Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller – what’s the difference?

Templar Hospitaller

I get asked this question so many times. What was the difference between the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller? Truthfully, there wasn’t a huge difference between the two other than their uniform, origin and areas of Europe where they were strongest. However, both orders were definitely rivals and when the Knights Templar were crushed after 1307, the Knights Hospitaller were only too happy to gobble up their assets.

FIND OUT MORE: The Knights Hospitaller in north London

The Hospitaller and Templar orders were two of several military orders that were established during the Crusades. But not all of them were focussed on the Holy Land. Some concentrated their efforts on fighting in modern Spain and Portugal while others were taking on Europe’s last pagans in the Baltic states.

Other medieval military orders included:

  • The Teutonic Knights: Or if you prefer…The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. They were founded decades after the Knights Templar in the port city of Acre in the Holy Land. After the loss of Jerusalem, they shifted their operations into central Europe and the Baltic regions fighting Turkic armies, pagans and the eastern Orthodox Russians. Hard to believe but what is now Lithuania was pagan up until the year 1387
  • Order of Santiago: Or if you prefer….The Order of St. James of the Sword. This order was most active in the crusade fought on the Iberian Peninsula between the Islamic caliphate that controlled half of modern Spain and Portugal and the crusader Christian kingdoms in the north. Ostensibly, the order’s role was to defend pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint James the apostle in Santiago de Compostela. But like the Templar, the order’s real role went far beyond pilgrim protection
  • Order of Calatrava: Another military order based in what is now Spain and performing a similar function to the Order of Santiago mentioned above. Like the Knights Templar, it essentially emerged as a military wing of the Cistercian order of monks. Calatrava was a castle based in the uncontrollable badlands between the Islamic caliphate and the crusader kingdoms in Iberia. The Templars had failed to hold the castle so this order was created to focus its entire activity on retaining Christian control
  • Order of Saint Lazarus: Otherwise known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem. Like the Knights Hospitaller, they had their origins in running hospitals for pilgrims. Their specialism was leprosy. The brothers lived by the rule of Saint Augustine. And they had houses across Europe as well as in the Holy Land. Like the Templars in the 14th century, they resisted being merged with the Knights Hospitaller in the 15th century but unlike the Templars, they were able to continue an independent existence for a while before eventually being divided up among other orders
  • Livonian Brothers of the Sword: Similar mission to the Teutonic Knights fighting pagans in the Baltic regions. They were founded in Riga – capital of modern Latvia. Eventually they were merged into the Teutonic Knights
  • Knights of Saint Thomas: This was an order for English knights founded around 1191 and disappearing with the Protestant Reformation in England. Named after St Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury and their full name was The Hospitallers of St Thomas of Canterbury at Acre. They came into being after Richard the Lionheart had taken Acre and crusader frenzy was at its height in England. In the latter part of the Crusades they retreated alongside the Knights Templar to the island of Cyprus

There are other military orders which I’m happy to answer any questions about. But these are the main ones listed above. And below is the latest edition of Templar Knight TV explaining the difference between the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Watch and give me your feedback!

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