The Other Guys; Regional Military Orders


During the Third Crusade, part of the German army, minus their leaders but with the body of Frederick Barbarossa, arrived at the city of Acre. They were in poor shape and were overjoyed to be greeted by the monks of the German hospital of St. Mary.1 When the army went home, some of the German soldiers stayed to work at the hospital. In 1198 it was decided that St. Mary’s should be divided into a service to care for the poor and the sick among the German pilgrims and also into a military order following the rule of the Templars.2 They were known as the Teutonic Knights.

The members of the Teutonic Knights mostly came from the group known as the ministeriales.3 This was a class of people who were the serfs of the kings of the German states. They were ministers of finance and handled much of the bureaucratic work. While many of the families became rich and influential, they were not considered free and not allowed to marry into the nobility.4 Men of this class who had military training might well have seen the Teutonic Order as an opportunity for the knightly activity that their birth denied them.

By the time of the Fifth Crusade, the Teutonic Knights were part of the armies supplied by the military orders. They fought alongside the Hospitallers and the Templars during the failed campaign in 1218-1221 to conquer Egypt. They also helped the Templars to rebuild their fortress of Chateau Pelerin, now known as Atlit.5

But the Teutonic Knights soon realized that their sphere of activity was not the reconquest of Jerusalem.6 They were convinced that it was just as important to expand the faith by bringing Christianity to the pagan Prussians, Livonians, and Estonians.

They started their pursuit of this in Hungary in 1211, when King Andrew II gave them some land north of the Transylvanian Alps. A short time later he could write, “They have been placed like a new foundation on that frontier, and in withstanding the constant onslaughts of the Cumans [a pagan group] and in providing a strong defense for the kingdom they do not fear to expose themselves to death every day.”7

However, within a few years, Andrew had gone off the Teutonic brothers. It’s not certain why. But one record states, “They are to the king like a fire in the breast, a mouse in the wallet and a viper in the bosom, which repay their hosts badly.”8So it seems they outstayed their welcome. They were expelled from Hungary in 1225.

They had better luck with Emperor Frederick II, who was discovering that it’s not easy to rule a territory that reaches from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. So he was happy to give the Teutonic Knights the district of Culmerland plus anything they could take over in Prussia.9

They didn’t have to be asked twice.

This does not mean that the Teutonic Knights weren’t serious about religion. Their order was as strict as any other. Knights took vows of celibacy, personal poverty, and obedience. When they were on campaign, the master’s tent served as a church. Where the Templars were allowed low-stakes gambling, the Teutonic Knights could only do wood carving for recreation. Military discipline was severe.10

By 1230, the Teutonic Order had a monopoly on the military orders in eastern Europe. A small house of the Calatravan Order (see below) vanished. Two other German orders, the Swordbrethren and the Order of Dobrin, were absorbed.11 They steadily took over large parts of Prussia. They were able to bring German peasants into the area to colonize it under their authority, which gave them a better base than the Templars had, even better than the Hospitallers, who didn’t have many colonists even when they settled on Malta.

Two years before the Templars were arrested, the Teutonic Knights in Livonia were put on trial. The charges against them were “the imprisonment of the bishop of Riga, infringement of ecclesiastical privileges, preventing missionary work, corruption of the Order’s ranks and the sale of castles and weapons to the Lithuanians.”12 They were actually guilty of quite a few of these things, but they had no one like Philip IV against them and they had their own country to fight from so they emerged unscathed.

In the mid fifteenth century a Carthusian monk wrote a history of the various orders in the form of a dialogue between a mother and son. When she arrives at the Teutonic Order, the mother describes how they began, although stating that they followed the Rule of the Hospitallers, not the Templars. They started out noble defenders of the faith, she says, “But, [now] alas! Deceived by wealth they try to overthrow almost every order and wickedly destroy every single state!”13

In 1525 the Teutonic kingdom of Prussia was made into a Protestant duchy. There were not many knights left by then. Some of the younger ones left the order and married. The elder knights mostly preferred to stay true to their monastic vows and found religious houses to take them in.14 In Germany the order reorganized to fight the Turks in the Balkans. Eventually the headquarters moved to Vienna and became “a military and chivalric extension of the House of Hapsburg.”15


This group of knightly monks took their name from the fortress of Calatrava in Spain. They were formed in 1158 after the Templars had abandoned the fortress for reasons still unclear.16At that time there was great fear of an attack by the Moors from Granada. King Sancho III of Castile sent a frantic letter to Raymondo, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Fitero, in Navarre, asking for his help. This isn’t the first place I would have looked for military aid, but the abbot came through, offering his support and taking the new order under the protection of the Cistercians.17 This was the first of the Spanish orders.

Although the Templars were very active in the reconquista in Spain and Portugal, they also sent a portion of everything they took in to support the work in the crusader kingdoms.18Since the kings of these countries felt that there was enough work to do at home, they encouraged the native order of warrior-monks, whose loyalty was strictly to their own country.

King Sancho started the Calatravans off well, giving them not only the town and fortress of Calatrava but also another village in a more secure area.19 They were also promised the revenue from specific towns, if they could conquer them.20 That, along with the promise of a portion of booty from other conquests, encouraged the Calatravans in their efforts.

The Calatravans must have been appreciated by the local population, for there are numerous records of donations to them of estates and rights. They also benefited by their connection to the Cistercians, who, like the Templars, were responsible to the pope and not local bishops. This, as usual, created friction with the Spanish clergy but it also brought in a sizeable income.21

The knights of Calatrava were active, along with the other military orders, in most of the battles in the Iberian Peninsula throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Although they lost the town of Calatrava in 1195, they continued to operate from the town of Salvatierra until forced to surrender that.22 Undaunted, they continued fighting and regained Calatrava in July 1212.23

The orders in Spain provided medical treatment for those wounded in battle. Calatrava had at least six hospitals. The commander of one of them, Santa Olalla, traveled with royal armies “to provide for knights and footsoldiers, both the wounded and the poor, the ill and the sick, and to take a chaplain with him to offer viaticum [last rites] to the wounded, if necessary, and a master of surgery to give medicine to the wounded.”24 In this they seem to have combined the duties of the Templars and the Hospitallers.

The Calatravans attracted the formation of smaller orders in León, the Order of St. Julián del Pereiro, and in Portugal, the Order of Avis.25Castile-León was also home to the Orders of Santiago and Alcántara. While the Templars also had commanderies in this area, by and large the Castilian kings preferred native orders.26

They seem to have been correct in this judgment. The military orders of the Iberian Peninsula did not have to rely on donations from other lands and only had to deal with the squabbles of their own rulers. It’s possible that, since they didn’t have to operate on an international scale, they could put more time and energy into their main goal, the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. This was finally accomplished in 1492.


One of the most intriguing of the military orders was known as the Order of St. Lazarus. At least at the beginning, it was composed entirely of lepers.

As early as 1130, a man of Burgundy named Wido Cornelly, “judged to have contracted leprosy,” volunteered to go to Jerusalem and serve as a knight of the Templars to the end of his life. Judging from the list of names witnessing his vow, Wido was a nobleman. He arranged for the care of his wife and children before he left.27He definitely joined the Templars first, not St. Lazarus. However, if he did indeed have leprosy, the Templars would have had to find a way to care for him once his illness became debilitating.

There was already a hospital for lepers in Jerusalem. Like most such hospitals, it was dedicated to Saint Lazarus. There were two men by that name in the Gospels. The first was a beggar, covered with sores, who lay, ignored, at the gate of a rich man until he died. He was then taken to heaven while the rich man was sent to hell.28 This Lazarus might well have been considered a leper and the parable illustrates the punishment for not sharing what one has with those less fortunate. The other, better known, Lazarus was Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raised from the dead. To many people lepers were the living dead. So which one was it? The answer is probably both. Like Mary Magdalene, the saint venerated in the Middle Ages as Lazarus was likely a blending of two men with the same name.29

The hospital was in existence at the time that Wido made his vow to join the Templars. It wasn’t exactly in Jerusalem, more up against an outer wall. While people did not yet believe that leprosy was a punishment for one’s sins, they didn’t know how one got it and so most houses for lepers were not in densely populated parts of the city.

The royal family of Jerusalem, starting with Fulk and Melisande, gave generously to the “church and convent of the infirm” of St. Lazarus. 30Most of the other nobility of the Latin kingdoms did as well. Often there are Templars who witness these charters. Some of them are even contracted at the Temple of Solomon.31 That might appear as if the Templars and the lepers had an early arrangement for the care of leprous knights—that is, until we remember that the Temple had become a general meeting place for people in Jerusalem to transact business. 32 After all, people might want to give to the poor lepers but not have to actually visit them. So we can’t be certain that the Templars were connected to the Hospital of St. Lazarus yet.

Sometime around 1153, the hospital seems to have developed a second function as a home for leperous knights who were still well enough to fight. The first known master of St. Lazarus was a certain Bartholomew. He carried water for the use of the lepers and took care of them.33 In 1155, Almaric, the son of Fulk and Melisande, gave a villa to the “brothers of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem and to Hugh of Saint Paul, who is now master of this place and of all the lepers.”34

It’s not clear when St. Lazarus started sending knights into combat. Some of the charters are to the brothers and others to the lepers. Is it simply a matter of the term the scribe felt like using that day or did it make a difference? My feeling is that the military order evolved slowly as men in the early stages of leprosy came to the hospital but were still able to bear arms. There were never enough fighting men in Jerusalem. Also, several skin conditions were misdiagnosed as leprosy, especially at the beginning. These men would have been well enough to fight for quite a while.

It wasn’t until the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 that the Order of St. Lazarus received papal privileges similar to those of the other orders.35 At this point we can say that it was official. The first time the knights are mentioned as having participated in a battle is that of La Forbie in 1244, where they were all killed.36 That didn’t stop Stephen of Salerno from donating ten sous four years later, on condition that they accept his “most blessed and beloved” son, Astorge, as a brother.37

These men had all seen what kind of death they would face from leprosy. The agony of dying in battle must have seemed pleasant by comparison.

The Templars must have agreed. Sometime in the early thirteenth century they added to their Rule, “If, by the will of God, it happens that a brother seems to have leprosy and the thing is proven, the brothers of the house should advise him and beg that he ask to take leave of the house and go to Saint Lazarus and take the habit of a brother of Saint Lazarus.”38

The Order of St. Lazarus moved to Acre along with the Templars and Hospitallers. They had a house there, a hospital, and a convent for sisters of the order.39Again, when the Mamluks took the city, all the knights of St. Lazarus were killed.

One would think that a military order like this would have ended with the fall of Acre. But they seem to have established themselves for a while on Cyprus. Eventually, however, they were left with only their properties in Europe, principally in England and France.40

By this time, there were no more lepers among the Knights of St. Lazarus. This had happened gradually but by the end of the thirteenth century the knights were all men in reasonably good health. Sometime before 1307, they decided to move their headquarters to their French holding in Boigny. Then things got really weird.

In 1308, Philip the Fair took the Knights of St. Lazarus under his personal protection.41 Considering what was happening to the Templars at the time, they might have wondered if this was a great idea. But they also may have thought it a safe port in a nasty storm.

The Knights of St. Lazarus continued to exist in England until Henry VIII discontinued monasticism there. But they didn’t have much to do with hospitals anymore and they didn’t go on crusades so their purpose was nonexistent. In France, they had ups and downs. Under Louis XIV, they became a military order again, fighting against the heathen British. In a fitting end to what had become an increasingly bizarre story, the last French Grand Master of the Knights of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem was Louis XVI. The order ended with him at the guillotine in 1792.42

But, like the Lazarus of the Bible, the order was resurrected in 1910. It is now a worldwide Christian relief agency with branches in Europe and North America.43 Like the Templars, the Knights of St. Lazarus were too intriguing to let die.


According to the English pilgrim and chronicler Ralph of Diceto, the Order of St. Thomas at Acre began with a vow made by a terrified and seasick priest named William. He promised that, if he ever managed to set foot on dry land again, he “would build the most elegant chapel possible and staff it and consecrate a cemetery in honor of St. Thomas the Martyr. And it was done.”44

However, later chroniclers state that a crusader named Hubert Walter founded the order, and Matthew Paris, writing in the mid thirteenth century, decided that the man who made the shipboard vow was none other than Richard the Lionheart. Of course, it was Richard who got the ultimate credit for it.45Not only was he the king, he was also the son of the man who had supposedly ordered the murder of Saint Thomas. That makes a much better story.

Whoever made the original foundation, the Order of St. Thomas of Acre was most likely founded during or after the Third Crusade, after the loss of Jerusalem in 1187 and the removal of the seat of the kingdom to Acre.

The original purpose of the order was to care for the poor and to bury the dead. The priests at the church of St. Thomas paid particular attention to English pilgrims who did not speak French, the language of the Latin kingdoms.

The order doesn’t seem to have been flashy enough to attract many donations. They scrimped along until about 1228, when the bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, paid them a visit. He decided that the church was too poor to survive, and the priests had become “dissolute.” 46 The priests seem to have been canons rather than monks. That meant that each had his own home, rather than living together. In other places this had sometimes led to the canons ignoring the vows of chastity and poverty. One of the great reforms of the twelfth century had been to replace many of the cathedral canons with monks who were under the close supervision of an abbot.

Bishop Peter was having no truck with concubines and gluttony or any other form of dissolution. He was in the Holy Land with a party of crusading knights and was not above leading a battle charge personally. 47He got rid of the canons (without bloodshed) and turned St. Thomas of Acre into a military order. The Rule it was to follow was not that of the Templars but of the Teutonic Knights. That meant that the order still had some obligation to care for the poor and sick, although the members’ fighting ability was the most important aspect of their job.48

How much fighting they did is hard to say. They are not mentioned by the chroniclers as having been in any of the major battles. But, by 1256, they managed to get the same papal privileges as the Templars and Hospitallers had.49

They did receive donations of property, mainly in England, but also some on the continent. Peter des Roches had been a strong supporter of King John, Richard’s baby brother, and also guardian of John’s son, Henry III. So his patronage allowed the order to receive some royal gifts. But it never really thrived. In 1279, the church in Acre was still unfinished, due to lack of funds.50In the late thirteenth century, there was even a move to have the Order of St. Thomas be absorbed into the Templars. The Templars already owned the building they lived in at Acre. Although an agreement of some sort was made, enough of the members must have protested, for the union never came about.51

The remnants of the order in the East went to Cyprus with what was left of the Templars and Hospitallers after the fall of Acre in 1291. But they really had little purpose there and in the early fourteenth century the headquarters of the order was finally moved to London, although there seems to have been a small outpost on Cyprus for some time.52

After the settlement in London, the Order of St. Thomas seems to have decided that the Teutonic Rule didn’t suit anymore. It changed to the rule of St. Augustine, which means that the men must have returned to being monastic canons rather than knights.

In its later days, the order mainly gave noble patrons a place to stay when they visited London. It also started a grammar school in London that lasted until the time of King Henry VIII. By the time the king closed all the monasteries, the patrons of St. Thomas were no longer the nobility but the merchants of London. The property of the Order of St. Thomas was bought by the Mercers Guild.53

The Order of St. Thomas of Acre is one of many quasi-military orders that were founded in the wake of the Templars. They may have wished at times that they were as influential and well funded as the two important orders. But when the soldiers came for the Templars in 1307, there must have been many who gave prayers of thanksgiving that the plans to make the Knights of St. Thomas part of the Templars had failed to occur.


Annales aevi Suevici (MGH SS XVI. Hannover, 1879) p. 153. “Imperator Fridericus, pacato imperio, cum filio suo Friderico duce Suevorum et mango pocerum et aliorum comitatu Terram Sanctam visitavit. Sed cum quadam die lavaretur in flumine, periit et dictus filius eius exercitum strennue rexit; sed et ipse in brevi obit in ecclesia sancta Marie hospitalis Theutonicorum, quam pater et ipse inchoaverant, sepultus fuit.”


Alan Forey, The Military Orders from the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries (London: MacMillan, 1992) p. 20.


William Urban, “The Teutonic Knights and Baltic Chivalry,” in The Historian Vol. 57, No. 4, 1995, p. 520.


John B. Freed, Noble Bondsmen: Ministerial Marriages in the Archdiocese of Salzburg, 1100-1343 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995) provides a good explanation of the minsteriales.


Oliver of Paderborn, The Capture of Damietta, tr. John J. Gavigan (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1948) chapter 5, p. 18.


Blonds sunburn so easily.


Forey, p. 34.


Ibid., p. 35.




Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades (London: Penguin, 1997) pp. 86-87.


Forey, p. 36.


Sophia Menache, Clement V (Cambridge University Press, 1998) p. 215.


Anonymous, “De Religionum Origine,” in Veterum Scriptorum et Monumentorum, Historicorum, Dogmaticorum, Moralium, Amplissima Collectio Vol. VI (Paris, 1724) col. 62. “Sed, heu! Fallaces divitiae omnem pene ordinem nitutur evertere, omnem statum prorsus moliuntur depravate.” (My thanks to Jeffrey Russell for correcting my initial translation of this.)


Urban, p. 523.


Ibid., p. 524.


Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003) p. 52.


Clara Estow, “The Economic Development of the Order of Calatrava 1158-1366,” in Speculum Vol. 57, No. 2, April 1982, p. 267.


O’Callaghan, p. 52.


Estow, p. 271.


Ibid., p. 272.


Ibid., pp 274-75.


O’Callaghan, p. 67.


Ibid., p. 71.


Quoted in O’Callaghan, p. 147.


O’Callaghan, p. 52.


Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood (Cambridge, 1996) p. 246.


Marquis d’Albon, Cartulaire General de l’Ordre du Temple 1119?-1150: Recueil des chartes et des bulle relatives à l’ordre du Temple (Paris, 1913) p. 19, charter 27.


Luke 16:19-31.


David Marcombe, Leper Knights: The Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in England 1150-1544 (Boydell, Woodbridge, 2003) p. 5.


Comte de Marsy, “Fragment d’une Cartulaire de S. Lazare,” in Archives de l’Orient Latin Vol. II, p.124.


Ibid., pp. 126-27. An 1148 charter of Barisan d’Ibelin that is not only enacted at the Temple but confirmed with the seal of the Temple. Maybe Barisan left his at home that day.


Barber, p. 93.


Marcombe, p. 8.


Marsy, p. 114. “Santo Lazaro de Jerusalem fratri videliciet Hugoni de Sancto Paulo, qui nunc est magister loci illius et toti leprosorum.”


Marcombe, p. 15.


Ibid., p. 14.


Marsy, p. 157.


Laurent Dailliez, Règle et Status de l’Ordre du Temple (Paris, 1972) p. 238, rule 443. “Quant il avient a aucun frere que par la volenté de nostre Seignor il chiet en meselerie et la chose est provée, li prodome frere de la maison le doivent amonester et proer que il demande congié de la maison et que il se rendre a saint Ladre, et que il preigne l’abit de frere de saint Ladre.” I find it interesting that the Old French word used for leprosy, “meselerie,” actually means “spoiled” or “led astray.” Perhaps the seeds of intolerence were already there in the thirteenth century. It has nothing to do with the topic, but if you’re obsessive enough to read the footnotes, it might interest you, too.


Marcombe, p. 12.


Ibid., p. 20.


Ibid., p. 21.


Ibid., p. xx.



Ralph of Diceto, Opera historia ed. W. Stubbs (Rolls Series, ii, London, 1876) pp. 80-81. “Sancto Thomae martyri sumptibus suis juxta facultum possibiliatem capellam consturueret, et procruraret ibidem ad honerem martyris cimiterium consecrati. Quod et factum est.” St. Thomas the Martyr is Thomas Becket, killed in Canterbury Cathedral Dec. 29, 1170, by henchmen of King Henry II of England.


A. J. Forey, “The Military Order of St. Thomas of Acre,” in The English Historical Review No. 364, July 1977, p. 482.


Ibid., p. 487.


Ibid., p. 487.


Forey, “St. Thomas,” p. 487.


Ibid., p. 491.


Ibid., p. 492.


Ibid., p. 493.


Ibid., p. 497.


Ibid., pp. 502-3.

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