdad which the Crusaders exploited. These divisions would also be exploited by the Templars who allied with Baghdad or Cairo at various times depending on their strategic goals.[2] The Templars also allied with the infamous Hashashin (Assassins) who under the leadership of Al Rashid al Din Sinaan, the old man of the mountain, spread chaos and terror amongst Christian and Muslim leaders in the Middle East from their mountain bases of Masayif and Alamut.[3]

With the creation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem pilgrims could now travel to the holy city and visit the sites associated with the life and death of Christ. Going on pilgrimage was seen to be a way of absolving oneself of sin and this meant that the pilgrim trade was a very lucrative one[4]. Many Europeans, mainly nobility, took the sea route landing in Jaffa or Acre and walking overland to Jerusalem. This route, despite being under Christian rule was still menaced by brigands and wild animals. Attacks on pilgrim groups, even groups numbering in the hundreds, were common, resulting in many pilgrims were captured and sold into slavery or simply killed.[5]

Seeing an opportunity for serving God and using their martial ability nine knights from the Languedoc in France led by Hughes de Paynes offered their services to King Baldwin II of Jerusalem in 1118 or 1119 (the sources vary but 1119 is widely accepted) offering to protect pilgrims coming and going from Jerusalem. Of these nine knights two were de Paynes brothers and all were his relatives by either blood or marriage: Godfrey de Saint-Omer, Payne de Monteverdi, Archambaud de St. Agnan, Andre de Montbard, Geoffrey Bison, and two men recorded only by the names of Rossal and Gondamer.[6] The ninth knight remains unknown, although some have speculated that it was Count Hugh of Champagne himself despite the Count returning to France in 1116 and documentary evidence showing that he joined the Knights on his third visit to the Holy Land in 1125.[7]

Baldwin II (Public )

Baldwin accepted de Paynes offer and in January 1120 offered him and his knights the Al Asqa mosque on the temple mound which was unkempt and full of debris as a headquarters. The temple of Solomon was believed to have stood on this site and as a result the knights called themselves ‘The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon’ or simply the Templars.[8] In 1129 at the Council of Troyes Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading Cistercian monk and moral reformer, led a delegation of churchmen who argued for the pope to officially endorse the Order which was subsequently granted. With papal blessing the Templars received land, gold and gained many new recruits to the Order as its power and influence spread across the entire European continent.[9] This papal bull also excluded the Templars from anyone else’s authority other than the Popes essentially making them a law unto themselves.[10]

An interesting aside is that Bernard of Clairvaux was the nephew of one of the original knights of the Order and wrote their rule.[11] This rule was pivotal as it made the Templars a monastic military order something that, up until this point, was unheard of. The rule of the Templars forbade them from leaving the battlefield unless given permission from a commanding officer, they could not retreat unless outnumbered by a margin greater than three to one or the Templar battle flag had fallen. They were also required to give absolute obedience to their master and not charge in battle until the hours was given. This particular rule was very necessary given the conditions of war they faced in the Levant.[12]

In Medieval battlefields, a heavily armoured knight was the tank of his day there are stories from battles which tell of knights covered in arrows like hedgehogs and fighting on.[13] The standard Muslim tactics involved hit and run attacks and using their lighter and smaller horses to fire hails of arrows at Crusader armies in order to force the Crusaders to break ranks and charge in a disorganized manner. Muslim armies lacked heavy infantry or cavalry and as a result when Crusader armies were able to maintain discipline under fire and lure their adversary’s closer to them before charging the impact of a concerted charge by a heavily armoured knight on his specially bred destrier could be devastating.[14] It would be a tactic which the Templars, given their arms, armour and discipline, perfected.

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The action which solidified that Templars as a key military power and political player in international affairs was their role in the Second Crusade. The Crusade has been sparked by the fall of Edessa to Zengi between the 24th and 26th of December 1144 would, albeit slowly, spur the West into renewed crusading vigour.[15] The first army to cross the Bosporus was that of the German Emperor Conrad III whose army skirmished several times with that of the Byztantines before being rushed across into Anatolia. The German army marched into the interior and came close to the border of Seljuk territory where on the 25th of October the Germans, not used to Turkish battle tactics, were decimated. Conrad himself was badly injured and the German army had to limp back to Constantinople.[16]

The French, having a much smoother trip to Constantinople, soon followed the Germans across the Bosporus. Before they had left France, King Louis VII of France and Pope Eugenius III had met with the Templars in the Paris Temple which was by this time serving as the treasury of France. The Templars importance in organising the Crusade was shown by the fact the Pope appointed a Templar to receive the taxes which was to pay for the Crusade.[17] Once the French crossed the Bosporus they marched inland from Ephesus. The Turks were defeated outside Ephesus on Christmas Eve 1147 and again at the ford on the Maeander a week later.

The French faced rough terrain, dwindling food and water supplies which caused them to have to resort to eating their horses and an alliance between their supposed Greek allies and the Turks before stumbling into the port of Adalia on the 20th of January 1148. Louis, while personally brave and ensuring the poor and destitute had food, had no skill in leading his army. [18] Louis delegated responsibility to the Templars under Everard of Barres who convinced the entire French army to swear obedience to him and organising the French army into units placed each unit under the command of a Templar. Thanks to the Templars discipline and organizational ability the French army defeated four concerted Turkish attacks before reaching the Mediterranean port and safety.[19][20]

While the Second Crusade ended in failure, the events leading up to it solidified the Templars reputation as a disciplined and organised fighting force which the Kings of Europe and the Levant came to rely on to bolster their defences. The Templars, now functioning effectively as the treasury of France, put them into a unique and in many ways vulnerable position which Philip the Fair would exploit ultimately leading to their ruin.

 

[1] Asbridge, T. The First Crusade: A New History p. 316

[2] Tyerman, C. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades p. 128

[3] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth pp. 152 – 153

[4] Asbridge, T. p. 37

[5] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth pp. 94-95

[6] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 108

[7] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 101

[8] Haag, M. ‘The Tragedy of the Templars.’ p. 131

[9] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth pp. 100-101

[10] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 103

[11] Tyerman, C. p. 277

[12] http://templars-tempeliers.blogspot.ie/2010/10/knights-templar-in-battle.html accessed 4th September 2017

[13] Tyerman, C. p. 22

[14] Asbridge, T. p. 51

[15] Tyerman, C. p. 268

[16] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 121

[17] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 119

[18] Tyerman, C. p. 327

[19] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 121

[20] Tyerman, C. p. 327

Featured Writer :

Paul Heffernan

I studied English and History in the National University of Ireland, Galway and got my M.A. in Military History and Strategic Studies in N.U.I. Maynooth. I also gained an M.A. in archival studies from U.C.D. and currently work as an archivist.

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