Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Timeline of the Templars - Part II (12th Century)

In Part I, I discussed the fall of the Roman Empire, the continuation of the Byzantine Empire, the rise and expansion of the Islamic faith, the Holy Roman Empire, the Great Schism, the conflicts of Islam and Christianity, the First Crusade, and the formation of the Knights Templar. Part II will go through the events following the establishment of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon through the end of the 12th century.

The Formative and Expansive Years

Part I left from the point that the Templars were founded and the Council of Nablus. The common legend by William of Tyre is that for the first 9 years of the Templar’s existence, they had no more than 9 knights, but according to another historian, Michael the Syrian, Hugh De Payen founded this Order with 30 Knights with him.

Hugh de Payens served as the Templar’s first Grand Master serving from its founding until 1136. During the first 9 years, not much is known of Templar activity and much is left to wild speculation. What is known is that around 1127, Hugh de Payens traveled back to Western Europe to garner support and recruit more knights. Traveling through France, the Templars were given land by Count Thybaud of Champagne. In 1128, Hugh de Payens traveled to London where land was donated where the first Temple Church would be built in Holborn, London.

The Templars also spread to the Iberian Peninsula where they were instrumental in pushing back the Moorish invaders during the Reconquista. Countess Teresa donated the Castle of Soure to them in March 1128.

In 1129, Hugh de Payens was summoned by Pope Honorius II to an ecumenical council that would be held in Troyes, France, which had been instigated by Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian abbot and nephew to one of the Templar members, André de Montbard.

The Council of Troyes was attended by bishops, clergy, and representatives of various religious orders. Among its objectives, the Council’s most notable decision was its endorsement of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Recognizing the military prowess and religious zeal of the Templars, the Council of Troyes granted official approval to the order, providing it with both spiritual legitimacy and material support. Through the efforts of St. Bernard, the Rule of the Templars was established.

By 1130, recruits were starting to flood to the order and the Templars had received gifts of castles and land in Germany, France, England, Scotland, Greece, and the Iberian Peninsula. Among the recruits was the Count of Champagne who had given up his title, lands, and family to join the Knights Templar and serve under his former vassal. Hugh de Payens returned to the Holy Land with new knights to help bolster the Templar order.

On August 31, 1131, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem died. His eldest daughter Milesende and her husband, Fulk (Count of Anjou), who had been married back in 1129, were crowned King and Queen of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem on September 14, 1131. In the first years of his reign, King Fulk had been constructing castles and fortresses to protect from the Saracens, but in 1137 he surrendered the castle at Montferrad (present-day village of Baarin in Syria).

Hugh de Payens died on May 24, 1136, in the Holy Land after leading the Knights Templar for about 18 years. Robert de Craon, who had been Seneschal for Hugh, was elected Grand Master of the Order. It was during Craon’s reign that three Papal bulls were issued. 

The first one, Omne Datum Optimum, was issued in 1139 by Pope Innocent II. Omne Datum Optimum is Latin for "Every Good Gift" and allowed the Templars to keep their spoils of war, placing donations directly under papal protection, and exempting them from paying tithe. This proclamation added a priest class to the hierarchy as well as made the members of the Order answerable to the Grand Master. 

The second Papal bull, Milites Templi, Latin for "Soldiers of the Temple," was issued by Pope Celestine II in 1144, gave ecclesiastical protection to the Knights Templar and further endorsed them by advocating that the faithful donate to the cause of the Templars. This along with the Templar's annual collections and with the next Papal Bull laid the base for the Order's famous wealth. 

The final Papal bull was called Militia Dei, which is Latin for "Soldiers of God," and was issued by Pope Eugene III in 1145. This was somewhat controversial as it allowed the Templar priests to take tithes, build their own churches, collect property taxes from their tenants, and bury their dead in their cemeteries. Some speculate that this gave the Order's priests to take confession, but others believe this is a false assumption as no language exists within this Papal Bull that allows for such liberties.

His battle records were mixed as he destroyed brigands led by the Emir of Aleppo as well as stopped Islamic incursions in Beaufort and Banyas. However, the Templars were defeated along with the Frankish army in 1139 at Teqoa (between Jerusalem and Hebron in the West Bank today).

The Second Crusade

After the death of King Fulk in 1143, the Crown of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem went to Baldwin, Fulk’s 13-year-old son, with Queen Melissende as his regent. The kingdom fell into decline due to the neglect of the Queen Regent and her failure to protect Edesse or Antioch. 

In 1144, Seljuk Turks led by Imad al-Din Zengi besieged and massacred more than 30,000 Christians in Edessa (in modern-day Eastern Turkey). Edessa was the most northerly, the weakest, and the least populated of the Crusader states. This event was the catalyst for the Second Crusade. Imad al-Din Zengi would die on September 14, 1146, by assassination. Amidst the chaos following Imad al-Din Zengi's death, his son Nur Ad-Din emerged as his rightful heir and successor.

Robert de Craon died on January 13, 1147, during the Second Crusade and was succeeded by Everard des Barres. At taking over as Grand Master he convened, in Paris, a meeting of the General Chapter of the Templars at which King Louis VII of France, Pope Eugenius III, many Templar knights and sergeants, and other Christian dignitaries were in attendance. It was also around this time that Pope Eugenius III authorized the use of the red cross on the Templar uniform, but whether or not it occurred at this meeting it is not known; some theorize that the approval to wear the red cross occurred in 1146.

Having previously served as the Preceptor of France, Everard was close to Louis VII and when the king sent out for the Holy Land on the Second Crusade, Everard and a host of Templars went along. Everard was sent ahead with other diplomats to treat the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus, and work out a contract to allow the Frankish army to pass through the Byzantine territory. Diplomacy was needed as both the Franks were as suspicious of the Byzantine Emperor as he was of them.

Once the Frankish Army arrived in Antioch, King Louis requested a loan of 2,000 silver marks from the Templar Grand Master to help finance further military operations; he had spent nearly all of his funds getting his troops to the Holy Land. It was from this point that the Templars became the bankers and treasurers for the kings and lords in the Holy Land and across Europe.

The call for a new crusade came primarily from Pope Eugene III, who urged Christian rulers across Europe to take up arms and defend the Holy Land, but others including Bernard of Clairvaux also carried the message and inspired Emperor Conrad III of Germany to lead an army to the Middle East.

In 1148, Everard des Barres led his Templar knights along with King Louis and King Baldwin III on an unsuccessful Siege of Damascus. King Baldwin wanted to use the newly arrived Frankish army to lay siege to Damascus. The siege would most likely have been successful, except politics got in the way and many of the Christian lords withdrew their troops and the Crusader army fell apart.

Led by Nur ad-Din Zengi, the ruler of Aleppo and Damascus, the Muslims took advantage of this disunity and attacked the city of Antioch in 1149. Nur ad-Din amassed a formidable army, drawing forces from various Muslim territories, including Aleppo, Damascus, and Mosul. The Muslim coalition was united in its goal to crush the crusader presence in the region and reclaim Antioch for Islam. The defenders of Antioch, led by Prince Raymond of Poitiers, braced themselves for the impending assault. Raymond was a skilled military leader and had played a significant role in the city's defense during previous conflicts. Despite the valiant efforts of the defenders, the Muslim forces launched a relentless siege, employing a combination of siege engines, catapults, and battering rams to breach the city's defenses. Ultimately, the walls of Antioch succumbed to the overwhelming force of the Muslim army which resulted in the loss of the city and the death of Prince Raymond of Poitiers who was beheaded. The loss of Antioch marked a turning point in the fortunes of the crusader states and highlighted the growing strength and unity of Muslim powers in the region.

After the defeat at Damascus, Everard accompanied King Louis back to France where he resigned and abdicated the office as Grand Master. He became a Cistercian monk at Clairvaux and lived there until his death on November 12, 1174. Bernard de Tremelay would take over the Knights Templar in 1149.

Siege of Ascalon

When Bernard de Tremelay became Grand Master, 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 nearly 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. 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 which resulted in the slaughter of the Templars including the Grand Master, Bernard de Tremelay, on August 16th; he was the first Grand Master to die in battle. Their bodies were hung from the walls which incensed the Crusading army; the city fell three days later. After the death of Bernard de Tremelay, the Templar order elected André de Montbard, uncle of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, as Grand Master.

Montbard served only for three years and left no lasting fingerprint on the office of Grand Master; other than being the last of the founding knights. Montbard died on January 17th, 1156, in Jerusalem while in office and was succeeded by Bertrand de Blanchefort.

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, semi-retirement in France. In Montbard's absence, the Order was overseen by Blanchefort.

Bertrand was taken prisoner after a battle between the forces led by King Baldwin III and the Islamic forces led by Nur ad-Din near Banyas or Paneas (near Mount Hermon) in 1157. He would remain a prisoner for 3-years until the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I, negotiated a treaty with Nur ad-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. These "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 1160, Gualdim Pais, the Master of Templars in Portugal, established the Castle of Tomar and the Convent of Christ which would serve as the headquarters of the Portuguese Templars and a strategic fortress in the Iberian Peninsula during the Reconquista.

In 1161, King Henry II of England donated land near the Thames where the English Templar headquarters would be and where Temple Church sits today. Temple Church itself is comprised of two sections called "The Round" and "The Chancel". The Round was the original nave and is based upon the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Round was consecrated on February 10, 1185, to Mary Theotokos by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.


In 1162 or 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 Hospitaller 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 where the Crusaders were stationed.

The following year, Amalric would have attempted to take the city, but Nur ad-Din started expanding and invading the Latin Kingdom so Geoffroi Foucher, a Templar, was sent to strike a deal with the Egyptian sultan to ally forces against Nur ad-Din; Nur ad-Din was accompanied by Salah ad-Din or Saladin, a great Kurdish Muslim leader who would become famous for his victories over the Crusaders. In 1168, Amalric I turned back to conquering Egypt, but because of a treaty the Templars did not take part in this operation and which resulted in a deterioration in the relationship between the Templars and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Bertrand de Blanchefort died of old age on January 2, 1169, in Reims, France. Phillipe de Milly, who had been a nobleman in the Holy Land and who had joined the Templars in 1166, was elected Grand Master. Many believe that King Amalric had campaigned in support of Phillipe so he could gain Templar support for his Egyptian campaign. The relationship between the Templars and the King of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem had been damaged during Blanchefort's time. Phillipe resigned as Grand Master early in 1171 and was succeeded by Odo de St Amand.

The Leper King

Amalric I died on July 11, 1174, and the throne went to his son, Baldwin IV, also known as Baldwin the Leper or the Leper King. Despite being afflicted with leprosy from a young age, Baldwin proved to be a skilled and determined ruler who displayed remarkable military prowess.

One of his victories was against Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard in 1177. The battle occurred on November 25, 1177, located near Ramla (Israel southeast of Tel Aviv). This battle was between a Christian army of 375 knights, 80 Knights Templar, and several thousand infantry against Saladin's army of around 27,000 men. Saladin underestimated the king and allowed his army to become spread out over a large area. The two forces met at Montgisard which caught Saladin by surprise and his troops were tired from their march from Egypt. The Crusader forces charged and broke through the center routing Saladin's forces. Both sides lost many, but the Muslim forces lost over three-quarters of their troops; Saladin himself only survived by escaping on a camel.

Toward the end of his rule, St. Amand oversaw the construction of an impregnable fortress known as Chastellet near Jacob's Ford on the Jordan River. This fortress was located in an important place and was effective in preventing Saladin's army from conquering Jerusalem in 1179. After Saladin was defeated at the fortress, the Christians thought they could inflict further damage on Saladin so they launched an assault at the Battle of Marj Ayun (southern Lebanon). 

Unfortunately, Saladin had reorganized his forces and defeated the Christian Army, killing and capturing many. Among those captured was the Templar Grand Master, Odo de St. Amand. There were proposals of ransoming him, but he refused as it was against the Rule of the Order. In the next year, St. Amand died while still in jail, but no exact date is known. 

Arnold of Torroja was elected Grand Master of the Templars in 1181 who was seen as an outsider and not prone to be too involved with the geopolitics of the region. Due to his appearance as an outsider and an impartial arbitrator, many groups used him to mediate disputes. During a truce (due to a drought) between Saladin and Baldwin, Torroja went on a tour of Europe with Patriarch Heraclius and Roger des Moulins, Grand Master of the Hospitaliers, to get more soldiers for another crusade, Torroja fell ill and died on September 30, 1184. Torroja’s Seneschal, Gerard de Ridefort, was elected as Grand Master by late 1184 or early 1185.

The Fall of Jerusalem

In 1185, the leper king, Baldwin IV, passed away and the sole authority passed to his nephew Baldwin V who was 8 years old at the time of his coronation, but the kingdom was run by a regent, Raymond, the Count of Tripoli. The next year Baldwin V died and the succession came into question. There were two major contenders for the throne: Sibylla, Baldwin IV's sister supported by Guy de Lusignan, and Isabella, Sibylla's younger half-sister, supported by Raymond III and the Hospitaller Grand Master. Ridefort and the Patriarch of Jerusalem sided with Guy de Lusignan, and in July of 1186 Guy and Sibylla were crowned King and Queen. 

It is not surprising that Ridefort didn’t support Raymond as Ridefort had formerly been in Raymond’s service before he was a Templar. When Raymond refused to marry Gerard to Lady Lucia, a rich heiress, the friendship soured and Ridefort left his service.

Raymond III's poor relationship with the monarchy gave Gerard de Ridefort the ability to label him as a coward and/or traitor which only gave Raymond the need to ally with Saladin. In reaction to crimes committed by Renaud de Chatillon, Lord of Oultrejordain, and the refusal of the king to punish him, Saladin desired to enter the Kingdom of Jerusalem to take care of Renaud himself. Raymond would only allow a small contingent to enter Galilee and only for a day. He informed the people and troops in the area to stay within their fortresses and avoid conflict. Learning of this Gerard de Ridefort sent some of his troops to defend Nazareth against the approaching Muslims. The Battle of Cresson would result in the slaughter of the Christian troops, with only a few survivors including Gerard de Ridefort.

Small encounters and fights would eventually lead to one of the bloodier battles of the Crusades, the famous Battle of the Horns of Hattin. Eventually, Saladin would invade the Kingdom and the King would call his troops. The Crusaders met at the Springs of Saffuriyah on the 27th of June and held a council. Many of the king's men advised the king to hold near a source of water and let Saladin come to them, allowing the heat to tire the enemy, which had occurred in previous battles against the Muslim forces.

Saladin had learned from past mistakes and did not move his forces from his water source so instead, he sent part of his force up to Tiberias and took the fortress belonging to Count Raymond, who was away, but whose wife and family were still in the castle. Even though counseled against by Raymond, at the advice of the Templar Grand Master the Crusading Army set off across the arid terrain through the blazing heat on the 2nd of July to face the Saracen army. The water went quickly, men and animals succumbed to the heat of the day, and the forces were harassed by Saracen scouting parties.

The Crusaders camped on the hills known as the Horns of Hattin, but Saladin's forces kept up the harassment campaign throughout the night. On the morning of July 4th, Saladin ordered the surrounding brush to be set on fire which sent a black smoke to flow into the already-parched Crusader camp. Then the battle started, it was a slaughter. Guy de Lusignan attempted to send his forces to take the springs near Hattin, but was repelled. The Crusading force was exhausted from the march plus they were dealing with desertion of their troops who refused to keep going forward. The infantry that did stay was defeated by the Muslim cavalry. Even the Knights Templar were defeated and those who were captured were beheaded, except for the Grand Master Gerard de Ridefort.

This victory made Saladin's force the dominant fighting force in the region and he continued through the kingdom using his noble captives as means to secure the surrender of castles and fortresses such as Acre, Ascalon, and Gaza; this would eventually lead to the fall of Jerusalem in July of 1187. This led to the Third Crusade which would start with the Siege of Acre. A few months later, Saladin released the Templar Grand Master and he took back the command of the Templar Order.

The Third Crusade

The Horns of Hattin had decimated the Templar order and the Crusading forces and would lead to the Third Crusade in 1189. The Templars would begin to grow their forces again and we see in 1189 that the Grand Master led the Templars in a campaign to support the Siege of Acre, along with the King Guy de Lusignan and his army`. The Siege of Acre would last for two years and cost countless lives on both sides of the fight. On the 4th of October, 1189, Gerard de Ridefort died at the foot of Mount Toron near the walls of Acre. Some say he died during the battle against Saladin's forces and others say he was first captured and then executed by Saladin.

The Knights Templar played a significant role in the prolonged Siege of Acre, ultimately resulting in its capture by the Crusaders. This victory helped to maintain a Christian presence in the Holy Land for several more decades. It’s also interesting to note that the Siege of Acre led to the formation of the Order of St. Thomas. Acre would also become the new headquarters for the Knights Templar due to the loss of Jerusalem where they were previously housed on the Temple Mount.

There was a delay in electing a new Grand Master as the Templar order wanted to avoid losing a Grand Master during battles so they amended the Rule concerning the role of the Grand Master. A year before the elections were held, Robert de Sablé joined the order and King Richard urged the Templars to elect de Sablé which occurred in 1191. Robert de Sablé served as counselor to King Richard I, the Lionheart, of England from 1190 to 1193, and even led King Richard's navy into the Mediterranean where he took part in several successive campaigns that recaptured many fortresses and cities along the Levantine Coast that had been lost to the Christians.

One of those captured cities was Arsuf which is also known as Apollonia (north of Tel Aviv). The Crusader army, led by King Richard I of England, engaged Saladin's forces. The Knights Templar, alongside other Crusader orders and armies, played a crucial role in securing victory for the Christians. Their disciplined fighting and tactical acumen helped to repel the repeated assaults by Saladin's forces, allowing the Crusaders to maintain control of key coastal territories.

The Third Crusade ended in a stalemate and Jerusalem was still in the hands of the Muslims. Both sides entered into the Treaty of Jaffa in 1192 which allowed for Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem without fear of persecution.

During his tenure as Grand Master, Robert de Sablé purchased the island of Cyprus from King Richard and served as Lord of Cyprus until 1193 when he sold the island to Guy de Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem as the Holy City had been captured by the Muslims after the Battle of Hattin. Robert de Sablé died on September 23, 1193, in Arsuf, Israel. Also in 1193, Saladin died leaving his sons in control of Cairo, Damascus, and Aleppo.

Gilbert Horal was elected as Grand Master of the Templars serving from 1193 to 1200. Tensions between the two orders were already strained because armed fighting over control of cities and castles around the Levant got so out of control that the Vatican had to intervene. Pope Innocent III favored the Hospitallers which is likely due to Horal's favor for peace with the Saracens. 

Horal continued to give Templar support to the Reconquista for which they were rewarded with the fortress of Alfambra (sometimes spelled Alhambra) by King Alfonso II of the Kingdom of Aragon in 1196 AD.

During the reign of Horal, the world saw the rise of the Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem, or, simply, the Teutonic Knights, rise from a monastic order to a full-fledged military order in 1198. 

Gilbert Horal died in December 1200 which was around the start of the Fourth Crusade. Phillipe de Plessis would succeed Horal as the Thirteenth Grand Master.


During the 12th century, the Knights Templar emerged as a prominent military order in the Holy Land during the Crusades. There were 12 Grand Masters of the Order. Hugh de Payens served the longest at 18 years. Everard des Barres and Robert de Sablé served the shortest terms at 2 years. The average length of a Grand Mastership was 6.4 years. Two Grand Masters resigned and abdicated their position. Three Grand Masters were killed in action.

While founded to protect Christian pilgrims, the Order expanded its role to become warriors, advisors, ambassadors, and bankers. They developed a sophisticated banking system, providing loans to nobles and kings, and managing vast estates and agricultural lands. They established a network of fortresses and castles across the Levant, strategically positioning themselves to defend Christian territories from Muslim incursions. Their military prowess and disciplined organization earned them respect and fear on the battlefield.


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