The Grand Master was the spiritual, political and military leader of the Order. He was chosen by a complex electoral system similar to that used in Venice to elect the Doge. The Preceptors in the Holy Land would usually choose a provisional leader until an electoral colleges, drawn from the international Order’s chapters, could be established. Eventually after a whittling down process, the next Grand Master, who was in theory supposed to be an experienced, professed brother of the Order, and not a partisan outsider.
The Grand Master presided from Jerusalem, and subsequently from Acre (and from Cyprus in the final years). He was normally installed for life, though there was precedent for a Grand Masters resigning. The Grand Master did not quite have autocratic powers within the Order, despite the emphasis on obedience as a sacred duty. He could not access the Order’s treasury on his own; one key was retained by the Commander of Jerusalem, who was also the Treasurer. He in theory ruled with the advice of a council, the Chapter, and rather as in an important monastic institution, important decisions were usually made at chapter meetings. The Chapter had to approve any decision to make war or to accept peace treaties. Moreover the Grand Master’s power seems to have been limited when it came to appointing regional preceptors. The local brethren were able to have a say in this.
The Grand Masters; 1118-1314
Hugues de Payens
Hugues de Payens (or Payns) was the presumed founder and first Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He was a Knight probably from Payens, ten miles from Troyes, a vassal of Hugh, Count of Champagne, and a relative of the Lords of Montigny. He was apparently married and had at least one son. A tradition, apparently originating within Freemasonry has it that Hugues de Payens’ wife was one Catherine St Clair, but this is not verified. The claim seems to be contradicted by French charters that tend to suggest Hugues was married to one Elizabeth de Chappes. At any rate one of his son apparently was the Theobald who became abbot of Saint Colombe-de-Sens in 1139. Hugues de Payens was presumably widowed (or abandoned his wife) before 1114.
It is unclear whether Hugues de Payens took part in the First Crusade. However Hugues and the Count did visited Jerusalem in 1104 and again in around 1115, probably forging links with the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1118 or 1119 Hugues, along with Godfroi de St Omer and the others, approached Baldwin II in Jerusalem and won royal approval for their new military/religious Order, originally known as the Militia (or the Poor Fellow Soldiers) of Christ. They were probably endorsed at the Council of Nablus (1120) and soon given quarters in the former Al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount. The knights apparently swore religious vows before the Patriarch in the Holy Sepulchre and pledged their swords to the defence of pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem. By 1123 Hugh was being referred to as the Master of the Knights of the Temple (Magister Militum Templi). William of Tyre claims that after nine years there were still just nine knights, another source, Michael the Syrian, mentions thirty founding companions.
Hugues de Payens returned to Europe in 1127 seeking support for his new brotherhood and recruiting volunteers to aid the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He won the support of the influential Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, and after three requests received from the Abbot a missive endorsing the Order, titled De Laude Novae Militiae (In Praise of the New Knighthood). Armed with this (presuming it originated from this period) Hugh toured France, Flanders, England and Scotland and having gained the favour of the rulers of these lands. He also met Fulk V, Count of Anjou, who would become one of the first honorary associates and a great supporter of the Order in the Holy Land. Hugues addressed the ecclesiastical Council of Troyes in 1129, giving an account of the Templars purpose and way of life. He had an input into the Latin Rule, which was produced and ratified at the council, making the Knights Templar an official arm of the Catholic Church. Hugues returned to the Holy Land, and saw action in Baldwin’s unsuccessful campaign against Damascus. He apparently died peacefully seven years later, and was succeeded by Robert de Caron.
Robert de Craon
(C. 1100 )
Robert de Craon became the second Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1136. Although known as ‘the Burgundian’, he was born in Anjou, and was a younger son of Renaud de Craon. He had given up a fiancée in Aquitaine to join the newly formed Order in Jerusalem, serving under Hugues de Payens. He was also present at the Council of Troyes. He oversaw the continuing growth of the Order and saw it gain extensive privileges when as a result of the Papal Bull Omne Datum Optimum. Robert participated in some inconclusive campaigns against the forces of Aleppo in the Holy Land. He was succeeded by Everard des Barres, who arrived from France with the forces of the Second Crusade.
Everard des Barres
Everard des Barres was the third Grand Master of the Knights Templar. From an aristocratic family of Meaux, Champagne, he entered the Order in his teens, and by 1143 had risen to the rank of Grand Preceptor of France. He was chosen to lead the order on the death of Robert de Caron. He was close to King Louis VII of France and accompanied him on the Second Crusade, soon after his elevation in 1147. The embarkation followed a chapter meeting held in Paris, attended by King Louis, by Pope Eugenius III and by 120 Knights of the Temple, including some summoned by Everard from Spain. It was probably at this meeting that the Order received the right to wear the red cross of martyrdom on their white habits.
Everard des Barres was one of those sent ahead of Louis to Constantinople, where he met with Manuel I Comnenus. Subsequently Templar discipline and courage saved the Louis’s army from destruction, fending off the attacking Turks amid the Cadmus Mountains in Anatolia. Odo of Deuil praised Everard for his piety and for the wise example with which he furnished the others. The Grand Master later assisted Louis with a substantial loan of two thousand silver marks. He also took part in the ill-fated campaign against Damascus, which may have planted a seed of disillusionment in him. Everard returned to France with the King after the ignominious end of the Crusade, apparently stricken with guilt over the failure of the venture. He resigned from the Templars in around 1151, and joined the Cistercian Order at Clairvaux in order to do penance. He was replaced as Grand Master by Bernard de Tremelay.
Bernard de Tremelay
Bernard de Tremelay was the fourth Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He was elected following the abdication of Everard des Barres, and led the Order in the aftermath of the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Bernard was probably a Burgundian, from a family originating near Dijon. Bernard and the Templars supported King Baldwin III of Jerusalem in his 1153 campaign against Ascalon, the only coastal town still in Muslim hands. A preliminary to this had been the strengthening of the castle at Gaza, which the Templars had taken over. This had severed Ascalon’s land connection to Egypt. The Christians laid siege to Ascalon itself on 23 January 1153. Bernard de Tremelay had a wooden siege tower built and moved it close to the walls. The Egyptian defenders of the city succeeded in setting this on fire, but the wind changed direction, carrying the flames towards Ascalon. The walls themselves came crashing down. According to the chronicler William of Tyre (who was seldom one to ascribe the best motives to the Knights Templar) the Templars rushed into the breech without the King’s knowledge, while Bernard de Tremelay prevented the other Crusaders from following, hoping to keep the greater part of the plunder. If so it was foolish over-confidence, for the next day the Egyptians hung the beheaded bodies of the Grand Master and forty of his men over the ramparts. The Christians fought on and the city fell to Baldwin soon after. Meanwhile André de Montbard succeeded as Grand Master of the Temple.
André de Montbard
André de Montbard was a Burgundian of noble birth. He was one of the early members of the Knights Templar. He went on to become fifth Grand Master of the Order, presiding between 1153 and 1156.
André was a younger son of Bernard, Lord of Montbard and Humberge de Ricey. André’s brother Rainard succeeded to the title. André was also an uncle of Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard apparently being the son of André’s much older half sister Aleth. André’s access to St Bernard and Bernard’s influence within the Catholic Church helped ensure the official recognition of the Templars at the Council of Troyes. André apparently arrived in Europe some time before the other founding Templars, charged with gaining support for the Holy Land and negotiating with Fulk V, Count of Anjou, to come East to marry Melisende, the heiress to the kingdom of Jerusalem. André returned to the Holy Land, and served as Seneschal of the Order under Everard des Barres, to whom he wrote while the Grand Master was absent in France, urging his return with additional knights and money. André also served under Bernard de Tremelay. He participated in the capture of Ascalon from the Egyptians in 1153. He was elected Grand Master after de Tremelay perished there.
Bertrand de Blanquefort
Bertrand de Blanquefort (or Blanchefort/Blancfort) was elected as the sixth Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1156. He presided during the reign of Baldwin III, and seems to have been one of the first Grand Masters to use the symbol of the two riders on his official seal. Blanquefort is known for extending and revising the Templars’ Rule, adding a number of regulations dealing with specifically military situations and the hierarchy of the Order, which had by this time become more complex. (The original Rule had been primarily concerned with monastic living.)
In 1159 Bertrand de Blanquefort was captured by the Sultan Nur ed-Din of Damascus, after being ambushed by the Saracens in the Jordan Valley. He was released three years later, at Byzantine instigation, after the Emperor Manuel I Comnenus negotiated an alliance between Byzantium and Nur ed-Din, against the Turks of Anatolia. Subsequently Bertrand de Blanquefort recommended to the King of Jerusalem that they should make an alliance with Fatimid Egypt against Nur ed-Din. Amalric I, the new King, instead preferred a policy of aggression against Egypt. Bertrand accompanied the King against Egypt in 1163. However in 1168 Bertrand refused to allow any Templar involvement in Amalric’s last invasion of the Nile, arguing that it violated a truce and probably fearing that the army’s departure from the Kingdom would leave Jerusalem vulnerable. Blanquefort died the following year and was succeeded by Philip de Milly of Nablus.
Philip de Milly of Nablus
Philip of Nablus was the Lord Nablus, and then of Oultrejordan, holding the castle of Kerak. He would become a Templar Grand Mater. Philip was son of Guy de Milly, a Crusader from Picardy. He was well connected, being a step-brother of the lord of Ramla, and brother in law of Barisan of Ibelin, who was married to his sister Helvis. Philip became an influential baron in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He was loyal to Queen Melisende, and formed part of her response to the fall of Edessa in 1144, at a time when Baldwin III was being sidelined for political reasons. Later, Philip fought alongside Baldwin and the Knights Templar at the capture of Ascalon. He is said to have been a gifted linguist, knowing French, Latin, Arabic and Armenian. At some point he also made a pilgrimage to the Monastery of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Sinai. He joined the Templars himself some time before 1166, probably after the death of his wife Isabella. In 1169 he was elected the Order’s seventh Grand Master, succeeding Bertrand de Blanquefort. Philip was the first Grand Master to have been born in the orient. The probably led the Order during the defence of Gaza against an attack by Saladin. Philip resigned as Grand Master in 1171 for reasons unknown. In his place Odo de St Amand was elected. Philip then became a royal envoy, to Constantinople. Philip’s daughter Stephanie de Milly was remarried to Reynald de Châtillon, upon his release from a Nur ed-Din’s dungeons. Reynald thus became lord of Kerak.
Odo de St Armand
Odo de St Amand hailed from an aristocratic family of Limousin. He came east and served as Marshal of Jerusalem, before joining the Knights Templar. Odo went on to became the eighth Grand Master of the Templars in 1171, during the reign of Amalric I of Jerusalem. He succeeded Bertrand de Blanquefort, with whom he apparently had been captured and held prisoner after the battle of Banyas, against Nur ed-Din. Relations between the Order and the King continued to be difficult, and the troubles came to a head in 1172, when the Templar Walter de Mesnil ambushed an envoy of the Assassin sect, returning to Syria from negotiations with Amalric. According to a disapproving William of Tyre, Odo refused to hand over de Mesnil to royal justice, asserting the Temple’s independence, but claiming that he would send Walter for judgement in Rome. Amalric seized de Mesnil, in the event, and was considering pressing his case against the Templars when he died.
Under Amalric’s son, Baldwin IV, relations between the crown and the Order improved. In 1177 Odo and the Templars supported Baldwin and played a critical part in his victory over Saladin at Montguisard. Odo also defeated an army of Saladin’s at Ramlah. The Grand Master was less lucky in 1179, when he was captured in battle, a few months before the fall of the castle of Jacobs Ford. William of Tyre, recording his capture, expressed little sympathy, and condemned Odo as an evil man, full of pride and arrogance ‘in whose nostrils dwelt the spirit of fury’. He also claimed that many held Odo responsible for the military disaster. Odo refused to be ransomed, in accordance with the Rule, and died in chains in prison the following year. He was succeeded in his absence by Arnold de Tarroja.
Arnold de Tarroja
Arnold de Tarroja was elected the ninth Grand Master of the Knights Templar in about 1180. Taking advantage of a two-year truce agreed between Baldwin IV and Saladin, Arnold set out to tour the courts of Europe to appeal for support for the Holy Land. He had been dispatched by a council in Jerusalem along with the Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Roger des Moulins the Grand Master of the Hospitallers. They hoped especially to secure the support of Henry II of England (who had sworn to take the Cross as part of his penance for his part in the death of Thomas à Becket.) However Arnold of Tarroja fell sick, and died before he could get any further than Verona. His companions had to carry on without him.
Gerard de Ridefort
Gerard de Ridefort (or van Ruddervoorde) was the tenth Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He presided at the time of the disasters that befell the Kingdom of Jerusalem in and around 1187. He was an ally of Guy de Lusignan, Queen Sibylla and Reynald de Chatillon. Gerard has been portrayed as a sinister firebrand and a warmonger of the same cast as Reynald, pursuing policies and tactics inconsistent with the best interests of the Kingdom. He did not seem to lack personal courage, however, and perhaps if he had been blessed with more luck he would be better thought of. Still, given his clearly immoderate nature, it is difficult to account to his rise to the top of the Order of the Temple, especially considering that he was not a career Templar.
Gerard was probably of Flemish extraction. Like Reynald he may have been a member of the Second Crusade, who chose to remain in the East. Gerard took service as a secular knight under Raymond III of Tripoli, on the understanding that he would be rewarded with a grant of land and the hand of the heiress Lucia of Botrun. Raymond later reneged on the arrangement, and Gerard joined the Templars, nursing a bitter grudge against Raymond. (Gerard’s rival was a Pisan merchant named Plivano. It seems Plivano had offered Lucia’s weight in gold to Raymond in order to claim to the heiress’s hand and power in Botrun). Gerard’s rise within the Order of the Temple may be attributed to ‘driving ambition and aggressive self-confidence’ He became Seneschal in 1183, and had reached the top by 1185. The following year the death of the boy king Baldwin V plunged the Kingdom of Jerusalem into crisis. Raymond III led the barons opposed the accession of Sibylla and Guy de Lusignan. Gerard supported Guy and Sibylla, perhaps as much to spite Raymond as for any other reason. The support of the Knights Templar (who were sworn to obey their master whatever the cost) swung events in favour of the de Lusignan faction, and facilitated Guy’s coronation as co-ruler.
Gerard seems to have believed in his own invincibility. In May 1387 a 7,000 strong Muslim force scouted into Crusader Galilee. Gerard, with around 130 knights including 90 Templars, heard of it, and intercepted it on its return journey at Cresson. He decided to attack, despite the objections of more judicious companions including the Hospitaller Grand Master Roger de Moulins and the Marshal of the Temple Jacques de Mailly. (Gerard may not have been so rash, however. Ibn al-Athir presents the Templars’ action not as an unprovoked charge but as a defence of Sephoria, which was under attack from al-Afdal’s forces, and the battle seems to have been a close run thing). At any rate it seems only Gerard and a couple of others escaped death or capture. Al-Afdal’s army finished sacked and pillaging the land then returned safely to spread the ‘joyful news’. They considered it a great accomplishment for the Military Orders were the ‘backbone of the Frankish army’.
Later that year Saladin’s full host (some 40,000- 60,000 warriors) crossed the Jordan and beset Tiberias. The army of Jerusalem assembled, perhaps 20,000 including about six hundred of the knights of the Temple and the Hospital. Raymond advised Guy not to take the army to Tiberias but to force Saladin to come to them. Again Gerard (along with Reynald) felt the need to advocate the opposite policy. Gerard visited King Guy in the night, to persuade him to advance across the blazing desert, even though Raymond had warned that such a march would drastically weaken the army and leave Jerusalem itself vulnerable. Gerard said that Raymond was a traitor, and persuaded Guy that that if as King he failed to act decisively against Saladin and to save Tiberias, then he would seem weak and unworthy.
So came to pass the Battle of Hattin. The weary and parched Christians fought bravely but under the circumstances victory was impossible. The Templars and Hospitallers who had been taken prisoner were beheaded. Saladin spared only Gerard de Ridefort and kept him for ransom, though given the sequence of disasters he had precipitated, it is a wonder anyone wanted him back. The Templar Brother Terric led the Order in the meantime. Gerard was finally released in May 1189. He went on to lead the Templars again at the Siege of Acre. Again he led his companions in an excessively bold charge, leading to their slaughter. This time, it is recorded, he declined the chance to save himself lest it bring shame and scandal on the Templars, and he fell with the slain.
Robert de Sablé
Robert de Sablé was a widowed Knight from Maine, France, and an Angevin vassal. He was lord of Brillary and La Suze He fought under Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade. He was formerly commanded a division of Richard’s fleet, and was a close associate of the King. Richard’s support helped gain Robert the position of Grand Master of the Temple (the eleventh) in 1191, though he had only recently entered the Order. He succeeded Gerard de Ridefort, and led the Order at the capture of Acre. He also presided over the Order’s short-lived acquisition of Cyprus, dispatching twenty knights and their retainers to govern the island. He was eventually succeeded by Gilbert Horal.
Gilbert Erail (or Erill or Horal) was a Templar from Aragon. He had joined in his teens and risen to be Master of the Temple in the Aragon and Provence, and had seen action in the Reconquista as well as in the Holy Land. He became the twelfth Grand Master succeeded Robert de Sable in around 1194. Unlike Gerard de Ridefort, Gilbert Erail favoured peaceful relations with the Muslims. This caused tension between the Templar and the Hospitallers who at this time were the more militant party. Gilbert’s conciliatory policy towards the Muslims also set him at odds with Pope Innocent III and the more militant of the Catholic clergy who wanted eternal war against the infidel. The Bishop of Sidon excommunicated Gilbert. However the Pope overturned this excommunication, on the basis that only Popes had the authority to excommunicate a Templar, and because it created a scandal. Gilbert died in December 1200 and was eventually succeeded by Philip de Plessiez.
Philip de Plessiez
Philip de Plessiez was a knight from the region of Anjou. He may have been born in the castle of Plessis-Macé near Angers. He participated in the Third Crusade as a secular knight, and at some point thereafter joined the Knights Templar. He became the thirteenth Grand Master in early 1201. He kept the Templars out of the Fourth Crusade, perhaps anticipating that it would be hijacked by the Venetians and diverted against Byzantium. Philip was in favour of continuing the diplomatic policy of Gilbert Erail, and extending the peace treaty with the Muslims, which had ended the Third Crusade, much to the anger of Pope Innocent III and his legates. Philip did, however, launch an expedition to recover the castle of Baghras from the Armenians.
Guillaume de Chartres
Guillaume de Chartres became the fourteenth Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1209. He was probably born into the nobility of the Champagne region, and became a Templar in Sours, near Chartres, in around 1200. As Grand Master he was best known for building the impregnable fortress known as Pilgrims’ Castle. He died of fever in 1219 during the Crusaders’ siege of Damietta in Egypt, the first major engagement of the Fifth Crusade. He was succeeded by Peter de Montaigu.
Peter de Montaigu
Peter (Pierre, or Pedro) de Montaigu became the fifteenth Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1219. He succeeded Guillaume de Chartres as who died of fever during the siege of Damietta during the Fifth Crusade. Peter had been the Master of the Temple in Provence and Aragon, and had fought at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Peter de Montaigu was the brother of Garin de Montaigu, who was Grand Master of the Hospitallers from 1208-1228. This was the only time when two members of the same family presided over the two leading Military Orders. It secured some years of harmonious relations between them. During the Sixth Crusade, Peter became a bitter enemy of the Emperor Frederick II who ratified the return of Jerusalem in a treaty with al Kamil in a treaty without the Grand Masters’ seal. Peter and the Templars were suspected of plotted against Frederick, who retaliated by besieging them in Acre.
Armand de Perigord
(1178-1244 or 1247)
Armand (or Hermann) de Perigord was the sixteenth Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He was elected in about 1232. He was probably from the Guienne, of noble birth, and had been Preceptor of Calabria and Sicily. There was tension among the Christian factions at this time of his election. The Hospitallers were supporting the imperial party (those loyal to Frederick II and his representative Ricardo Filangieri) and favouring an alliance with Egypt. The Templars, under Armand’s predecessor Pierre de Montaigu had sided with the Ibelin lords against the Imperial faction, supporting the claim of Alice, Queen of Cyprus to regency in the vestigial Kingdom of Jerusalem, and tended to favour an alliance with Damascus. The anti-Imperialist party gained ground, expelling Frederick’s forces from Cyprus and restricting them to Tyre on the Levantine mainland. In 1237 the Templars lost 120 knights after a Skirmish with forces from Aleppo, encroaching between Atlit and Acre. Armand trust the Egyptians even less than the Syrians, accusing them of imprisoning Templar ambassadors in Cairo. In 1242, he abandoned a peace treaty with Egypt that had been arranged by Richard of Cornwall. He initiated a violent attack on Hebron, which had remained in Egyptian hands. The Templars then retook Nablus and acted with uncharacteristic brutality against then Muslim population there.Armand also led the Templars into open conflict with the Hospitallers (under Pierre deVielle Bride) at Acre. The Hospitallers allied with the imperial agent Filangieri, in an attempt to re-impose Frederick II’s authority in the City. The Templars joined the Ibelins to oppose this, and ended up besieging the Hospitallers in their compound. The Templars also turned against the Teutonic Knights, and ejected the imperial party from Tyre. Armand de Perigord organized a coalition with Damascus, meeting al-Mansur Ibrahim, the Muslim Prince of Homs at Acre to seal it. The prospect of a Damascene/Frankish alliance unnerved the Sultan of Egypt, who called on the services of the Khoresmians, a Turkic tribe from East of Persia who had been displaced westward from their homeland by the Mongol advance. The Egyptians engaged these Khoresmians as mercenaries, and the tribesmen descended on the relatively defenceless Jerusalem, where they massacred the Christian population and defiled the churches.
The forces of Acre, under Walter of Brienne, and including Armand de Perigord and the Templars, joined with the Damascenes to confront the Khoresmians, who now joined forces with the Egyptians. They clashed at the battle of La Forbie in October 1244, where the Egyptians and Khoresmians triumphed. Armand de Perigord was among hundreds of prisoners taken to Egypt. It is possible he died or that he lived three more years in captivity. In any event Richard Des Bures effectively replaced him as Grand Master.
Richard de Bures
Richard de Bures (or des Barres) was probably the seventeenth Grand Master of the Knights Templar, elected in 1244, and succeeding Armand de Perigord, who was either killed or captured at the Battle of La Forbie. Little is known about this period in the Order’s history and Richard is omitted from some lists of Grand Masters. He was succeeded by Guillaume de Sonnac.
Guillaume de Sonnac
Guillaume de Sonnac became the eighteenth Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He was elected in a general chapter held in Pilgrim’s Castle in 1247. He led the Order during the Seventh Crusade, under King Louis IX. He and the Templars rode in the vanguard of the crusade as it moved south from captured Damietta, ahead of the main body of the crusade, along with Robert, Count of Artois and an English detachment under William Longespee.
The advance party attacked a Muslim camp under Fakhr al-Din and routed the defenders. Then, over confident, the Count of Artois decided to pursue the enemy into the town of Mansourah itself without waiting on the rest of the Crusaders. De Sonnac and Longespee counselled against it, (according to the version of events recorded by Matthew Paris ) but Count Robert goaded them with accusations of cowardice and treachery and then charged against the town. De Sonnac and Longespee followed. The Mameluks used a variation of their standard tactic- feigning a retreat and then springing an ambush. They fell back through the narrow streets. When the Crusaders followed, the Muslims shut off their escape route then sprang on them from the side streets. The knights were unable to manoeuvre to defend themselves. Longespee and the Count of Artois and some three hundred other knights were killed in the ensuing bloodbath. De Sonnac and one other Templar made it out alive, though the de Sonnac had been wounded and lost an eye.
By this time Louis arrived and after fierce fighting drove the Mameluks back into the town. Over the following weeks they established a fortified camp below Mansourah, making a rampart from captured Egyptian siege engines. The Mameluks launched out in a sortie against the Crusaders’ camp, supported by numerous archers and catapults throwing Greek fire on the Crusaders’ wooden bastion, which caught fire. Seeing that the Templars were few in number the, Mameluks dashed through the collapsing structure. And though they were repelled Guillaume de Sonnac, leading the remaining Templars, lost first his remaining eye and then his life. Guillaume was replaced as Grand Master by Reynald de Vichiers.
Reynald de Vichiers
Reynald de Vichiers became the nineteenth Grand Master in 1250 after the death of Guillaume de Sonnac at Mansourah in Egypt, during the Seventh Crusade. Previously he had been Marshal of the Temple, and had contributed to the preparation of the Crusade, arranging shipping for Louis IX’s armies. Reynald soon proved his worth as a redoubtable warrior, with an independent streak. Jean de Joinville’s chronicle recalls how on the march south from Damietta, King Louis IX had ordered that none was to break formation in the face of enemy harassment. Then one of the Muslims gave a Knight Templar in the first rank so heavy a blow with his battle-axe that it felled him under the hooves of Reynald de Vichiers’s horse. The marshal cried out: ‘At them in the name of God for I cannot longer stand this!’ He spurred his horse at the enemy, followed by his brethren, and, as the Templars’ horses were fresh and the Turks’ already weary, not a single enemy escaped.
Reynald de Vichiers accompanied Louis IX to the Acre, following the defeat in Egypt. There, with Louis’s backing, he was confirmed as the Grand Master. He acted as godfather to a son born to Louis and Marguerite of Provence, (born within Pilgrims Castle). Relations later deteriorated, when Louis started to feel that the Templars had overstepped their authority, negotiating independently with Damascus. The king decided to make an example of the Order, compelling Reynald de Vichiers to exile from the Holy Land Hugues de Jouy, the new Marshall of the Order, who was made a scapegoat. The king subsequently tried to curtail the Order’s independence. Reynald de Vichiers also had to kneel before the King publicly and apologize. Reynald was ultimately succeeded by Thomas Berard.
Thomas Berard became the twentieth Grand Master of the Templars in 1256. It was he who sent word to Europe of the threat from the advancing Mongols, who had blazed their way across the Middle East. He reported their atrocities and predicted that unless help was given a horrible annihilation was inevitable. Berard presided at the time when the Mameluks under Baybars were putting great pressure on the Crusader States, especially the Principality of Antioch. While based in Acre, Berard heard of the fall of Antioch, and that Baghras was under siege. Unable to send relief, and knowing that the castle could not withstand the siege, Berard sent a message ordering the beleaguered brethren there to surrender and withdraw to la Roch Guillaume. It was found that the garrison had already surrendered. Berard did not have them permanently expelled, but held them to account, especially for failing to destroy everything before departing.
Guillaume de Beaujeu
Guillaume de Beaujeu was the twenty-first Grand Master of the Knights Templar and the last to preside in the Holy Land. He was elected in 1273, on the death of Thomas Berard. Guillaume had been a long serving Templar Knight. In 1261 he had been captured in a raid and subsequently been ransomed. He had also gone on to serve as Preceptor of the County of Tripoli and then of Sicily. He was also a distant relation of the Capetian monarchy, and was suspected by many of being too much a partisan to the French cause.
As Grand master, Guillaume attended Pope Gregory X’s Council of Lyons in 1274, and advocated a passagium particulate, with professional troops being mustered to reinforce Acre, and also proposed a blockade of Egypt to weaken it economically. He also argued that the Crusaders would need to establish their own fleets so that they did not depend on the Maritime Republics of Genoa and Venice, which were only interested in making money from trading with the Muslims. (The Venetians, at the time, were evens selling swords to the Mameluks). After touring the Order’s European Preceptories, Guillaume de Beaujeu returned to the Holy Land. His closeness to the Capetians compromised his position among the Palestinian-Frankish barons of the Holy Land, who saw him as an agent of Charles of Anjou (who claimed the throne of Jerusalem). Indeed the Templars under de Beaujeu had thwarted King Hugh of Cyprus in his attempts to assert his rival claim. The Templars were involved in another quarrel besides, with Bohemond VII of Antioch, which weakened Christian unity at a time when it was desirable. (Little had changed in a century in that respect). Meanwhile when the war broke out over control of Sicily between Aragon and Charles of Anjou, it ended all hope of western relief materialising for the Holy Land.
By 1180, Baybars had been succeeded as Sultan by the Mameluk General Qalawun. Qalawun sent armies to farther reduce the Frankish presence in the Holy Land. Guillaume de Beaujeu learned from a paid informer, the Emir al-Fakhri, that the Mameluks planned to attack Tripoli, and wrote to warn the citizens. Unfortunately the leaders of Tripoli neither trusted the Grand Master nor believed his warning, and consequently the Mameluks found Tripoli unprepared and took the city with relative ease. Guillaume’s informer also told him of Qalawun’s planned attack on Acre, but again Guillaume’s warning went unheeded. Guillaume then tried to arrange a payment to buy off the Mameluk assault but this was rejected by the Haute Cour in Acre, who accused Guillaume of treachery.
Qalawun mustered his massive armies in 1290, but fell ill and died before he reached Acre. The campaign was carried on however by his son al-Ashraf Khalil. The defenders were severely outnumbered, but made a determined and courageous resistance. Guillaume de Beaujeu fought valiantly, leading the Templars in a sortie against the Mameluk camp. He combined with the Hospitallers to defend St Anthony’s gate, pushing the Mameluks back over the walls. The moats filled with bodies as the Mameluks pressed their attack. The City’s great defensive towers began to crumble, undermined by Muslim siege engineers. Meanwhile when de Beaujeu learned that the Muslims had taken the so-called Accursed Tower he rushed to counter attack, but was wounded and driven back. He was carried to the Templar fortress by the sea, where he died of his wounds. The Templars battled on but the end was nigh.
Theobald Gaudin was a Knights Templar who had served in the Order for 30 years. He had held the ranks of Turkopolier and Preceptor of Acre (Grand Preceptor). Acre had fallen under the massive onslaught of al-Ashraf Khalil and his Mameluk forces in May 1291.
While still serving under Guillaume de Beaujeu, Theobald had attempted in vain to prevent a violent clash between Pisan and Genoese parties in Acre. However he and the Grand Master had succeeded in preventing some captive Pisan sailors being sold into slavery. Gaudin was elected the twenty-second (and penultimate) Grand Master of the battered remnants of the Order of the Temple, after the deaths of de Beaujeu and Peter de Sevrey in the battle. Theobald escaped from Acre by sea, three days before the final fall of the Templars’ fortress, sailing to Sidon with the Order’s treasure. In the month after the fall of Acre, Tyre had surrendered and Sidon seemed hardly defensible. Gauidin withdrew to Cyprus, intending to return to Sidon with reinforcements. However the Templars seem to have been demoralised, and soon Sidon, Beirut and the fortresses of Tortosa and even Pilgrim’s Castle were also abandoned. Only the garrison on Arwad remained, off shore from Tortosa. The mainland was entirely lost. Gaudin was succeeded on Cyprus by Jacques de Molay.
Jacques de Molay
Jacques de Molay (or Molai) was the twenty-third and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and is one of the best known on account of the circumstances of his death in Paris. De Molay was a relation of the Lords of Longwy in Franche-Comte. He was initiated into the Order in around 1266, in the Preceptory of Beune near Autun, according to his Chinon confession, and was received by Humbert de Pairaud (the father of Hugues de Pairaud). In 1291 he possibly fought at the siege of Acre, and two years later on Cyprus was elected Grand Master. De Molay was one of the foremost advocates of action to recover the Holy Land. He visited Rome, Paris and London, in 1294, raising support and gathering a new Templar force. Back in the Levant he sought alliances with the Mongols and Armenians, and strengthened the garrison on the island of Arwad. De Molay even purchased six war galleys from Venice with a view to invading Tortosa, and re-establishing a Christian foothold in Syria. The operation ended in costly failure, though, when Arwad itself was lost a Mameluk invasion fleet of sixteen galleys.
In 1306 de Molay was summoned from Cyprus by Pope Clement V. He and Fulk de Villaret, his opposite number in the Hospitallers, were invited to discuss plans for a new Crusade, and also a proposal to amalgamate the Orders of the Temple and the Hospital. De Molay prepared a paper on the subject, conceding that there would be some advantages to the proposed merger, but that on the whole it was a bad idea because the rivalry between the two orders was healthy and spurred them on to greater efforts in the Christian cause. Fulk kept quit on the matter, but apparently felt the same. Meanwhile on the matter of a new Crusade both Grand Masters expressed the view that only a large scale Passagium generale would succeed in re-establishing the Christian kingdom in the Holy Land.
De Molay went next to the Paris Temple. On 13 October 1307 he and his brethren were arrested there. This was in accordance with orders secretly issued a month before hand by King Philip the Fair, accusing the Templars of blasphemous crimes and heresy. De Molay had attended the funeral of the King’s sister in law as a pallbearer only the day before the arrests however, and seems to have been taken by surprise when the raid came. De Molay was interrogated by Royal agents and the Inquisition, probably being held in the Templars’ own dungeons at the Paris Temple. He was probably subjected to torture. On 24 October he confessed to some of the accusations- namely spitting on the Cross and denial of Christ. He would not, however, confess to homosexual practices. He was obliged to repeat his confession publicly the following day to the masters of the University of Paris, and also to urge his brethren likewise to confess. The Grand Master’s early capitulation, forced as it may have been, did much to undermine the defence of the Order and was a propaganda coup for the Capetian authorities. It prejudiced the wider world against the Templars and lent credence to the astonishing accusations. It also made it impossible for the Pope to continue in a critical stance regarding the King’s actions.
With the other leading Templars that had been captured, (Raymbaud de Caron, Hugues de Pairaud, Geoffroi de Charney and Geoffroi de Gonneville), Jacques De Molay was moved to the castle of Chinon. There these Templars again gave a partial confession to three Cardinals sent by the Pope, who afterwards bestowed absolution on them. All the Templar dignitaries except de Caron were subsequently brought back to Paris to testify at the tribunal called the Papal Commission.
Jacques de Molay retracted his confession at the end of the year. Over the following years, he wavered, evidently worn down by his captivity. He offered little leadership to the Templars wishing to defend the Order, but at times seemed willing to assert the Order’s honourable nature. He apparently remained imprisoned throughout 1310 when the Archbishop of Sens, Philip de Marigny incapacitated the Templars’ defence at the Papal commission by taking and burning 54 Templars; and through 1312 when the Council of Vienne abolished the Order of the Temple and consigned it to oblivion. He and the three other dignitaries of the late Order were eventually brought out before an assembly of prelates (including Cardinal Arnold Novelli and Archbishop de Marigny), lawyers, university theologians and the public on 18 March 1314, and to hear their sentence of perpetual imprisonment. Hugues de Pairaud and Geoffroi de Gonneville persisted in their confessions and accepted their fate. Jacques De Molay, though, stunned his persecutors by making a lucid and passionate last minute defence of the Order. He was supported by Geoffroi de Charney.
The rebellious Templars were passed to the prévôt of Paris and flung back into jail. When the King learned what had happened, he went into a rage, and ordered the two Templars to be condemned as relapsed heretics. Before night fell they were taken to the Ille des Javiaux in the Seine, and burned to death. It was recorded that their courage and constancy impressed and surprised the onlookers. The next day, recorded the Chronicler Giovanni Villani, came friars and other religious persons, who gathered up the ashes of the Templar martyrs and carried them away to holy places.
Source: “A-Z of the Knights Templar’ by Gordon Napier”