Knights of Temple and Hospital, circa 1118

In the first year of King Baldwin II, a knight named Hugues (Hugh, Hugo) proposed the creation of a new monastic order. He had probably come to Jerusalem in 1114, on pilgrimage with the Count of Champagne. Hugues chose to stay and live out his life in the Holy City. He seems to have been part of a small band of unmarried knights from Champagne who all chose to stay.

A word about unmarried knights. It’s my impression that marriage and land went together. Heirs of land were obliged to marry as young as possible to produce more heirs. When a knight became the ruler of land, he was enabled to marry; we often see a knight gaining a title and marrying at the same time (as Baldwin II did). But knights without land often did not marry. The knight’s life expectancy was uncertain, and he had other opportunities for sex.

Unmarried knights were generally attached to a nobleman, the way Hugues and his friends had been followers of the Count of Champagne. Now, the small band of knights who stayed on were, in a sense, unemployed. Hugues’ Big Idea was to have the King create a monastic order for knights, which would give them jobs, a home, and a purpose. They were already poor; being monks made poverty respectable. Their new badge would show two men on one horse!

King Baldwin II granted them al-Aqsa Mosque as their living quarters; it was known as the Temple of Solomon, since it had been built on that foundation. The knights just called it The Temple. In a sense, they took on *policing* Jerusalem, especially with protecting foreign pilgrims in mind. Perhaps some of them had been robbed on arrival, so they knew the need.

In another part of the city, around the same time, another band of landless, unmarried knights gathered at the Order of St. John Hospital. This hospital had been established by merchants from Amalfi, Italy in 1023 when the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was rebuilt. It started as a hostel, but became an infirmary. Now, this small cluster of knights would have a foundation to support them, too, in their role of security guards to the pilgrims and monk-doctors.

Why was there suddenly this need for policing? It may be that when Baldwin I invited Syrian Christians to repopulate the city in 1115, the nature of city life changed dramatically. Underpopulated and barely functioning as an economy, Jerusalem had perhaps been fairly predictable. With new residents who had their boundaries and hierarchies to establish among themselves, crime may have skyrocketed.

Bernard of Clairvaux, the monk who was leading a reform movement at this time, publicly praised the monastic knight orders. Knights were usually wealthy; these knights voluntarily owned nothing and lived in austerity. Bernard’s praise led more knights to travel to the Holy Land and join up, and it also encouraged wealthy lay people to start leaving large donations to the orders. Both orders soon owned vast estates in France, although the individual knights supposedly owned nothing. In time, the Knights of the Temple (Knights Templars or just Templars) and the Knights of the Hospital became very wealthy, powerful organizations. The Hospital Order persists to this day as a sovereign entity on Malta.

But in the early years, we should picture them as they began: small groups of knights, often from the same region or families, who lived frugally in barracks near their stables. There’s no question that they were the embodiment of Cool in 1120. That’s why their orders grew so quickly: they were the hipsters of their day, and the lucky ones were able to say, “I was a Temple Knight before it went mainstream. Remember the old days when we slept in our stables? And only one horse for every two knights! That’s when it was best, now it’s sold out…”

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