The Second Crusade
The Second Crusade (1147–49) provided a measure of how successfully the Templars had established themselves in the years after the Council of Troyes and the three great bulls of privilege. On Christmas Eve 1144, the city of Edessa fell to an army under the command of Imad ad-Din Zengi, the Atabeg (governor) of Mosul and Aleppo. When news finally reached Pope Eugenius III the following autumn, he immediately wrote to King Louis VII of France, imploring him to lead a new crusade to rescue Edessa from the infidel. Louis was not at all popular in France at the time, as three years earlier he had started a war when he illegally seized lands belonging to his most powerful vassal, Theobald of Champagne, and he seems to have been surprised when none of his barons showed much interest in his proposal for a new expedition to the East. It was decided that the matter would be settled at a meeting at Vézelay in Burgundy at Easter 1146. Realising that he was potentially without allies, Louis turned to the one man who had the clout to rally would-be crusaders, and that was Bernard of Clairvaux.
The scene at Vézelay on 31 March 1146 was reminiscent of Clermont in 1095 – huge crowds had gathered, drawn by the prospect of hearing Bernard preach the crusade. So many had arrived in Vézelay that Bernard had to deliver his sermon from a specially constructed platform on the outskirts of town. Bernard’s words found a receptive audience. As soon as he had finished speaking, King Louis was the first to pledge allegiance, followed by his brother Robert, the Count of Dreux. Of all of those who vowed to journey to the East that day, many were the sons and grandsons of the original crusaders, to whom maintaining family honour was at least as important as liberating Edessa. Bernard later wrote to King Louis of the success of Vézelay: ‘Villages and towns are now deserted … Everywhere you will see widows whose husbands are still alive.’9
On 27 April 1147, a Chapter meeting of the Paris Temple welcomed both King Louis and Pope Eugenius in the build-up to the crusade’s departure. Also present were four archbishops, 130 Templar knights and at least as many Templar sergeants and squires. Eugenius appointed Aymar, the Templar treasurer, to receive the tax that he had imposed on all Church goods to finance the crusade.William of Tyre, the great chronicler who was writing a generation later, believed that it was at this meeting that the Pope conferred on the Templars the right to wear a red cross on their white mantles, which symbolised their willingness to suffer martyrdom in defending the Holy Land against the infidel.
Germany was fermenting with crusading zeal by this time, after King Conrad III had heard Bernard preach in the Rhineland. Eugenius had originally wanted Conrad to help in the fight against his primary foe, the Norman king, Roger of Sicily, but as Conrad could not be dissuaded from going on crusade, it was decided that he should lead a German force that would work alongside the French.
Everard des Barres, Master of the Temple in France, together with the knights present at the April Chapter meeting, accompanied the French army under Louis on the overland route taken by the First Crusade. Everard proved himself to be one of Louis’ most trusted advisors, and the French king sent the Templar Master ahead to Constantinople to negotiate the Crusade’s passage through Byzantine territory. Unlike his predecessor Alexius, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus had not asked for Western help, and was somewhat nervous at the prospect of the crusading force (made up largely of the French and German armies) bearing down upon his lands. Everard succeeded in getting the Crusaders through, although Manuel was looked upon with grave suspicion by the Franks, as he had signed a peace treaty with the Seljuk Turks in order to wage war against Roger of Sicily. Manuel was equally uneasy with the crusaders, and was glad to see the back of them.
In January 1148, the Crusade got into further difficulty. Demoralised by severe weather and the news that Conrad’s army – which had gone ahead of the French – had suffered a defeat at Dorylaeum by the Seljuk Turks, the French came under attack in the narrow passes of the Cadmus mountains. The Franks’ heavy cavalry was useless in such terrain, and the columns of crusaders came under constant attack from the Turkish light infantry, whose archers were masters of firing from the saddle. The Franks were further hampered by an acute shortage of horses and provisions, and it seemed as though the Crusade would be over before it ever reached Outremer. Once again, Louis turned to Everard des Barres and the Templars. Everard broke the army up into units of 50, each under the command of a Templar, who in turn were answerable to another Templar knight, Brother Gilbert. This provided the beleaguered French with sufficient morale and order to continue as far as the Byzantine port of Attalia, where Louis took his best troops by boat to Antioch.
At Antioch, the Crusade took yet another turn for the worse. Louis had all but exhausted his funds in getting the army across Asia Minor; once again, Everard des Barres was the man to whom Louis turned for help. On 10 May, Everard sailed from Antioch to Acre, where he raised sufficient capital to fund the rest of the crusade, either by drawing directly from the treasury at the Templar preceptory in Acre, or by borrowing using the Order’s possessions as security. Whichever was the case, it proved that the Templars had become a major financial institution, and it cemented the relationship between the Order and the French crown, with the result that the Templars effectively became the French royal treasury until the late thirteenth century.
The Templars seem to have played a less prominent role in the remainder of the crusade. A council of war was convened at Acre in June to decide on a course of action, with the Templar Grand Master Robert de Craon present, together with the Grand Master of the Hospital, Raymond du Puy. After debating whether they should head for Edessa via Aleppo, or whether they should instead strike out for Ascalon in the south, it was eventually decided that the target should be Damascus, which the crusaders planned to attack the following month. After initial success in besieging the city from the west, the crusaders made the tactical blunder of decamping to a position on the east of the city. Unlike their original position, which had been well supplied, this new eastern position had no water and also faced the best fortified section of the city walls. With rumours that a huge Muslim army under Zengi’s son Nur ed-Din (Zengi having died in 1146) was on its way, the crusaders lost their nerve and retreated. The Second Crusade was over, and the recriminations for its failure began.
There were various theories as to why the Second Crusade had been such a fiasco. Accusations of treachery abounded, with various parties being named as the chief culprits. The crusaders, unused to life in the East, were shocked by the way Christians in Outremer had assimilated Eastern ways, and the ‘Men of Jerusalem’, as they were called, were seen as the guilty party by a number of commentators in the West. John of Würzburg, a German monk who travelled to Outremer in the 1160s, believed that the Crusade’s failure was due to Templar treachery. John’s anonymous colleague, known as the Würzburg Annalist, went even further, and stated that the Templars had been paid off by the Damascenes to lift the siege. Only later was it found that the money the Orders had been paid was in fact counterfeit, which was seen as Divine punishment for betraying the Christian cause. Other variants of the story had the ‘Men of Jerusalem’ accepting the money, while the early thirteenth-century chronicle of Ernoul and Bernard the Treasurer had the Hospitallers working alongside the Templars in putting profit before God. However, the Military Orders’ sternest critic of the time, William of Tyre, does not mention either the Templars or the Hospitallers in connection with the failure of the Crusade. As the bad press the orders received dates from several decades later, it would seem that the chroniclers were reflecting contemporary disillusion with both the Temple and the Hospital and projecting it back to 1148.
Given that the Templars played a major role in financing the Second Crusade, it might be worth examining the role the Order played in the financial affairs of both Outremer and the West, and the subsequent dominance they exerted over what was to evolve into a system of international banking.
The Temple as Bankers
The Templars quite early on in their history developed a reputation for being reliable bankers. They were – in effect – Europe’s first bank. They developed a system of credit notes whereby money deposited in one Templar preceptory could be withdrawn at another upon production of a credit note. Monies thus deposited proved to be quite safe, as Templar keeps were formidable buildings. Some of their castles in Outremer, for instance, were so well defended that they were impregnable (such as their massive fortress at ’Atlīt, which was actually a fortified peninsula rather than a mere castle). In Europe, the imposing edifice of the Paris Temple became their financial base (as did, to a lesser extent, the London Temple).
Louis VII was the first of a number of European monarchs whose finances were saved from collapse by Templar loans, although the size of the loan that the Templars provided brought the Order close to bankruptcy. It is thought that the Order provided him with 2,000 marks of silver and 30,000 livres parisis. The magnitude of this amount of money can be seen when it is compared to revenues from French royal lands which, even 20 or so years after the Second Crusade, were only about 60,000 livres parisis per year.
Louis VII was not the only French monarch who was to become reliant on the Order’s financial services. The Second Crusade saw the beginning of a long association between the Order and the kings of France. By the reign of Philip II (1180–1223), the Templars were effectively the French royal treasury. During the course of his reign, they increased the revenues from royal estates by 120 per cent, and were heavily involved in Philip’s restructuring of Capetian finances. During the thirteenth century, the Templar treasurer in Paris was always a man selected by the king, and the treasurers became trusted advisers to Philip and his successors. When Louis’ great-grandson, Louis IX, was held hostage after the disasters of the Seventh Crusade in 1250, it was to the Temple that the French commanders looked for the remaining 30,000 livres that they required to bail him out (although, on this occasion the Templar commander, Stephen of Otricourt, was less than happy to comply).
That the Templars proved themselves to be so successful as bankers is due in no large part to the meticulousness of their records, and their objectivity in dealing with clients. Records survive from the Paris Temple for the period 12 March 1295 to 4 July the following year, and they give a clear indication of how busy the Paris Temple was in its role as banker. These records – eight surviving sheets of parchment – record the date and the Templar on duty at the time, in addition to the amount deposited, by whom, into which account the money should be paid and from where the amount came from. At the end of each day, the receipts collected would be taken to the strong rooms to be deposited. (During the 1260s and 1270s, a great tower was built in order to house the various monies the Order was keeping.) There were more than 60 active accounts at the Paris Temple during this period, with the account holders being a mixture of royalty, clergy, important nobles and Templar officials. No business was done at Christmas, Easter and Ascension, and also on the Feast Days of saints who had a particular relevance for the Order, such as John the Baptist. Outside of these dates, the hours the Temple was open for business depended largely on the needs of its clients. In August 1295, for instance, they were only open for six days, whereas that December, they were far busier, being at one point open on 11 consecutive days. The Paris Temple also sent out statements to important clients several times a year, detailing the movements within their accounts.
Matters did not always go smoothly, however, as the chronicler Joinville discovered to his cost on the Seventh Crusade. While the army was recuperating at Acre following King Louis’ ransom, Joinville received 400 livres in wages. He kept 40 and deposited the remaining 360 with the Templars. When he sent one of his men to withdraw another 40 for current living expenses, the Templar treasurer denied all knowledge of Joinville and his savings. Joinville then complained to the newly elected Grand Master, Reginald de Vichiers, who was initially dubious at Joinville’s accusation that the treasurer had lost his money. Reginald looked into the matter, and several days later was able to report to a much relieved Joinville that his money had been found; the treasurer was transferred out of Acre.
The Papacy also came to be dependent on the Templars for its financial needs. The Templars were acting as Pope Alexander III’s (1159–81) bankers from as early as 1163, and, as they had been involved with the overhaul of Capetian finances under Philip II, so the Order was also used by Pope Innocent III when he undertook to reorganise crusading finances at the time of the Fourth Crusade (1202–4). A new tax, levied on the clergy for the express purpose of being used to fund the campaigns in the East, was to be paid into Templar and Hospitaller preceptories; the military orders would then be responsible for transporting the money safely to the Holy Land. A similar procedure was followed by Honorius III when he was raising funds for the Fifth Crusade (1218–21), with the money raised to be transferred to the papal legate in Egypt.
Kings from other countries likewise came to the Temple. The kings of Aragon were heavy borrowers, and King Henry II of England (1154–89) used the Order to accumulate crusading funds in Jerusalem, whilst his brother King John (1199–1216) was borrowing anything from nine marks of gold for an offering to be made when he was absolved following the lifting of his excommunication in 1213, to loans of over 4,000 marks two years later to pay the wages of troops in Poitou and Gascony. During his wars with the barons, John’s son Henry III (1216–72) moved the crown jewels to the Paris Temple for safekeeping in 1261, where they were inventoried and stored until further notice. The further notice duly came three years later, when Henry used them as security on a loan to finance further campaigns against the barons.
The Templars’ financial services were not restricted to providing loans, however, and not just for the royalty and nobility. As crusaders and pilgrims might be away from Europe for several years, the Templars also accepted precious documents and objects for safekeeping, including wills. One such example was the will of Pierre Sarrasin, which was drawn up in June 1220 before he set out for Santiago de Compostella. In it, he specified that, if he failed to return, the Templars should pay 600 livres parisis to the Abbey of St Victor, and that this should be used to buy rents from corn, the annual proceeds from which (about 200 livres parisis) were to be used to make daily donations of bread; furthermore, there were additional beneficiaries, including his mother, who was to be paid 100 livres. The remainder of the estate was to be held by the Templars until Pierre’s heirs came of age.
The Structure of the Order
As the Temple grew from being the original nine soldier-monks sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience into what we would nowadays recognise as a multinational corporation, so too did the structure of the Order evolve to reflect and support its expanding role in the affairs of the crusader states.
The Grand Master was the absolute ruler over the Order; after the bull Omne datum optimum of 1139 he was answerable only to the Pope. Grand Masters were chosen by an electoral college of 13 senior Templars, comprising eight knights, four sergeants and one chaplain. Generally, the electoral college would try to choose someone who was already based in the East. Given the importance of the Paris Temple to the French monarchy, French kings could – and often did – influence the choice of a Grand Master, such as during the election of Reginald de Vichiers in 1250.
As the Order expanded, so did the trappings of office: by the time of Bertrand de Blancfort’s tenure (1156–69), a Grand Master could expect to have four horses, and an entourage made up of two knights, a sergeant, a chaplain, a turcopolier, a farrier, a cook and a Saracen secretary. The Master also had first choice whenever the Order received a fresh batch of horses from the West.
Immediately beneath the Grand Master was a Chapter of senior officials. The Seneschal was both deputy and adviser to the Grand Master. On occasion, Seneschals would eventually become ‘promoted’ to Grand Master – the politics of the electoral college permitting – such as André de Montbard, who was one of Hugues de Payen’s original knights. After acting as Seneschal for four years, he finally became Grand Master in 1153 after the short Mastership of Bernard de Tremelay had come to an abrupt and bloody end at Ascalon. Like the Grand Master, the Seneschal also had his own staff. The Marshal was responsible for all military decisions, such as the purchase of horses and equipment, and also had jurisdiction over the regional commanders. These were commanders who had responsibility for one specific area: the Commander of the Kingdom of Jerusalem acted as the Order’s treasurer, oversaw the Kingdom and had the same powers as the Grand Master within it; the Commander of the City of Jerusalem, who likewise was overlord of the city only, also had the same powers as the Grand Master within its walls; and the commanders of Tripoli, Acre and Antioch were invested with similar powers. Each major kingdom in the West with a significant Templar presence had a Master who was answerable to the Grand Master: France, England, Aragon, Portugal, Poitou, Apulia and Hungary. The Draper was responsible for the issue of clothing and bedding, and made sure that individual brothers did not hoard private property. He was also authorised to distribute gifts made to the Order.
There were further roles that seem to have been subservient to the various masters and commanders. The Commander of Houses was responsible for specific Templar houses in the East and was answerable to the higher ranks; the Commander of Knights acted as deputy to the Commander of the Kingdom of Jerusalem; the Turcopolier, who was in charge of the turcopoles (the light cavalry who were often local troops engaged for a fixed period); the Under Marshal, who oversaw the footmen and the equipment; the Standard Bearer, who was usually a sergeant and was responsible for the conduct of the squires; and the Infirmarer looked after sick and aged brothers, who would often be sent back to reside in the Order’s Western houses, away from the front lines of Outremer and the Iberian Peninsula.
The elite of the Templar fighting force was comprised of the group perhaps most readily pictured when we think of the Order – the knights with their white mantles bearing the distinctive red cross over the heart. They would already be expected to be skilled in the arts of war before joining the Order, when they would hand over their secular clothes and be issued with armour, equipment and clothing to wear when not in the field. Although originally knights could be from any social group (including excommunicates, such was the constant need for manpower in the East), by the time of the Second Crusade it was necessary for knights to be descended from knightly stock. Each knight would be granted three horses and a squire, whose role would be to assist the knight and to make sure that he was fully equipped and ready to go into battle. Like the turcopoles, squires were usually not fully sworn-in Templars, but often locals who were hired for a set period.
The other main group of fighting Templars was the sergeants, who, unlike the knights, wore black or brown mantles, and were not as heavily armed. Sergeants were from a much more socially and racially mixed background than the knights, and their ranks were often made up with men of Armenian and Syrian origin. They had to make do with only one horse, and were required to be their own squires.
Gaza and Ascalon
Despite the major setback of the Second Crusade, the Christian presence in Outremer continued to be pre-emptive. The one coastal city that remained in Muslim hands was Ascalon, and a series of forts had been built around it to hem it in. During the winter of 1149–50, King Baldwin III gave the Templars Gaza, which lay a dozen or so miles to the south. The city was largely in ruins, and the Templars set about rebuilding the fort – it was the first important castle the Order received in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Egyptian forces, now unable to supply Ascalon by land, tried to retake Gaza almost as soon as the Templars had acquired the city; the attempt failed.
The siege of Ascalon finally began on 25 January 1153, and the campaign reached its climax during the summer. On the night of 15 August, a sortie of defenders from the city set fire to the Franks’ mobile siege tower. The wind changed direction, however, and blew the flames back against the city walls. The ensuing fire caused part of the wall to collapse, and a Templar contingent under the Grand Master, Bernard de Tremelay, rushed into the breach. The chronicler William of Tyre records that Bernard forbade non-Templars to enter the city, such was the Templar greed for booty. They made an unsuccessful stand in the city; the next day, their beheaded bodies were hung over the walls of Ascalon. No Muslim source records this incident, and it is possible that William was venting his habitual ire; rather than a desire for booty, Bernard and his men may have simply perished trying to hold open the breach in the wall. Either way, the city fell a week later, and the Templars’ reputation for avarice had begun.
The Templars in the West
What had seemed, to commentators in both Outremer and the West, to be an avaricious streak in the Order of the Temple was, in many cases, merely a misunderstanding of the fact that the Order ran its estates with scrupulous care. The land donated to them in the West since Hugues de Payen’s visit of 1127–29 formed the basis of the Order’s wealth. As Malcolm Barber has noted, ‘without an extensive network of support in the West, the Templars would have vanished with the first major defeat they suffered’.10 This network took the form of their European preceptories, which were initially acquired through the extensive programme of donations that transpired during and after Hugues de Payen’s tour.
Ordinarily, a Templar preceptory would be an estate (a farm or a manor, for instance) that would then develop a network of daughter houses around it. All the revenues from both the mother and daughter houses would be directed towards campaigning in the East. A tax, known as the responsion, was raised, whereby one-third of all revenues collected from a Templar house in the West was to be used to support the Order’s work in the Holy Land. These Western houses were generally established in all the main cities, financial centres and ports of Europe. Wherever there was trade, there were Templars.
The preceptories not only kept the Order bankrolled, but also supplied food, clothes, arms and horses. This, together with the Templars’ increasingly important role in the East, meant that the work of the Western houses was even more vital in keeping the Order freshly supplied. With rising prices in the thirteenth century, the onus was on the preceptories to maintain a permanent vigilance over their accounts, and to be constantly on the look-out for new ways to make money. Thus, the Order’s holdings expanded to include not just farmland, but also wine presses, orchards and even tile factories. To gain further support, the Templars introduced a kind of affiliate membership whereby one could, after a donation, hear Mass in a Templar church and have the right to burial in a Templar cemetery. In some cases, the Templars provided these donors with a pension if there was no one else to look after them.
The majority of the Templars’ 9,000 Western manors were in France, and, to a lesser extent, Italy. While the Order had property in Germany, that country was largely the province of the Teutonic Knights. Likewise, on the Iberian Peninsula, the Templars – although heavily involved in the Reconquista – generally had a lower profile than that of the great Spanish and Portuguese orders, Calatrava, Santiago and Alcántara. In England, the Order’s base was at the London Temple, with its holdings being scattered across the country, from Penzance and the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Generally speaking, any modern English place name that has the prefix of ‘Temple’ was once owned by the Order.
The Temple and the Crescent Moon
One of the reasons why the Second Crusade was seen to have failed was perfidy on the part of the ‘Men of Jerusalem’ and the Military Orders. The Crusaders under Louis VII had been shocked at how much the Latins in Outremer had adopted Eastern ways, unaware that in many cases the adoption of local custom was the most pragmatic thing to do. The culture of the Arab world was more refined than the culture most Crusaders had known in the West:
‘The Franks employed Syrian doctors, cooks, servants, artisans, labourers. They clothed themselves in Eastern garments, included in their diets the fruits and dishes of the country. They had glass in their windows, mosaics on their floors, fountains in the courtyards of their houses, which were planned on the Syrian model. They had dancing girls at their entertainments; professional mourners at their funerals; took baths; used soap; ate sugar.’11
In addition, the Franks in Outremer had fresh produce all year round, including fruit and vegetables that were unknown in Europe, such as peaches, olives and bananas.
There were more serious practicalities, however. Although Jerusalem was in Christian hands, the majority of the population remained Muslim. Although they remained second-class citizens unless they converted, they were allowed to choose their own community leaders and, as long as they paid their taxes on time, their Christian rulers were content to let them be. Similarly, the Jewish community remained relatively unharassed (which was in remarkable contrast to the atrocities committed against both communities during the First Crusade).
The Templars showed a great deal of tolerance towards Islam. As has been noted, Grand Masters always had Saracen secretaries, and it was not uncommon for Templars to learn Arabic. One Muslim ambassador visiting the Templars in Jerusalem was given a small chapel in which to pray; when a Frank tried to stop him, the Templars dragged the man off and let the ambassador say his prayers to Mecca in peace.
One group with whom the Templars had a less convivial relationship was the Assassins. They were a fanatical sect of Shi’ite Muslims, who had broken away in the late eleventh century from the Fatimids, the main Shi’ite regime, and set themselves up in the Elburz mountains in northern Persia and later in the mountains of the Lebanon; their leader became known to the Franks as ‘the Old Man of the Mountains’. The Shi’ites were strongly messianic and mystical, believing in the coming of the Mahdi, ‘the Guided One’, who would appear to destroy tyranny and establish Paradise. They pursued their goals through an unpredictable campaign of terror in which Assassin killers would murder their opponents in audacious – sometimes suicidal – attacks. (Their name derives from hashishim, an ingester of hashish. The drug was said to make the taker oblivious to danger.) Frequently, these victims were Muslims from the main rival sect of Islam, the Sunnis, or even other Shi’ite groups.
In 1173, the King of Jerusalem, Amalric I (1162–74), attempted to negotiate an alliance with the Assassins, as Amalric was given to believe that the Old Man of the Mountains was about to convert to Christianity. This was perhaps not as ludicrous as it may sound, as the Old Man had, just a few years earlier, abrogated the law of the Prophet and proclaimed the Millennium, thus making himself and the rest of the sect heretical. The Templars were less certain about the Old Man’s threatened apostasy, and a group of Templar knights ambushed Abdullah, the Old Man’s envoy, near Tripoli and killed him. Amalric was furious, and commentators such as William of Tyre and Walter Map seized upon the opportunity to launch another attack on the greed of the Temple: in their view, the Order was afraid of losing its annual tribute of 2,000 besants that the Assassins paid to the Templars to leave them largely alone. The Grand Master, Odo de St Amand, refused to hand over the killer, a one-eyed knight by the name of Walter of Mesnil, saying that Innocent’s great bull of 1139 put the Templars above the jurisdiction of the throne of Jerusalem, and he would instead send Walter to Rome to be dealt with. Amalric ignored this and seized Walter at Sidon, where the Templar chapter was in session, and had him cast into prison. Amalric managed to persuade the Old Man that the Templars had been acting on their own, but all attempts at forging an alliance with the Assassins were dropped.
The incident showed that, if need be, the Templars would not only go against a Muslim group who, if not actual allies, were at least tolerated and accorded some degree of respect, but also the King of Jerusalem himself. A reason for the murder has never been fully established. That the Templars were afraid of losing their tribute is unlikely, given the wealth of the Order by this time; perhaps they knew only too well that the Assassins could not be entirely trusted, and a breakaway Templar faction under Walter of Mesnil decided to take matters into its own hands.
The Temple as Architects
The Affair of the Assassin Envoy, as it came to be known, shows how far the Order had become independent of all authority save that of the Pope himself, and detractors, railing against the privileges that the Templars enjoyed, accused them of having become ‘a church within a church, a state within a state’. Such criticism appeared to have no effect on the Order, however, and, if the Templars’ building programme in the East is any indicator, it probably only reinforced their belief that they were different because it was the will of God.
Templar masons built a number of churches throughout Latin Syria, and were involved in several major projects, including the construction of the new Church of the Holy Sepulchre, dedicated in 1149, and the renovation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In addition, they provided an elaborate tomb for Baldwin IV, the leper king, upon his death in 1185.Their churches and buildings in the West tended to be simpler, with major expense being reserved for important preceptories such as Paris and London. Likewise, not all their churches boasted the distinctive round design, such as the Temple Church in London. (The round churches were apparently inspired by the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.) Regional preceptories, such as Temple Garway in Herefordshire, were simple, austere but functional places.
The other major feat of Templar architecture in the East was the fortresses they either reinforced, rebuilt or had constructed especially for them. Castles such as Safad in Galilee, Tortosa in the County of Tripoli and ’Atlīt on the coast south of Haifa were masterpieces of medieval military architecture. Indeed, so strong were the fortifications at ’Atlīt – its outer walls were 15ft (4.5m) thick – that it even managed to withstand a major assault while it was still being built.
The Templars had, in fact, been closely involved with building projects since their inception. When King Baldwin II had moved out of the al-Aqsa mosque during the 1120s, the Templars were given free reign to develop the area as they saw fit. Theoderich, a German monk who visited the Holy Land between 1169 and 1174, wrote a detailed account of the Temple area:
‘One follows to the south [from the Dome of the Rock, rechristened the Temple of the Lord after the First Crusade], and there is the Palace of Solomon [al-Aqsa]. Like a church it is oblong and supported by pillars, and also at the end of the sanctuary it rises up to a circular roof, large and round, and also like a church. This and all its neighbouring buildings have come into the possession of the Templar soldiers. They are garrisoned in these and other buildings belonging to them. And with stores of arms, clothing and food they are always ready to guard the province and defend it. Below them they have stables once erected by King Solomon. They are next to the Palace, and their structure is remarkably complex. They are erected with vaults, arches and roofs of many varieties, and according to our estimation we should bear witness that they will hold ten thousand horses with their grooms. A single shot from a crossbow would hardly reach from one end of this building to the other, either in length or breadth.
‘Above them the area is full of houses, dwellings and outbuildings for every kind of purpose, and it is full of walking-places, lawns, council-chambers, porches, consistories and supplies of water in splendid cisterns. Below it is equally full of wash-rooms, stores, grain rooms, stores for wood and other kinds of domestic stores.
‘On the other side of the Palace, that is on the West, the Templars have built a new house, whose height, length and breadth, and all its cellars and refectories, staircase and roof, are far beyond the custom of this land. Indeed its roof is so high that, if I were to mention how high it is, those who listen would hardly believe me. There indeed they have constructed a new Palace, just as on the other side they have the old one. There too they have founded on the edge of the outer court a new church of magnificent size and workmanship.’12
Given that the area around the southern end of the Temple platform was in need of some repair when Baldwin vacated it, and given the extent of the Templar work carried out there, the Order would seem to have been busy, probably from almost the time they moved in.When Theoderich saw it, the Temple area was at its most developed. But, unbeknown to him, the Order’s time there was limited and the new church he saw being built would never be completed.
The Loss of Jerusalem
Coming after the disaster of the Second Crusade, the fall of Ascalon can be seen as one of the high points of twelfth-century crusader campaigning. For the remainder of the 1150s and into the 1160s, the situation between Franks and Muslims would remain in something of a stalemate, seeing tit-for-tat raiding on both sides, with the Templars playing a crucial part in Christian campaigns. However, a series of events transpired in the 1160s that led the Templars to favour ploughing their own furrow when it came to matters of military tactics.
King Baldwin III died at the age of 33 in 1162 and was succeeded by his brother, the 25-year-old Amalric. Amalric’s gaze was firmly fixed on Egypt and, in the autumn of 1163, he launched a campaign against Cairo. Egypt, at the time weakened by political chaos, was seen as a fabulous prize by both Amalric and Nur ed-Din, and each was keen that it should not fall into the hands of the other. The Templars, as usual, participated in the campaign under their Grand Master, Bertrand de Blancfort, but the Egyptians forced the Franks back by breaching the dykes in the Nile Delta. Amalric was not to be kept out of Egypt for long, and he returned the following year. Whilst Amalric was negotiating with Shawar, the Egyptian vizier, Nur ed-Din attacked Antioch. With Amalric unable to return, a force led by Prince Bohemond III, which included a Templar contingent, confronted Nur ed-Din’s much larger forces on 10 August 1164. Against the advice of nearly everyone – including the Templars – Bohemond ordered an attack. The Franks were routed, with 60 Templar knights perishing; only seven escaped.
Relations between the Temple and the King of Jerusalem soured even further two years later when a Templar cave-fortress in Transjordan was besieged by Nur ed-Din’s troops. Amalric and his forces rushed to relieve the Templars only to meet 12 Templar knights as they were coming back across the River Jordan. The Templars explained that they had been involved in the siege and had surrendered the fortress to the Muslims. Amalric was so incensed that he ordered the Templars to be hanged. When Amalric mounted a full-scale invasion of Egypt in the autumn of 1168, the Templars refused to take part.
As has been noted earlier, the Affair of the Assassin Envoy, coming five years after the Templars’ absence from the Egyptian campaign, further strained relations between the Order and the King. The following year, Amalric died. So too did Nur ed-Din. Both rulers’ heirs were minors, with Amalric’s son being the 13-year-old leper, Baldwin IV, while Nur ed-Din’s son Malik was only 11. This led to rival claims from the atabegs of Damascus, Aleppo, Mosul and Cairo, and it was from Cairo that Outremer’s greatest adversary emerged.
Salad ed-Din Yusuf, more commonly known as Saladin, had been one of the Muslim generals who had played a prominent part in keeping Amalric’s forces at bay during the Egyptian campaigns of the 1160s, and he was to come into his own after Nur ed-Din’s death by forging alliances and creating unity between the various Muslim kingdoms with the intention of continuing the jihad (holy war) against the Franks. As a young man, he had been more drawn towards religion, but came to feel that only a holy war would drive out the Franks, and so he became a master swordsman. Like most Muslim rulers of the time, he was also highly cultured and developed a reputation for both piety and mercy towards his enemies. Although he had his opponents within the Islamic world, he was respected by both Muslim and Christian alike, and he admired the fighting prowess of the Frankish knights. However, there was one segment of the Frankish population that he felt outright hatred for, perhaps because he understood how fanatical they were in their commitment to the Christian cause – he detested, possibly even feared, the military orders.
It was not long before the Templars engaged with forces under Saladin’s control. In 1177, Saladin launched an attack against Gaza. The Templars were waiting for him. However, at the last minute, Saladin changed tack and laid siege to Ascalon instead. Baldwin IV, who had now come of age, led a counterattack. With Frankish forces concentrated at Ascalon and Gaza, Saladin, in a move reminiscent of Nur ed-Din’s attack on Antioch, now decided that the relatively undefended Jerusalem would be his best option. Baldwin realised what Saladin was doing and, together with a Templar contingent from Gaza, raced after the Muslim army. They caught up with Saladin’s forces at Montgisard on 25 November 1177 and destroyed them; Saladin evaded capture and escaped back to Egypt.
If Montgisard had confirmed Saladin’s fear of the military might of the Templars, then the events of the summer of 1179 would show him their fanatical side. Acquiescing to pressure from the Templars, who recognised it to be a strategically important area on the road to Damascus, Baldwin had constructed a castle at Jacob’s Ford on the Jordan; it was said to be the place where, according to the book of Genesis, Jacob had wrestled the angel.13 Saladin besieged the castle, and on 10 June Templar forces under their Grand Master, Odo de St Amand, and a Christian army under Raymond of Tripoli, engaged Saladin’s men. The Franks came off worse, and a number of knights were taken captive, among them Odo de St Amand. Normally, such a high-ranking Frankish noble would have been used as a bargaining tool, as had Bertrand de Blancfort when he had been captured by Nur ed-Din soon after becoming Templar Grand Master in 1156. He had been held captive for almost two years, and was released as part of a treaty signed between Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus and Nur ed-Din. Odo, however, refused outright to be exchanged for a Muslim captive held by the Franks, and died in prison in 1180.
Odo’s successor, Arnold of Torroja, had been Master in Spain and Provence since 1167, and was an experienced mediator. He tried to bring together the various factions in the East, knowing full well that if the Christians were split by internal disagreement, then their military strength would be fatally sapped. Saladin, a shrewd politician as well as a great commander in the field, was equally aware of potential haemorrhages amongst the Franks, and continued to consolidate his position with strategic alliances during the early 1180s, waiting for the time when Frankish disunity would signal the moment to attack. In 1184, Arnold set off for Europe with Roger des Moulins, Grand Master of the Hospital, and Patriarch Heraclius in an attempt to impress upon Western leaders the gravity of the threat posed by Saladin. Unfortunately, Arnold died before the embassy got under way, expiring at Verona on 30 September 1184, leaving Heraclius and Roger to continue the mission alone.
The man who succeeded Arnold of Torroja as Grand Master of the Temple, Gerard de Ridefort, had a reputation for rashness that exceeded even that of Odo de St Amand. He was of Flemish or Anglo-Norman origin, and was said to have joined the Order to get over a failed relationship; by 1179 he was Marshal of Jerusalem, and by 1183 he was acting as Seneschal. He was elected as Grand Master of the Temple probably in early 1185, around the time that Baldwin IV’s leprosy finally killed him at the age of 24. Despite having had a somewhat strained relationship with the monarchy since the time of Amalric, the Temple under Gerard became closely involved with the succession issue; disastrously, as it turned out.
Baldwin was succeeded by his seven-year-old nephew, who reigned as Baldwin V, with Raymond of Tripoli acting as regent, and it was in his capacity as regent that Raymond, in an attempt to gain some stability and breathing space for Outremer, agreed a truce of four years with Saladin. The boy lasted a year before he too died. Under the conditions of the leper king’s 1183 will, if his nephew were to die before he reached the age of ten, then Raymond of Tripoli would continue to act as regent while a new ruler was sought by the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor and the kings of France and England. The will, however, did not foresee the coup of September 1186 that installed Sibyl, Baldwin IV’s sister, on the throne of Jerusalem as queen to her husband Guy of Lusignan’s king. Chief among the conspirators that effected Guy’s accession to the throne of Jerusalem was Gerard de Ridefort. The Master of the Hospital, Roger des Moulins, was less enthusiastic about this weak minor French noble assuming the mantle of King of Jerusalem. The strongbox where the crown was kept was under two locks and two keys, each key being held by the Masters of the Temple and the Hospital, and it is said that on coronation day, when it was time for the strongbox to be opened in order to crown Guy, Roger threw his key out of the window, forcing Gerard to go outside to look for it.14
Guy was instantly unpopular. He was a weak king, who was seen by many of Outremer’s vassals as being a usurper. His acceptance of the throne seriously exacerbated the factionalism among the Franks – which had played a part in his accession in the first place – and a fatal split occurred between the king and his chief allies, Gerard de Ridefort and Reginald of Chatillon on the one side, and the former regent, Raymond of Tripoli, on the other.
Reginald was, if anything, even more unpopular than Guy, and with good reason. After committing atrocities in Cyprus, then under Byzantine control, Reginald mounted an expedition to relieve Syrian Christians of their cattle. On his way back to Antioch, he was captured by Muslim forces and ransomed. No one came forward to pay up, and Reginald remained incarcerated for the next 16 years. After being released around 1176, Reginald participated – bravely, by some accounts – in the campaigns against Saladin, but he remained the Franks’ loose cannon. In 1182, he had caused the maximum possible outrage in the Arab world when he had embarked upon a series of raids into Muslim territory from the Red Sea, attacking merchant ships and pilgrims on the way to Mecca; not satisfied with this, a splinter group made for Mecca, planning to dig up the body of the Prophet. Muslim forces under Saladin’s brother Malik intercepted them before they reached the Holy City and wasted no time in executing them. With Guy’s accession to the throne, however, Reginald was off again. Blithely disregarding Raymond’s four-year truce with Saladin, Reginald attacked a large Muslim caravan; in the battle, all the caravan’s Egyptian guards were slaughtered.
During late 1186 and early 1187 – around the same time that Reginald was running amok – the Templar Grand Master, Gerard de Ridefort, tried to persuade King Guy to heal the rift between himself and Raymond of Tripoli. Raymond, like Reginald, had spent time in Muslim jails, but, unlike him, had undertaken the study of Arabic and had developed an interest in Muslim culture. It was this Muslim-friendly position – adopted by the Templars themselves at other times under less maniacal Grand Masters than Gerard – that led Raymond to approach Saladin and negotiate a truce that would leave Tripoli and Galilee free from Muslim aggression whilst Raymond dealt with the ever-worsening situation with his co-religionists to the south.
The two sides agreed to attempt to broker a deal at Tiberias, which was in Raymond’s territory, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Whilst Gerard and a Templar contingent – together with Roger des Moulins and a force of Hospitaller knights – were staying at the Templar castle of Le Fève, en route for Tiberias, Raymond sent word that he had allowed a Muslim scouting party into the area, on condition that they kept the peace. This was the red rag to Gerard’s bull, and he immediately ordered an attack on the Muslims. A day or so later, on 1 May 1187, the Frankish troops encountered Saladin’s men at the Springs of Cresson, north of Nazareth. Despite the fact that the Christian forces only numbered 90 Templars, with another 50 secular knights, against a Muslim strength of 7,000, Gerard ordered an attack. The Marshal of the Temple, James of Mailly, and the Master of the Hospital, Roger des Moulins, both urged retreat, but Gerard accused them of cowardice. James of Mailly is said to have replied, ‘I shall die in battle a brave man, it is you who will flee as a traitor.’15 The Marshal’s words proved to be prophetic: in the bloodbath that followed, the Christian forces were almost completely wiped out; only Gerard and two other Templars escaped with their lives.
If precipitating one military disaster was not enough, Gerard was to reprise his role as the one military adviser to whose advice one should do the exact opposite a matter of weeks later. As Saladin moved inexorably south towards Jerusalem, he took the city of Tiberias, trapping Raymond of Tripoli’s wife within its walls. The Franks held a council of war at Acre on 1 July. Raymond, whose rift with King Guy was now healed, advised staying put, despite the fact that his wife was held by the enemy, as Saladin’s army was too big to engage successfully. The king seemed to be in agreement until, later that night, Gerard advised an attack, convincing the king that it would be shameful to sacrifice Tiberias. Whether Gerard’s advice was due to a near-suicidal streak in the Grand Master, or whether it was because he hated Raymond and couldn’t bear the thought of agreeing to anything the Count of Tripoli suggested, he managed to change the king’s mind.
The crusader army marched north at dawn, until it reached the village of Lubiya. They were constantly harried by Muslim archers, and were suffering greatly from thirst. The Templars, who formed the rearguard, asked if they could stop for the night. Whether the request came directly from Gerard it is not known, but King Guy agreed.
Raymond, who was leading the vanguard, is alleged to have said when he heard this, ‘Lord God, the war is over. We are dead men. The kingdom is finished.’ The army was camped on an arid hill known as the Horns of Hattin and they had no water; the well was dry. During the night, Saladin’s men set fire to the scrub at the foot of the hill, and the breeze carried it upwards, choking the Franks. At dawn on 4 July, Saladin’s forces attacked. Crippled by the summer heat, thirst and smoke, the crusader army stood no chance. It was a disaster greater even than Cresson.
Muslim custom decrees that a man who is offered food or water shall be spared. After his capture, Saladin offered a glass of water to King Guy, who gratefully accepted it. The glass was not offered to Reginald of Chatillon, the most hated man in the whole of the East; instead, Reginald was offered the choice of conversion or death, and he refused to convert. Saladin wasted no more time and personally decapitated him. The Templar and Hospitaller captives were given the same ultimatum – apostasy or death. Saladin’s hatred of the military orders was founded upon his belief that they were the most fanatical of the Frankish warriors, and the aftermath of Hattin proved him right. The Templars were so eager for martyrdom that there was almost a stampede to be the first to be beheaded. All 230 Templar prisoners – and those of the Hospital – were executed. Only Gerard de Ridefort was spared.
After Hattin, it was only a matter of time before Jerusalem itself was in Saladin’s hands. The week after Hattin, Acre fell, followed in September by Ascalon and Gaza. Finally, on 2 October 1187, Saladin entered Jerusalem. He allowed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to remain in Christian hands, but the cross from the Dome of the Rock was taken down and dragged through the streets where it was trampled upon and beaten with sticks. Although a small contingent of non-military Hospitallers were allowed to remain for a limited time in the Hospital to continue the work they had originally been founded for – the care of sick pilgrims – the Templars were forced to surrender their headquarters at the al-Aqsa mosque. They would never set foot there again.
The Third Crusade
Europe reacted with horror to the news that Jerusalem was lost. With Gerard de Ridefort in captivity, the Templar Grand Commander Brother Terence assumed leadership of the Order, and his two letters – the first written a matter of weeks after Hattin, the second in January 1188 – described the disasters that had befallen Outremer:
‘How many and how great the calamities with which the anger of God has permitted us to be scourged at this present time, as a consequence of our sins, we can explain neither by letters nor by tearful voice.’16
He goes on to write about Hattin and the loss of Acre, saying that Christian forces cannot hold out much longer ‘unless we immediately receive divine aid and your [i.e. Western] help’ as the infidel are ‘cover[ing] the entire face of the land … like ants’.17
The letter was nominally addressed to Pope Urban III and to Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, the only major European leader who had visited the East that decade, but was also intended to be circulated as widely as possible. It reached Urban at Verona, delivered by Templar couriers, and it had a devastating effect; so much so that it probably hastened Urban’s end. His successor, Gregory VIII, was already ancient and only reigned for two months, yet in that time, he called for the kings of Europe to cease fighting one another for seven years and devote themselves instead to freeing the East from the oppression of the infidel. King William II of Sicily, who, when he first heard the news, replaced his regal attire with sackcloth and went into retreat, at once sent a fleet of galleys to relieve Antioch. Something akin to the righteous furore surrounding the First Crusade began to sweep through Europe, with the Crusade being seen as a rite of passage, where one was not so much participating in order to gain absolution – as had been the case with the First Crusade – but in order to vanquish evil and prove one’s courage in the field. This romanticisation reached its apogee in the monk Peter of Blois’ Passio Reginaldi, in which the recently deceased Reginald of Chatillon is portrayed not as the murdering maniac that he was, but as a saint and martyr.
As preparations got under way in Europe for a new crusade, the Templars were at the forefront of the campaign to keep the remaining Christian possessions in the East out of Saladin’s control. After the loss of Jerusalem, a fierce Christian counterattack kept Tyre in crusader hands. Several Templar castles fell, principally Safad north-west of the Sea of Galilee and Gaston, which may have been the first castle the Order took over in the Amanus March in the 1130s. The other main military order, the Hospitallers, lost Belvoir, Kerak and Montréal. But significant possessions remained – Antioch, Tyre and Tripoli all held out against Muslim forces. Both King Guy and Gerard de Ridefort were released by Saladin, and re-entered the fray.
Despite the gravity of the situation facing the Franks, the old factional disputes were still alive, as Guy found out when he attempted to re-enter Tyre. That the city held out against Saladin was largely due to the unexpected arrival of a fleet under the German prince, Conrad of Montferrat, who duly put himself in charge of the city after Saladin gave up attempting to take it in early 1188. In Conrad’s eyes, the disasters of the previous year meant that Guy was no longer king. Guy’s next move was against Acre, where he attempted to besiege the city in the autumn of 1189. That he was attempting to take a city at all suggests that Gerard de Ridefort had been advising him, and a contingent of Templars were among the forces that assembled around Acre. This time, Gerard’s luck ran out, and he died fighting outside the walls of Acre on 4 October. When Acre was finally retaken, on 12 July 1191, the Templars had a new Grand Master and the Reconquista against Saladin, under the King of England, Richard the Lionheart, was finally under way.
The Third Crusade marks perhaps the highpoint between the Templars and a crusade leader. Although during the Second Crusade, the Templars had proved themselves indispensable, this was at least due in part to their financial commitment to it, and it was only with the Third Crusade that they really came into their own as a fighting force. This was in large part due to the new Grand Master, Robert de Sablé, who was a vassal and trusted friend of Richard the Lionheart. Richard, although notorious as England’s absent king – he was only in the country for six months of his tenyear reign – was a brilliant military commander, ably supported by the cautious Robert. Within two months of Acre, Richard’s tactical skill would show its hand.
On 7 September 1191 Saladin attacked the crusader army as it marched south from Caesarea, just outside the forest of Arsuf. During the march, the Templars had formed the rearguard, while the Hospitallers complemented them at the front of the column. During the battle itself, Richard reversed the roles of the orders to great effect, knowing that he could rely on their discipline in the field. Although Muslim losses were light, it was Saladin’s first defeat since the victory at Hattin, and it marked a turning point for the Crusade. It brought renewed hope to the coastal cities still under Christian control that Jerusalem itself could be retaken.
The Third Crusade, however, was not to retake the Holy City. Although Richard came within sight of its walls, both Robert de Sablé and the Hospitaller Grand Master Geoffroi de Donjon urged caution, pointing out that even if Jerusalem could be taken, retaining it after the departure of the crusaders would be difficult, if not impossible. Richard agreed with the Grand Masters, and decided his next course of action would be to refortify Ascalon.
Richard was keen to return to England, to deal with his increasingly troublesome brother John. His main priority before he left, therefore, was to ensure that the succession issue was decided. His own favoured candidate was Guy of Lusignan, but he was outvoted by the kingdom’s barons, who wanted Conrad of Montferrat to be the next King of Jerusalem instead. Conrad, however, was murdered by the Assassins in the streets of Acre, leaving the way open for Richard’s nephew, Henry of Champagne, to succeed. (Some have suspected Richard of ordering Conrad’s death, but this is disputed.) This left the former king, Guy of Lusignan, to be dealt with, and it was decided that he should be given Cyprus, an island that had been a thorn in the sides of both Richard and the Templars.
When Richard was en route to Outremer in early 1191, two of his ships had ended up on Cyprus. The island was then under the control of Isaac Ducas Comnenus, a particularly slippery Byzantine prince who had just made a pact with Saladin. The first of Richard’s ships had contained crusaders, while the second carried Richard’s betrothed, Berengaria of Navarre, and her chaperone, his sister Joan, the Dowager Queen of Sicily. Richard arrived a week later and demanded the release of the prisoners. Isaac refused, and Richard, perhaps seeing Cyprus as a source of useful booty for the Third Crusade, launched an attack against Isaac’s forces. The Byzantine, hated by the islanders, was quickly overpowered and a Western garrison was installed on the island. After Richard had left for the Holy Land, word reached him that the local population was proving difficult to control, and the new Templar Grand Master, Robert de Sablé – who was almost certainly elected to the position at Richard’s behest – offered to buy the island from Richard for 100,000 besants. Richard agreed, and a Templar garrison left for the island. However, they too had trouble with the locals, culminating in their fort at Nicosia being besieged on 4 April 1192, and realised that, without a larger garrison, holding the island would be a thankless task. They therefore sold it back to Richard. Richard felt that this would be the ideal place to put the habitually ineffectual Guy, and sold the island to him for 60,000 besants, making the former king now Guy of Cyprus in the process.
Saladin proved to be less easy to dispose of, and negotiations dragged on. In an attempt to force him to come to terms, the Franks successfully attacked the castle of Daron, which lay to the south of Ascalon. Richard returned to Acre just as Saladin made a surprise move against Jaffa, taking the town after three days. Richard, accompanied by only 80 knights – Templars amongst them – 400 archers and 2,000 Italian mercenaries, improvised a counterattack and beat off the much larger Muslim force. Negotiations were concluded not long after. Richard agreed to demolish Ascalon, while Saladin agreed to recognise Christian possessions along the coast. Furthermore, Christians and Muslims were to be allowed to cross each other’s territory, and Christian pilgrims were free to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Places.
On 9 October 1192, Richard left the Holy Land with a Templar escort. He never returned. Saladin died the following year. A tenuous peace descended on the Lands Beyond the Sea.
The Templars at the turn of the Thirteenth Century
The Templars, like much of the Latin East after the Third Crusade, found themselves trying to rebuild the hold they had had before the disasters of the late 1180s. Despite the fact that Christian pilgrims were allowed into Jerusalem, they themselves were not, and so they established new headquarters at Acre, which now became the most important city in the Latin East, and the Templars’ base for the next 100 years. The Order had had a presence in the city for decades, and the German monk Theoderich saw it in the 1170s. The chronicler known as the Templar of Tyre, writing in the mid-thirteenth century, described it as:
‘The strongest place of the city, largely situated along the seashore, like a castle. At its entrance it had a high and strong tower, the wall of which was 28 feet thick. On each side of the tower was a smaller tower, and on each of these was a gilded lion passant, as large as an ox. These four lions [together with] the gold and the labour, cost 1,500 Saracen besants, and were noble to look upon. On the other side, near the Street of the Pisans, there was another tower, and near this tower on the Street of St Anne, was a large and noble palace, which was the Master’s. In front of the house of the nuns of St Anne was another high tower, which had bells, and a very noble and high church. There was another ancient tower on the seashore, which Saladin had built 100 years before, in which the Temple kept its treasure, and it was so close to the sea that the waves washed against it. Within the Temple area there were other beautiful and noble houses, which I will not describe here.’18
Although Acre, long familiar to the Order, proved to be a sound choice of location for their new base of operations, it was the Templars’ attempts to reestablish themselves in the Amanus March, which had been amongst their very first fortified possessions in the East, that illustrate how much damage had been done by Saladin’s campaigns.
The Templar castles Gaston (Baghras) and Darbsaq had both fallen to Saladin’s forces during September 1188, severely weakening the Order’s powerbase in the region. Gaston proved to be a drain on resources, however, and, in 1191, the Muslims abandoned it. Prince Leo of Cilician Armenia then occupied and refortified it. When the Templars attempted to gain access to the fortress, they were refused, and so began a long campaign to wrest control of it from Leo. The situation was made infinitely more complicated by Leo’s war with Antioch, the precarious position of the Armenian Church and the rival claims made by Leo’s descendants and those of his Antiochene rival, Bohemond III. An intermittent campaign was conducted between the Templars and Leo’s forces until 1211, when, in a series of attacks on the Templars and their holdings, the recently elected Grand Master, Guillame de Chartres, was wounded and Pope Innocent III subsequently excommunicated Leo. The Armenian Church had only been reconciled with Rome since 1197, and Leo evidently felt that his excommunication put him politically beyond the pale, so he restored Gaston and other Templar holdings to the Order between 1213 and 1216.
The sense of the Order – and Christendom – reestablishing itself after the end of the Third Crusade is also evident in the actions of Pope Innocent III (1198–1216). In 1199, he wrote to the leaders of Outremer complaining that no one seemed to have the heart for a new crusade (which he himself was very keen to promote). He also published a series of bulls that reiterated the Templars’ special status, and demanded that the clergy respect the Order’s rights and privileges. He reminded the clergy in no uncertain terms that the Templars had a right to their own burial grounds and had the freedom to erect churches on their own land and warned them against doing violence to any serving brother or to Templar property. Furthermore, the clergy were asked not to forget that the Templars were exempt from paying tithes, that they should be left in peace to collect those tithes due to them from their own lands, and that the clergy were expressly forbidden to divert any of these funds their way; the clergy were also not to excommunicate Templar churches and those who broke into Templar houses were to be punished; the clergy were to prevent brothers who were serving in the Order for a set period of time from leaving early; bishops who forced Templars to fight other Christians (as happened in parts of the Iberian peninsula and eastern Europe) were condemned; and the clergy were instructed to protect the property and privileges of the Templars against usurpers, and were to excommunicate those who disobeyed. Just in case the clergy did not get the point, Innocent also reissued the bull that had given the Templars their privileges in the first place, Omne datum optimum.
Innocent also directly addressed the Order, warning its members not to abuse any of their privileges, knowing full well that they were often accused of the sin of pride. He complained that they gave full Christian burial to anybody, as long as they had some money to pay for it, not bothering to find out whether they had been excommunicated or had some other reason for not being allowed to be laid to rest in consecrated ground. In prophetic words, Innocent warned the Order that if they did not change their ways, they would become agents of the Devil.
The Other Military Orders
One unexpected development in the Latin East after the end of the Third Crusade was the establishment of a new military order. In 1197, German crusaders had arrived in the East; they were largely unsuccessful, their sole military contribution being their participation in the capture of Beirut that year. Most of the German crusaders returned home, but a number of knights remained in the East, and joined a field hospital that had been set up in 1190 by merchants from Bremen and Lübeck. During the siege of Acre in 1191 they were said to have welcomed brothers from the Hospital of St Mary of the Germans, which, tradition holds, was founded in Jerusalem in 1127. The new hospital’s first base in Acre was a tent on the shore made from a ship’s mainsail. When the knights joined, they became the Teutonic Knights of St Mary’s Hospital of Jerusalem, and on 5 March 1198, the Teutonic Knights were accepted as an order of the church at the Temple compound in Acre.
The Teutonic Knights were the last of the three great military orders to be founded. The first of them, the Hospitallers, had been founded before the formation of the Templars, sometime around 1070. The Hospital – founded by a group of merchants from Amalfi – was originally that of St John the Almoner, and it operated an infirmary and guest house for pilgrims near the Church of Holy Sepulchre. The first Grand Master was Peter Gerard, who was elected in about 1100. As soon as the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established, Godfroi de Bouillon donated lands to the Order, and many others followed suit, with the result that the Hospitallers had extensive holdings in Europe as well as the East. The capture of Jerusalem in 1099 led naturally to the influx of a greater number of pilgrims than ever, and it was decided that a more prominent patron saint should be adopted for the Order: John the Almoner was replaced by John the Baptist. The Hospital was recognised as an order by Pope Paschal II (1099–1118) in 1113.
The Order’s second Grand Master, Raymond de Puy, oversaw the Hospital’s adoption of an increasingly military role. In the early years, it is possible that Templars were used to guard the Hospital’s establishments, but during the 1120s it seems that the Hospitallers themselves started to militarise. A Hospitaller constable is mentioned in documents dating from 1126,19 but the first firm date for military activity is 1136, when King Fulk gave the Order the castle of Gibelin, on the Gaza–Hebron road. Like the Templars, the Hospitallers received papal privileges: Innocent II (1130–43) forbade bishops to interdict Hospitaller chapels; Anastasius IV (1153–54) gave them their own priests; while Adrian IV (1154–59) gave them their own churches. Their rule evolved slowly, with Raymond being guided by pragmatic concerns. Like the Teutonic Knights after them, some of the Hospital’s statutes were modelled on those of the Templars.
In addition to the Hospital and the Teutonic Knights, there were several smaller orders active in the East. The Hospital of St Lazarus was the third military order to be founded after the Temple and the Hospital of St John. Originating probably from a Greek or Armenian leper house in Jerusalem, the Order was set up solely for knights who had contracted leprosy. It was taken over by the Hospital of St John during the early 1100s, and it is said that the first Hospitaller Grand Master, Peter Gerard, also acted as the Grand Master of St Lazarus. According to legend, all their subsequent Grand Masters were lepers. They established a chain of houses for lepers across the East and Europe, which became known as ‘Lazar Houses’, and were chiefly known for their hospitaller work, although they participated in a number of engagements in the East alongside the Templars and Hospitallers. The Templar Rule demanded that a brother who caught leprosy must transfer to the Order of St Lazarus.20
The Knights of Our Lady of Montjoie were recognised as an order by a bull issued by Pope Alexander III (1159–81) in 1180. The Order was founded by a Spanish knight, Count Rodrigo, taking its name from the castle of Montjoie just outside of Jerusalem (the name itself deriving from the cries of joy that pilgrims were said to have uttered upon first seeing the Holy City). The Order – never numerous at the best of times – seemed to have had trouble gaining recruits, and, after the disasters of 1187, the surviving brothers retired to Aragon, where they changed their name to the Order of Trufac.
The Hospitallers of St Thomas of Canterbury, also known as the Knights of St Thomas Acon, were founded around the same time as the Teutonic Knights. Their origins were also from the time of the Third Crusade: William, the Dean of St Paul’s, was so moved by the plight of the English crusaders that, after the capture of Acre in 1191, he bought a small chapel and cemetery. The hospital that he founded was restricted to Englishmen, although many preferred to join the Templars and the Hospitallers instead. Like their better-known contemporaries, they received donations of land in the East and in Europe. They are thought to have militarised around the time of the Fifth Crusade.
The Templars’ reputation in the field was unsurpassed. When the Franks were crushed at Hattin, Saladin ordered that all the captive Templars and Hospitallers be executed, such was his conviction that the military orders were the Franks’ main weapon against Islam. (Indeed, Saladin viewed the two orders as ‘impure races’.21)
The Templars – as did the secular Franks – employed cavalry and infantry. The former comprised mounted knights and sergeants, the latter archers and troops armed with axes and spears. The knights were the mediaeval equivalent of a tank, with their great war horses often standing up to 17 hands high. The horses – known as destriers – were taught to kick, butt and bite. The sergeants were also mounted, but wore lighter armour and rode in the rear.
Tactics were simple, but, when timed properly, were devastatingly effective. Initially, the infantry would provide cover, before the cavalry charge, which would form the main attack. A properly timed charge would wipe out everything in its path; misjudged charges led to disasters such as the Springs of Cresson. During the melée, the Templars were sworn to stay in the field as long as the Order’s distinctive black and white banner, known as the beauseant, remained aloft. As soon as the beauseant was lost to sight, the Templars would rally to the Hospitaller banner or, if that too was down, then any remaining Christian banner. Their vows meant that they were usually the first into the field, and the last to leave.
In the early years of the Latin East, the Templars quickly developed a fearsome reputation as the best-trained soldiers the Franks had, showing almost suicidal bravery at times. This reached an apogee during the Mastership of Gerard de Ridefort, who died during a reckless attack at Acre. However, as the twelfth century gave way to the thirteenth, the Templars began to retreat from their earlier zeal and grew ever more cautious in battle.
The Temple and the Empire
Innocent’s plans for a new crusade in the East finally materialised in 1218, although he himself did not live to see it. After Innocent’s death in July 1216, he was succeeded by Honorius III (1216–27), who was determined to get the crusading machinery in motion. Although the Templars had played little or no role in the Fourth Crusade (1202–04) – mainly due to the crusade’s failure to actually make it to Palestine after sacking Constantinople – they were heavily involved in the Fifth from the outset.
A crusade fund was established at the Paris Temple, where the Templar treasurer, Brother Haimard, oversaw donations. Honorius wrote to the Templar Grand Master, Guillame de Chartres, and also to his opposite number in the Hospital, Garin de Montaigu, ordering them to meet the crusade’s leaders, King Andrew of Hungary and Leopold, Duke of Austria, on Cyprus. As things turned out, the two men and their respective armies arrived separately in the East in the autumn of 1217. Initial plans to attack Damascus were shelved after the somewhat lacklustre campaign of November 1217 in favour of mounting a campaign in Egypt, with the intention of capturing the key city of Damietta. With reinforcements under the King of Jerusalem, John of Brienne (1210–25), the crusaders – including contingents of Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights – landed at Damietta in June 1218. It was here that the Templar Grand Master, who had been unwell since the previous autumn, died, and was succeeded by Garin de Montaigu’s brother, Peter. For the first and only time, the Orders of the Temple and the Hospital were under the control of the same family. (A third brother, Eustorge, was Archbishop of Nicosia.)
Damietta was swiftly captured. Oliver of Paderborn, the master of Cologne’s cathedral school, who went on the Fifth Crusade, wrote in admiration of the Templars’ ability to fight in the waterlogged terrain of the Nile Delta, using both a fleet of ships and pontoons, and being able to negotiate the swamps on horseback. Warfare of this sort would not normally be waged in the sun-baked hills and valleys of Palestine, and that the Templars were so effective in the capture of Damietta proved that they were military strategists and engineers of genius.
The crusaders’ initial success moved the Egyptian Sultan, al-Kamil, Saladin’s brother, to offer them Jerusalem in return for Damietta. Pelagius, the Papal legate and self-appointed leader of the Crusade, rejected the offer. As with Richard and the question of Jerusalem on the Third Crusade, the Montaigu brothers had argued that Jerusalem could not be held unless the lands beyond the Jordan were also ceded to the crusaders, and this was something that was not part of al-Kamil’s offer. They decided to wait for further reinforcements before continuing with the Crusade, believing that the cause would be greatly aided by the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. When it became apparent that an Imperial army was not going to materialise, Pelagius ordered an advance up the Nile. The Templars were reluctant, believing that the Crusade’s resources were overstretched. Their misgivings proved to be correct. When the Frankish army reached the town of Mansurah, al-Kamil’s forces cut off the crusaders’ rear and blocked their path ahead by opening the sluice gates; the Crusade was literally flooded into submission. Pelagius had no choice but to accept al-Kamil’s terms and surrender Damietta. A truce of eight years was also agreed.
Despite Frederick’s failure to appear, the general feeling remained that he would fulfil his vow to go on crusade, a vow he had taken at his coronation in Frankfurt in 1212. The grandson of Frederick Barbarossa, who had died while on the Third Crusade in 1190, Frederick II was one of the most extraordinary characters of his age. He was raised in Sicily and was elected king at the age of three. He had a naturally enquiring mind, and became fluent in not just Italian, French and German, but also Greek, Latin and Arabic. In choosing to rule from Sicily, Frederick created a political and cultural gap that was far wider than the straits of Messina, which separated the island from the Italian mainland, might suggest: he had a pronounced interest in Arabic culture, and his bodyguard was made up entirely of Saracens. He was rumoured to be an atheist, and certainly had what might be termed a scientific outlook on nature, which led to a number of bizarre and sometimes cruel experiments: children were raised in complete silence in order to observe what language they would utter when they were old enough to talk (this would therefore prove what language Adam and Eve had spoken in the Garden of Eden22); a man was imprisoned in a wine barrel to see if his soul could be seen departing from his body at the moment of death; two men – one indolent, the other active – were killed and then dissected in order to find out how their lifestyles had affected their internal organs. Rumours abounded about Frederick’s private life, and he certainly seems to have had somewhat liberal attitudes to sex. He defended the Jews of Germany against charges of the ritual murder of Christian children, and, at one point, is said to have seriously considered converting to Islam, which would have made him, as Holy Roman Emperor, neither holy, Roman nor emperor.
Frederick and his army finally landed at Acre on 7 September 1228. It had been a difficult passage: Frederick’s forces had to put in at Otranto because of illness; and this delay had enraged the new pope, Gregory IX, so much that he excommunicated the Emperor. When he finally set sail again the following spring, Frederick was excommunicated again for attempting to go on crusade while excommunicated. Frederick was not unduly bothered by this, but, by the time he reached Acre that autumn, word of his excommunications had spread among the clergy and baronage of Outremer. This officially meant that Frederick could no longer command the Crusade, and the Latins were split along Papal–Imperial lines. Most of the Frankish barons, the Templars and the Hospitallers sided with the Pope – the Templars, after all, were answerable to none save the pontiff himself – while the Teutonic Knights sided with Frederick. Furthermore, Frederick’s wife, Isabel, had died giving birth to their son Conrad that May, and, as his claim to the crown of Jerusalem was through his marriage to her, he was technically no longer king either, merely the regent for the infant Conrad.
Perhaps because of his dubious status as both leader of the Sixth Crusade and as King of Jerusalem, Frederick began to assert his authority by marching to ’Atlīt and demanding that the Templars hand the castle over to a German garrison (presumably to be placed under the control of the Teutonic Knights). The Templars refused to let Frederick in and he returned to Acre. His next move was to march on Jaffa. The Templars and the Hospitallers would not accept Frederick’s command, and followed the Imperial forces a day’s journey behind. By the time they had reached Arsuf, Frederick delegated his command to his generals, therefore making it possible for the two main military orders to rejoin the Crusade. Now expecting to engage the enemy, the Templars were to be frustrated by a coup of staggering proportions – Frederick regained Jerusalem through diplomacy.
The recovery of the Holy City came as a complete surprise to the military orders and to the barons of Outremer; to Frederick, however, it was something he had possibly been expecting. Even before he left Sicily, Frederick had received the Emir Fakhr ad-Din ibn as-Shaikh, al-Kamil’s ambassador, at court in Palermo; the Emir brought the Emperor news that al-Kamil would return Jerusalem to Christian control if Frederick promised to help the Sultan in his campaign to recapture Damascus. Frederick had not given al-Kamil a definite answer, and, during the negotiations conducted while on crusade, the subject had naturally come up again. By this time, however, Frederick had received news that the situation back home had taken a severe turn for the worse, with war breaking out between an Imperial army under Reginald of Spoleto, and a papal army under the former King of Jerusalem, John of Brienne, and he was anxious to return to Palermo. Although the thought of a successful Christian–Muslim alliance against al-Kamil’s enemies in Damascus might have appealed to Frederick’s ego, it would have been the greatest outrage of all time in the eyes of the Pope and Western leaders; quite what would have happened is difficult to imagine. A compromise was therefore reached in which Frederick and al-Kamil saved face – Jerusalem was returned to the Franks, but the Temple Mount was to remain in Muslim control. The city itself was to remain undefended, being connected to the coastal cities by a thin corridor of land.The military orders were forbidden from carrying out reinforcements on their castles, and a ten-year truce between the two leaders was agreed.
Despite this historic achievement, the recovery of Jerusalem led to the pious on both sides of accusing their respective leaders of treachery, and it very nearly led to a civil war among the Franks. Frederick was crowned King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 17 March 1229, despite the fact that the city had been placed under interdict by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Gerold of Lausanne, should the Emperor arrive. The interdict forbade any church ceremonies from taking place whilst Frederick was within the walls of the city, but it made no difference – with no priests to crown him, Frederick simply crowned himself. The Templars and the Hospitallers stayed away, leaving only the loyal Teutonic Knights to guard the Emperor and King. Their great Grand Master, Herman von Salza, delivered an oration in which Frederick forgave the Pope for opposing him (a none too subtle reference to Frederick’s double excommunication), and promised to do everything he could to defend the Church and the Empire. Frederick signed himself God’s ‘Vicar on Earth’, a title which was normally reserved for the pontiff, thus throwing down the gauntlet. For Frederick, the enemy was not al-Kamil, but the Papacy.
After the ceremony, Frederick made a tour of Jerusalem. With typical Muslim diplomacy, al-Kamil had ordered the muezzins not to call the faithful to prayer while Frederick was in the city. Frederick, however, apparently wanted to hear the prayer-call – citing it as his reason for coming to Jerusalem – and when he entered the Dome of the Rock, he threw out a priest who had attempted to enter with the Imperial entourage, threatening to pluck out the man’s eyes if he attempted it again. Frederick then noticed a wooden lattice that had been placed over a window inside the Dome. It was explained to him that it had been placed there to keep the sparrows out, and Frederick, using the disparaging Muslim term for the Franks, replied, ‘God has now sent you pigs.’
It was when Frederick returned to Acre that the ‘pigs’ nearly rose against him. He found Gerold and the Templars assembling forces to wrest Jerusalem from his control and attack Damascus. A tense stand-off ensued outside the city walls. It descended into a slanging match, with Frederick hurling insults at both the Patriarch and the Templars, in particular the Grand Master, Peter de Montaigu. Things had reached a spectacular all-time low in Templar–Imperial relations, so much so that both the Grand Master and the Emperor were each concerned for their physical safety. According to the chronicler Philip of Novara, Frederick was planning to kidnap a number of Frankish barons – and Peter de Montaigu – and have them tried at a kangaroo court before having them executed. Counter-propaganda circulated that the Templars were planning to assassinate Frederick whilst he was in Jerusalem, and the Emperor, possibly aware of the plot, only spent two nights in the city. Before Frederick left the Holy Land, he attempted to storm the Temple compound in Acre without success. When he finally did leave, at dawn on 1 May 1229, the jeering crowds pelted him with dung.
Frederick’s return to the West did not mark the end of his involvement in the affairs of Outremer. In 1231, his bailli, or representative, Richard Filangieri, arrived with an Imperial force and tried to seize Acre. Although unsuccessful, he did manage to establish a base at Tyre, where he remained a thorn in the side of the Templars and the anti-Frederick camp. In 1232, the new Templar Grand Master, Armand de Périgord, was one of those who attempted to mediate between Filangieri and aggrieved Frankish barons, but the attempt at reconciliation failed.
For the remainder of the 1230s, the Templars found themselves mainly concerned with local disputes, such as mounting campaigns against local warlords like the Sultan of Hamah when he failed to pay his annual tribute (protection money, in modern parlance), or Muslim foragers who came too close to the Templar stronghold of ’Atlīt. It was only the imminent ending of the ten-year truce between Frederick and al-Kamil that brought the Templars back into the wider sphere, and saw them once again adopt an anti-Imperial stance.
As 1239 approached, Pope Gregory preached a new crusade, knowing how vulnerable Jerusalem was and fearful that Latin possessions could be wiped off the map altogether. Only one minor French noble, Theobald, Count of Champagne, took the Cross. He arrived in the East on 1 September 1239 and, like the participants of the Second Crusade before him, immediately failed to grasp the complexities of the political situation in Outremer. He found that the Franks, encouraged by the Templars, had made an alliance with the ruler of Damascus – in return for helping the Damascene forces against the Egyptians, various lands seized by the Muslims would be returned to Christian control. (This included the great Templar fortress of Safad, which had been lost at Hattin, and the Order immediately began restoring it to its former strength.) Theobald was evidently unaware that al-Kamil had died in March of the previous year, resulting in anarchy in the Muslim world as his heirs and claimants fought amongst themselves for al-Kamil’s title. A breakaway force under Henry, Count of Bar, decided to take advantage of the situation by attacking Egypt; they were decimated at Gaza. The blame fell not on Henry for underestimating the size of the Egyptian army, but on the Templars and Hospitallers – who had correctly assessed the danger posed by the Egyptian forces – for refusing to support him.
Another crusade arrived the following year, under the leadership of Richard, Duke of Cornwall. Richard, nephew of the Lionheart, brother of Henry III of England and brother-in-law of the Emperor, clearly hoped to make an impact, and immediately set to work trying to free Christian prisoners from both Damascus and Cairo and to get the lands recently ceded to the Franks officially recognised by all parties. Richard’s success was not to last. As soon as he had sailed for England, the Templars – unimpressed by Richard’s efforts and suspicious of Egyptian duplicity – attacked the city of Hebron, then under Egyptian control, followed by the recapture of Nablus.
With Richard gone, the Templars found themselves in open conflict, not just with Imperial forces under Frederick’s bailli, Richard Filangieri, but also with the Hospitallers. Although rivalry between the two Orders had always existed, settlements were usually found before any serious damage could be mutually inflicted. This time, however, the Hospital had opposed the Templars’ attack on Hebron and Nablus, favouring, like Richard of Cornwall, diplomacy with the Egyptians. With the Duke of Cornwall safely bound for home, Filangieri tried to capture Acre, using the Hospital compound there as his base. The Templars, once more adopting the militant anti-Imperialist stance they had taken under Peter de Montaigu, responded by participating in the subsequent attack on the Hospitaller headquarters, besieging it for six months. The situation came to a head with the arrival in the East of Thomas of Aquino, the Count of Acerra, to accept the crown of Jerusalem on behalf of Frederick’s son Conrad, who had now come of age. The Templar Grand Master, Armand de Périgord, was one of those who strongly opposed Conrad’s accession, and instead lent support to Alice, Dowager Queen of Cyprus, on the grounds that she was the nearest heir and was therefore the only legitimate candidate for the Regency of Jerusalem. Genoese and Venetian forces arrived and, in the summer of 1243, they helped the Franks in evicting Filangieri, Count Thomas and all the rest of the Imperial party from Tyre, claiming – with dubious legality – that Conrad’s claim to the throne of Jerusalem was invalid as he had not appeared in person to claim the crown.
The Franks had no time to put their house in order before a new crisis loomed, when, in early 1244, war broke out once again between Egypt and Damascus. This time, Egyptian forces were bolstered by the Khorezmian Turks, a tribe of ferocious nomads of mercenary persuasion. They flooded south from their base in Edessa and, on 11 July, attacked Jerusalem. The city finally fell a month later, on 23 August. The bones of Godfroi de Bouillon and other Kings of Jerusalem were disinterred and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was set alight. Jerusalem would never again be under Christian control. But worse was to follow.
The Khorezmians headed south, joining forces with the Egyptian army at Gaza. On 17 October at La Forbie, the Frankish forces attacked the combined Muslim forces. It was a disaster; the Damascenes deserted and the remaining Christian forces were slaughtered, with at least 800 being taken prisoner and sold into slavery in Egypt. Among them was the Templar Grand Master, Armand de Périgord, who disappeared into the bowels of an Egyptian jail and was never seen again. The Order also lost somewhere between 260 and 300 knights; only 33 Templars, 26 Hospitallers and three Teutonic Knights returned from the field. The following year, Damascus fell to the Egyptians, and it seemed that Outremer’s final hour had come.
The Fall of Acre
La Forbie was a disaster almost on par with Hattin. The West was shocked, and the possibility of a new crusade was considered. The only monarch who actually arrived in the East was Louis IX, the saintly French king, who had nearly died of fever around the same time that the Franks were being cut down on the field of La Forbie. His recovery, and the news that the East was once again in dire peril, decided the matter for him. After extensive preparations, he sailed from Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue on 25 August 1248, arriving on Cyprus on 17 September. Among the welcoming party was the new Templar Grand Master, Guillame de Sonnac, who had been elected after the Order’s failure to secure the release of Armand de Périgord from captivity in Egypt.23
The crusaders landed in Egypt on 5 June 1249, and found to their surprise that Damietta had been evacuated. They managed to take the city the following day, with the loss of only one life. Louis decided to march south towards Cairo, using the Templars to form the vanguard. Things seemed to be going the way of the Franks, a feeling reinforced when, on 23 November, the Egyptian Sultan, al-Sālih Aiyūb, died. However, they then spent a month trying to cross a branch of the Nile, but could not find a suitable place until a local Bedouin showed them the ford. On 8 February 1250, they began to cross, with the Templars and Richard, Count of Artois, Louis’ brother, and William Longespée, the Earl of Salisbury, heading the column. It was at this point that things began to go badly wrong. On arriving on the opposite bank of the river, Richard decided to attack the Muslims rather than wait for the rest of the crusaders to finish crossing the river, and forced the Muslims to retreat to the nearby town of Mansurah. The Templars were angry at what they saw as Richard’s arrogation of their role, and passed a message to the Count to that effect. However, Foucaud du Merle, the knight who was holding the bridle of Richard’s horse, was deaf, and failed to pass the message on. Richard charged off in pursuit of the Muslim forces and the Templars, now concerned at saving face, chased after him, determined to regain their position in the van. The Christian forces poured into Mansurah and found themselves trapped by wooden beams and other debris that had been used to close off the narrow streets. In the ensuing chaos, 300 knights died and 280 Templars; the instigator of the ill-fated attack, Richard of Artois, drowned under the weight of his armour while trying to swim to safety, while the Templar Grand Master Guillame de Sonnac lost an eye. On 11 February, there was a second onslaught in which Guillame lost his other eye and died later the same day. Although the Muslim forces were driven back, it became clear that taking Mansurah would not be easy.
Louis decided to sit it out, and waited. While the army was entrenched outside the walls of Mansurah, the Muslims had managed to cut the crusaders’ supply lines from Damietta, depriving them of fresh food. To make matters worse, disease was spreading rapidly through the Frankish army. Louis suffered from acute dysentery and was continually visiting the latrine; indeed, so frequent were the king’s visits that, according to the chronicler Joinville, his servants aided matters by cutting away the lower part of his drawers. Louis realised that he would have to negotiate, but the offer was rejected. On 5 April, the Franks began to retreat. The Muslims came after them and the casualties on the Christian side ran to several thousand. Only 14 survived from the military orders, including three Templars. As a final humiliation, most of the army – including Louis himself – was captured. Damietta was to be handed over in return for the king’s life; the rest of the captives were to be ransomed for half a million livres.
Damietta was returned to Muslim control and, on 6 May, Louis was released. Before he left Egypt, there was still the matter of paying the rest of the ransom, and counting began on 7 May. By the end of the following day, it was apparent that they were still 30,000 livres short. Joinville suggested to the king that the amount be borrowed from the Templars, and Louis agreed. Joinville went to the Templars to ask for the money, but the Order’s commander, Stephen of Otricourt, refused to hand the sum over on the grounds that he could only release the money to the people who had deposited it in the first place. Tempers began to fray and ‘there were many hard and abusive words’24 between Joinville and the Commander until the Templar Marshal, Reginald de Vichiers, suggested that, although they had sworn vows to protect their clients’ money, there was nothing stopping Joinville from taking the money by force. Therefore, with the king’s permission, Joinville went on board the Templar galley where the money was kept in the hold. However, the Templar treasurer refused to open the strongbox, perhaps owing to Joinville’s somewhat haggard appearance after the deprivations of the retreat from Mansurah and also to the fact that he was wielding an axe. At this point, Reginald de Vichiers, clearly concerned that Joinville was about to commit an act of violence, intervened and ordered the treasurer to open the strongbox and hand the money over.
Louis arrived back in Acre on 13 May, and, with his support, Reginald de Vichiers was elected Grand Master of the Temple. This was partially to repay Reginald for his role in the king’s release, but also for his involvement with the Crusade from its inception: as early as 1246, Reginald was acting on behalf of Louis in arranging shipping to carry the crusaders to the East. Louis stayed in Outremer for another four years, and he initially remained on close terms with the Templars. Indeed, when a son was born to Louis, the baby was delivered in the castle of ’Atlīt, and Reginald acted as his godfather. Relations were soon strained, however, when Reginald attempted to form a new alliance with Damascus without consulting Louis. The king was furious, and made the Grand Master perform public penance for his insubordination.
Louis left the East in April 1254. Despite the failure in Egypt, the Crusade had achieved a number of things: fortifications were improved in key cities such as Caesarea, Jaffa, Sidon and Acre itself, and Louis pledged to assist in maintaining them by supplying a constant garrison of French troops. The inland castles – such as Safad – were all in the hands of the military orders, as they had proved too expensive for the secular baronage to run. Additionally, Louis had shown that Outremer could still be governed well provided that it had a single, strong leader behind whom the Frankish barons could unite. And in his six years in the East, he had injected a vast amount of money into the economy – 1.3 million livres tournois, about 11 or 12 times the annual income of his kingdom.25
When Louis left, he took his leadership and financial support with him. Unfortunately for the Franks, this coincided almost exactly with the rise of two new powers that would both threaten Outremer – the Mongols and the Mamluks. Of the two, the Mongols proved the most immediate threat. Indeed, such was the Frankish fear of them that it brought all three of the main military orders together. The Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights all agreed to put their habitual squabbles to one side in the name of defending Outremer (an achievement all the more impressive when one considers that civil war had broken out in the East shortly after Louis’ departure, with the Templars and Teutonic Knights on one side, and the Hospitallers on the other). Letters were written and frantically dispatched to the West. One Templar courier managed to make it to London in just 13 weeks, bearing a doom-laden account of the situation in the East, reminiscent of the letters of Brother Terence after the disasters of 1187:
‘… when they had read these letters, both the king [Henry III] and the Templars … gave way to lamentation and sadness, on a scale no one had ever seen before. For the news was that the Tartars [Mongols], advancing with an innumerable force, had already occupied and devastated the Holy Land almost up to Acre … unless help is quickly brought, a horrible annihilation will swiftly be visited upon the world.’26
On 3 September 1260, a horrible annihilation was indeed visited upon Outremer, but it was not the Franks who bore the brunt of it: it was the Mongols themselves. At ’Ain Jūlāt, south of Nazareth, a Mongol army was crushed by Mamluk forces under the sultan Saif-ad-Dīn Kutuz. The Mamluks, a caste of elite slave warriors who had been a permanent component of the Egyptian military for a century, had recently seized power in Egypt, bringing to an end the rule of Saladin’s descendants. Kutuz himself was soon ousted, being assassinated the month following the victory at ’Ain Jūlāt. He was replaced as sultan by Baybars, who had fought in the Egyptian army at La Forbie and against Louis at Mansurah; he would do more damage to the Franks than any other Muslim leader since Saladin.
Baybars immediately set about destroying Frankish possessions in Outremer. The 1260s are a litany of Christian defeats, with even such great Templar castles as Safad and the Hospitaller stronghold of Krak des Chevaliers falling. The Pope, Clement IV, decided that a new crusade was called for, once the immediate problem of Sicily and Frederick’s descendants had been dealt with. King Louis sent more money to the East via the Templars. No sooner had the funds been transferred, than further letters came from the East requesting more money to pay soldiers; appeals for help were unending. On 18 May 1268, Antioch fell and Thomas Bérard, the Templar Grand Master, decided that the Order’s possessions in the Amanus March could no longer be successfully defended, and they were reluctantly abandoned. The seemingly unstoppable force of Baybars was only halted by the last crusade, that of Prince Edward of England, who persuaded the Mamluk sultan in April 1272 to agree to a ten-year truce. It was fortuitously timed. The Franks were in no position to hold out much longer, and Edward was forced to return to England upon the death of his father, Henry III, to assume the crown as Edward I.
At the Council of Lyons in May 1274, a new crusade was once again considered. Although the Templars played a prominent role in the talks – the Grand Master sat beside the Pope – an agreement could not be reached. Outremer was once again rent asunder by factional disputes, mainly centring around claims to the throne, with the Templars supporting Charles of Anjou, who had finally succeeded in wresting Sicily from the control of Frederick’s son Conradin, whom he had had executed in Naples in 1268. Angry at what he saw as the Templars’ adherence to no law save their own, the King of Jerusalem, Hugh III, simply upped and left for Cyprus, leaving no one in overall command. He tried to regain control of Outremer twice, in 1279 and 1283, but was unsuccessful on both occasions.
The Templars found themselves bogged down amid the various factions. They became involved in a civil war in the County of Tripoli between 1277 and 1282, an involvement that did nothing to enhance their reputation, and seems to have led to the Grand Master of the time, Guillame de Beaujeu, as being widely regarded as untrustworthy. Guillame did, however, get the Mamluks to agree to a new ten-year truce in 1282. In 1285, they broke it.
Baybars had died in July 1277, and his successor, Kalavun, was intent upon finishing the work that his predecessor had started. In April 1285, the coastal city of Latakia fell, followed by the Hospitaller fortress of al-Marqab the following month. The Templars were kept informed of Kalavun’s plans by means of a double agent in the Mamluk hierarchy, and they were warned that Tripoli was in danger. Guillame sent a messenger to warn the Tripolitans, but, perhaps because of the Grand Master’s apparent political duplicity, the message was not believed. In desperation, a second messenger was despatched, also to no avail. Once the Tripolitans finally realised they were in danger, it was too late for reinforcements to reach them, and the city fell to Kalavun in April 1289.
Letters to the West continued at a frantic pace. Finally, in August 1290, a fresh wave of crusaders landed at Acre. Unfortunately, they were the sort of crusader who would not have looked out of place on the First Crusade – they were by and large buccaneers, criminals and drunkards who wasted no time in causing a riot in which many Muslim traders were killed. This was the pretext that Kalavun needed for an attack upon the city. Once more, the Templars had advance warning courtesy of their well-placed source close to Kalavun, but again, like the boy who cried wolf, Guillame’s warning was not believed.
On 5 April 1291, the Mamluks began their siege of Acre. Kalavun had died in November, but that had not stopped plans for an attack. His son, al-Ashraf Khalīl, assumed command. Ten days later, Guillame de Beaujeu led a daring night attack on al-Ashraf’s forces, but the Templars were forced to retreat after becoming entangled in Mamluk tent ropes. On 15 May, a joint force of Templars and Hospitallers repelled a Mamluk assault on St Anthony’s Gate, but were not able to keep the Muslim forces out indefinitely, and on 18 May, they broke into Acre at the socalled ‘Accursed Tower’. Guillame de Beaujeu was apparently taking a well-deserved rest at the time, but, when he was told that the Mamluks were now inside the walls of the city, he rushed out into the mêlée without first stopping to put on all his armour. He was wounded in street fighting and died that evening. Within hours, the entire city apart from the Temple area was in Muslim hands and the harbour was full of ships taking refugees to Cyprus. On 25 May, the Templar Marshal, Peter de Sevrey, agreed to surrender if the Mamluks would guarantee the safety of all those who were taking refuge in the Temple compound. The Mamluks broke their word, but were beaten back by the Templars. There could now be no surrender. That night, the Templar Commander, Theobald Gaudin, sailed from Acre with the Templar treasure aboard his galley. Three days later, the Temple fell; everyone remaining inside fought to the death.
Theobald was elected Grand Master at Sidon by the remaining Templars there. A large Mamluk force appeared, and the Templars retreated to their stronghold. It was decided that Theobald would sail for Cyprus and bring back reinforcements. However, no reinforcements were forthcoming from Cyprus, only a message that it would be wise to leave the Holy Land; the Templars abandoned Sidon on 14 July. Haifa fell on the 30th, leaving only Tortosa and ’Atlīt in Templar hands. They were effectively cut off, and had no choice but to evacuate: Tortosa was abandoned on 3 August, and the impregnable ’Atlīt on 14 August. When the Mamluks reached ’Atlīt, they dismantled it for fear that the Templars should return and reoccupy the one castle that had defeated even Baybars. But their fears proved unfounded. When Acre fell, Outremer had fallen with it. The Templars would never return to the Holy Land.