Bravery and the Knights Templar – has the courage of these warriors been vastly overstated?
In my recent survey of what fascinates you about the Templars, one theme that came up was their loyalty and bravery. You even likened the knights to the SAS or the Foreign Legion. So, the question is – did they live up to the hype?
Ten proofs of the bravery of the Knights Templar
- There were just nine knights when the order was founded in the year 1118. This small band of brothers intended to guard all the routes into Jerusalem to safeguard pilgrims. There had been a spate of murders and attacks on Christians coming to the Holy Land from all over Europe. The Templars, despite their small number, promised to put a stop to that. Now, that took some bravery
- The Templars were the first into battle and the last out. Their black and white standard was jealously guarded and it was a punishable offence to let it drop. Only when the standard left the field of battle could the knights retreat, no matter what odds they were facing.
- The Templar daily routine was a punishing and, frankly, repetitive one of prayer and military drills. Unlike the secular knights, the activities of these knights was governed by the Rule with its harsh restrictions. No gambling, drinking, whoring or feasting for them! This was a Spartan life that toughened up a Templar knight for the gruelling requirements of medieval warfare.
- At the Battle of Ascalon, the fourth Templar Grand Master – Bernard de Tremelay – was killed after rushing with his knights through a breach in the walls. They were hacked to pieces by the Egyptian soldiers defending the city. Their bodies were hung from the battlements and their heads sent back to the sultan. One chronicler, William of Tyre, sneered that the Templars had been trying to get in to the city first to line their pockets with booty. But their bravery resulted in the fall of the city whatever the motive for their action.
- At the Battle of Montgisard, the Templars were massively outnumbered by the Saracens and yet through sheer determination won a great victory alongside King Baldwin of Jerusalem. The numbers given for each side sound completely mad. There were an estimated 500 Templars, maybe an equal number of Hospitallers and about 4,000 infantry on the crusader side. Against them were a staggering 26,000 Saracens led by Saladin. After his defeat, he limped back to Cairo.
- When captured in battle, the knights would refuse to convert to Islam in return for saving their own lives. Saladin, the Saracen leader, didn’t even bother trying to win them over to his faith and instead had them killed.
- In Spain and Portugal, the Templars were in the front line of the long wars of “Reconquest’ against the Iberian caliphate that ruled the southern part of the peninsula. They were given castles and land in return for holding the line between Muslim and Catholic Spain and Portugal. This was bravery of the highest order!
- Templar loyalty was beyond question. They advised, fought alongside and bankrolled the kings of England, France, Portugal, Aragon and…of course…Jerusalem. Which is what made the decision by King Philip of France to turn on the Templars all the more shocking. The last Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, had even carried the coffin of a relative of the French king days before he was arrested on trumped up charges.
- When everybody else had just about given up on the Crusades, the Templars battled on trying to retain Acre before being forced out of the Holy Land altogether. Even at the end of their existence, they were trying to win support for one more crusade.
- Despite terrible torture, when the Templars were put on trial, their leaders eventually retracted their forced confessions and were burnt at the stake. Jacques de Molay, allegedly cursed both Pope Clement V and King Philip of France as he died in agony.
So – pretty brave!
What’s your view of the Knights Templar? Maybe you think their bravery has been over-hyped or, as some of the medieval chroniclers inferred, they were just interested in defending their own narrow interests.
Or, the Templars were a unique proposition. Monks and warriors who selflessly threw themselves into the vanguard of the crusader mission. The poster boys of medieval Christendom who ensured that the crusades remained popular at home in Europe.