The Templars: Knights of God, was first published as a hardback by Crucible, an imprint of Thorsons, in 1986, and has seen several subsequent paperback editions in both Britain and the USA. It was also published with success in Italian (Florence: Nardini, 1988, as I Templari), and in Portuguese (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record, 1994, as Templarios: Os Cavaleiros de Deus).


            The original hardback cover

           The original hardback cover

The Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, then as now more commonly referred to as the Knights Templar or the Templars, was one of the great medieval military orders, whose brother knights were from 1119 to about 1300 the image of the crusading knight. Literature, popular history and folklore between them created an enduring vision of this perfect knight, dressed in a white mantle bearing a red cross. Then in 1307 the Templars in France were arrested and tried on charges of heresy and magical practices. to be followed by their brother knights throughout Europe. The Order was suppressed in 1312, and its last Grand Master was burned at the stake in Paris in 1314. An aura of mystery, ambiguity, and inherent contradictions has ever since engendered legends and romanticised versions of their story, and has fascinated both historians and occultists.

The aim of this book was to provide a detailed but readable account of Templar activities in the two centuries of their active involvement in western history. Emphasis is placed on the early years, using where possible contemporary chronicles in conjunction with reliable general histories of the Crusades. An attempt was been made to portray what the Templars actually did, and thus to illustrate to what extent their natural function was already curtailed before the trials took place. When their role in the military and financial history of the Crusades is properly appreciated, the decline and suppression of the Templars no longer appear as a sudden, inexplicable catastrophe.

This is a fascinating book with detailed information and will be of immense value to all those attracted to the Templars’ exploits and who wish to have a broader outlook on a significant part of European history.
— The New Humanity Journal, Aug-Sept 1986

Clarification of their role is vital since the phrase ‘the Templars’ is often used loosely with a little regards for the fact of their historical status. Writers assert that the Templars “were this” or “did that” or possessed such-and-such a castle with no attempt to qualify their statements. To claim that they “held” a certain castle can be both true and misleading, since it may have been held for a very brief period; similarly, it may be true that the Templars were a significant military force between, say, 1147 and 1187, but it is certainly not true of the first thirty years and the last two decades of their history. In the same way, to affirm that there were 4000 Templars in France is to obscure the fact that perhaps a tenth of this number were knights while the remaining “Templars” were actually serving brothers, stewards, grooms, cooks, and agricultural labourers. Furthermore, the difference between their history – and there possessions in the East – in the 12th and 13th centuries is so immense that few generalisations hold good for both.

 Effigies of knights under the circular tower of the Temple Church in London.

Effigies of knights under the circular tower of the Temple Church in London.

While the focus of this book is obviously on the Templars in the Holy Land, it must be stressed that the activities, power, and wealth of the Hospitallers were always at least equal to those of their rival Order. The Hospital of St John, after the mid 12th century, performed the same functions as the Temple and actually possessed an even larger number of castles in the East. But while the trial of the Templars, with its lurid and sensationalist overtones, has kept them in the foreground of historical interest, the Hospital has been relatively neglected. Both Orders, and their respective Masters, were often present where perhaps only one is mentioned; and many references to the Templars in action, conceal the equally important involvement of the Hospitallers. 

Although this did not purport to be a scholarly study of Templar history, I did try to use original texts and chronicles as much as possible in scholarly editions usually published in France in the nineteenth century. Extensive quotations from contemporary writers were also used, especially in the first two chapters, where they provide an authentic flavour of military strength in the Holy Land. Secondary works, such as those on the crusades, were used to provide salient facts while avoiding as much as possible second-hand opinions. The book became what is known in the trade as a “steady seller”.

The Templars, Knights of God by Edward Burman is an attractive and attractively written little book. While making no claim to original research, Mr Burman tells the least known part of the Templars’ story: the history rather than the mythology.
— The Tablet, 14 February 1987
Credo di poter dichiarare, senza timore di essere smentito, che questo libro di Edward Burman - un giovane storico inglese già meritatamente affermato in patria e fuori - è un esempio e un monito. Esempio per la meticolosa indagine storica condotta con rigore scientifico e sorretta da una vasta documentazione ricavata prevalentemente dell fonti originali; monito perché sui Templari e stato detto anche troppo, e troppo spesso a sproposito, anteponendo la fantasia alla realtà.
— Bruno Nardini, Introduction to the Italian edition.

Here is the first chapter of the forthcoming new edition, to be published as an e-book with the title:

                           THE RISE AND FALL OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR.


1. GENESIS

 

The Knights Templar came into existence towards the end of the second decade of the 12th century, in response to the exigencies of pilgrims in the recently constituted Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The foundation was eventually to lead to the forging of a new ideology which, in the words of Joshua Prawer, ‘fused current ideals of Medieval society, knighthood and monasticism into a code for community warrior monks’. But their original function – the protection of pilgrims on the road from the port of Jaffa up to Jerusalem – was both less ambitious and much more urgent.

When Baldwin I became the titular King of Jerusalem on 18 July 1100, after the death of his brother Godfrey of Bouillon, he inherited an unstable and precarious kingdom. The city of Jerusalem had been recaptured after more than four centuries of Muslim rule, but many of the victorious crusaders had returned to their estates in Western Europe during the winter following the campaign. The Latin Kingdom existed, but there was as yet no stable government, no system of taxation, and no reliable defence network either along the coast or around the newly conquered cities. Communications were intermittent and always difficult: Jerusalem was effectively cut off from the northern crusader counties of Antioch and Edessa by minor Muslim emirates, and the failed attempt to create an overland route from Europe to Jerusalem in 1101 rendered the kingdom even more isolated than before. When Baldwin I arrived, in the face of the concerted opposition of the Patriarch Daimbert and the Prince of Antioch, it was in the words of the historian of the crusades Steven Runciman ‘to inherit an empty treasury and a scattered dominion, made up of the central mountain-ridge of Palestine, the plain of Esdarelon, and a few outlying fortresses set in a hostile countryside, and a tiny band of lawless, arrogant nights and untrustworthy native mercenaries.’ 

The great Muslim fortress of Ascalon was too strong for Baldwin to attack, and, as we shall see raiding bands from that city constantly menaced travellers on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. In 1110 an army of Egyptians had managed to reach the walls of Jerusalem; three years later raiders from Escalon achieved the same feat. In 1115 they almost succeeded in taking the vital port of Jaffa, pillaging the Christian settlement during the attempt, and in the years leading up to the end of King Baldwin’s reign in 1118 his kingdom was continuously harassed in this manner. The only factor that saved the Christian kingdom was the inability of Muslim forces to unite under a single leader. This situation of endemic insecurity provides the context in which the idea for the foundation of the Knights Templar may be understood. 

The crusading states, with an imposing array of castles, fortresses, and sea-ports, was slow in developing the physiognomy we have come to recognise and were by no means secure in the early 12th century. Present-day maps tend to falsify the situation of this period, since castles and other properties were acquired gradually over a long period in the absence of an overall strategy between secular rulers, the Church, and the military orders. Later castles marked on a map before they existed make the early crusader states appear stronger than they really were, and in fact they often passed temporarily into the hands of Crusaders and then back under Muslim control. For instance, the castle of Banyas was only in Christian hands from 1129 to 1132, and then again from 1140 to 1164; the important northern frontier castle of Baghras passed in and out of Templar control almost once the generation from the 1130s to the end of the 13th century. The presence of these castles on a map of the Holy Land can thus be misleading: the kingdom was never static, and often much weaker than it might now appear to have been.

Even such castles as did exist were of rather limited efficacy, since Muslim armies could move between them at will and often did so. A small garrison could do nothing against a large force passing even within bowshot; on the other hand, the enemy force might have other objectives and no desire to engage in an exhausting and perhaps strategically useless siege. The military historian R. C. Smail has explained this fact as follows:

Routes and areas were held or commanded by mediaeval garrisons only in the sense that those garrisons dominated them in time of peace and could suppress civil disturbances or minor enemy raids. But when warfare was fought on a scale likely to endanger the Latin occupation, no force or group of forces could restrain the passage of an invading force.

Precariousness, temporality and easily disrupted communications were essential parts of a shifting and often fragmented entity in which warfare was simply a feature of everyday life. There were no lasting times of peace.

 

Dangers for Pilgrims

Jerusalem itself was virtually isolated, and the incipient economy of the Latin Kingdom was based upon the Mediterranean ports, where Italian merchant colonies of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice were already established during the reign of King Baldwin I. Routes from Jerusalem to Antioch and Edessa, and after 1109 to the new crusader state of Tripoli, were controlled by the emirates that occupied the land between them. The roads to the coast were menaced by brigands, and occasional better-organised harassing armies. Yet the attraction of Jerusalem as a destination for devout pilgrims was strong enough to overcome fear of these dangers. As early as 1105 Chastel Arnoul was built to protect the route to the coast, although it was destroyed the following year.

Passages from first-person accounts of the dangers will illustrate the difficulties better than any summary: for instance, Saewulf, an Anglo-Saxon pilgrim probably born in Worcester, wrote a vivid account of that final stage of his long journey. After a disastrous storm at Jaffa which cause the death of a thousand fellow pilgrims and the loss of thirty ships he describes the overland journey up to the Holy City in 1102:

"We went up from Joppa [ie. Jaffa] to the city of Jerusalem, The journey of two days, a long a mountainous Road, rocky, and very dangerous. For the Saracens, always laying snares for the Christians, lie hidden in the hollow places of the mountains, and the caves of the rocks, watching day and night, and always on the look out for those whom they can attack on account of the fewness of the party, or those who have lagged behind their party through weariness. At one moment they are seen all around everywhere, and all at once they disappear entirely. Anyone who makes that journey may see this. Oh, what a number of human bodies, both in the road and by the side of it, lie all torn by wild beasts… On that road not only the poor and the weak, but even the rich and strong, are in endanger. Many are cut down by the Saracens, but more by heat and thirst; many through scarcity of drink, but many more perish from drinking too much."

This vivid description of the Saracens suddenly appearing and then disappearing provides an enthralling insight into the dangers. His stress on the deaths from heat and thirst, and the fact that even the rich vulnerable, is fascinating in view of the later history of the Templars and the function they came to exercise throughout Europe.

In 1106-7, Daniel, the abbot of a Russian monastery, recorded the same journey. His first stop was made the church of St George, in a place then called Lydda and now known as Lod. This ancient trading post stood a third of the distance from Jaffa to Jerusalem, where St George was born and buried. Daniel provides more details:

"There are plenty of springs at this place, near to which pilgrims come to rest for the night in great fear, for the place is deserted, and not far from the town of Ascalon, whence the Saracens issue and massacre the pilgrims on their way; there is thus much to be feared from this place to the point at which one enters the mountains.

They counted it 20 versts from St George to Jerusalem [1 verst = 3,500 feet]. The way is across rocky mountains, and is a very frightful and troublesome one."

These experiences are further corroborated by Abbot Ekkehard of Aura, in Bavaria, who speaks of the ‘innumerable and unheard of torments’ along the same route, with daily martyrdoms and many dangers which bring ‘grief and anxiety’ to the pilgrims. Such descriptions emphasise the hardship of travel within the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in its first ten years.

But in about 1110 there was an important shift in Crusader policy and mentality which helped to pave the way for a new ideology of the warrior-monk. Until that date cities had been destroyed as soon as they were captured, for instance Jerusalem (1099), and Acre (1104), but thenceforth they were spared and some of the original population stayed on to live under the new rulers. This happened at Sidon (1110) and then later at Tyre (1148). The process of colonisation had begun, but was at first concentrated along the coast where trade could sustain a new economy. Jerusalem was at this time a city three-quarters empty, to be visited only for brief periods on pilgrimage. Living conditions were difficult, with thieves pursuing their profession openly in the uninhabited areas of the city.

The next decade saw a concerted effort by King Baldwin to repopulate his capital, always the emotional centre of the kingdom. Archbishop William of Tyre gave this explanation half a century later:

"At this time the king realised with great concern that the Holy City, beloved of God, was almost destitute of inhabitants. There were not enough people to carry on the necessary undertakings of the realm. Indeed there were scarcely enough to protect the entrances to the city and to defend the walls and towers against sudden hostile attacks."

Baldwin’s desire was to find men willing to settle in Jerusalem, and then to create work for them. This process began in mid-decade with the repopulation by Syrian Christians from Transjordan who were given homes and sometimes land as well. At the same time, in order to protect the city against marauding bands of Muslims, a new section of the northern wall of the city was built.

Next, Baldwin encouraged immigration by providing economic incentives. He exempted all foodstuffs entering his capital from taxes which had previously been collected at the David Gate, now the Jaffa Gate. Corn, beans, and barley with thus exempted, and a tax of 8% imposed on these goods if they were re-exported from Jerusalem without being sold. Thus cheap housing, food and land were part of an intelligent strategy designed to increase the population of the city and thereby strengthen it. Yet Jerusalem remained an anomaly within its own kingdom, possessing no Italian merchant colony, no sea-port, and only one market. Pilgrimage remained the city's principal raison-d’être, and as the historian Joshua Prawer explains was in fact ‘preserved artificially for sentimental reasons.’ To survive and grow repopulation was vital, together with the establishment of safe overland routes and security within both city and kingdom. It is therefore easy to understand why Baldwin II, who succeeded his cousin in 1118, welcomed the initiative of a group of knights who offered protection on the dangerous road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. If that fundamental lifeline could be rendered safe, the city would stand a better chance of prospering

 

Laying the Foundations

It is often asserted that the Order of the Temple was founded in 1118 or 1119, but such a bald statement of the facts is confusing. This assertion is based upon two celebrated accounts of the Order’s early history, both written by men who were neither eye-witnesses nor even contemporaries. The earliest is that written by William of Tyre, about fifty years after the event; the other version often cited is that of Jacques de Vitry, Bishop of Acre from 1270 to 1227, written a full century later. Apart from the obvious problems of historical objectivity, both accounts were written by men with tainted motives: William was a vehement critic of the Templars; Jacques de Vitry was close to the then Master of the Order, who had his own motives for providing the version not usually accepted within the order itself.

William of Tyre describes the origin as follows:

"In the same year [ie. 1118] certain pious and god-fearing nobles of knightly rank, devoted to the Lord, professed the wish to live perpetually in poverty, chastity and obedience. In the hands of the patriarch they vowed themselves to the service of God as regular canons. Foremost most distinguished among these men were the venerable Hugh de Payens and Godfrey de St Omer. Since they had neither of church nor a fixed place of abode, the king granted them a temporary dwelling place in his own palace, on the north side of the Temple of the Lord. Under certain definite conditions, the canons of the Temple of the Lord also gave them a square belonging to the canons near the same palace where a new order might exercise the duties of its religion."

This brief account concurs with that of Jacques de Vitry, who was close to the Templars at Acre and probably obtained details of the Order’s history from Pedro de Montaigu, the Grand Master:

"Only nine men at first undertook this holy project. They did service for nine years, wearing secular habits, such as the faithful gave them out of charity; but the King and his Knights, having compassion on the aforesaid noblemen, who had given up all for Christ's sake, and together with the Lord Patriarch, supported them out of their own means, and afterwards bestowed upon them gifts and grants for the benefit of their own souls."

The most striking difference between these passages is the appearance of the number nine, which William of Tyre also uses later. Both authors assert that there were nine knights who served for nine years before the Council of Troyes provided them with a Rule. Since that Council took place in 1128, the date of a putative foundation would appear to be 1119.

This date is in fact accepted by most recent academic historians of the Templars, and is further substantiated by a contemporary chronicler: Albert of Aix (Aix-la-Chapelle, or Aachen), probably writing in the 1120s, relates more specifically that at Easter 1119 a group of pilgrims on the road from Jerusalem to Jordan was massacred at ‘a lonely place’ by ferocious Saracens from Ascalon and Tyre. Unarmed, and severely weakened by virtue of being at the end of the Lenten fast, these pilgrims were unable to defend themselves. Three hundred died by the infidel sword and sixty were taken prisoner, together with the spoils of their dead companions. The shock of such a massacre on the eve of Easter may be imagined, and Albert describes how both King Baldwin II and the Patriarch of Jerusalem were deeply afflicted with sorrow (magni afflicti sunt doloribus). Malcolm Barber suggests plausibly that this event may have been the catalyst which led to the foundation of an Order with the specific purpose of protecting pilgrim routes. 

There exists a further, quite different account of the foundation of the Templars, written from a perspective which denied the possibility of manipulation by the knights themselves. It was written by the chronicler Michael the Syrian, an Orthodox patriarch born in Melitene (today Malatya) in eastern Turkey, who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1168. He has been recognised as a careful and conscientious author by a leading modern historian of the Crusades. In a section of his chronicle entitled ‘History of the Frankish friars’ (Histoire des phrer francs) he writes:

"At the beginning of the reign of Baldwin II, a Frank came from Rome to pray at Jerusalem. He made a vow never to return to his country, but to take holy orders, after having assisted the King in war for three years, he and the thirty knights who accompaniedhim, and to terminate their lives in Jerusalem. When the King and his nobles saw that they were renowned in battle, and had been of great use to the city during their three years of service, he advised this man to serve in the militia, together with those attached to him, instead of taking holy orders, to work towards saving his soul, and to protect those places against thieves.

Now, this man, whose name was Hou de Payn, accepted this advice; the thirty knights accompanied him joined him. The King gave them the House of Solomon for their residence, and some villages for their maintenance. The Patriarch also gave them some villages of the Church."

In many ways this account makes more sense, and credits the king with the idea. Baldwin observed an accomplished knight who had vowed to remain in Jerusalem, and after the disaster of Easter 1119 saw how this man and his fellow knights could perform a vital function in his kingdom. Hence the basic concept of the warrior-monk.

From the allocation of quarters in the House of Solomon derived the full title of ‘The Military Order of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon’. King Baldwin would feel more secure with such a group of expert knights lodged in a wing of his own palace, so we can safely dismiss attempts by some authors to create a mystery about this fact and suggest there was some secret collusion - or newly-discovered knowledge - behind the King’s decision. There were empty buildings which needed filling up, as the royal incentives for immigration clearly indicate. The mutual benefits are obvious in the later part of William of Tyre’s chronicle:

"The King and his nobles, as well as the patriarch and prelates of the churches, also provided from their own holdings certain benefices, the income of which was to provide these knights with food and clothing. Some of these gifts were for a limited time, others in perpetuity. The main duty of this order - that which was enjoined upon them by the patriarch and the other bishops for the remission of their sins - was ‘that, as far as their strength permitted, they should keep the roads and highways safe from the menace of robbers and highwayman, with especial regard to the protection of pilgrims."

This primary function was to be the main stay of the Templars existence: even such apparently disparate activities as banking and agriculture were originally conceived in terms of providing the service for pilgrims.

What emerges clearly from these chronicles is that a group of knights, between nine and thirty in number, united under the leadership of Hugues de Payen with the idea of affording protection to travellers in the Holy Land. It seems likely that this occurred in the year 1119, if not at the suggestion of the King and Patriarch of Jerusalem then at least with their support. The 17th century historian Charles du Cange gave the names of the presumed original knights of the Temple as follows: Hugues de Payen, Godefroid de Saint-Omer,  André de Montbard, Gundomar, Godefroy, Roral, Geoffrey Bisol, Payen de Montdésir,  and Archambaud de Saint-Aignan. Traditional historiography follows his lead in asserting that these men conceived and enacted the plan to found a new military order.

Yet it is possible that the idea for the Order came much earlier and from a more distant source. Actually it was not an original idea. In his study of the Templars in Aragon, A.J. Forey noted that a similar association of knights with a similar purpose had been formed two decades earlier: ‘Already before the First Crusade a group of nobles insouth-western France had formed an association for the purpose of protecting the monastery of La Sauve near Bordeaux and the pilgrims who visited it.’ In fact that once great but now ruined Benedictine monastery, in full Notre-Dame de la Sauve Majeure, stood on the Way of St James to Compostela and was then one of the starting points for that pilgrimage (one of the three main pilgrim routes together with Rome and Jerusalem). There may have been other such loose associations.

 As far as an earlier concept of the Order of the Temple is concerned, the clue lies in the close relationship between Hugues de Payen and his secular overlord: Hugh, Count of Champagne, one of the greatest landowners of 12th century France. Hugues, from the village of Payens situated eight miles north of Troyes in the old County of Champagne, was before the foundation of the Temple more than the minor figure he is often made out to be. He was a renowned knight who took the cross after the death of his wife and had gone on crusade with Hugh of Champagne in 1104. He was later closely associated with the count, was present in Champagne in 1115, and perhaps returned to the Holy Land in 1116, an intriguing hypothesis which tallies with Michael the Syrian’s statement that Hugues de Payen had been in the Holy Land for three years before founding the new Order.

 Effigy of a Templar knight in the Temple Church, London

Effigy of a Templar knight in the Temple Church, London

Hugh of Champagne had himself returned to the East 1113, and in her detailed study of contemporary documents the German scholar Bulst-Thiele has suggested the the foundation of the Order was decided at that time. This suggestion derives from the testimony of a letter from the scholarly Bishop Ivo of Chartres, in which he exhorts the count not to enrol in a militia Christi or militia evangelica because he was still married. Word had reached Ivo that Hugh had already vowed to enter such a militia, and Bulst-Thiele concludes that it was ‘probably the Order of the Temple still without a name’ (Ivo, as bishop of a city on the Way to Compostela, may have known about the association in La Sauve). In fact, Hugh did formally become a Templar in the year of his death, 1125, while there was still supposed to be only nine knights. Since he was also the man who donated land for the foundation of the Abbey of Clairvaux for the future St Bernard, the Templar’s spiritual patron, he is clearly a key figure in both foundations. Both Hughes de Payen and André de Montbard, who was also St Bernard’s uncle, were his vassals, but his active presence in the early years of Templar history is elusive. However it seems reasonable to suppose that the idea of an Order such as that of the Temple dates back to the time of the first Crusade, that the decision to found such an Order was made in 1113– 50, but that the foundation actually took place following the events at Easter in 1119. 

Yet the Order in those early years had few of the characteristics by which it is known today, or even in the 13th century. It was very much a work-in-progress. At least twenty years were required before the Knights Templar emerged as a full-fledged military order with a Rule, a hierarchical structure, and the discipline for which they became famous. Not until 1147 were they granted the right to wear a red cross on their mantles. More than once in the early years there was a danger of it breaking up. It was in the late 1130s, with the support of St Bernard and donations flowing in from all of Christendom that the Order began to flourish. Even then it was a further decade before those in the West began to hear of its exploits in battle, during the crusade led by King Louis of France in 1147-8. Only then is it possible to speak of ‘The Templars’ in a meaningful way.

 

The First Knights: Years of Crisis

With no specific ethos, no official role and little power or finance, the first knights presumably occupied themselves with their self-appointed task. Nothing is heard about them in contemporary chronicles: Fulcher of Chartres, chaplain to Baldwin II and chronicler of his reign up to 1227, does not mention them. But faint echoes of their activity do exist, and one feels them slowly emerging from the obscurity of their humble role.

The first documentary evidence of the Templars’ existence would appear to be the fact that in the period 1120-1 Count Fulk V of Anjou lodged at the Temple in Jerusalem and may even have become a lay brother. After this visit he provided the new Order with an annual subsidy of 30 Angevin livres. The Cartulary of the Order opens with a letter from Baldwin II to St Bernard whose authenticity has been doubted. It commends two knights of the Temple to St Bernard, and asks him to obtain papal approval for the Order. It begins: ‘The Templar brothers, who God has raised up for the defence of our province and to whom he has accorded special protection, desire to obtain apostolic approval and also a Rule to govern their lives.’ If this letter is genuine, it was evidently written before Baldwin's death on 15 October 1126.

Then in mid-decade the evidence begins to accumulate. In 1124 a document in the Cartulary mentions Templars rights near Marseilles, while in the following year Hugues de Payen is cited on a grant of privileges made by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to the Venetians as magister Templi. It was also in 1135 that Hugh of Champagne was said to have joined the Templars. In his posthumous edition of the Cartulary the historian André, Marquis d’Albon, one of whose ancestors was the Preceptor of France during the 13th century, Pons d’Albon, gives 104 documents which illustrate the increasing activity and wealth of the Order up to mid-century. Already the grant citing the Master mentioned above suggests a certain importance either of Hugues personally or of the Order by 1125. But it also seems that all was not well, for precisely at that moment internal pressures and external criticisms nearly brought a premature end to the fledgling fraternity.

In 1126 Hugues de Payen left Jerusalem for the West. The object of his mission was to recruit new knights and establish the Templars with greater authority. Up to this point they had obtained no striking success, and had been largely ignored by the contemporaries. It would seem that Hugues’ journey was provoked by fear that his Order was on the point of failure, since a letter intended to ‘bolster their courage’ was written from Europe to his brother knights in Jerusalem. Jean Leclerq has established on the grounds of style and content that the author of this letter was certainly Hugues de Payen himself.

It was obviously written to reassure knights more assailed by doubt than usual in the absence of their Master and his companion on the journey, André de Montbard. The letter may be divided into seven sections as follows:

1. Hugues asserts that the knights original vocation has been weakened by the Devil, and then seeks to reassure them by means of spiritual quotations.

2. He states that the military nature of the order is a major objection raised against them, and replies to this objection by insisting but since the basic intention is religious the purpose of the order is primarily religious and only then military.

3. The Devil tempts the brothers with pride and ambition, and the idea of achieving higher rank. Hugues insists that they must resist such desires with humility. With patience and humility they will best serve God.

4. Referring to the same temptations he reminds the knights that neither rank nor dress confirmed Christian grandeur.

5. To the possible objection that military duties might be an obstacle to the peace of mind essential for contemplation, he argues that even contemplatives must perform some labour and cannot live without devoting time to activities other than contemplation.

6. He emphasises the necessity of duty and perseverance, since these qualities will enable the knights to resist the temptation is of the Devil which threaten their vocation.

7. The multiform nature of the Devil’s suggestions is stressed, especially the notion that the Templar brothers are mere servants. Hugues insists on the idea of an association of free brother knights, and how service in such an association can lead to salvation.

These brief sections, written in unscholarly Latin with frequent references to the Scriptures, vividly illustrate the doubts, temptations, and criticism which the early knights suffered. The fundamental impulse behind this near failure can be traced to the novelty of the concept of a warrior monk. The originality of the ideology which was slowly evolving within the Order was such as to cause even greater tensions: the fusion of warrior and monk was a truly extraordinary but essential achievement. Indeed, the Christian historian Daniel-Rops has argued that before the First Crusade it might ‘have been feared that Western Europe would divide into two groups: on one side the military clique, on the other a more cultured caste of clergy and bourgeoisie’. Thus the originality of the Templars lay in a new synthesis of these two long-standing social categories of knight and monk, and the contradictions underlying the emerging ideology existed within the minds of individual Templar brothers.

The contradictions had already be made manifest during the First Crusade, since the motives leading powerful men to go on crusade were multiple. They included religious zeal, the desire for mercantile advantage, simple land hunger, and the historical rivalry between the Eastern and Western empires. On arrival, and after victory, men reacted in unexpected ways, modifying the ideals to suit the circumstances and bring into the surface of the doubt and contradictions which afflicted the first Templars. Rosalind Hill cites an interesting example of these conflicts and the consequences:

"Godfrey de Bouillon, who is depicted in most of the twelfth-century texts as a man of devout faith and heroic simplicity, broke a solemn oath to the Emperor Alexius, while Bohemond, who many people detested and who alienated even the author of the Gesta by his determination to grasp Antioch at any price, was among those who spent the whole night of Christmas Eve in prayer at Bethlehem with Fulcher of Chartres."

Similar contradictions appear to have threatened the Order before its ideological synthesis was finally achieved by St Bernard. The medievalist R.W. Southern has emphasised the basic contradiction in the Cistercian ideal between complete self-abnegation, poverty, simplicity, retirement, purity, and refinement of spiritual life on the one hand, and on the other the Order’s reputation as aggressive, arrogant, with military discipline, outstanding managerial qualities, and a tendency towards cupidity. Thus Hugues de Payen’s letter provides a fascinating insight into the evolution of this ideology as he travelled to seek the aid of Bernard himself. But beyond this, the letter also allows a glimpse into the personality of the first Master, as a devout, strong, and persistent knight possessing in full the qualities which he enumerated as essential for members of the Order of the Temple. From this letter it is possible to imagine the arguments and justifications that he presented to the Council of Troyes as he sought official support.


              Exterior of the Temple Church in London, hidden amidst legal chambers just off Fleet Street.

             Exterior of the Temple Church in London, hidden amidst legal chambers just off Fleet Street.