10 things you might not know about the Templars
By Peter Konieczny
The Knights Templar had been around for nearly two hundred years and were active across Europe and the Middle East. They would become an international force, using their wealth to gain political power and support military activities in the Holy Land. But there are some things about the military order that are not so widely known. Here are our favorite Templar facts.
1. They murdered an assassin
William of Tire reports that in 1173 the King of Jerusalem made an agreement with an envoy of the Nizari Ismailis, an Islamic sect popularly known as the Assassins. The envoy of the Ismailis proposed that his people convert to Christianity and that in exchange they no longer have to pay an annual tribute of two thousand gold coins to the Templars. After making final arrangements with the king, the envoy and his men were about to return to their own lands “when suddenly some of the Knights Templar rushed at the party with drawn swords and killed the envoy. “. The deal then fell apart and the Ismailis became an enemy of the Crusaders. William believed the Templars were more interested in keeping the money than gaining a new Christian ally.
2. Female Templars
While Templar rule required her brothers to keep women away and forbid them to be members, scholars have been able to find scattered references to ladies who joined the order and lived with the men. For example, a woman named Bérengère de Lorach was the “soror” of a Templar house in Catalonia, where her name appears on witness lists among those of the friars, and she is recorded as giving advice to the commandant of the house.
3. They had a bad breath rule.
The Catalan version of the Rule of the Templars includes this:
And if it happens that a brother has such a smelly breath that the other brothers cannot tolerate it, nor the doctors can cure it, you must set him aside and give him the things he needs, such as any other brother, and he has to wear the habit. And when he is healed, he must be with the other brothers.
4. A Templar was a sultan’s “blood brother”
Although they are opposed, the Templar Matthieu Sauvage and the Mamluk Sultan Baybars were “blood brothers”. They probably first met in 1261 when Matthew was a prisoner, and over the next two decades we have reports that the pair visited each other on several occasions, using their personal friendship to broker deals and truces.
5. Unusual punishments
Penances imposed for sins or breaking Templar rules varied widely. In one case a knight only had to suffer a punishment of no wine on Fridays, in another case a friar was whipped and forced to recite the psalms. The penalty for another Templar who left the military order and then returned was that he had to eat off the floor for a year.
6. They bought Cyprus, but then had buyer’s remorse
When King Richard the Lionheart sailed to the Holy Land to take part in the Third Crusade, he stopped at the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in 1191 and conquered it. However, a few weeks later, the English ruler needed money to support his military campaign and decided to sell his new possession to the Templars. The selling price was 100,000 bezants, which historians say was a very good bargain for the military order – this amount of money would have only covered the costs of 330 knights for a year. However, the Templars quickly discovered that they lacked the manpower to run the island, and their administration efforts angered the local Cypriots. On Easter Day 1192, the inhabitants of the island revolted and attempted to massacre the Templars in Nicosia. It ended with the knights slaughtering the Cypriots, but then they realized they could no longer rule the island. The military order went back to King Richard and asked him to cancel the deal. Fortunately, another buyer was available – Guy de Lusignan, who had just been deposed as King of Jerusalem. He became the new king of Cyprus, his descendants ruling the island for the next three hundred years. We don’t know if the Templars ever got their money back.
7. They had a parallel activity of transporting pilgrims
Many medieval Europeans wanted to take part in pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and there was much competition to offer them transportation across the Mediterranean Sea. The Knights Templar (and the Hospitallers) made an agreement with the authorities of the French port of Marseilles so that they could take up to 1500 pilgrims on their ships twice a year.
8. They were a money transfer service for the kings of England and France
In the 13th century, the Templars had the reputation of being excellent money managers, and the kings of England and France relied heavily on them as bankers. Deposits, money lending and even the collection of taxes were handled by the order. They even handled money transfers between kings.
9. They fought the Mongols
When the Mongol armies invaded Eastern Europe in 1241, the Templars were there to fight them. According to a chronicle of the Battle of Mohi, which took place in Hungary on April 12 of that year, a Templar master named Jacques de Monte Regali was one of the leaders of the Hungarian side. He and “his fellow Latin knights committed a great massacre among the enemy”, but ultimately “they were unable to sustain the overwhelming numbers” and were all slain.
10. The Last Templars
Around the year 1340, the German pilgrim Ludolph of Sudheim was traveling through the Holy Land when he arrived on the shores of the Dead Sea. He writes:
At this place, in my time, there were Templars, who had been taken prisoner at the fall of Acre, who sawed wood here and there in the mountains for the service of the Sultan, and did not know that the Order of the Templars had been suppressed; for they worked here and there in the mountains, and had seen no one this side of the sea since they had been taken prisoner.
The two men, originally from Toulouse and Burgundy, were released a year later and together with their wives and children returned to Europe, where they met the pope. They then joined their retired colleagues, nearly thirty years after the official dissolution of the Templars.
See also: Five reasons why we are still fascinated by the Knights Templar
This article was first published in medieval warfare magazine Issue VI:5 – you can buy this issue here. You can also get new issues of the magazine through our Patreon – click here to find out more.
Top image: Two Knights Templar on horseback, drawn by Matthew Paris in the 13th century – British Library Royal MS 14 C VII, fol 42v