Big anniversary today for the Knights Templar. It was on the 25th November in 1177 that a crusader army led by the teenage leper king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV routed a much larger army led by Saladin. The victory was nothing short of amazing – dare one even say miraculous.
It had been preceded by plans by the crusaders to invade Egypt which had been beset by quarrels between different camps. The agents of the Byzantine emperor constantly intrigued in the city of Jerusalem, Philip of Alsace had arrived on a notional pilgrimage but was playing a bigger political game and different candidates were lining up to succeed the leper on the throne.
Add to that the mercurial, bloodthirsty and possibly downright bonkers Raynald of Chatillon whose military adventures had led to a long stretch in a Saracen dungeon – which had left him with a murderous hatred of Saladin. His treatment of Christian opponents could be sadistic in the extreme. He had seized the Patriarch of Antioch, coated his naked body with honey and left in the heat of the midday sun on account of some or other infraction.
Saladin’s march on Jerusalem was largely a counter-measure against the well leaked plans of the “Franks” to move on Egypt. But it backfired very badly. In spite of superior numbers, a crusader force – including several hundred Templars – ripped in to the Saracens and Saladin only narrowly escaped with his life. This proved to be a major lesson for the otherwise brilliant ruler.