Who Were the Templars?

While there are some notable men who became Templars, and occasionally one of the rank-and-file Templars was singled out for approval by a chronicler for the glory of his death, most of the time the Templars seemed interchangeable. This was intentional. Unlike secular knights, they were not supposed to be interested in personal fame. They were not just soldiers, but monks. Their lives combined the discipline of an army unit in the field with the rigor of the monastic schedule of prayer eight times a day.

The Rule tells us what the daily life of the Templar should be. There was of course a big difference between the lives of those who were on duty in the Latin kingdoms and those who never left the West. But the Rule gives us a pattern that every Templar was supposed to follow. It is probable that when not actively in battle, most of them did their best to keep to it.

What did they look like? First of all, unlike the dandyish knights and courtiers of the twelfth century, clean shaven with long curly locks, the Templars wore their hair short and had nicely trimmed beards.1 The Latin Rule, written by regular cloistered monks, makes it clear that they weren’t to dress in the latest styles. The monks particularly despised the fashion for rostris, or shoes with long, pointed toes and laces, “which are obviously a heathen fashion.”2Their clothes should be plain and serviceable, without fur or frills. Like monks, the clothes were not their own, but distributed by the Draper, who was told to make sure that they fit so that no brother looked like a fool in something too long or too short.3

Also like other monks, the Templars ate together and in silence. Out of regard for the amount of extra energy they would need, they were allowed meat three days a week, except for some feast days.4 They might have wine before bed, but in moderation5When they got to bed, there should always be a light burning, “so that the shadowy enemies might not lure them to evil.”6

Many of the rules were designed to make sure that the brothers had no chance for any sort of sexual contact, with men or women. They were always to go in pairs, or more, but, should they stop at an inn, they were not to go into each other’s rooms.7 This rule puzzles me because most inns did not have private rooms—one might well have been asked to share a bed with a stranger. Either the monks who wrote this rule didn’t get out much or the Templar cash was going for the best lodging available.

Their daily lives were based on those of the monastery. They got up in the middle of the night for the prayers of Matins. At dawn they said the prayers of Prime and then heard Mass. They stopped for the other six times of prayer, ending with Compline, after which they were not allowed to speak until the next Matins.

It was understood that few of the brothers would have the Latin to recite the psalms of the Divine Office or even be able to read them in French. So they only needed to listen to the priest recite and to say the Lord’s Prayer thirteen times at each of the hours.8At the end of each Office, the brothers were given any necessary orders or important announcements.

After Matins, long before dawn, the Templars did not go back to bed until they had checked their horses and equipment, repaired anything that needed it, and conferred with their squires about any other problems.9 Then they could go back to bed until the sun rose.

Instead of the usual monastic duties, such as copying manuscripts or working in the garden, the Templars in the field spent most of their free time taking care of their armor and their horses. The care of the


A nineteenth-Century idealized image of a Templar. (Art Resource, NY)

horses was a major concern. The monk Odo of Deuil, who went with Louis VII on the Second Crusade, was impressed with the way the Templars kept their horses fed, even though they themselves were starving.10 The Rule gave guidelines for feeding and exercising the horses and for military training. The Temple in London had a field across from the house which was probably used for jousting and other exercises, so not only the brothers serving in the East were expected to stay in training.11

As in a monastery or a modern army, a Templar was strictly under the authority of the master. He had to ask permission to do almost anything and was expected to obey an order instantly, saying, “De par Dieu”—“For the sake of God.”12

One concession that the writers of the later sections of the Rule had to make was about gambling. Games of chance were the second most popular recreation for medieval soldiers and, since the Templars had vowed chastity, the first was out of the question. So rule number 317 gave limits on what the Templar may wager. It appears as if the idea was to let them play without risking anything. Because they had taken a vow of poverty, they had no money, so they were forbidden to bet anything valuable, such as a saddle. Instead they could wager with tent pegs or pieces of candle or worn-out cord from a crossbow. They were not to play chess or backgammon at all.13

These men had grown up in a society where everyone played games of chance. The fact that the Rule had to bend a bit to accommodate this shows how ingrained the knightly life was in the men who chose to become Templars.

There was a great difference between the lives of the Templars in the East and in the West. With the exception of the Iberian Peninsula, the Templars living in the various commanderies and small houses never saw combat. Their life was much more like that of the monks living in the countryside near them. These men had two main jobs: to recruit knights to send to Jerusalem or Acre and to bring in the money to support them.

In Paris and London, especially, some Templars became financial servants of the kings. But we still have only a few of their names, no sense of who they were. I think that this is because most of the Templars were not on the same social level as the men who hired them. Even the knights who wore the white cloak tended to come from the lower nobility. The sergeants only had to be freeborn to enter the order. When it came down to it, with a few exceptions, the nobility considered the Templars in Paris and London as no more than civil servants.

It is possible to give a picture of a few of the Templars, mostly from charters.


One of the unusual things about the Templars is that men could join for a limited amount of time.14 One of those who did was a knight named Humbert of Beaujeu.15Humbert was the son of Guichard, lord of Beaujeu, in Burgundy, and Lucienne of Rochefort. The date of his birth isn’t known but it many have been between 1115 and 1120.16He signed on with Louis VII for the Second Crusade. He was going to travel to the Holy Land with his father-in-law, Amadeus III of Savoy, but one night he had a vision warning him to go on his own.17It’s not quite clear what disaster the vision expected. Amadeus III, who was also the uncle of Louis VII, was bringing a huge force on the expedition. Amadeus and Louis shared in the disasters of the journey across Anatolia and were among those who went too far ahead, causing the slaughter of Louis’ rear guard in Turkey.18But Amadeus himself survived the crusade and died on Cyprus of a fever.

When Humbert, traveling on his own, reached Jerusalem, he joined the Templars, although he was married. Either he told them he was single or he offered to sign up for a term and lied about having his wife’s permission. He must have served with them only for the duration of the crusade, for he was back in Burgundy by 1150.19 He may have accompanied the Grand Master, Everard de Barres, who returned to the West at about this time.

Humbert’s father, Guichard, had entered the monastery of Cluny, near Macon in Burgundy, in 1137 and Humbert was apparently very active in the area, keeping the peace and getting rid of brigands and thieves. Everard may not have wanted the lord of Beaujeu to leave the Templars. It’s always hard to lose an enthusiastic worker. The abbot of the monastery, Peter the Venerable, was all for ridding the Holy Land of the Saracens but the marauders in Burgundy, though Christian in name, were much closer and posed an immediate threat to him and his monks.

Abbot Peter wrote to Everard, begging him to release Humbert from the Templars so that he could continue to protect Cluny and the surrounding region. This is another reason why I think that Humbert was a temporary Templar. The abbot of Cluny would not have suggested making someone revoke a monastic vow. But if Humbert had promised to serve the order for a short time and he had left before the time was up, Peter might have considered his need greater than the Templars’.20

He points out to the master that, while all the good men were off fighting, the bad ones stayed behind to prey on the innocent. But Humbert, “who has but lately come back from overseas and returned to our neighborhood to take up the care of the land, to general rejoicing,” is now able to protect widows, orphans, and defenseless monks.21

So Humbert did not remain in the Templars. He stayed in Beaujeu, where he was active in clearing his land of criminals. He also was known for his battles with his son, Humbert IV, who probably wished the old man had stayed in Jerusalem. Their quarrel was finally settled by the bishop of Lyons, who arbitrated their peace:

Among all the misfortunes which have struck our region, one must place first that upheaval (tempestas illa), that pitiless war which Humbert of Beaujeu and his son waged against each other, and which men almost despaired of ever seeing ended.... [At last] The father received his son like his natural heir, and as the legitimate seignor after him of his whole fief and domain of Beaujeu, and he swore to this before all the witnesses. The son, in his turn, did him homage. And it was in this way that, through our mediation, the young Humbert gave back to his father the greater part of the seignory on which he had laid his hand.22

The younger Humbert died on the Third Crusade. His father died around 1192, in his late seventies or early eighties. I hope he was feisty to the end.

Humbert is a good example of how the Templars were not just men who gave up families and the world. I haven’t been able to find any indication of him staying in contact with the local Templars after his return, but this may be due to a lack of records. The fact that his son went on the next crusade implies that Humbert believed in the cause, although the younger Humbert did not follow his father’s example and join the Templars.

BUT in some cases, the Templars were a family affair. One of the most important donors to the Templar commandery at Richendes was the local lord, Hugh of Boubouton. In 1136, he and his nephew, Bertrand, along with many of their friends and neighbors, gave the Templars a fairly large parcel of land. To be certain that no one contested this, they had the bishop of St. Paul Trois Châteaux, Pons de Grillon, witness it.23 Two years after that Hugh, with his wife, son, and nephew among others, gave the Temple more land. The next day, Hugh became a Templar. He eventually became the commander of Richendes.24

Hugh’s example seems to have inspired his son, Nicholas. On December 3, 1145, he also became a Templar, in spite of the protests of his mother, who was finally convinced to accept his decision. He must have been an only child, for he gave the remainder of the family property to the order, for, as he quoted, “One may not be My disciple unless one gives up all that one possesses.” Enough was left to support his poor mother, Marchesa. One wonders how she spent the rest of her life, for it’s clear from the document that Nicholas knew how his decision had hurt her.25

In this case we can sense the deep religious dedication of Hugh and his son. They had property and position but they gave it up to fight for God. There is no indication as to what prompted their decisions, but the religious devotion is obvious. It’s one of the tantalizing unknowns that makes historical research both exciting and frustrating. I imagine Hugh staying at the commandery while Nicholas went off to Jerusalem, perhaps to die at one of the battles of the Second Crusade or in some unimportant skirmish. Did Hugh regret encouraging his son? Did his wife ever speak to him again? There’s no way to know.

Perhaps if we had more of these personal images of the Templars and their families, there wouldn’t be so many imaginary tales about their lives.


Rene Grousset, Histoire des Croisades et du Royaume Franc de Jérusalem Vol. I (Paris, 1934) p. 543.


Henri de Curzon, La Règle du Temple (Paris, 1886) pp. 32-33, “manifestum est esse gentili.”


Ibid. Rule no. 18.


Ibid. Rule no. 26.


Ibid. Rule no. 30.


Ibid. Rule no. 37. This was customary in both monasteries and convents.


Ibid. Rule no. 41.


Ibid. Rule no. 282.


Ibid. Rule no. 283.


Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem, ed. and tr. Virginia Gignerick Berry (New York: Norton, 1948) p. 134.


George Worley, The Church of the Knights Templars in London: A Description of the Fabric and Its Contents, with a Short History of the Order (London, 1907) p. 15.


Curzon. Rule no. 313.


Ibid. Rule no. 317.


Ibid., Rules no. 65 and 66.


I haven’t found a connection between him and Grand Master William of Beaujeu, but one may exist. Families tended to choose a religious order and support it over the generations.


Constance Brittain Bouchard, Sword, Miter, and Cloister: Nobility and the Church in Burgundy, 980-1198 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987) p. 292.


Jonathan Riley-Smith, “Family Traditions and Participation in the Second Crusade,” in The Second Crusade and the Cistercians (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992) p. 104.


Yves Sassier, Louis VII (Paris: Fayard, 1991) p. 178.


Giles Constable, The Letters of Peter the Venerable Vol. II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967) p. 214.


Constable, p. 212, does mention that Humbert had left without his wife’s permission. Humbert wouldn’t have been the first man to join up to escape a bad marriage but there is no information on this point.


Constable, p. 408, “nuper a partibus transmarinus veniens ad partes nortras rediit, et cum immensa exulatatione.”


Edward Benjamin Krehbiel and Achille Luchaire, Social France at the Time of Philip Augustus (New York: H. Holt, 1912) p. 264.


Marquis d’Albon, Cartulaire Général de l’Ordre du Temple (Paris, 1912) no. 122, p. 85.


Dominic Selwood, Knights of the Cloister: Templars and Hospitallers in Central-Southern Occitania c.1100-300 (Boydell, Woodbridge, 1999) p. 68.


D’Albon, p. 237, no. 381.

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