Between the Second and Third Crusades (1150-1191)

In 1149, Louis VII and his army returned to France. They had ac-complished nothing except to destroy the truce between Jerusalem and Damascus and encourage the Moslems, who now saw that the Western warriors were not all that fearsome.

Things just got worse. On June 29, 1149, the dashing Raymond of Antioch who had charmed his niece, Eleanor of Acqutaine, was killed in battle. Nur ad-Din had his head and right arm sent to Baghdad; the rest of his body was taken back to Antioch for burial.1He left behind a wife, Constance, and four young children.2 Like Melisande, Constance was the heir of Antioch so she could rule in her own right. But her cousin, Baldwin III, still had to come up and help with the transition. Then, in May 1150, Jocelyn, count of Edessa in exile, was captured by Nur ad-Din. He died in captivity nine years later. His wife, Beatrice, held out in the fortress of Tel Bashir for some time, but was finally convinced to turn over her lands to the Greeks, who couldn’t hold them, either.3 William of Tyre wrote, “Therefore, for our sins, both counties were scarcely able to survive, lacking good council, under the rule of women.”4

Nur ad-Din was the real winner of the Second Crusade. Because the citizens of Damascus had been so angered by the attack of the crusaders, they had agreed in 1154 to let the atabeg take over the city.5 Nur ad-Din was then able to bring all of Moslem Syria under his control.

With the north solidly in control of Nur ad-Din, King Baldwin looked to the south. The town of Gaza had been abandoned and a fortress was built nearby to block the southern route for trade to the coastal city of Ascalon. Ascalon was ruled by the Fatimid caliphs and was essential to trade between Egypt and the Middle East. When the fortress was finished, it was turned over to the Templars to maintain. While William of Tyre is not always kind to the Templars he states that in this case, “These strong and intrepid men have held this trust faithfully and wisely until this very day.”6Now, Everard de Barres was Grand Master of the Temple at this time, but probably back in France. So it’s not clear who was in charge. The records are pretty sparse.

By 1153, it was obvious that Everard wasn’t going to come back. So Bernard of Tremelay was elected Grand Master.

Nothing is known of Bernard and his time as Grand Master was so short that there aren’t any examples of his administrative ability. His death, however, was an example of both the positive and negative images of the Templars.

According to William of Tyre, King Baldwin hadn’t planned on capturing Ascalon. It was an extremely solid fortress. He was just going to annoy the inhabitants by ravaging their orchards.7But things went so well that he decided to besiege the city.

Since this was more than he had intended, Baldwin called for reinforcements. All the princes of the land, along with the patriarch of Jerusalem, various bishops and archbishops, the Templars, and the Hospitallers, answered the call. With them they brought the True Cross.8As the most holy relic in Christendom, it was brought to all the major military engagements. The Templars were always entrusted with its care and protection.9

The siege lasted for several months. At one point a group of pilgrims arrived from Europe and were pressed into service as mercenaries. 10Finally one of the walls of the city was breached. Bernard of Tremelay and the Templars rushed in first. For some reason still debated, no one followed them. The Templars were all trapped inside and killed.11 Despite this setback, the siege continued and in June 1153, the city fell. The citizens were allowed to leave unmolested.12

The capture of Ascalon achieved what the French and German crusaders had not been able to manage. The Latin kingdoms now controlled the entire Mediterranean coast from Egypt up to what is now Turkey. Finally, things seemed be going well again.

However, it wasn’t to last long. In early 1157, a group of Christians attacked a party of nomadic Turkomen near the town of Banyas, despite a truce in effect. Nur-ad-Din immediately brought his army to besiege the town. In the ensuing battle the Frankish army was defeated. King Baldwin barely escaped and several of the leaders were taken hostage, including the king’s marshal and future Templar, Odo of St. Amand, and the current Grand Master, Bertrand of Blancfort.13

Baldwin III spent the next few years shoring up defenses around his kingdom and making alliances that would protect the territory of Jerusalem from Nur ad-Din. His work was cut short, however, by his death in 1163. William of Tyre swears that the king was poisoned by the doctor who gave him a tonic against the approaching winter. But William is suspicious of the custom in the East of trusting “Jews, Samaritans, Syrians and Saracens,” whom he felt were “absolutely ignorant of the science of medicine.”14

Since Baldwin had no children, his brother, Almaric (or Amaury), became king. There was a slight glitch about the succession because Almaric had married his third cousin, Agnes. This was considered incest, although if she had been his fourth cousin, it would have been okay. However, Almaric obligingly let the marriage be annulled as long as their two children, Sybilla and Baldwin, were considered legitimate.

Don’t feel too sorry for Agnes. Almost immediately she married her childhood sweetheart, Hugh of Ibelin.

William of Tyre knew King Almaric well and gives a very interesting portrait of him. Like most of the Frankish kings, he was blond. He was slightly above medium height, say about five feet and six to eight inches. He had a bit of a speech impediment, which made him uncomfortable speaking in public. Although he didn’t overeat or -drink, he was much too fat “so that he had breasts [that] were like a woman’s, hanging down to his belt.”15Almaric was only in his late twenties! William also thought Almaric was greedy, not very congenial, and a seducer of married women. And this is someone that William worked for and supposedly liked!

Almaric was, however, a strong ruler who insisted on justice within the kingdom. His most important accomplishment was the Assise sur la liege. This pronouncement made all the small landholders and minor lords subject ultimately to the king. In a dispute, the needs of the king outweighed those of the liege lord.16

What the Templars thought of Almaric may have been worse than William’s opinion, although they didn’t record it. Most of Almaric’s reign was spent in trying to conquer Egypt and in keeping Nur ad-Din’s lieutenant, Shirkuh, from encroaching on his kingdom. In 1165, Shirkuh captured a castle that was in the guardianship of the Templars. Almaric believed that they had made a deal with the Saracens and had twelve Templars hanged.17Since the disciplining of Templar brothers was the business of the Grand Master and the pope, this did not go down well with the current Grand Master, Bertrand of Blancfort.

At this time, the Shi’ite sultan of Egypt, Shawar, was also having problems with the Sunni Shirkuh.18 So Almaric sent an envoy to Cairo to negotiate a treaty with Shawar against the common enemy. It was led by Hugh of Caesarea, who spoke Arabic, and the Templar Geoffrey Fulcher.19Geoffrey never became Grand Master but was the procurator of the order, something like an attorney. He was also an accomplished diplomat who was in contact with rulers in the West.20

The men concluded a treaty and, for a time, Moslem and Christian joined forces. However, in 1168, Almaric decided to invade Egypt again. His excuse was that Shawar had switched his allegiance to Nur ad-Din, or at least that there were rumors to this effect.21As the leader of the Templars, Bertrand of Blancfort refused to allow his men to join the expedition, especially to break a treaty that a Templar had helped broker. It seemed wrong to the Templars to attack a friendly kingdom that relied on them. Bertrand felt it was against the terms of the treaty and against the laws of religion.22

Now, William thought that the real reason Bertrand refused to go was because the man who had suggested the invasion was the commander of the Hospitallers, Gilbert d’Assaily.23 I couldn’t say. But the bad blood between the Templars and the king was building.

The Templars were fighting the Third Crusade long before the ultimate crusader king, Richard the Lionheart, decided to come to the Latin kingdoms and liberate Jerusalem. The First Crusade had succeeded in part because the Europeans happened to arrive when the various Moslem states were busy fighting each other. They were never to be that lucky again.

By this time Shawar had been defeated and Damascus and Egypt had been united under one man, Salah-ed din Yusef ibn Ayub, or Saladin . And the crusader kingdoms were in disarray. They were fighting among themselves worse than usual and, instead of a strong warrior, they had only a boy as king, Baldwin IV. And Baldwin was a leper.

One of the saddest stories of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is that of Baldwin IV, only son of Melisande’s son Almaric. When Baldwin was nine years old his tutor, William of Tyre, saw the first signs of leprosy in the child. He says that he noticed that when Baldwin was playing with other boys and they were poking and pinching each other, as boys do, Baldwin seemed to be extremely brave about it. Then he realized it was because the boy couldn’t feel the pain.24

Baldwin IV led his armies and governed the kingdom until his illness progressed to the point of complete disability. When the “Leper King” died in 1185, the throne went to the son of his sister, Sybilla. King Baldwin V was about six years old and only “ruled” for a few months after the death of his uncle.25 The child died in 1186.

After Baldwin V’s death, his mother, Sybilla, was the rightful heir to the throne, but there was another group that believed Raymond of Tripoli should rule. Sybilla was supported by the current Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard of Ridefort. The Templars and the Hospitallers, along with the patriarch of Jerusalem, were entrusted with the


William of Tyre examining the wounds of Baldwin IV. (The British Library)

keys to the chest in which the royal crowns were kept.26Gerard convinced the master of the Hospitallers to help him open the chest so that Sybilla could be officially crowned.

One objection to Sybilla was her husband, Guy of Lusignan. Guy had made enemies. In return for Raymond’s support, Sybilla promised to divorce Guy, if she could be allowed to choose her second husband herself. Raymond and his supporters agreed to this. Sybilla divorced Guy and was crowned queen. Then she married Guy of Lusignan.27

So Guy was now king of Jerusalem. He was to rule over the disintegration of the kingdom and the loss of the city.

THERE are many chronicles of the Third Crusade, most written within fifty years of the events. So we have the benefit of many points of view, not only Christian but also Moslem. The role that the Templars played in the events of the time is therefore given from several perspectives. The trick is deciding which one, if any, is accurate.

One writer seems to be impressed by the valor of the Templars during the time leading up to the crusade. At the battle of the Springs of Cresson, which took place two months before the fall of Jerusalem, “a certain Templar, . . . Jakelin de Mailly by name, brought all the enemy assault upon himself through his outstanding courage. While the rest of his fellow knights . . . had either been captured or killed, he bore the force of the battle alone and shone out as a glorious champion for the law of his God.”28 The anonymous chronicler describes the battle as one in which the masters of the Temple and Hospital with their few men faced an army of thousands coming to ravage the land.

However, another chronicler has a different take on the battle. According to him, Saladin had a truce with Raymond, count of Tripoli. The Saracens, under the command of Saladin’s son, came into the county, harmed no one, and were leaving when the master of the Temple, Gerard of Ridefort, insisted that they attack. Raymond had forbidden anyone to break the truce. “The master of the Temple was a good knight and physically strong but he treated all other people wrongly as he was too presumptuous.”29

According to this chronicler, Gerard convinced the others to attack. The result was disaster. The master of the Hospital, Roger des Moulins, had his head cut off along with all the knights of the Temple. Only three escaped, one being the master of the Temple, Gerard de Ridefort.30

Oddly, Gerard was allowed to continue to give advice to King Guy. His next counsel led to the disaster known as the Horns of Hattin and the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin.


William of Tyre, Chronichon, ed. R. B. C. Huygens (Turnholt, 1986) book 17, 10, p. 772.


Ibid. Constance was the cousin of Baldwin III, who had been married at the age of nine, much to the shock of her mother, Alice.


M. W. Baldwin, ed., The Crusades: The First Hundred Years (Wisconsin University Press, 1969) pp. 533-34.


William of Tyre, book 17, 11, p. 775. “Sic igitur peccatis nostris exigentibus utraque regio, melioribus destituta consiliis vix in se subsistens, femineo regebatur imperio.”


Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) p. 105.


William of Tyre, book 17, 12, p. 776.


Ibid., book 17, 21, p. 789. Isn’t it interesting how often the need for fresh fruit comes into these campaigns?


Ibid., book 17, 21, “lignum dominice crucis vivificum et venerabile secum habentes.”


Laurent Dailliez, Régle et Status de l’Ordre du Temple (Paris: Dervy, 1996) p. 1 38, rule no. 122, “Quant l’en porte le verais crois en chevauchée, le Comandour de Jerusalem et les X chevaliers la doivent garder nuit et jour.”


William of Tyre, book 17, 24, p. 793.


Please see chapter 15, Grand Masters 1136-1189.


William of Tyre, book 17, 30, p. 803. This is confirmed by the Arab historian al-Qalanisi in The Damascus Chronicles of the Crusades, ed. and tr. H. A. R. Gibb (Dover, 2002; reprint of 1932 ed.) pp. 316, “and all of them who could depart left the city and proceeded by land or sea to Egypt and elsewhere.”


Ibid., book 18, 14, p. 831.


Ibid., book 18, 34, p. 859, “phisicarum rationum prorsus ignaris.”


Ibid., book 19, 3, p. 868, “ut more femieo mamillas haberet cigulotenus prominentes.”


Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades (Oxford University Press, 1988) p. 117.


Hellen Nicholson, The Knights Templar (London: Sutton, 2001) pp. 62-63.


For more on this situation, please see chapter 18, Saladin.


William of Tyre, 19, 18, p. 887.


Malcom Barber, The New Knighthood (Cambridge, 1994) p. 96.


William of Tyre, 20, 5, p. 917.


Ibid., 20, 5, p. 917. They were so naïve!






John L. La Monte, Feudal Monarchy in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1100-1291 (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1932) p. 33.


Ibid., p. 34.


Peter W. Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation (Ashgate, Aldershot, 1998) pp. 154-55.


The Chronicle of the Third Crusade, ed. and tr. Helen J. Nicholson (Ashgate, Turnholt, 1997) p. 25.


Edbury, p. 32.



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