The Knight Templars
In 1129, after his recruiting tour of France and the British Isles,
the Knight Templars' founder Hugues de Payens returned to the Holy Land - or Outremer
('Beyond the Sea') as it was known in Europe - with about 300 newly-enlisted knights. With them travelled
Fulk, Count of Anjou, one of the Order's earliest supporters who would later become King of Jerusalem.
The Knight Templars' army saw its first action later that year, when they fought as part of the Christian force
that attempted to capture Damascus - but was heavily defeated.
For the next ten years there is little documentation about Knight Templars' activities in the Holy Land,
although it is recorded that during this time they concentrated on building castles and fortifications along the
frontiers - besides continuing to organise themselves.
The Knight Templars were established in Spain in 1130, where they helped
counter another Muslim threat - the Moors. The Knight Templars of Aragon were the only members of the Order to
swear allegiance to a king. On his death in 1134, King Alfonso I of Aragon, bequeathed a third of his kingdom
to them - although, sensibly, they did not accept all of it because of the inevitable friction it would cause
within Alfonso's family. Nevertheless, their holdings in Spain and Portugal were vast.
But the centre of the Order in Europe would always remain France. Of the 600 charters it was granted under its first two
Grand Masters, the majority were in that country, about half of them being in the south - the Languedoc and
Provence. This region would become the Knight Templars' heartland: there are even indications that at one
stage they planned to create their own independent state there.
As James Wasserman writes in The Templars and the Assassins (2001):
Templar history is inextricably entwined with that of the Languedoc.
The Knight Templars' first real appearance as an army came during the Second (and largest) Crusade
This Crusade was called by Bernard of Clairvaux and his former pupil Pope Eugenius III in response to the
Muslims' recapture of Edessa in 1144, and was set in motion by a meeting headed by Bernard, Eugenius
and King Louis VII of France that was held in the Knight Templars' Paris headquarters in 1147. When the
Crusade began the following year, the Knight Templars were given overall charge of the entire Crusader army:
every soldier swore on oath to obey their orders.
From then on the Knight Templars were at the centre of events in the Holy Land, playing a part in the triumphs
and defeats that marked the fragile fortunes of the European colonists. They were mostly regarded as great fighters
and shrewd tacticians, although their reputation sometimes suffered from their arrogant blunders and refusal to
co-operate with the other Christian armies.
The most notorious of these occasions was the Battle of Hattin on 4 July 1187, a military disaster caused by a
strategic error on the part of the Templar Grand Master, Gérard de Ridefort, in which Saladin's army routed the
Christian forces, leaving the way open for the retaking of the Holy Land. As a result, although much territory was
won back by the Third Crusade (1189-92), Jerusalem was lost forever.
But the Knight Templars also gained a reputation for promoting
their own interests at the expense of others', and often even in the face of common sense. They also became
unpopular with the general populace: in 1160, Pope Alexander III felt compelled to issue a Bull condemning the
common practice of pulling Templar knights from their horses as they rode through the streets. At around the
same time, King Amalric I of Jerusalem seriously considered expelling them from the Holy Land - although in
the end he contented himself by ordering the execution of 12 Templar knights for treachery - and was appalled
when they murdered an Assassin ambassador that was sent to his court in an effort to forge an alliance.
In 1207 Pope Innocent III issued the bull On Templar Pride (De insolenta
Templariorum), censuring the Order for abusing the privileges granted to them by his predecessors. Similar
reprimands were issued by Innocent's successors. Clement IV, in the late 1260s, even excommunicated the
Templar Grand Master, Etienne de Sissi.
The end of Outremer came on 28 May 1291 when, after a siege lasting nearly two months, the last European
stronghold in the Holy Land, the city of Acre, fell to the Muslims. The Templar Grand Master, Guillaume de Beaujeu,
was killed by an arrow defending the city. A week after his death the Temple in Acre fell and all but a few of the
Knight Templars inside were massacred.
The knights retreated to Cyprus, intending it to be the base from which they would launch the reconquest of the
Holy Land. However, there was no longer the political will on the part of the Pope or the Kings of Europe for such
an endeavour. With the Holy Land lost, the Order of the Temple also lost its raison d'être. This allowed those who
had once depended on the Order for military aid to be free to express their resentments and jealousies. Many
believe that the knights' days were numbered after the fall of Acre.
In April 1293 the Order elected what was to be their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay.
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