CHAPTER NINE

The Life of a Templar, According to the Rule

In the first days of the order, while their numbers were still few, the Templars seem to have lived by the same Rule as the canons at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where they first found shelter. But at the Council of Troyes, along with recognition as a quasi-monastic order, the Templars also received a list of seventy-nine rules detailing how they should conduct their lives. The collection of these rules is known as the Rule.

This first Rule was written in Latin, but most of the monks couldn’t read Latin. Actually, only a few of them could read at all. So, shortly after the council, the Rule was translated into French. Very soon after the first translation, new problems arose that weren’t covered in the original list and the Rule was expanded until, by the middle of the thirteenth century, the Templars had almost seven hundred separate directives covering every aspect of their lives!1

No one could keep track of all of these and the knights weren’t expected to. The commanders of each geographical region had a copy of the list. Most of the knights, sergeants, and servants only knew as much as they needed to in order to do their work and follow the regulations for daily living.2

Many parts of the Templar Rule were the same as those for all monks. They were to attend the reciting of the monastic hours—matins, prime, terce, nones, vespers, and compline—although it was understood that they needn’t learn the Latin; instead they were to recite a number of Our Fathers. They ate together in silence, listening to a devotional reading. They met once a week in Chapter, where assignments were given out and discipline administered. Monks were encouraged to confess their lapses, beg forgiveness, and take their punishment. If a monk was accused by others of infractions of the Rule and denied his guilt, then a mini trial would take place. The faults could range from tearing one’s habit on purpose or hitting another Templar to patronizing a brothel or converting to Islam. The penalties ranged from extra fasts to having to eat on the floor in the infirmary to outright expulsion from the order.

Templars were not allowed to own anything individually and to carry money only for immediate needs while traveling or doing business for the order. If a Templar died and was found to have a hidden cache of gold or silver, “he will not be placed in the cemetery, but thrown out for the dogs.”3If his hoarding was discovered while he was alive, he was immediately thrown out of the order.

Every article of clothing and equipment for the monks was specified, including the material. Only the “true” knights, those who were of noble birth and also had signed on for life, were allowed to wear the white cloak.4 Sergeants, servants, and men who only signed up for a certain period wore either black or brown cloaks. Because of the heat in the eastern Mediterranean lands, Templars were permitted to wear linen shirts from Easter to All Saints’ Day (November 1). Unlike other monks, they were permitted meat three times a week but not on Friday, when they ate “Lenten meat”—that is, fish or eggs.

Particular attention was paid to the military equipment of the Templars. Each knight was to have three horses and one squire to take care of them. And if the squire was serving without pay for the sake of charity, the knight could not beat him, no matter what he did wrong.5 The knights were expected to oversee the care of their horses and equipment, checking on them at least twice a day.

Of course, all of this happened when the knights were residents in

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Two Templars on one horse with the Beausant, the Templar standard.
(Matthew Paris © The British Library)

the Temple house, the commandery or preceptory. But it was understood that they would spend much of their time in the field. Among the crimes that would merit immediate expulsion from the order were running away from the battle or letting the standard fall. Here the rules were different for the sergeants and the knights. If a sergeant or servant lost his weapons, he was allowed to retreat without dishonor. A knight, however, “whether he is armed or not, must not let the standard fall, but stay by it no matter what, even if he is wounded, unless given leave.”6

The Templars lived up to this. They were the first into battle and the last to retreat. Of all the negative things said about them over the years, no one ever questioned their bravery. The number of Templar knights killed in battle was enormous.

This was probably the reason for two changes in the Rule. The Latin form of the Rule forbid men who had been excommunicated by the Church to become Templars. Often the reasons for excommunication were those that Bernard of Clairvaux had given in his exhortation to the Templars: murder, rape, and theft. This was modified in the French to state that if the crime had been minor so that the man had only been forbidden to hear Mass, one might make an exception, if the commander of the house allowed it.

Of course, becoming a Templar might well be part of one’s penance for murder. It was rather like a medieval Foreign Legion in that respect.

Another way in which the Templars differed from most monastic houses was that they had a very short probationary period for new recruits. The time between applying to become a Templar and acceptance into the order was originally left to the discretion of the commander or the Master and the other brothers.7But at some point any trial period seems to have vanished. This may be due to the desperate need for more fighting men in the East. There wasn’t time to test the men either for understanding or for ability to cope with the lifestyle.8

This meant that, for many of the Templars, the only instruction they received was a list of rules recited to them on the day of their admission. This was made much of at the various trials of the Templars in the early fourteenth century, where it was shown that each man seemed to have had a slightly different introduction to the Temple.9 However, all new recruits seem to have understood that there was a Rule and, in many commanderies, it was one of the books read aloud during meals, so they eventually learned what was expected of them.

Even if individual Templars or even remote Templar houses didn’t follow or even know all of the rules, they existed, and in many copies. They weren’t secret. Brothers who could read were given copies to study.10So if they were asked by one of the commanders to do something contrary to religion or decency, they would have known it wasn’t official. Two of the faults that would earn a Templar immediate expulsion from the order were heresy and sodomy, and yet these were the most serious of the charges made against them in 1307.

This will be discussed more elsewhere in this book, but it’s important to know that these were offenses forbidden by the Rule, along with killing a horse or letting the standard fall. Is it likely that the entire order broke those fundamental rules? Is it possible that such a thing could have been going on for years, with Templars traveling all over Europe, with no one finding out that they were secret heretics? The activities of the knights were known to the sergeants and the servants, many of whom were not members of the order but hired help.

These people lived in a society where one had to go into the desert and become a hermit to get a little privacy (and even that didn’t always work). If the Rule of the Templars was being so flagrantly broken, someone would have found out and spread the word around long before Philip the Fairdecided to accuse them.

1

There are a number of editions of the Rule of the Templars. The earliest I know of is Maillard de Chambure, Règle et status secrets des Templiers (Burgundy, 1840), then Henri de Curzon (see note 2 below). Laurent Dailliez did an edition in both Old and Modern French (Paris: Edition Dervy, 1972). A Modern French translation along with an introduction giving the social background of the Crusades is Alain Degris, Organisation & Vie des Templiers: Sociologie Féodale d’Orient & d’Occident (Paris: Guy Trédaniel, 1996). There is also an English translation, J. M. Upton-Ward Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Rule of the Order of Knights Templar (Woodbridge, Eng.: Boydell and Brewer, 1992).

2

Henri de Curzon, La Règle du Temple (Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1886) p. xxvii.

3

Regle no. 225, “Il ne seroit mie mis en simittire, mais seroit jetes hors a chiens.”

4

Regle no. 9, “Et a trestoz les freres chevaliers en yver et en este se ester puet, avoir blans mantiaus, et a nul nest otrie davoir blanc mantel.”

5

Regle no. 33, “Et si celui escuier sert de son bon gré a la charité, le frere ne le doit batre por nule colpe que il face.”

6

Regle no. 419, “Mais I frere chevaluers ne le porroit pas faire en tel aniere, ou fust armé de fer ou non: quar cil de doit laissier le gonfanon pour nule chose sons congié, ni par bleceure n p or autre chose.”

7

Regle no. 7, “Ét de ci en navant soit mis en esprove seloc la provoiance du mestre et des freres.”

8

A. J. Forey, “Novitiate in the Military Orders,” Speculum Vol. 61, No. 1, Jan. 1986, p. 5.

9

Ibid., pp.10-17.

10

Forey, p. 13.

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