Post-classical history

The Rise of the Order of the Temple (1119–45)

The Order of Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly known as the Order of the Temple or The Knights Templar, was founded by the French nobleman Hugues de Payen in around the year 1119 in Jerusalem. The Holy City, back in Christian hands ever since the First Crusade twenty years previously, was the main destination for pilgrims from Europe. They came in their droves, unaware of the dangers that lay ahead – the roads around Jerusalem were notorious for the bands of robbers that haunted them, preying on the travellers to the Holy Places. Sometimes these robbers were Saracens; sometimes they were lapsed crusaders. To counter this threat, Hugues de Payen gathered a group of nine knights together to protect the pilgrims.

Hugues and his brothers did not look like the knights of popular imagination. They had no money, wore clothes that were donated to them and suffered from a constant shortage of new recruits and equipment in the early years of their existence. Yet by 1129, at the Council of Troyes, the Templars had become almost overnight the heroes of Christian Europe, and between 1139 and 1145, the Pope issued a series of three papal bulls that gave the Templars almost total power, making them answerable to none save the pontiff himself. It was one of the most remarkable turnarounds of the Middle Ages, if not of all European history.

If we are to understand why and how the Templars rose to such prominence so quickly after such apparently humble beginnings, we need to take a look at the background to the Jerusalem in which they found themselves at their inception, and trace the history of the city itself, right back to the original Temple of Solomon.

The First Temple

The original temple in Jerusalem was the Temple of Solomon, built by the great king around the year 950 BC. The site – known ever since as the Temple Mount or the Temple platform – had been chosen by his father, King David, who recognised it as the spot on which Abraham had prepared his son Isaac for sacrifice.

Abraham is thought to have lived 18 centuries before Christ, and was one of the founding fathers of the Jewish nation. His attempt to sacrifice Isaac symbolised both his obedience to God and his fear of Him. As Abraham raised the knife to kill his child, God spoke and ordered him to stay his hand; Abraham complied, and God was pleased. He promised Abraham that He would ‘shower blessings’ on him and make his people, the Jews, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore’.2 The spot of the attempted sacrifice came to represent, for the Jews, their unbreakable bond with God.

In addition, the Temple was to house the Ark of the Covenant, which was constructed to keep the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Like the story of Abraham and Isaac, the Commandments were tangible proof of the Jews’ covenant with the Almighty.

Solomon was reputedly the wisest of men, and his reign marks a high point of the Jewish nation; the Temple that he constructed in Jerusalem was said to have profound wisdom embodied in its architecture, and was a place of awe, pilgrimage and devotion. But it was not to last. Israel was occupied by successive invasions from the East, first by the Assyrians, and then, in 586 BC, by the Chaldeans. Their king, Nebuchadnezzar, ordered that the Temple be destroyed and the Jewish people taken into slavery at Babylon. The Chaldeans were, in turn, ousted by the Persians, whose king, Cyrus, allowed the Jews to return home in 515 BC and rebuild the temple.

Political uncertainty in the second century BC led Israel to appeal for protection from Rome. What initially started as diplomatic intervention became, by the time of Julius Caesar’s visit in 47 BC, occupation. This in turn led to much dissent and the formation of groups opposed to Roman rule. There was a general expectation of a Messiah, who would arrive and liberate the Jewish people once and for all from the tyranny of occupation. Some believed this to be Jesus, whose followers were outlawed and persecuted, being seen as agitators and, in some cases, terrorists. In AD 70, the Jews revolted. The Romans retaliated brutally, crushing the uprising; the Temple was destroyed for a second time. In 134, there was another uprising, led by Simeon ben-Koseba, who, according to the Rabbi Akiba, really was the longawaited Messiah. This was also crushed, leading to the Jews being banned from entering Jerusalem at all.

By the early fourth century, Jerusalem was becoming a Holy City for a second faith, that of the new religion of Christianity. In 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine converted, and he ordered that churches be built over the site of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, and those of his Crucifixion and Resurrection in Jerusalem; the latter church became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, Constantine’s nephew and successor, Julian the Apostate, did not share his uncle’s beliefs, and the Empire returned to paganism. In a blatant attempt to antagonise Christians, Julian began to rebuild the Temple (not that he had any time for the Jews, who were persecuted with equal zeal). The project did not progress smoothly, and was abandoned upon Julian’s death in 363. Jerusalem seemed destined never to have another Temple.

The Temple and the Mosque

With its administration creaking, the Roman Empire divided into two in the fourth century – the western half would still be ruled by Rome, while the eastern half had Byzantium as its capital. When Rome was overrun by the Visigoths in 410, Jerusalem became one of many jewels in the Byzantine crown. The Temple Mount became a rubbish tip.

In 638, Jerusalem surrendered to the Caliph Omar, and the city fell into Muslim hands. Since its founding by the Prophet Muhammad with the hijrah of 622, when the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina and thus the Muslim calendar began, Islam had spread rapidly throughout the Middle East. The Byzantines seemed powerless to stop its progress, and retreated north. Jerusalem was sacred to Muslims, in particular the Temple Mount area, as it was the site of the Prophet’s ascension to heaven. Upon his entry into Jerusalem, Omar had gone there to pray, and resolved to build the al-Aqsa mosque on the site. Towards the end of the seventh century, a second, even more impressive, mosque was built on the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem was further than ever from Christian hands.

The First Crusade

Islam continued to impinge upon Christian Europe, with most of the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula falling under Muslim control during the seventh and eighth centuries. By the middle of the eleventh century, a new Islamic threat had emerged, from the Seljuk Turks. Originally from central Asia, they had moved inexorably westwards, conquering Baghdad and converting to Islam in the process. They had Byzantium in their sights, and in 1071 defeated the imperial army at Manzikert in Armenia. Within a decade, they had also taken Nicea and controlled the whole of Asia Minor. The Byzantine empire was now solely comprised of its lands west of the Bosphorous, and it was to the West that the Byzantine emperor Alexius looked for help to stave off certain annihilation.

In the spring of 1095, a delegation arrived at the Council of Piacenza in northern Italy. Although the eastern and western churches had split decisively in 1054, the Pope, Urban II, had made conciliatory moves towards Constantinople by rescinding Alexius’ excommunication, and it was therefore with some hope that the eastern delegation appealed to the council. Its plea for help did not fall on deaf ears. Urban called for a meeting of bishops to address the problem, to be held that November in Clermont.

On Tuesday 27 November 1095, after a week-long ecclesiastical conference in the cathedral, Urban addressed a huge crowd outside the walls of Clermont. He called on those assembled to desist from fighting one another, internecine warfare having dogged Europe ever since the sack of Rome in 410; he called instead that their energies be better spent fighting the infidel in the East, and returning Jerusalem into the arms of Mother Church. The crowd was ecstatic, with cries of ‘Deus lo volt!’ – ‘God wills it!’ – echoing from the city walls. A bishop and a cardinal immediately knelt before Urban and begged to join the campaign. The First Crusade had begun.

After arriving in Constantinople in late 1096, the crusaders marched south, taking Nicea in June of the following year. Edessa and Antioch both fell in 1098, and the crusaders finally arrived outside the walls of the Holy City on 7 June 1099. Jerusalem finally fell on 15 July after a ferocious bloodbath. It was the first time it had been in Christian hands for 461 years. One of the Crusade’s leaders, Godfroi de Bouillon – after refusing to be called king on the grounds that only Christ had the right to that title – was proclaimed Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was thus established. In Europe, it became known as Outremer – the land beyond the seas.

The New Knighthood

After the victory of the First Crusade, most of the surviving crusaders returned to Europe, leaving Baldwin de Boulogne – Godfroi having died unexpectedly in the autumn of 1100 – to assume the title of the first King of Jerusalem. His domain stretched south to the Red Sea, and north as far as Beirut. Above that lay the County of Tripoli, ruled by Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse. North of Tripoli was the Principality of Antioch, whose ruler was Bohemond of Taranto. The two remaining Christian kingdoms were the County of Edessa to the north-east – the first Latin kingdom to be established by the crusaders, in 1098 – and Cilician Armenia to the north-west, in what is now Turkey. Outremer, being as it was a collection of small, largely coastal kingdoms ruled by allied European nobles, was largely modelled on the feudal system that had dominated Europe since the late Dark Ages.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, Europe was ravaged by successive waves of invaders: the Saracens and Magyars from the east; the Vikings from the north. In addition, kingdoms were constantly engaged in squabbles with one another, and this uncertain political climate gave rise to what became known – from the sixteenth century onwards – as the feudal system. None of the kingdoms of Europe had a centralised power base and, as a result, monarchs were largely powerless to protect their people. In order to secure some form of protection and to feed his family, a man would have to offer his services to the local landowner. With no such thing as a standing army, the landowner would always need to call upon men to fight to protect his dominions. Thus, the man swore loyalty to the lord, and became known as his vassal. Vassalage required that the man swear an oath of loyalty to his lord and be on call to fight for him whenever the need arose. In return, the lord would provide the vassal with land (or sometimes the income from ecclesiastical institutions), which would feed the vassal’s family and also bring in revenue to the lord’s exchequer from taxes levied on the vassal’s land.

It was against this background that knights began to emerge. The lord–vassal system may have had its origins in the old Roman practice of commendation, in which a soldier would pledge service to an officer of superior rank in return for a reward to be decided by the officer. Usually it took the form of a grant of land, which was known as a benefice. European monarchs, such as Charlemagne, began to adopt this practice, and gave their best warriors grants of land. The warriors in turn would take on vassals to work the land on their behalf, thus leaving them essentially free to develop their military and equestrian skills. However, although both knight and vassal were made to swear oaths of loyalty to their lord, it was possible for them to move on to serve another lord if the protection provided proved to be inadequate, or if the lord in question was deposed or killed. In most cases, though, the relationship between lord, knight and vassal became hereditary.

The crusaders who stormed Jerusalem in the summer of 1099 were a mixture of lords, knights and vassals, and all had been promised full remission of their earthly sins for taking part in the Crusade, or pilgrimage, as it was called. The lure of remission also proved an enticing prospect for other, less savoury characters. This latter group included convicted criminals and excommunicates, who used the Crusade as a means of escaping punishment back home. Thus, when the city was safely in Frankish hands, most of the surviving crusaders returned to Europe, having achieved their objectives in taking the Holy City and also having absolved themselves of all wrongdoing. Baldwin then faced the problem of ruling a kingdom with no standing army to protect it.

Despite the fact that all the major cities and ports of Outremer were in Christian hands, the kingdom’s roads were anything but secure. Even when under Muslim control, the Holy Land had continued to attract Christian pilgrims, and now that a Christian king sat on the throne of Jerusalem, they came in even greater numbers. The sites they visited were known simply as The Holy Places, and were scattered throughout the Kingdom: Sephoria was where the Virgin had spent her childhood; in Bethlehem, there was the site of the Nativity; the River Jordan was the scene of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist (whose cave dwelling was nearby); while various locales around the Sea of Galilee were witnesses to Christ’s ministry. Mount Tabor was the site of the Transfiguration, while the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was the location of the Good Samaritan’s charity.

However, the pilgrims were never safe once they were outside the walls of Jerusalem, as attacks by bands of Saracen robbers were frequent. Even as early as 1106, there were reports of trouble. A Russian abbot by the name of Daniel wrote of his visit to the tomb of St George at Lydda that year:

‘And there are many springs here; travellers rest by the water but with great fear, for it is a deserted place and nearby is the town of Ascalon from which Saracens sally forth and kill travellers on these roads. There is a great fear too, going up from that place into the hills.’3

But that was nothing compared to Galilee:

‘This place is very dreadful and dangerous … many tall palm trees stand about the town like a dense forest. This place is terrible and difficult of access for here live fierce pagan Saracens who attack travellers at the fords.’4

 Thirteen years later, things had got even worse. At Easter 1119, a group of 700 pilgrims was attacked by Saracens on the road to the River Jordan; 300 were killed and 60 carried off into slavery. Later that year, the forces of Roger, Bohemond II of Antioch’s regent, were ambushed and killed at the Field of Blood. This led to a flurry of requests for further aid from the West, and a council of Church leaders met in Nablus in January 1120 to address the issue.

At the time that Roger and his men met their fate on the Field of Blood, Baldwin’s successor, Baldwin II, had been on the throne of Jerusalem for a year. It is thought that at some point during 1119 he granted an audience to two French noblemen, Hugues de Payen from Champagne and Godfrey de St Omer from Picardy. Together with seven other knights, they proposed to guard the pilgrims as they made their way to and from the Holy Places. But they would not do so as regular knights – they would live as a small monastic community, following the rule of St Augustine. Baldwin liked the idea. Manpower had always been an issue in Outremer and the fact that Hugues and his brethren were prepared to live as monks meant that they would be, in theory, more dependable than some of the rabble who had taken part in the First Crusade. The king approved the plan and, on Christmas Day, Hugues and Godfrey swore vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before Baldwin and Warmund of Picquigny, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Baldwin gave them quarters at the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple platform. The Order of Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, the Order of the Temple, The Knights Templar, was born.

Within weeks of the founding of their order, the Templars were introduced to the clergy at the Council of Nablus. The nine knights were accepted by those present, and Hugues and his brothers began their task of policing the kingdom. The other founding knights were: Payen de Montdidier; André de Montbard; Archambaud de St Aignan, Geoffrey Bisol; two knights known only by their Christian names of Roland and Gondemar; while the ninth member remains unknown.

The Templars’ first decade is their least documented. After Nablus, we can only assume that they continued to live as monks in the ‘Temple of Solomon’ (the crusaders’ name for the al-Aqsa mosque) and to protect the pilgrims who would arrive by boat at ports such as Jaffa. Despite their poverty and lack of decent armour and weapons, they began to attract supporters from the West. Fulk V, Count of Anjou, met Hugues de Payen on his pilgrimage to Outremer in 1120, and was so impressed with Hugues and his nascent order that he enrolled as an associate of the Templars, pledging to give them an annual income of 30 livres angevines. Inspired by Fulk’s example, several other French nobles did the same, perhaps the most important of them being Hugh, Count of Champagne.

Hugh had first visited Outremer in 1104, where he remained for four years. He returned again in 1114. On one of these occasions, he had been accompanied by Hugues de Payen. Hugues was one of his vassals, Payen being downriver from Troyes, where Hugh had his court. (In fact, Hugues may have even been related to his lord.) By the time Hugues and his eight companions took their vows in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hugh had once again returned to France. He returned to the Holy Land for the last time in 1125, when he finally joined the Templars. But the full significance of Hugh’s relationship to the Templars would have to wait another four years before becoming apparent.

In 1127, with the Templars still – according to the traditional story – only nine knights strong and struggling to recruit new members, King Baldwin II sent Hugues de Payen and several other Templar brethren on a major diplomatic mission to Europe. That Hugues was chosen for such an important job suggests that, contrary to the stories of the Templars being ‘poor knights’, they were in fact by this time quite highly regarded in Outremer. In addition, Hugues took several knights with him, which, if they really were still only nine members strong, would have left only a few brethren back in Outremer. Indeed, chroniclers such as Michael the Syrian (d.1199), who was one of the first to document the Templars, believed that the Order had about 30 serving knights enlisted by the time of Baldwin’s embassy.

The Templar delegation sailed to France, probably in the autumn of 1127, with William of Bures, the Prince of Galile, and Guy of Brisbarre, Lord of Beirut. William and Guy’s mission was to persuade Fulk of Anjou to marry Baldwin’s daughter, Melisende, and thereby stand to inherit the throne of Jerusalem, as Baldwin had no male heir. Whether Hugues’ presence in the delegation was meant to persuade Fulk, who was one of the Templars’ earliest supporters and donors, is not known, but even if it were, Hugues had been charged by Baldwin with another mission: to recruit knights for a projected crusade against Damascus, and to get the Templars officially recognised by the western Church.

The mission was a stunning success: Fulk agreed to return to Outremer and marry Melisende; many new recruits for Baldwin’s Damascene Crusade were signed up; and, perhaps most importantly of all, Hugues met St Bernard of Clairvaux. It is from then on that, with St Bernard’s unwavering support, The Knights Templar emerged from the shadows on to the stage of European history in quite spectacular fashion.

The Council of Troyes

St Bernard of Clairvaux was the most influential Church Father of his time. A Burgundian noble, he was born at Fontaines-les-Dijons in 1090. While he was still in his mother’s womb, a devout had predicted a great future for Bernard, and he seems to have grown into adulthood with a particular fervour and vision. Apparently a charismatic man of quite violent passions, he sought out a religious order whose austerity might help temper his volatile nature, and he entered the Cistercian order at Citeaux in 1113 with 30 or so fellow Burgundian nobles. Three years later, he led a small group of monks to found a new Cistercian house in the nearby valley of Wormwood, which they renamed Clairvaux, Valley of Light. Significantly, the land had been given to them by Hugh of Champagne, around the time of the Count’s second pilgrimage to Outremer. The new foundation at Clairvaux under Bernard quickly became a magnet for the zealous, and the house flourished.

It is not known exactly when Bernard (he became a saint in 1174, a mere 21 years after his death) first became aware of the Templars or met Hugues de Payen. It is probable that King Baldwin wrote to Bernard in 1126 asking him to help devise a Rule for the Order, and to help win for them both recognition and support in the West. Bernard was aware of the situation in the East, and realised that what Outremer needed were knights ready for active military service, not ‘singing and wailing monks’.5 Bernard’s keen appreciation of the situation in Latin Syria most probably derived from his friendship with Hugh of Champagne, who had returned to the Holy Land for the third and final time in 1125, when he became a fully fledged Templar, and also from André de Montbard, who was not only one of the original nine knights, but was also Bernard’s uncle. If Hugues and the Templar delegation did indeed sail to Europe during the autumn passage of 1127, then it is possible that Bernard met the Templar Grand Master towards the end of that year, or the following spring before Hugues started his mission proper, which would culminate with the Council of Troyes in January 1129.

As soon as Hugues arrived in Europe, things appeared to start moving very quickly. The Templars received their first grant of land in the West, with a house, a grange, a meadow and a tenement in Provins being given to the Order in October 1127, a gift from Hugh of Champagne’s successor, Theobald, Count of Blois. Theobald also gave his vassals permission to donate freely to the Order from their own holdings of land. The Count of Flanders, William Clito, also donated to the Order around this time, as did his successor, Thierry of Alsace, after William’s death in battle on 27 May 1128. Four days later, Hugues was in Anjou, where he witnessed Fulk take the Cross (a vow to defend Christianity from the infidel). On 17 June, he attended the wedding of Fulk’s eldest son, Geoffrey, to Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, which then left Fulk free to travel to Jerusalem as Baldwin had hoped. Further grants of land and money were made to Hugues, and it seems likely that the wedding led directly to Hugues being invited to England in the summer of 1128. Hugues’ visit to England resulted in the establishment of the first Templar house, or preceptory, in London, at the north end of what is now Chancery Lane, in addition to gifts of money from the king and the acquisition of several sites outside of the capital. From England, Hugues travelled to Scotland before spending the autumn in Flanders, receiving further donations and preparing for Troyes.

When Hugues de Payen spoke before the Council of Troyes on 13 January 1129, he did so in front of an august assembly of churchmen. Not only was Bernard there in person (despite the fact that he was suffering from a fever), but also Stephen Harding, Abbott of Citeaux, the Archbishops of Sens and Rheims, ten bishops, Count Theobald of Champagne and, according to Jean Michel, the council’s scribe, ‘several others whom it would be tedious to record’. In addition to Hugues, the Templars were represented by Godfrey de St Omer, Geoffrey Bisol, Payen de Montdidier, Roland and Archambaud de St Aignan.6 The whole delegation was presided over by the Papal Legate, Matthew of Albano.

In his speech, Hugues described the origins of the Order and the rule by which they lived: attending the offices; communal meals taken in silence; plain clothing; no women. Each brother swore vows of poverty, chastity and obedience upon entering the Order. As the brethren were frequently called out of the Temple on knightly business, they were each allowed one horse (although this was later increased to three), and a handful of servants. When away from the Temple, recitation of paternosters replaced hearing the offices. Knights and servants alike were under Hugues’ command, with the whole order being answerable to the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

After some debate, the Council, under Bernard’s supervision, drew up what became known as the Latin Rule of the Templars, which was based on the rule described by Hugues in his speech. It consisted of 73 clauses and regulated every aspect of Templar life. In addition to keeping the observances that the Order was already following, the Latin Rule advised the brethren how to admit newcomers to the Order, and how they should be vetted before being sworn in; at what age newcomers could join (boys being advised to wait until they were old enough to bear arms); how long brothers could serve for (which was usually a fixed term before allowing them to return to secular life if they so wished); how to reprimand miscreants and what offences would lead a brother to be expelled from the Order (such as deserting the battlefield, leaving a castle without permission or via an unauthorised exit), and so on. Knights were to wear white habits, to signify chastity and purity, while sergeants and squires were to wear brown or black (it must be remembered that the majority of Templars were not knights, but those who worked in the elaborate support network in the West that allowed them to remain on military duty in the East). The brethren’s clothing and the bridles of their horses were to be unostentatious, avoiding such concessions to fashion as pointed shoes with laces and long hair. The Rule demanded short hair with a monk’s tonsure; beards were mandatory.

There were two meals a day, around noon and then again at dusk, which were to be communal and silent, punctuated only by a reading from the scriptures. Meat was to be eaten only three times a week. No one was to get down from table unless there was a disturbance amongst the horses, or there was an impending attack. Physical relations with women were prohibited (although married men were admitted to the Order, provided they had their wives’ consent). A yet more serious a crime was homosexuality, which was seen as being as bad as killing a fellow Christian. Idle talk was forbidden, with brethren expected to spend their free time maintaining the horses, equipment and clothing, or spending time in prayer.

Naturally, the Fathers gathered at Troyes had a great deal of clerical experience between them, but very little of campaigning in Outremer, so the Rule was more monastic than military, being principally concerned with the spiritual welfare of the Order’s brethren. (It does make a few concessions to the actual physical conditions in the East, by allowing the brothers to wear linen shirts in the summer instead of the more customary European woollen equivalent.) Whatever shortcomings there were in the original 1129 Rule, they would later be rectified in the 1160s, and then again in the 1260s. By the time of the Order’s downfall, the Rule had grown to contain 686 clauses.

Daily life in a Templar preceptory was much the same as that of a Western monastery.The day would begin (during the summer months) with matins at 4:00am, which comprised the saying of 13 paternosters. The brothers were then permitted a brief sleep until the division bell summoned them to prime at 6:00am, when the first mass of the day was said. Terce was at 8:00am, and sext at 11:30am, which was followed by the first meal of the day. Usually the knights ate first, followed by the sergeants. Nones was at 2:00pm, followed by vespers at 6:00pm.The evening meal would then be taken, with the final office of the day, compline, being said around 8:00pm. As the winter months brought shorter daylight hours, the offices would be compressed so that matins would always begin after first light, and compline would similarly occur around the onset of twilight.

‘A Certain New Monster’

When Hugues de Payen returned to Outremer after the Council of Troyes, he did so as the head of an order which was now in a greatly enhanced position. Nevertheless, the Templars were not universally welcomed by all quarters of the Church. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Church had gone through a great wave of reforms championed by Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), which had led to the establishment of such houses as Cluny and Citeaux. The reformers of Bernard’s generation and the generation before stressed spiritual purity untainted by politics and especially bloodshed. They strove to maintain a distance between temporal monarchy and spiritual matters. Henry of Huntingdon was to describe the mix of monk and soldier as ‘a certain new monster,’ while Guigo, the prior of La Grande Chartreuse, wrote to Hugues to warn of the dangers of mixing the military and the monastic:

‘It is useless indeed for us to attack exterior enemies if we do not first conquer those of the interior … Let us first purge our souls of vices, then the lands from the barbarians.’7

Guigo implored Hugues to read the letter to all the brethren and even went so far as to send the letter twice via different couriers to ensure that at least one copy reached its destination.

A letter exists from around this time that is addressed to Templar brethren, which was authored by a ‘Hugues,’ although this has never been proven to be by Hugues de Payen. The writer has simply signed himself as ‘Hugo peccator’ – Hugh the Sinner – and it is conceivable that it is the work of the theologian Hugh of St Victor. Regardless of authorship, the letter is ample evidence that external criticism of the Order had filtered through the ranks. It begins ‘ … we have heard that certain of you have been troubled by persons of little wisdom’,8 and proceeds to warn the brethren of the Devil and all his works. Hugo stresses the need for the brothers to be mindful of their inner state, and to accept their lot, reminding them that their personal salvation has to be worked for.

Whether or not Hugues de Payen wrote the ‘Hugo peccator’ letter, he seems at the very least to have been aware of it, as he asked Bernard of Clairvaux no fewer than three times to compose a defence of the Order, as if to settle the matter once and for all. Bernard, by now the Order’s most prominent supporter, did not disappoint. The treatise he wrote, In Praise of the New Knighthood, draws a distinction between the old, secular knighthood that had predominated since the days of Charlemagne, and the new, monastic knighthood as personified by the Templars. By doing so, Bernard was going against the drift of Gregory VII’s reforms. He went even further by arguing that knighthood was compatible with monasticism: the knights’ duty was to kill for Christ and, in doing so, would rid the world of evil, not evil-doers. He argued that there was a difference between homicide – killing, which was a sin – and malecide – the killing of evil, which was not. Not only was it possible to gain Christ by dying for him, it was, according to Bernard, also possible to attain salvation by killing for him as well. A more concise argument in favour of holy war would be difficult to imagine.

Whatever criticisms the Order faced immediately after the triumph of Troyes, they did not seem to impede the willingness of nobles to help in the fight against the infidel. Baldwin’s attack on Damascus in November 1129 comprised a number of Templars in addition to a great number of men whom Hugues had recruited during the European tour. The expedition got within six miles of Damascus before a breakaway contingent under William of Bures decided that the time was ripe for some pillaging. William lost control of the group, and they were attacked by Damascene cavalry. There were only 45 survivors. Baldwin hoped to catch the Damascenes off guard as they were celebrating their victory over the Franks, but as Baldwin’s troops readied for an attack, the rains came down, making the roads so impassable that the offensive had to be called off.

The failure of the attack on Damascus did not seem to affect the Templars adversely. Donations, which throughout the Order’s existence usually came in the form of grants of land and buildings (together with the people who lived there) and the right to receive the revenues from them, not only continued, but accelerated. Usually, the reasons for donations were to confirm the donor’s piety, in the same way that rich merchants or worthies might commission the building of a chapel that would help exonerate their sins and stand them in good stead in the next world. The fight against the infidel was seen in the same terms, and the Templars found no shortage of penitents who wished to wipe their slates clean.

The most extensive donation came in October 1131, when the Templars – together with the other main military order, the Knights Hospitaller and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem – were left the entire Kingdom of Aragon in the will of its ruler, Alfonso I, ‘The Battler’. Aragon under Alfonso had expanded rapidly since 1118, and the gains had been so great that Alfonso’s resources were becoming increasingly stretched. The Iberian peninsula had been invaded by Muslim forces in 711, but the Christian counterattack, known as the Reconquista, began almost at once. When an alliance of Visigoths and Asturians defeated a Muslim army at Covadonga in 722, none of them could have known that the process of reclaiming the peninsula for Christ would take centuries of conflict.

Alfonso’s response to maintaining his newly enlarged lands was to establish confraternities of knights to guard against any further Muslim reconquest, and the orders he established between 1122 and 1130, such as the orders of Belchite and Monreal del Campo, were similar to the Templars in that brothers served for a set time, but were not required to take monastic vows. The project was not entirely successful, however, as the Order of Monreal del Campo was on the verge of fizzling out by the time Alfonso drew up his will, with the result that the military orders of the East seemed to be the best solution to the problem. In addition, Alfonso was childless, which made securing the kingdom even more of a priority. Although Alfonso died in 1134, it took nine years for the will to be enforced, so enormous were the complexities of bequeathing such vast areas of land to so few beneficiaries. Although the Templars inherited somewhat less than Alfonso originally intended, they nonetheless were left with huge tracts of land across his former kingdom. From then on, the Templars would almost totally replace Alfonso’s stillborn orders and become a major force in the Reconquista against the forces of Islam.

Shortly after Alfonso’s death, the Templars began to receive castles in Outremer. The first were not in the Kingdom of Jerusalem at all, but north of Antioch in what was known as the Amanus March. This was a mountainous region that connected the Principality of Antioch with Cilician Armenia, and the Templars were given the task of guarding the Belen Pass. The first fortress they were given was Baghras, which they renamed Gaston, followed by Darbsaq, la Roche de Roussel and Roche Guillame. To the south-west of these strongholds was Port Bonnel, given to the Order at around the same time, which gave them access to the sea. In frontier regions such as the Amanus March, Templar properties such as Barghas were always fortified as they were places of high strategic value. Given the ever unstable situation in the East, almost all Templar properties had some kind of fortification, whether they were castles or not. In the West, on the other hand, most Templar preceptories were not fortified, as they were not situated in potentially hostile areas (the exceptions being on the Iberian peninsula, where the threat of Moorish aggression was never far away, and also in eastern Europe, where the military orders campaigned against the indigenous pagans).

If the ever-increasing flow of money and property into the Temple’s coffers was helping to alleviate doubts – both within and without the Order – about the purpose, effectiveness and morality of the Templars, then the three papal bulls (named after the bullum, or seal, used on the parchment) secured by Robert de Craon, the second Grand Master, raised the Order above any official reproach save that from the Papacy itself. It did not put an end to commentators criticising the Templars, but the bulls put them in a position where such comments were superfluous. Put simply, from 1139, just as they were establishing themselves in the Amanus March, the Templars, on something of a roll since the Council of Troyes, became untouchable.

Papal Approval: The Three Bulls

Robert de Craon, known as ‘Robert the Burgundian’, despite the fact that he was a native of Anjou, succeeded Hugues de Payen as Grand Master after the latter’s death (which occurred on 24 May, probably in 1136). He was a skilful administrator, and knew that if the Order was ever to consolidate the gains made at Troyes, then nothing less than Papal privileges would secure them. Three years later, that is exactly what he secured from Pope Innocent II.

The bull Omne datum optimum, drawn up at the Lateran on 29 March 1139, made the Templars answerable to none save the Pontiff himself. The bull confirmed the Rule of the Order, and also all donations made to it. In addition, the workings of the Order were addressed: the Templars were allowed to elect their own Master without outside interference; only the Master could change the Order’s customs and observances, although only after consulting the Chapter of Brothers (the Chapter was a sort of ruling council of each preceptory); the brothers were forbidden to give oaths of loyalty to anyone outside of the Order; and no professed brother was allowed to return to the secular world or join another order. The bull went on to exempt the Templars from paying tithes, but allowed them to receive them from clergy and laity alike, provided that the tithes were presented as gifts freely given (a privilege that had previously only applied to the Cistercians).

Aside from allowing the Order to keep all booty captured from the Muslims, the remainder of the bull was concerned with the Order’s spiritual life. The Templars could receive clerks and priests to serve the Order, but first needed the consent of the priest’s bishop. If the bishop refused, he could be overruled by the Pope himself. The Order retained the right to remove a priest if he caused disturbances within the Order or proved himself to be more of a hindrance than an asset, provided that the Chapter approved. However, a priest might be allowed to join the Order after he had served for one year, if the brothers approved. The priests would not be called upon to fight, but to have care of the brothers’ souls only. The priests would not be subject to anyone from outside the Order, and the Templars had the right to have their clergy ordained by any bishop. Furthermore, the Order’s clergy were not allowed to preach for money, unless by prior arrangement with the Master. The Templars were to be allowed to build oratories on their land, and be permitted to hear divine office there. Serving brothers could be buried there when they died. Wherever they travelled, the brothers could hear confession from any priest, and receive any sacrament or unction. The privileges set out in Omne datum optimum also covered the Templars’ household and servants. The bull ended with Innocent quoting 1 Corinthians, Chapter 7, Verse 20: ‘each of you to remain in that vocation to which you are called’.

The privileges granted to the Templars by Innocent were reinforced by his successors, Celestine II and Eugenius III. Milites Templi, issued by Celestine in 1144, was addressed to the clergy. In this, the Templars were described as defending pilgrims and protecting the Church from the pagans; as a result, the clergy were ordered to make a collection for the Templars. Celestine urged donors to form confraternities to support the Order, and whosoever joined one would have one-seventh of his penance remitted. As a further perk, members of the confraternities would have the right to be buried in churches unless they had been excommunicated. When the Templars came to collect the confraternity’s money, the churches would be opened on one day a year for that purpose only, and the offices heard. Militia Dei, issued the following year, was again addressed to the clergy, and gave the Templars further privileges. Eugenius promised not to damage their rights, and announced that the Templars had permission to take on priests for their Order. The priests needed to be properly ordained and have their bishop’s permission before they could serve the Order. The brothers could take tithes and burial offerings where they had a house, and could build oratories and bury their brothers and servants when they died. Eugenius asked the clergy to consecrate Templar oratories, bless their cemeteries and allow their priests to work in peace.

The three bulls legitimised the Templars and firmly established them at the heart of Christendom’s efforts in the Holy Land. Although criticism of the Order was to continue, there was little any critic could do; the Templars were above reproach. It had been a remarkable ascendancy – from the Council of Troyes, the Templars had gone from being a slightly shady organisation of unknown provenance to being the defenders of the one true faith in a mere 15 years. For the next century and a half, their position would remain unassailable; few could have predicted that their eventual fall would be as meteorically swift as their rise.

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