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 as 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 the 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 the constant battering of the towers and walls. The only advantage of 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 vary 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.


1. Bernard de Tremelay. n.d.

2. Dafoe, Stephen. The Siege of Ascalon. June 17, 2010.

3. Napier, Gordon. Bernard de Tremelay. n.d.

4. Siege of Ascalon. n.d.

5. Zolnai, Andrew. Bernard de Tremelay. n.d.

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