The Knights Templars 2: Sergeants, Women, Chaplains, Affiliates

A medieval church

A crucifix on the wall of a fortified medieval church

The knights, sergeants, and chaplains of the Order were its inner group of brothers: the familia. The affiliates and paid staff were a more loosely connected group: the societas. Together, they made up the Order.The previous blog looked at the knights. This one will focus on these other members.

SERGEANTS

Joakim Nätterqvist in a scene from Arn the Knight Templar (2007)

Joakim Nätterqvist in a scene from Arn the Knight Templar (2007)

Whenever Templars appear in books or films, it is always the knights of the Order in their flowing white surcoats, hacking their way through the dust of battle.

But to function properly, the Order needed more than squadrons of combat-hardened knights.

It required armies of other men to undertake the hundreds of skilled tasks necessary to keep everything running.

Traditional monasteries faced an identical challenge, and many turned to the most obvious solution in addition to paid staff: two types of monks.

Olivetan ‘choir monks’ chanting the office (Italy, late 1400s).

Olivetan ‘choir monks’ chanting the office (Italy, late 1400s)

‘Choir monks’ were educated: trained to read, write, and chant. As the medieval period progressed, they were increasingly also ordained as priests, and the high-flying frequently had careers that took them to royal courts or the papal curia.(1)

Medieval monasteries were like self-contained villages. To manage the hundreds of skilled tasks necessary to keep them functioning, many had ‘lay brothers’ (often called conversi).

These lay brothers took the same monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as the choir monks, but instead of concentrating on theology, administration, or politics, they brought the vital practical abilities, knowledge, and experience necessary for the monasteries to function.

Medieval builders

Medieval builders

The conversi were frequently masons, carpenters, glaziers, blacksmiths, farriers, cooks, butchers, bakers, millers, grooms, swineherds, gardeners, and all the other crucial craftsmen, artisans, and workers the monasteries required. (2)

The Templars quickly adapted this two-monk model. Where monasteries had choir monks and conversi, the Templars had knights and sergeants.

The sergeants took exactly the same vows as the knights, promising to become poor, chaste, and obedient monks. But where the knights focused on their military calling, the sergeants employed a wide range of skills to keep the Templars operational.

Maintaining the Order was a vast logistical task. Aside from looking after the fabric of the buildings, managing the land and kitchens, maintaining the weapons and horses, and all the other necessary jobs, there was also the pressing economic need to raise money.

A twelfth-century blacksmith mending a broken sword (Hylestad, Norway)

Mending a sword (1100s, Norway)

The Templars had to arm and equip a vast number of troops and maintain hundreds of castles and commanderies worldwide. This took large resources, and raising the money was something many sergeants were experienced at.

Although the Templars’ larger commanderies in European cities were home to knights busy with the Order’s administration and political relationships, the hundreds of smaller commanderies and ‘granges’ scattered across the countryside lay at the heart of a vast international property and farming empire.

Templar commanderies. From top left: Temple Garway (England), Temple Bruer (England), Sainte Eulalie de Cernon (France), Paris (France), London (England), Montsaunès (France), La Couvertoirade (France), Loan (France), Ponferrada (Spain).

Templar commanderies. From top left: Temple Garway (England), Temple Bruer (England), Sainte Eulalie de Cernon (France), Paris (France), London (England), Montsaunès (France), La Couvertoirade (France), Laon (France), Ponferrada (Spain).

These rural European commanderies were the domain of thousands of sergeants.

When the sergeants were not attending services in the commanderies’ small chapels, they generated the rental incomes and rural produce (agriculture and livestock) to fund the resource-hungry war effort in the East.

Medieval ploughing

Medieval ploughing

Thanks to widespread exemptions from many taxes, they were able to sell their produce easily and profitably.

For example, the Templars had significant property in and around Roquefort in southern France, where they developed expertise in making and selling the famous blue sheep’s cheese that has since made the village’s name famous worldwide.

Making and testing medieval medicine recipes

Making and testing medieval medicine recipes

Another role undertaken by sergeants was caring for pilgrims and the sick, as the Templars, like many of the later military orders who copied them (like the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights, and the Order of Lazarus) operated hospices and infirmaries throughout Christendom, especially along major pilgrim routes.

Over in Palestine, there were different priorities.

The Templars in the Crusader States needed thousands of men to run and garrison the many castles they controlled.(3)

A crusader castle was as much a self-contained village as a monastery. Inside its walls there were continual building and fortification works, crops to be dried, olives to be pressed, mills to be worked for flour, animals to be raised and slaughtered, meat and fish to be salted, weapons to be forged and maintained, and vast storerooms to be filled in preparation for winter and for war.

Many of these tasks were undertaken by the sergeants.

Krak des Chevaliers (Syria). Although Krak never belonged to the Templars, it is one of the best preserved crusader castles, and gives an idea of the overwhelming size and power of crusader fortifications (mid-1100s).

Krak des Chevaliers (Syria). Although Krak never belonged to the Templars, it is one of the best preserved crusader castles, and gives an idea of the overwhelming size and power of crusader fortifications (mid-1100s).

To cope with the Templars’ extensive military duties, there was an additional group of sergeants in Palestine: a large, specialized corps whose primary task was fighting alongside the knights.

A Templar, probably a sergeant as he is on foot and wearing a ‘kettle helm’. From a fresco in the Templar’s commandery at San Bevignate (Perugia, Italy)

A Templar, probably a sergeant as he is on foot and wearing a ‘kettle helm’. From a fresco in the Templar’s commandery at San Bevignate (Perugia, Italy)

These military sergeants were a vital part of the Templars’ combat forces. Although they fought on horseback (a rare privilege for non-noblemen), they did not take part in the knights’ heavy cavalry charge. Instead, they followed up immediately behind the charge to contain the scattering enemy and control the melée, allowing the knights time to turn and re-engage.

The chaos of the melée

The chaos of the melée

These military sergeants were under the command of the Order’s Turcopolier, and played a critical role in the Templars’ battlefield domination.(4)

Crusaders in a flotilla of ships

Crusaders in a flotilla of ships

Although Templar sergeants were by definition socially inferior to the knights, the Order promoted them higher than they were ever likely to rise in civilian life. Many ran commanderies in Europe, and five of the Order’s senior positions were reserved exclusively for sergeants, including the Commander of the Vault of the Acre, who was the Admiral of the Templars’ powerful naval fleet.(5)

Another indication of the sergeants’ importance was that the council of ‘wise/chivalrous men’ (prodomes) formed on the death of a Grand Master to elect the next one had to be made up of eight knights, four sergeants, and a chaplain.

As full Templars and brothers of the Order, the sergeants were entitled to wear the distinctive large red cross patty. However, they were easy to tell apart from the knights as they wore black habits and surcoats with black or brown mantles instead of the pure white of the knights.

To ensure maximum manpower, as with the knights, sergeants could join for a fixed period if they did not want to make a permanent commitment to the Order.

The ratio of sergeants to knights varied according to time and place. In Europe, many commanderies were staffed exclusively by sergeants. And in some Palestinian castles, sergeants outnumbered knights nine to one. On average, the ratio was around three to one. For instance, in the late 1200s, the Order had perhaps 2,000 sergeants and 600 knights in Palestine.

WOMEN

Cistercian nuns, c. 1290

Cistercian nuns, c. 1290

In the Order’s very earliest days, women joined as Templar nuns in the same way that the Benedictines and Cistercians (who came to greatly influence the Templars) allowed women to join. But the Order soon changed its mind (or the prohibition was imposed on them), and the Templars became an exclusively male organization.(6)

CHAPLAINS

The third category of Templar brothers was the chaplains.

In the Order’s earliest years, the first Templars heard daily prayers in the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre or in the Temple of the Lord (the Dome of the Rock) on Temple Mount.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the epicentre of the crusades, where every crusading knight had to pray to fulfill his crusading vow. (Originally constructed in the mid-300s)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the epicentre of the crusades, where every crusading knight had to pray to fulfill his crusading vow. (Originally constructed in the mid-300s)

The Temple of the Lord (Dome of the Rock/Qubbat as-Sakrah mosque) in the middle of Temple Mount next to the Templars headquarters in the al-Aqsa mosque. It was built by Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik in 691

The Temple of the Lord (Dome of the Rock/Qubbat as-Sakrah mosque) in the middle of Temple Mount next to the Templars headquarters in the al-Aqsa mosque. It was built by Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik in 691

However, as the Order rapidly expanded across Palestine and Europe, it soon needed its own chaplains.

In 1139, Pope Innocent ii published one of the most important documents in the Order’s history.

Pope Innocent II, from a contemporary mosaic in Santa Maria in Trastevere (Rome, Italy)

Pope Innocent II, from a contemporary mosaic in Santa Maria in Trastevere (Rome, Italy)

It was a bull called Omne datum optimum (Every best gift).

In Omne datum optimum, Pope Innocent formally recognized and approved the Templars, made them answerable only to him, gave them his protection, and approved their Rule.

The front (called the obverse) of a bull of Pope Innocent II. It says INNOCENTIUS PP II

The front (called the obverse) of a bull of Pope Innocent II. It says INNOCENTIUS PP II

He also gave the Order a number of specific rights, including permission to build churches, to have chaplains, and to bury the dead.

Although these privileges were tucked away in the bull’s dense text, their effect was electrifying.

With just a few words, the pope brought the Templars into the church’s inner circle, giving the Master of the Temple equal status with some of Christendom’s most senior and powerful churchmen.

From that moment on, the pope effectively invited the Templars to compete for the large revenues (called spiritualia) that came from running an Order that owned chapels and served parishes.

A monastic funeral (thirteenth century)

A monastic funeral in the 1200s

It was doubly revolutionary because the Templars were now in charge of administering the spiritual welfare of those who came to their chapels, even though the Master of the Temple and his senior officials were all knights and not ordained priests.

A twelfth-century Templar chapel at Laon (Picardy, France). The octagonal design was intended to evoke the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or possibly the Dome of the Rock, which the crusaders called the Temple of the Lord (Templum Domini).

A twelfth-century Templar chapel at Laon (Picardy, France). The octagonal design was intended to evoke the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or possibly the Dome of the Rock, which the crusaders called the Temple of the Lord (Templum Domini).

And amazingly, the pope did not stop there. To mark this radical break with the past, he gave the Templars another privilege to underline their special and unique status. In order to ensure the Templars were always served by chaplains, he gave the Master of the Temple the right to poach priests from bishops even if the bishops objected.(7)

In many ways it was the starting gun that signaled a century of immense change in the church and the way it operated.

Two Templar chaplains being arrested. They are identifiable as chaplains and not sergeants by their dark clothes and beardless faces

Two Templar chaplains being arrested. They are identifiable as chaplains and not sergeants by their dark clothes and beardless faces

The chaplains were not allowed to fight in battle.(8) But like the knights and sergeants, they were full Templar brothers, and therefore entitled to wear the Order’s red cross patty.

Like the sergeants, the chaplains’ robes were dark not white, although they were distinguishable from the sergeants by their clerical clothes and clean-shaven faces.

One exception was that any Templar chaplain who became a bishop or an archbishop was entitled to wear the knights’ white in honour of his status, although there are perhaps only two examples of Templar chaplains ever being promoted that high in the church.[9]

AFFILIATE BROTHERS AND AFFILIATE-SISTERS

When the Templars built a new commandery in Europe, they recruited locals to join as its knights, sergeants, and chaplains. This ensured strong links to the surrounding community, which smoothed the way to attracting donations of land, property, and manpower.

To deepen ties with local people even further, the Templars quickly copied existing monastic practice, and allowed men to join on their deathbeds.

A Cistercian monk giving communion to a dying man

A Cistercian monk giving communion to a dying man

In a ceremony called ‘reception ad succurrendum,’ a dying man could have the Templar habit placed over him as he breathed his last, allowing him to die as a brother of the Order.(10)

Although the arrangement may have seemed like the best of both worlds for the dying man, there was a snag. If he recovered, he could not return to his family, but was obliged to live the life of a poor, chaste, and obedient Templar. This did happen, most famously to Brother Pons of Gusans, who later rose to be the Order’s Turcopolier.

Medieval graveyard at Le Chalard (France)

Medieval graveyard at Le Chalard (France)

However, not everyone who wanted to support the Templars wished to become a full brother. Some wanted merely to become a patron or friend of their local commandery.

In this, as in so many other areas, the Templars broke the mould by welcoming ordinary civilians as affiliate-brothers (confratres) and affiliate-sisters (consorores).

The established monasteries offered nothing similar.

In return for a gift from a member of the public (usually land or annual agricultural produce), the Templars were happy to add the person to the list of members of their community and those they prayed for. Although this may not sound like much, it was a highly sought after comfort and privilege in an age when people were increasingly preoccupied with the afterlife’s terrors of purgatory and hell.

A vision of hell, from the Garden of Delights, an encyclopedia for teaching novices written and illustrated by the Benedictine nun Herrard of Landsburg, 1167-85.

A vision of hell, from the Hortus Deliciarum (Garden of Delights), an encyclopedia for teaching novices written and illustrated by the Benedictine nun Herrard of Landsburg, 1167-85

Traditionally, paying a community of priests or monks to pray for souls was a privilege normally only open to the very wealthy, who commissioned chantry chapels in the great cathedrals and monasteries. The Templars revolutionized this practice by effectively opening up its benefits to a far broader slice of society.

Chantry chapel of William of Wykeham, chancellor of England and bishop of Winchester. It is one of the few surviving chantry chapels in England, as most were destroyed under Henry VIII. (Winchester cathedral)

Chantry chapel of William of Wykeham, chancellor of England and bishop of Winchester. It is one of the few surviving chantry chapels in England, as most were destroyed under Henry VIII. (Winchester cathedral)

Affiliation turned out to be a winning idea.

Affiliates did not have to give up or modify their normal lives in any way. They continued their daily business as normal, but at the same time were comforted by the knowledge that the Templars’ chaplains were regularly saying masses for their eternal souls. And when the time came, they would be buried in the holy ground of the Order’s graveyards.

Affiliation brought earthly benefits, too. An affiliate could stamp the Order’s cross on his door, property, and even brand it onto his animals. (The commonest Templar cross was the cross patty, with the arms splaying out like a German Iron Cross. However, contemporary manuscript illustrations, frescoes, and carvings show the Order in reality used a variety of crosses.)

Anyone interfering with goods marked in this way would have to answer to the Templars.

The commonest Templar cross was the cross patty, with the arms splaying out like a German Iron Cross. However, contemporary manuscript illustrations, frescoes, and carvings show the Order in reality used a variety of crosses.

The Templars’ cross patty

THE SOCIETAS AND THE FAMILIA

Knights and sergeants gave the Templars all their property when they joined, and brought the Order their various skills and expertise. Priests cared for the Orders’ spiritual needs. And affiliates provided a constant stream of donations and relationships that often culminated in fresh recruits.

Together, they all kept the Templars running: supporting a self-contained world, dependant on nothing and no one except its own members’ skills and resources.

Boats heading to the Crusader States

Boats heading to the Crusader States

Over time, the urgency for the sergeants to generate revenues from agriculture declined as the Templars devised other ways for raising money to fund their crusading and castle building. They invented international cheque accounts. They stored and transported valuables. They provided finance. And they even arranged and financed pilgrimage and crusade packages to Palestine on their ships.

Underneath it all, the Templars’ meteoric rise to success lay in the simple appeal of their mission.

Many ordinary people, inflamed by waves of emotional preaching, believed the crusades were God’s will. The cry of “Deus vult” (God wills it) echoed across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

People inspired by the dream of a Christian Jerusalem identified the Templars as the crusades’ leading ambassadors, prompting many to join up (permanently or temporarily) as knights, sergeants, or priests. For thousands of others not prepared to take monastic vows, the Order offered them the next best alternative: a variety of realistic ways to support and contribute to the crusades without having to make the arduous journey to Jerusalem themselves.

The remains of the Templar commandery at Saint-Martin-des-Champs

The remains of the Templar commandery at Saint-Martin-des-Champs

The next blog will deal with the background to the foundation of the Templars by Hugh of Payns in 1119, and the first few decades of the Order’s existence.

NOTES

(1) In the early church, monks were not ordained as priests, but lived lives of quiet contemplation under the authority of the abbot of their monastery. Over time, however, an increasing number of monks were ordained as priests and celebrated mass and administered the sacraments within (and sometimes outside) their monasteries.

(2) These roles could also be undertaken by servants or paid employees.

(3) A full list of Templar castles would be enormous. The following were their principal castles in Palestine and Syria: Ahamant, Al-‘Arimah, ‘Atlit, Baghras, Beaufort, Caco, Casal des Plains, Castel Arnald, Chastel-Blanc, Chastellet, Darbsak, Destroit, Gaza, Jerusalem, La Colée, La Fève, La Roche du Roussel, La Roche Guillaume, Le Petit Gerin, Maldoim, Merle Dor, Port Bonnel, Quarantaine, Safad, Saffran, Toron of the Knights, Tortosa.

(4) The Turcopolier was a senior Templar knight who commanded the sergeants in battle (but not in peacetime) and also the Turcopoles, who were locally raised soldiers, often archers.

(5) The senior positions always occupied by sergeants were: the Under-Marshal, the Standard Bearer, the Cook Brother of the Convent, the Farrier of the Convent, and the Commander of the Vault at Acre.

(6) The Rule of the Templars, cap. 70.

(7) ‘Quod si episcopi eosdem vobis concedere forte noluerint, nichilominus tamen eos suspiciendi et retinendi auctoritate sancta Romane ecclesie habeatis.’ Pope Innocent ii, Omne datum optimum. Normally, bishops were in charge of the priests in their diocese, and controlled in which of their churches priests worked.

(8) Strictly speaking, priests were not supposed to spill blood. However, there are many examples of those who did. For example, Patriarch Warmund of Jerusalem died besieging Balhacem in 1128. And as early as 1120 (at the Council of Nablus) the crusaders had begun to relax the rules on priests fighting as they needed every available able-bodied man, and canon 20 expressly permitted priests to spill blood in self-defense.

(9) Brother William of St John, bishop of Nazareth, and Brother Humbert, bishop of Banyas.

(10) Ad succurrendum means ‘towards salvation’.

SELECT IMAGE CREDITS

Medieval builders, from Biblia Historiale, 1300s, (Bibkiotheque Nationale de France)

Medieval farming, from the Luttrell Psalter. 1300s (British Library)

Making and testing medieval medicine recipes, from Avicena’s Canon of Medicine

Crusaders in a flotilla of ships, from William of Saint-Pathus, Life of Saint Louis, late 1300s (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

Cistercian nuns, c. 1290, Yates Thompson (British Library)

Two Templar chaplains being arrested, from the Chronicle of France or of St. Denis, 1300s (British Library)

A Cistercian monk giving communion to a dying man, from James le Palmer, Omne bonum, 1360-75, London (British Library)

Boats heading to the Crusader States, from William of Saint-Pathus, Life and miracles of St Louis, 1200s (Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

5 Comments

  1. google.com says:

    That is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very accurate information… Thank you for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  2. Ed Warrington says:

    Dominic Selwood’s website has a very good command of the Templar history and the sponsors and creators should be justly proud. I came across an interesting website http://www.OrderOfStChristopher.com. This new Order mentions that its Bishop-Abbot has Templar lineage. In an FAQ page the abbot declines to comment on whether the Order has a secret inner circle called the Sovereign Military Order of St. Christopher. I found on another website blog that someone is reporting that the secret military Order’s logo is a shield with a red Templar cross whereas the ordinary members wear a pin with a green Templar cross — Portuguese. The FAQ page admits that it has ex-military and ex-intelligence persons as members and welcomes all Veterans. A very interesting Order that bears watching. Perhaps we have a new Templar order emerging. The abbot actually says in the FAQ that “a Templar’s first language is silence.”

  3. Tony Ayres says:

    Presumably, any English Knights Templar would have had a duty to their feudal lord as well as to the Grand Master. How did they cope with that dual loyalty?

    • Dominic Selwood says:

      Hi Tony – a very interesting question. A Templar had to have been knighted before he joined the Order. As you say, in England (France, and elsewhere) knights often owed obligations as vassals in respect of a fief. However, the would-be Templar knight was expected to free himself of all such obligations before joining the Order. When he took his solemn vows as a Templar, he renounced all his worldly possessions “before God and Lady St Mary” and entered the church as a monk, free from all worldly ties. He had moved from the bellatores (with their military obligations of vassalage) and joined the oratores, where he started his life anew as a “knight of Christ”.

  4. A gorgeous piece of writing with superb illustrations. As a modern atheist, the construction of so much infrastructure for what was essentially a land and power grab is somewhat bitter sweet. That said, inherited wealth, anarchy and ignorance were the alternative. If only they hadn’t been tax exempt!

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