Wednesday, December 13, 2017

True Tales of the Knights Templar 1: The Second Crusade

  Continuing with the series on the Knights Templar, Dr. Schrader today looks at the important role played by the Knights Templar in the Second Crusade. 

It was not until nearly two decades after the successful end of the First Crusade in 1118 that a handful of knights sought out the Patriarch of Jerusalem with an unusual request. These men wanted to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in exchange for devoting themselves to the service of God in an exceptional way.  Rather than withdrawing from the world and living a monastic life, they proposed (or according to Malcolm Barber, p. 7, accepted a proposal) to serve God by protecting unarmed pilgrims at risk of attack by robbers and Saracens while visiting the holy sites. The King of Jerusalem, welcomed this endeavor and agreed to give them space inside his palace, which was then located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in what was then thought to be the site of King Solomon’s Temple and residence. It was from this building that the Templars drew their name “the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.”  They were at this time so poor that they wore only cast-off clothing donated by the pious, and allegedly did not have enough horses to go around, resulting in their early seal showing two knights on a single horse.


It was not until 1129, however, that at the Council of Troyes that the “Poor Knights” received a monastic code, a “Rule” by which they were to live, and Papal sanction for their now official, religious order.  It was at this time that the Poor Knights (who were increasingly rich as an Order, although poor as individuals) adopted white robes and surcoats as their habit.  The exclusive right to wear a red cross patée on their shoulders and/or breast was granted 17 years later in 1147. Yet despite their success with gaining recognition, property and recruits, the Knights Templar (as they increasingly came to be called) had not yet emerged as a significant military establishment nor proven their worth in battle. It was the Second Crusade that gave them that opportunity.

The loss of the County of Edessa to the powerful Selkjuk leader Zengi in 1144 shocked Western Europe and triggered a call for a new crusade. Pope Eugenius made the official appeal, while St. Bernard became the most passionate, articulate and effective preacher of this new crusade. Although St. Bernard succeeded in recruiting the German King, Conrad of Hohenstaufen, from the start the driving force behind this crusade was the young French King, Louis VII. Louis had in childhood been destined for the Church and only became heir to the crown of France after his elder brother’s death. Throughout his life, he was noted for his great piety, and the crusade appealed to him greatly.  After an impassioned speech by St. Bernard at Vézélay on Palm Sunday 1147, enough nobles (including the Duchess of Aquitaine, wife of King Louis) had been recruited to make the crusade viable.

From the start, however, the crusade suffered from poor coordination. The German crusaders set off ahead of the French and proceeded in such an undisciplined fashion across the Western territories of the Byzantine Empire that it came to many armed clashes with Imperial troops.  The French followed a month behind the Germans and although more disciplined, they now encountered inhabitants burned by the behavior of the Germans who were hostile ― which meant reluctant to sell food and other necessities. The situation was critical and King Louis sent envoys to the Greek Emperor to negotiate for market privileges in exchange for an orderly passage of the crusaders through Byzantine territory.

One of Louis’ envoys was the Master of the Temple in France (not to be confused with the Grand Master.) This was a certain Everard de Barres, already a close confidante of King Louis, and commander of 130 Templar Knights and probably equal numbers of sergeants and support elements for a total of about 300 Templars. These Templars were presumably all recent recruits from France, but they had had time to undergo training and indoctrination. From the start of the Second Crusade, they appear to have assumed their now traditional role of protecting pilgrims ― in this case armed pilgrims and their very large baggage train including the Queen of France and many other ladies. 

After crossing the Bosporus in late October, the French crusaders received alarming reports of the destruction of the German crusader ― rumors that soon proved all too true. The German has been all but annihilated near Dorylaeum (the site of a great crusader victory in the First Crusade).  Allegedly only one in five of the German crusaders escaped the slaughter. Conrad von Hohenstaufen preferred to blame “betrayal” by the Greeks rather than take responsibility for his own poor leadership and failure to send out scouts. It was the message of “betrayal” that he gave King Louis.

Although the remnants of the Germans now joined the French, Conrad himself soon fell ill and returned by ship to Constantinople.  The French continued more cautiously along the coastal road.  Two days beyond Laodicea the road led through a steep pass over Mt. Cadmus.  The vanguard was ordered to camp at the top of the pass to give the rest of the army time to catch up, but the commander (a vassal of the Queen of France rather than her husband) ignored the orders and continued over the pass allowing a large gap between units to develop. The Turks, who had been shadowing the army all along, immediately took advantage of the situation and fell upon the main and rear divisions, still struggling up the slope.  King Louis was unhorsed early on and too refuge either among the rocks or up a tree (depending on account). In the ensuing slaughter and chaos, the Templars distinguished themselves as the only disciplined fighting force capable of delivering counter-blows. When darkness fell, the Turks had been driven back, but not before the crusaders had suffered severe losses, particularly to the horses and baggage train.

Shaken by his experience, King Louis effectively turned the command of his entire army over to the Templars!  Everard de Barres organized the crusader force into units of 50, each under the command of a single Templar.  The Templars established an order of march and insisted that it be maintained. They also gave orders for the infantry to protect the horse during attacks and that ensured that no counter attacks were undertaken until ordered and properly coordinated and led.  These were simple things, but they had evidently not been instituted prior the Templars taking command ― in sharp contrast to the highly disciplined army of Richard the Lionheart half a century later.

Yet discipline is not substitute for food and fodder. The Turks employed a form of “scorched earth” policy to deny the advancing crusaders both.  Soon the crusaders were eating their horses ― except for the Templars, who had husbanded their supplies and could still feed both themselves and their mounts. This enabled the Templars to disguise the weakness of the entire force ― and beat off four more attacks by the Turks before the crusaders finally reached the Byzantine controlled port of Adalia. (Howarth, p.88)

Here King Louis VII ignominiously (and unlike his descendant and namesake King Louis IX) promptly abandoned his army, and took ship for Antioch with his wife and his leading nobles. The common crusaders were left to die of plague and hunger or sell themselves into Turkish slavery in order to survive.

King Louis arrived in Antioch in March 1148 with none of his infantry and in desperate need of money. The Templars were now to prove their value in the second field of endeavor or which they were to become famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view): as bankers.  Everard des Barres sailed from Antioch to Acre and there managed to raise loans by mortgaging Templar properties. The sums raised were enormous, as King Louis’ instructions to his ministers in France to repay the Templars document that they amounted to nearly half the annual revenues of the King of France at this time. (Barber, p. 68)

The rest of the Second Crusade was equally disastrous. At Acre on June 24, 1148 a joint decision was taken by the leaders of the crusade including Conrad of Hohenstaufen (who had sailed from Constantinople directly to the Holy Land and joined the crusader council), King Louis and King Baldwin of Jerusalem to attack Damascus. The choice seems odd since the Sultan of Damascus at this time had been comparatively friendly and was a joint enemy of Zengi’s successor Nur ad-Din. Although the Masters of both the Temple and the Hospital were present at this war council, their opinions are not known, and their voices were not yet powerful enough to be decisive.  

Initial assaults on Damascus from the East/South were thwarted because the city was here surrounded by gardens and orchards with irrigation ditches that prevented the use of mass cavalry charges but provided archers with effective cover. The decision was therefore taken collectively to move the besieging army to the east where there were no such gardens and orchards ― but where there was also a dearth of water. Thereafter, the entire crusade broke down into bickering and recriminations while the crusading army disintegrated ― destroying the reputations of King Louis and Conrad of Hohenstaufen both.

The failure of the Second Crusade had serious repercussions.  It proved that “Frankish” knights were not invulnerable and Frankish armies not invincible. This greatly bolstered confidence among the Turks. In Western Europe it proved that God was not always on the side of the crusaders.  But since God had to be on their side, the search for scape goats was on at once.  The most obvious scapegoat was the Greeks. Both Conrad and Louis felt they had been “betrayed” ― misled at best or intentionally led into ambushes at worst. Another scapegoat were the “Poulains” ― the barons and lords of the Kingdom of Jerusalem ― who seemed to the crusaders too ready and willing to make truces with their Saracen foes.

Yet as Barber points out it is ominous that one German chronicler pinned the blame for the disaster at Damascus on the Templars. The Templars, he claimed, had accepted a massive bribe from the Saracens to give secret aid to the besieged (Barber, p. 69). It is notable that this allegation came only from German sources and not from French. King Louis returned to France full of praise for the Templars, and their reputation there continued to grow.  The Templars never really put down strong roots in the German speaking world and within half a century, the Germans would found their own Order, the Deutsche Ritter Orden. Yet it would be a French king who destroyed the Templars.

Next week I will look at the Knights Templar and the Siege of Ascalon 1153, meanwhile...

The Templars are present to a greater or lesser extent in all my novels set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem:

Buy now!                                         Buy now!                                        Buy now!

and in:

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.

She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.

She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Knights Templar: A Short Historical Overview

In the second entry of this series on the Knights Templar,  Dr. Schrader provides a short historical overview to set the framework for "Ten True Tales of the Knights Templar" that will relate a series of individual episodes from history in which the Knights Templar played a significant role.

After the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem following the First Crusade, pilgrims flooded to the newly freed Holy Land, but the situation was far from stable and the secular authorities were unable to guarantee the safety of pilgrims who ventured out upon the dangerous roads from Jerusalem to other pilgrimage sites such as Jericho and Nazareth. 

In 1115 Hugues de Payens, a Burgundian knight, and Sir Godfrey de St. Adhemar, a Flemish knight, decided to join forces and form a band of sworn brothers dedicated to protecting pilgrims. They soon recruited seven other knights, all men like themselves – stranded in the Holy Land without wealth or land, and allegedly so poor that Payens and St. Adhemar had only one horse between them. In 1118 the King of Jerusalem gave them the stables of what was believed to have been the palace (or temple) of King Solomon for their quarters, and from this they took their name, “The Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem” – a name was soon shortened to the Knights Templar. 

At the same time, or shortly afterwards, these nine knights took monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience before the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Knights Templar rapidly attracted new recruits – and powerful patrons -- highlighting the extent to which the concept of knights dedicated to the service of God touched a chord in men at this time. But the concept of fighting monks was revolutionary. Even the crusades had not sanctioned the bearing of arms by men dedicated to the Church; the crusades had only allowed secular men to serve the interests of the Church. What the Knights Templar proposed was to allow men of God to also be fighting men.

Tomb from the Temple Church in London
showing a Templar from the 12th Century
Recognizing the need for guidance and official sanction, Payens approached the Pope, and not only was his new kind of monastic order recognized, it was enthusiastically praised. Bernard of Clairvaux, the most influential churchman of his age (credited with founding 70 new Cistercian monasteries), agreed to write the Templars’ Rule. Not surprisingly, he fashioned the Templar Rule on that of the Cistercians; more unusual, however, was that he also wrote a treatise in praise of the Knights Templar, the De Laude Novae Militiae (In Praise of the New Knighthood), in which he contrasted the virtuous Templars with the vain, greedy, and (senselessly) violent secular knights of the age. 

According to De Laude Novae Militiae, the Knights Templar were disciplined, humble, and sober. Thus, “impudent words, senseless occupations, immoderate language, whispering, or even suppressed giggling are unknown. They have a horror of chess and dice; they hate hunting; they don’t even enjoy the flight of the falcon. They despise mimes, jugglers, storytellers, dirty songs, performances of buffoons – all these they regard as vanities and inane follies.” The documented initiation ceremonies – in contrast to the fabricated accusations of King Philip IV’s paid informers tasked with discrediting the Order two centuries later – were simple and sober professions of Catholic orthodoxy and vows to obey the officers of the Order, to remain chaste, to own no property, and to protect the Holy Land and Christians.” (Hopkins, p. 90.)

The Templars were an instant success (by medieval standards), and their resources increased exponentially over the next decades. They soon controlled properties in virtually every kingdom of Christendom, from Sicily to Ireland, but particularly in France, England, and Portugal. The Order also rapidly developed a sophisticated hierarchy and structure. The bulk of the Order’s members were lay brothers: men who worked the fields of Templar landholdings and served as skilled laborers, from blacksmiths to stone masons, in the fortresses of Outremer. 

Furthermore, although only men already knighted, i.e., men from the landed class, could become Knights Templar, men of lesser birth could be men-at-arms, just as in any other army of the age. In contrast to the usual pattern, however, these men were not foot soldiers or archers but mounted fighting men, armed with sword and lance and called “sergeants.” While the knights were allowed four horses and two squires, the sergeants appear to have been allowed two horses and one squire. These squires, incidentally, were not members of the Order, and not bound by monastic vows nor compelled to fight. Last but not least, as enthusiasm for the Holy Land waned in the West, the Templars came to rely more and more on auxiliary troops raised in the Holy Land itself: men of Armenian, Greek, Arab, or mixed descent, called “Turcopoles.” The Templars also had their own priests and clerks.  

But manpower is only half the equation. Fighting men, particularly monks who had renounced all wealth and owned nothing, had to be clothed, equipped, mounted, armed, and fed at the expense of the Order. The great castles in the Holy Land – absolutely crucial to the defense of the Christian kingdoms – had to be built, maintained, and provisioned. The cost of equipping even one knight was substantial, the cost of keeping a castle enormous; the costs of maintaining thousands of knights in the field and dozens of castles in defensible condition were astronomical. It would not have been possible without the huge estates donated to the Templars in the West.

The Templar Castle of Collieure in the Languedoc
The Templars’ extensive properties in Western Europe provided the Order with recruits, remounts, and above all, financial resources. They also created a network through which the Templars could influence secular leaders. Furthermore, the extensive network of Templar “commanderies,” combined with the Templars’ reputation for incorruptibility and prowess at arms, enabled the Templars to move money (then still exclusively in the form of gold and silver) across great distances. Furthermore, the Templar network made it possible for someone to deposit money at one commandery and withdraw it from another with a kind of “letter of credit” – a service unknown before the Templars. Because of their own wealth and the funds deposited with them, the Templars were soon in a position to provide substantial loans, and are on record as having lent money to the Kings of both England and France. Because of their reputation as being scrupulously honest yet financially astute, they were also often employed as tax collectors and financial advisors by ruling monarchs, from Richard I of England to Philip IV of France.  

Yet the Knights Templar would not have attracted these riches or enjoyed such prestige if they had not delivered impressive military accomplishments in the Holy Land. The ethos of the Knights Templar called on knights to fight to the death for the Holy Land, to defend any Christian molested by Muslims, never to retreat unless the odds were greater than 3 to 1, and to refuse ransom if captured. Such attitudes clearly set the Templars apart from secular knights of the period. A hundred years after their founding and a hundred years before their demise, the Bishop of Acre wrote in his History of Jerusalem that the Templars were: “Lions in war, mild as lambs at home; in the field fierce knights, in church like hermits or monks; unyielding and savage to the enemies of Christ, benevolent and mild to Christians.”

A modern depiction of a Templar charge
by Mariusz Kozik (copyright Mariusz Kozik)
More important, the vow of obedience enabled disciplined fighting – a rarity in the Middle Ages, when most men were proud to fight as individuals, conscious of their own glory and gain. In contrast, a Templar who acted on his own was subject to severe disciplinary measures, including imprisonment or degradation for a year. There are many accounts of the Templars forming the shock troops during the advance and the rear guard during the retreat on crusades, of Templars defending the most difficult salient in a siege, and of Templar sorties to rescue fellow Christians in distress. At the height of their power, the Templars controlled a chain of mighty castles from La Roche de Roussel, north of Antioch, to Gaza, as well as a powerful fleet.  

The Knights Templar suffered a fatal blow, however, when Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187. Although the consequences were not immediately apparent, the loss of Jerusalem – and the failure of all subsequent crusades to regain permanent control – slowly eroded the faith in Christian victory and, ultimately, the interest in fighting for the Holy Land. As the territory controlled by Christians shrank, so did the resources of the local barons. Soon, sufficient resources could not be raised in the Holy Land to finance its defense. This meant that the defense of the remaining Christian outposts fell increasingly to the militant orders, the Templars and Hospitallers, who could still draw on the profits of their extensive holdings in the West. 

But these resources proved insufficient in face of the huge cost of maintaining their establishment in the Holy Land as enthusiasm for fighting for the Holy Land waned. Throughout the second half of the 13th century, the crusader territories were lost, castle by castle and city by city, mostly as a result of the defenders having insufficient manpower to maintain their garrisons. When the last Templar stronghold in the Holy Land, the Temple at Acre, fell to the Saracens in 1291, some 20,000 Templars had given their lives for the Holy Land.  

The Knights Templar transferred their headquarters to Cyprus after losing their last foothold in Palestine, but they had lost their raison d’être. That would have been crippling in itself, perhaps, but what proved fatal was that they retained their apparent wealth. 

King Philip IV, whose coffers were again empty, decided to confiscate the Templar “treasure” – meaning their entire property. To justify this move, Philip accused the Templars of various crimes, including devil worship, blasphemy, corruption, and sodomy. Without warning, on the night of Friday, October 13, 1307, officers of the French crown simultaneously broke into Templar commanderies across France and seized all the Templars and their property. While most of the men arrested were lay brothers and sergeants (since most knights who had survived the fall of Acre were on Cyprus), Philip IV made sure he would also seize the senior officers of the Temple by inviting them to Paris “for consultations” in advance of his strike. All those arrested, including the very men King Philip had treated as friends and advisors only days before, were subjected to brutal torture until they confessed to the catalog of crimes the French King had concocted.  

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Templars were in any way heretical in their beliefs. Furthermore, although Philip persuaded the Pope to order a general investigation of the Templars, in countries where torture was not extensively employed (such as England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Cyprus), the Templars were found innocent.

Meanwhile, in France, Templars who retracted the confessions torn from them under torture were burned at the stake as “relapsed heretics.” Tragically, the Pope at the time lived in terror of King Philip IV, who had deposed his predecessor with accusations almost identical to those leveled against the Templars. He preferred to sacrifice the Templars rather than risk confrontation with King Philip. Thus, although the evidence against the Order was clearly fabricated and the Pope could not find sufficient grounds to condemn the Order, he disbanded it in 1312. The last Master and Marshal of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charney respectively, were burned at the stake in the presence of King Philip for retracting their confessions on March 18, 1314. Not until 2007 did the Vatican officially declare the Templars’ innocent based on the evidence still in the Papal archives.

Recommended Reading:

  • Barber, Malcolm. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.  Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Hopkins, Andrea. Knights: The Complete Story of the Age of Chivalry, From Historical  Fact to Tales of Romance and Poetry. Collins & Brown Ltd, 1990.
  • Howarth, Stephan. The Knights Templar. Barnes and Noble Books, 1982.
  • Pernoud, Regine. The Templars: Knights of Christ. Ignatius Press, 2009.
  • Robinson, John J., Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades, Michael O’Mara Books Ltd.,

 Next week I will look at the Knights Templar and the Second Crusade, meanwhile...

The Templars are present to a greater or lesser extent in all my novels set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem:

Buy now!                                         Buy now!                                        Buy now!

and in...

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.

She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.

She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: