Thursday, April 23, 2015

Templar Biography: Bertrand de Blanchefort

The sixth Grand Master of the Order was Bertrand de Blanchefort, serving from 1156 until his death in 1169. While he known as a warrior, his time as Grand Master was known for its reforms that transformed the image of the Templars from one of brutish knights to one of guardians, which led him to be known as the "Great Reformer of the Order."

Bertrand was born around 1109, but the exact date is not known. He was the youngest son of Lord Godfrey de Blanchefort from Guyenne. Guyenne was an old French province in southwest France whose main city was Bordeaux, but after the French Revolution was divided into several departments.


There is little information on when Bertrand de Blanchefort joined the Templar order, but what is known is that in 1156, just days after the death of the previous Grand Master, André de Montbard, Bertrand was elected to that position. His quick ascension was due to the fact that by 1156, Grand Master Montbard was an old knight and was in, as we shall say, in semi-retirement in France; similar to what the Grand Master Everard des Barres had done. In Montbard's absence, the Order was overseen by Blanchefort, so he was the most likely candidate when Montbard died in October of 1156.

Bertrand was taken prisoner after a battle between the forces led by King Baldwin III and the Islamic forces led by Nur al-Din near Banyas or Paneas in 1157. Paneas, named for the Greek god Pan, is natural springs and archaeological site located near Mount Hermon. On the return home, Baldwin dismissed the Frankish army which allowed Nur al-Din to set an ambush at Jacob's Ford just south of Hule Lake (roughly 28-km north of the Sea of Galilee). The ambush was so successful most knights were killed, but among the captives were Odo de St Amand, Marshal of the Order (later to be the 8th Grand Master) and Bertrand de Blanchefort. He would remain a prisoner for 3-years until the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I, negotiated a treaty with Nur al-Din which included the release of the Frankish knights.


Once released, the Grand Master de Blanchefort worked on reforming the Rule of the Order which became known as the "Retraits." In this reform he specified more clearly the duties and responsibilities of the ranks within the Templar hierarchy. This "Retraits" also established some checks and balances on the authority of the Grand Master. One interesting change he pushed for was the use of the title "Master by Grace of God" which was approved by Pope Alexander III.

In 1163, Amalric I succeeded his brother Baldwin III as head of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. His focus would fall upon the caliphate in Cairo which was weakened by the infighting between the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam. Amalric gathered his forces and set out to Egypt and was accompanied by the Templar and Hospitallier Orders. The Crusaders attempted to besiege the ancient city of Bilbeis in September of 1163, but had to retreat when the Egyptians destroyed the river embankments and flooded the plains were the Crusaders were stationed.


The following year, Amalric would have attempted to take the city, but Nur al-Din started expanding and invading into the Latin Kingdom so Geoffroi Foucher, a Templar, was sent to strike a deal with the Egyptian sultan to ally forces against Nur al-Din. In 1168, Amalric I turned back to conquering Egypt, but because of a treaty the Templars did not take part in this operation.


Surviving records show that Bertrand de Blanchefort died of old age January 2, 1169, in Reims, France (~140-km northwest of Paris). Bertrand de Blanchefort left a mark on Templar history with his reforms, but has also left a mark on our pop culture when he was erroneously affiliated with the another Blanchefort family near Rennes-le-Château (a myth dealing with the Holy Grail, Merovingian kings, and the bloodline of Christ).


References

1. Cobbold, David. Chronicle of events between 1050 and 1350. n.d. http://www.templiers.org/chronique-eng.php.

2. Banias. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banias. 

3. Bertrand de Blanchefort. n.d. http://www.myetymology.com/encyclopedia/Bertrand_de_Blanchefort.html. 

4. Bertrand de Blanchefort. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_de_Blanchefort. 

5. Cobbold, David. Bertrand de Blanchefort. n.d. http://www.templiers.org/bertrandblanchefort-eng.php.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Templar Biography: Bernard de Tremelay

Bernard de Tremelay was the fourth Grand Master of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon and one of only seven who died in battle while in office. This Grand Master did take part in the expansion of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, but whose governance was cut short at the Siege of Ascalon.


Bernard was born sometime at the end of the 11-century, but the exact date is not known. He was born in the castle owned by his father, Humbert, Lord of Tremelay, near Saint-Claude (50-km NW of Geneva, Switzerland) in the Jura (one of the administrative departments or regions of France). What exactly he did before joining the Templars is not known, but when he did join the medieval order he is seen as serving as Preceptor of the Temple-Lès-Dole in Jura, an important preceptory in France. In June of 1151, he was elected as Grand Master of the Templar Order after the abdication of Everard des Barres.

When Bernard de Tremelay, King Baldwin III gave him the fortified city of Gaza which was an important city as it sat the gateway into Egypt, but it also stood between the Muslim controlled city of Ascalon and Egypt. The Templar Grand Master rebuilt the walls and constructed new towers to ensure it was near impregnable by land or sea. To better protect from attacks from Ascalon, he had surrounding fortresses reinforced.

At the end of 1152, King Baldwin III decided to take advantage of the divided Muslim leadership and military victories of Latin Kingdom by leading his troops to the city of Ascalon (between Gaza and Tel Aviv). In January of 1153, the Crusading army besieged this city. The city was besieged by land and sea, but was unable to prevent the city from being resupplied which caused the siege to cover several months. Ascalon had twice as many as the Crusaders had with ample supplies. The Crusaders were unable to break through the Muslim defenses, even with constant battering of the towers and walls. The only advantage the Crusaders was the use of siege towers that rose higher than the walls and from which they could fire volleys of arrows and missiles into Ascalon. The city wouldn't fall until late Summer.


On August 15th, 1153, a Templar siege tower was set afire, but because of the prevailing winds the fire blew back at the Muslims and the already weakened walls crumbled causing a breach to be opened in the Muslim defenses. The events that followed varies depending on the historical source, but all agree that the Templars were the first and only ones to make it through the breach and which resulted in the slaughter of the Templars including the Grand Master, Bernard de Tremelay, on August 16th. Their bodies were hung from the walls which incensed the Crusading army; the city fell three days later.


Most scholars believe the Templars dashed into the breach to scout ahead, but others like William of Tyre state the Templars were intent on getting more plunder their order and leaving the rest to the other Christians, but we must remember that William of Tyre had a dislike for the Knights Templar.

After the death of Bernard de Tremelay, the Templar order elected André de Montbard, uncle of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, as Grand Master.

While there is very little information regarding this Grand Master, he was the first one to be killed in battle. He and his fellow Templars took part in expanding the Latin Kingdom and fight for control over the city of Ascalon which had been a thorn in the side of the Crusaders since the beginning of the Crusades.

References

1. Bernard de Tremelay. n.d. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_de_Tremelay.

2. Dafoe, Stephen. The Siege of Ascalon. June 17, 2010. http://blog.templarhistory.com/2010/06/the-siege-of-ascalon/.

3. Napier, Gordon. Bernard de Tremelay. n.d. http://www.dashinvaine.co.uk/Grand%20Masters%20list%20page.htm.

4. Siege of Ascalon. n.d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Ascalon.

5. Zolnai, Andrew. Bernard de Tremelay. n.d. http://www.templiers.org/bernardtremelay-eng.php.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Poem for April Fools' Day

Ladies and gentlemen, hobos and tramps, 
I stand before you and sit behind you,
To tell you something I know nothing about! 
Admission is free, you must pay at the door; 
So pull up a chair and sit on the floor. 
The show is over, but before you go, 
let me tell you a story I don't really know: 

One bright day, in the middle of the night 
Two dead boys got up to fight 
Back to back; they faced each other; 
Drew their swords and shot each other. 
A deaf policeman heard the noise 
He came and shot those two dead boys. 
If you don't believe this lie is true,
Just ask the blind man; he saw it too!