The Founding of the Templars

Templar sealTranslations by Helen Nicholson

Immediately after the capture of Jerusalem, the Crusades, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in a body to their homes. The defence of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Muslim neighbours, remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kigndom. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title “pauvres chevaliers du temple” (Poor Knights of the Temple).  Here are several versions of the founding of the Knights Templar.

1. Preamble of donation charter given by Simon, Bishop of Noyons, to Hugh, master of the Temple.

This charter was written between  30 March 1130 – 19 April 1131.  Referring to the ‘Three Orders’, a theoretical framework of society devised by the clergy, the bishop of Noyons claims that the knights of the Temple represent what knights ought to be.

Simon, bishop of Noyons, and the canons of Noyons, to Hugh, master of the knights of the Temple and all fighting religiously under him, greetings, and may you faithfully persevere in the life of the religious order you have entered. We give thanks to God, because through his mercy he has recovered the order which had perished. For we know that three orders have been instituted by God in the Church, the order of prayers, of defenders and of workers. The other orders were in decline while the order of defenders had almost completely perished. But God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, had mercy on his Church. Through the infusion of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, in these most recent times he deigned to repair the lost order. So in the holy city where once the Church originated, there the lost order of the Church began to be repaired….

– The bishop then goes on to describe the gift that he is making to the order.  From Cartulaire Général de l’ordre du Temple, ed. Marquis d’Albon (Paris, 1913), no. 31.

2. Simon of St. Bertin, ‘Annals’.

This text was written,  Circa 1135-7.  The following is part of the entry for the year 1099, after the capture of Jerusalem and the crowning of Godfrey de Bouillon as King of Jerusalem.

While he [Godfrey] was reigning magnificently, some [of the crusaders] had decided not to return to the shadows of the world after suffering such dangers for God’s sake. On the advice of the princes of God’s army they vowed themselves to God’s Temple under this rule: they would renounce the world, give up personal goods, free themselves to pursue purity, and lead a communal life wearing a poor habit, only using arms to defend the land against the attacks of the insurgent pagans when necessity demanded.

–  From: Simon de St. Bertin, ‘Gesta abbatum Sancti Bertini Sithensium’, ed. O. Holder-Egger, in Monumenta Germanica Historica Scriptores [henceforth MGHS], vol. 13, p. 649.

3. Anselm, Bishop of Havelburg, ‘Dialogus’ to Pope Eugenius III.

In  1145, Anselm was writing an account of modern religious orders for the pope. Some similarity to Bernard of Clairvaux’s ‘In praise of the New Knighthood’.

Again, a little before these times, a certain new religious institution began in Jerusalem, the city of God. Laymen have congregated there, religious men, and they call themselves the knights of the Temple. Having left their own property they live a common life, and fight under [a vow of] obedience to one master. They cut themselves off from superfluity and costly clothes, prepared to defend the glorious Sepulchre of the Lord against the incursions of the Saracens. At home peaceful, out of doors strenuous warriors; at home obedient to the discipline of a religious rule, out of doors conforming to military discipline; at home instructed in holy silence, out of doors undaunted by the clash and attack of battle*; and, to sum up briefly, they perform everything they are ordered to do, indoors and out of doors, in simple obedience. Pope Urban** first confirmed these men’s way of life and intention at a council of many bishops whom he had called together to the council, laying down that whoever placed himself in this society hoping for eternal life, and persevered in it faithfully, should have remission of all sins. He confirmed that they are not to be of less merit than either monks or canons who live a communal life.

* All this sentence is based on Bernard of Clairvaux’s letter ‘In praise of the new knighthood’.

** Should be Pope Honorius II, at the Council of Troyes, 1129.

– From: Anselm, bishop of Havelburg, ‘Dialogi’, in Patrologiae Cursus Completus, ed. J. P. Migne, (Paris, 1834-64), 188, col. 1156


4. Otto, Bishop of Freising: ‘Chronicon’.

Writing around 1143 -1147, of the foundation of the order. Again, some similarity to Bernard of Clairvaux’s ‘In praise of the New Knighthood’.

Around this time, while the kingdom of the Romans was divided in civil and parricidal war caused by a desire for domination,*others, despising what they had for Christ’s sake, and realising that they did not bear the belt of knighthood without good reason, headed for Jerusalem. And there they began a new type of knighthood. Thus they bear arms against the enemies of Christ’s cross, so that continually carrying the mortification of the cross on their bodies, they might appear to be in life and lifestyle not knights but monks.

* The Investiture Crisis.

– From: Otto, Bishop of Freising, ‘Chronicon’, ed. R. Wilmans, MGHS, 20, pp. 252-3

5. The chronicle of Ernoul and Bernard the Treasurer.

This chronicle was written after 1187.

Chapter 1

…But before I tell you who her husband was,* I want to tell you about the Templars and how they came about. For at that time there were no Templars.

Chapter 2: How the Templars came about.

When the Christians had conquered Jerusalem, many knights dedicated themselves to the temple of the Sepulchre; and later on many from all lands dedicated themselves to it. Good knights had dedicated themselves to it, so they consulted together among themselves and said, ‘We have left our lands and our loved ones, and have come here to raise up and exalt the law of God. So we rest here eating and drinking and spending, without doing any work. We do not perform any deed of arms either, although this country has need of that. We obey a priest, and so we do no labour of arms. Let us take advice, and with our prior’s permission we shall make one of us our master, who may lead us in battle when necessary’.

At that time Baldwin [II] was king. So they came to him and said: ‘Lord, advise us for God’s sake. We have decided to make one of us a master who may lead us in battle to help the country’. The king was delighted with this, and said that he would willingly advise them and aid them.

At that the king sent for the Patriarch [of Jerusalem] and the archbishops and the bishops and the barons of the country, to take counsel. There they took counsel, and they all agreed that it would be a good thing to do. The king came to them and gave them land and castles and towns. Through his advice the king succeeded in persuading the prior of the Sepulchre to release them from obedience to him, and they left him, except that still they carry a part of the badge of the Sepulchre. The sign of the Sepulchre is a cross with two scarlet arms – such as the Hospital carries. And those of the Temple carry a cross which is completely scarlet. – And so the Hospital threw out the Temple, and gave it its ‘reliet’ [rule] and the standard which is called the Bauçaut [piebald] standard.

Now I shall tell you why they have the name ‘Templars’. When they left the Sepulchre, they had nowhere to stay. The king had three luxurious dwellings in the city of Jerusalem: one up high, at the Tower of David; and one down below, in front of the Tower of David; and the third in front of the Temple, the place where God was presented.** This dwelling was called the Temple of Solomon; it was the most luxurious. They implored the king to lend them this dwelling until they could have one built. The king lent them the dwelling that is called the Temple of Solomon, from which they have the name Templars, because they dwell there. There they used to entertain the king when he had a crown-wearing ceremony in Jerusalem. Later they built a beautiful and luxurious dwelling next to it, which the Saracens demolished when they took the city, so that if the king wished to have his own dwelling they could dwell there. – Thus the Templars were from then on called ‘Templars’.

* The author has just been writing about Melisende, the fourth daughter and heir of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem.

** Luke’s Gospel, ch. 2 vv. 21-38.

From: Chronique d’Ernoul et de Bernard le trésorier, ed. L. de Mas Latrie (Paris, 1871), pp. 7-8.

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