History of the Knights Templar in the Crusades:
A Basic Overview
compiled by Ron "Modar" Knight
While Peter the Hermit was leading his band of ragtag pilgrims to the Holy Lands, Pope Urban II was using the time until August 15th (of the year 1096) to prepare for the crusade that the army would undertake. While Urban was ecstatic over the response he had received from those wishing to go on the crusade, he realized he needed to give substance to the call for Holy War that he had given. To address this, he reassembled the bishops present and began forming the regulations and plans for the crusade.
Among the rules adopted were: 1) any man who took the vow to join the crusade must fulfill the vow or be excommunicated; 2) any man who went on the crusade, but returned home before its mission was accomplished, would be excommunicated; 3) every man who took the vow to join the crusade must wear a cross made of red cloth sewn to his surcoat, or outer garments, as a public declaration of his vow. (The style of cross was a standard "straight arm" cross.); and 4) anyone fearing for their possessions while on the crusade could leave them for safekeeping with their local bishops, who would be held responsible for their safe and complete return. (Presumably if someone did not return from the crusade, their possessions would become the property of the Church.). Also, it was declared that those not physically fit should be discouraged from taking part in the crusade.
The choice of a departure date was selected so that the southern harvests would be gathered in and available to supply the armies. The various military factions would be sent, via different routes, to Constantinople. Once all had arrived, they would merge and launch a common campaign. The reason for the different routes was two-fold. One, smaller groups would put less strain on areas the armies were traveling through to accommodate them, and two, this would keep friction between the various factions to a minimum.
When news of these soon to be approaching armies reached Emperor Alexius, he was overwhelmed. When he had asked for help, he had assumed he would receive 3-4 thousand troops, which he could assimilate into his forces to bolster the troops. What he got was, first the chaotic band of Peter the Hermit's pilgrim/fighters who were really nothing but more trouble for him, and now the Pope was sending whole armies with thousands of knights, as well as foot-soldiers and a whole retinue of camp followers, all led by nobles. With some alarm, he began trying to prepare for the onslaught by sending caches of food and supplies to points along the routes that the armies would be traveling. Hopefully this would stem any problems that the moving armies might cause, but after the debacle with Peter the Hermit's entourage, Alexius feared the worst.
Perhaps Alexius was correct to worry because there was a real "cast of characters" that would leading the various military factions or armies to Constantinople. All were nobles and many were Princes, in blood if not title. Each was going on the great Crusade for their own reasons. Amongst these nobles were Hugh of Vermandois (sometimes referred to as Hugh le Maisne), Godfrey de Bouillon with his two brothers Baldwin and Eustace, Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred, Raymond of Toulouse and Adhemar of Monteil, Robert of Normandy with Robert of Flanders and Stephen of Blois.
Hugh, the Count of Vermandois, was brother to Philip I, the King of France. A writer of the time, William of Tyre referred to him as Hugh the Great, but history has shown that Hugh was totally ineffective as a warrior, and that his only greatness came in his boasting, and his love of finery. Yet, despite his faults, he led the first group (after Peter the Hermit) to Constantinople, his army leaving in mid-August of 1096.
Godfrey de Bouillion was the Duke of Lower Lorraine. He and his brothers were sons of Eustace II, Count of Boulogne. They were also descendant of Charlemagne through their mother Ida who was the daughter of Duke Godfrey II of Lower Lorraine. Godfrey was described as the "ideal knight of Christendom". He was tall, well-built, blond and bearded. He was a pious, near-ascetic man with simple tastes and unfailing gracious behavior. He was known to have great strength, and there is at least one account of him wrestling a huge bear. Another account relates him killing a camel by slicing its head off with a single sword stroke. He was deeply religious and devoted to prayer. He would many times pray so long before meals that members of his entourage would complain that their meals were cold before they were allowed to eat. Unlike other leaders of the crusade who carried with them luxuries from home, Godfrey had in his tent, no carpets, no curtains, no silk hangings, and no furniture. He would sit on the ground and use a sack of straw to lean against. He sold and mortgaged all of his lands to finance a fighting force that he would command in the Crusade. When his force left for Constantinople in August of 1096, some days after Hugh of Vermandois' army had departed, he was 36 years of age.
Baldwin of Le Bourg was brother to Godfrey, but there the common thread ended. He was taller than Godfrey, "almost a giant", and was dark-haired, clean-shaven, and had very pale skin. Baldwin was a complex man with many facets to himself. He enjoyed finery and never appeared in public without wearing a mantle. He was scholarly and a person of exquisite and exacting manners. He was known to be tough, hard, and cold toward people. Yet despite this, he is known for his chief vice which was venery. He is also known for his excessive love of his brother Godfrey. Baldwin tried to model himself after Godfrey, to whom virtue seemed to come easy. Yet Baldwin always fell short, and thought of himself as a constant sinner. It was originally intended for Baldwin to enter the Church, as was the usual case with many younger sons. He had no real desire to be part of the church, and the Crusade provided a way for him to escape that life. He was married to a high-born Englishwoman named Godehilde who accompanied him, along with their children, on the Crusade. He was 32 years old.
Eustace played only a minor role in the Crusade. Being the eldest of the three brothers and inheritor of their parent's land, he soon returned from the Crusade to manage the estates.
Bohemond was the Norman Prince of Taranto (also called Otranto) located in Italy. He would lead another army on Crusade. A description of him written by Anna Comnena, the Byzantine Emperor's eldest daughter, shows the impression he made when he arrived in Constantinople:
Never before had anyone set eyes on a man like this in our country, whether among the Greeks or the barbarians, for he was a marvel to behold and his reputation was terrifying. Let me describe this barbarian's appearance more particularly - he was so tall in stature that he overtopped the tallest by nearly one cubit, narrow in the waist and loins, with broad shoulders and a deep chest and powerful arms. And in the whole build of the body he was neither too slender nor overweighted with flesh, but perfectly proportioned and, one might say, built in conformity with the canon of Polycleitus...
...His skin all over his body was very white, and in his face the white was tempered with red. His hair was yellowish, but did not hang down to his waist like that of the other barbarians; for the man was not inordinately vain of his hair, but had it cut short to the ears. Whether his beard was reddish, or any other color I cannot say, for the razor had passed over it very closely and left a surface smoother than chalk...His blue eyes indicated both a high spirit and dignity; and his nose and nostrils breathed in the air freely; his chest corresponded to his nostrils and his nostrils explained the breath of his chest. For by his nostrils nature had given free passage to the high spirit that bubbled up from his heart. A certain charm hung about this man but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible. For in the whole of his body the entire man showed implacable and savage both in his size and glance, or so I believe, and even his laughter sounded like roaring. He was so made in mind and body that courage and passion reared their crests within him and both inclined to war. His wit was manifold and crafty and able to find a way of escape in every emergency. In conversation he was well-informed, and the answers he gave were quite irrefutable. This man, who was of such a size and such a character, was inferior to the emperor alone in fortune and eloquence and other gifts of nature.
He was the son of the Norman Conqueror, Robert Guiscard. He was pure Norman and was described as having a Norman's cruelty and a Norman's belief that the whole world was ripe for conquest. He was known to be totally unscrupulous and very dangerous. He had spent the thirteen years previous to the call for Crusade, fighting against Emperor Alexius in Greece and Macedonia. Now he would be fighting on the same side as Alexius. He made the choice to join the Crusade both for all the trouble he could create, plus all the territory and glory he could grab. When he, his nephew Tancred and his army left Italy in October of 1096, he was approximately 40 years of age.
Raymond IV of Toulouse, Count of Toulouse and St. Giles, would assemble another force for the Crusade at his own expense. Son of Almodis, Princess of Barcelona, he was known as a man of great probity and to be very intelligent. He had fought the Almoravides in Spain and was proud of the fact that he had lost an eye in single combat while fighting the Moors. While having both a Spanish gravity and Spanish sensuality, he was deeply religious. Yet maintained a reputation as a womanizer. He married often and was twice excommunicated by the Church for marriages of consaquinity. The last of his wives was Elvira, the natural daughter of Alfonso VI, King of Leon and Castile. Raymond joined the Crusade because he felt that he would die soon and hoped to die in the Holy Land. When his forces left from their gathering point in France in October of 1096, he was nearly 60 years of age. He would arrive in Constantinople on April 22, 1097. Once there he would develop a dislike for Bohemond and would spend most of the Crusade campaign at odds with the Prince of Taranto, trying to neutralize his efforts.
Adhemar of Monteil, Bishop of le Puy, at the age of 50 would accompany Raymond of Toulouse to Constantinople. He had been the first person to kneel before the Pope when the Crusade was declared. Most likely this act of fealty had been preplanned to give credence to the selection of him as Papal Legate to the Crusade. When he arrived in Constantinople he was to assume command of the united forces and lead them into the Holy Lands.
Robert of Normandy, Duke, was the son of William the Conqueror and brother to King William Rufus. He would lead the last of the initial armies to the Holy Land. Although Robert was first born, his rebelliousness and hot temper caused William the Conqueror to deny him the throne, and give it to his brother. Robert was also gregarious, mischievous, and a lover of creature comforts. He was nicknamed Curthose (meaning Short Boots), to reflect the fact that he did not fill his father's shoes. His forces would leave from France in October of 1096.
Stephen of Blois, Count of Chartes, Blois & Troyes would accompany Robert of Normandy on Crusade, but not out of any desire to. Stephen, who was the son-in-law of William the Conqueror was a very rich and very amiable man. According to one Abbot of the time, "Stephen owned as many castles as there were days of the year." It was at the threatening insistent of his wife that Stephen found himself headed to the Holy Lands. William the Conqueror's daughter, Adela, took after the Conqueror more than any of his sons did. Since she couldn't go on the Crusade, she made sure Stephen would.
Robert of Flanders would also accompany this force. But unlike Stephen of Blois, he looked forward to the crusade. He is described as a warrior-pilgrim both by inheritance and inclination.
Besides these leaders, the armies were composed of other noblemen and knights, thousands of mounted troops, plus several thousand more non-mounted forces including pikemen and archers. Accompanying all of these men were hundreds of carts and thousands of grooms, carters, fletchers, ironsmiths, cooks, tentmen, servants and camp followers. The camp followers were composed of the wives and families of the nobles and fighting forces, unattached females (and males) who sold their services (both sexual and non-sexual) to the soldiers, and vagabonds who followed along doing scut work in exchange for food leavings and perhaps a chance at finding "souvenirs" on the fields after battles. And on top of this, the armies were priest-ridden. Every nobleman and knight had a private chaplain with him and every company of soldiers had an attendant priest assigned to them. In effect, almost 1 out of every 150 people on Crusade was a priest.
The first of the Armies of Princes, led by Hugh of Vermandois, traveled from France to Bari (in southern Italy) then crossed the Adriatic Sea to Dyrrachium (what is in present day known as Durres in Albania) and from there via Thessalonika to the city of Constantinople. No undue hardships or unexpected problems were encountered by this force. Upon arrival at the Byzantine Capital, Hugh was asked to swear an oath of loyalty to the Byzantine Empire, so as to prevent the crusaders from changing their minds about fighting the Saracens and attacking their Byzantine allies. Hugh did so readily enough. But then he was detained by the Emperor and not allowed full liberty. Most likely this was an effort to maintain control of Hugh's forces until the rest of the armies arrived. Hugh was willing to partake of the Emperor's hospitality. After all, he could partake of the amenities of the palace for weeks before having go back into the field, which he did not enjoy anyway.
The next army to depart was led by Godfrey de Bouillion and his two brothers Baldwin and Eustace. They traveled a route similar to the one that the People's Crusade led by Peter the Hermit took, going through Germany and crossing over into Hungary around the beginning of October. The way had been smoothed by one of de Bouillion's noblemen named Godfrey d'Esch who knew the King of Hungary. Arrangements were made for extra provisions and guides to lead them through Hungary. Godfrey was so pleased with King Coloman's assistance that to guarantee the behavior of his men, he sent orders via heralds to the entire army that anyone who committed any kind of violence on any Hungarian for any reason would be immediately put to death and all his goods and possessions here and back home would be confiscated.
The army paused in Belgrade to regroup and resupply then traveled toward Nish. Halfway to Nish, the army was met by envoys of the provincial governors, who would finish guiding them to Constantinople. This was a totally uneventful journey, nothing compared to the travesty faced by the Peter the Hermit's pilgrims. The army's next stop-over was at Philippopolis, in Thrace. The city had been founded by Philip of Macedon and built on three hills located in the midst of a vast plain. It held a taste of foreign wonders for the crusaders. There were immensely high walls around the city, and everywhere were Greek temples and Christian churches. Many were awe-struck with its beauty. It was here that ill news would reach Godfrey de Bouillion. News (actually rumors) of Hugh of Vermandois' detainment was reported. According to the report, Hugh was in prison for reasons unknown. Godfrey immediate dispatched Henry d'Esch and Baldwin of Mons (Count of Hainault) to go to Constantinople to intercede with the Emperor.
Godfrey then began moving his troops onward, hoping to meet the two emissaries on their way back from meeting with the Emperor as soon as possible. When the troops had gotten to the city of Adrianople, and then beyond without hearing any word back from the Emperor, Godfrey and his brothers were afraid that they too would be arrested and their troops disarmed when they reached Constantinople. They decided to display a show of force. The army was camped in a rich pastureland. Troops were then sent out in all directions to conduct murderous raids on the nearby villages. For eight days these raids continued, until word finally arrived that Hugh was no longer being detained. They were also informed about Hugh's oath of loyalty, and hoped that such would prevent further misunderstanding and bloodshed.
Despite or because of all of this, Godfrey and his commanders still distrusted the Emperor, had a low opinion of the local officials, and expected trouble and betrayal from the Byzantines but they kept the troops marching toward the Byzantine capital. They arrived in Constantinople on December 23, 1096. The next few months would be very hectic.
Godfrey's army was camped on the northern bank of the area known as the Golden Horn. The high officers were given places in monasteries and private houses to billet. The soldiers lived in tents. Life for them was miserable as it was a bitter winter. Cold winds constantly blew in from the Black Sea, there were sudden immense snowstorms, and almost every day it rained.
Godfrey was invited to stay at Blachernae Palace, the Imperial residence, by the Emperor and encouraged to do so by Hugh of Vermandois. He refused to do so. He was the Duke of Lower Lorraine and of the lineage of the great Charlemagne. Neither a foreign emperor or the mere brother of a French king going to determine what he was going to do. He sent Henry d'Esh, Conon de Montaigue and his brother Baldwin to Emperor Alexius with excuses for not staying at the palace. The real reason behind Godfrey's refusal was that by avoiding a direct meeting with the Emperor, he could keep from giving an oath of loyalty. Godfrey was a visitor on foreign soil and didn't trust or want to get too friendly with the land owner.
Emperor Alexius was not pleased with Godfrey's refusal to attend the palace or grant an oath of loyalty. He did not believe the crusaders to be completely trustworthy, and feared that when all the princes and their forces arrived they would turn their weapons against him. Hence, he needed each army leader to swear loyalty. To be sure they didn't stir up any trouble, Alexius had a small army of his own camp behind Godfrey's army, thereby placing Godfrey's troops between themselves and the sea.
Towards the end of March 1097, with the other armies due to arrive soon, and Godfrey still not having taken an oath (or even meeting with the Emperor), Alexius decided to try and force the matter. He wanted Godfrey sworn to him as incentive for the other army leaders to swear loyalty. He therefore ordered that the food supplies for de Bouillion's army be cut off. First fodder for the horses was stopped. Then fish deliveries, and finally bread supplies. The crusaders went on a wild rampage.
For six days fought the crusaders fought the troops who were guarding them, killing many and capturing sixty. They broke through the troop lines and invaded nearby villages, capturing vast amounts of food and fodder. Having tasted blood, the crusaders were ready for more. Godfrey and his commanders decided the time to attack the city of Constantinople had come. Their encampment was not far from the bridge that crossed the headwaters of the Golden Horn area. It was only a few hundred yards beyond the far side of this bridge that lie the high walls that protected the Emperor's resident, the Blachernae Palace. If they could capture the Emperor, they could take possession of the Byzantine Empire.
The crusaders struck on Good Friday. On this day the populace of the Byzantine Empire were observing solemn rites. It was unthinkable to them that anyone would shed blood on the day commemorating the shedding of Christ's blood. Alexius sent messages to Godfrey asking him not to attack now, but to wait until the day after the Resurrection. Godfrey took this as a sign of weakness and pressed the attack. Finally Alexius was forced to station bowmen along the walls, but ordered them to try not to kill, to shoot without aiming, hoping to drive the crusaders back by the sheer multitude of arrows.
The crusaders still continued to advance so at nightfall Alexius ordered a company of his nobles armed with bows and long lances to open the gates and advance on the besieging forces. The nobles were ordered not to aim at the crusaders, but only at their horses. He was attempting to avoid bloodshed at all costs. Fortunately the crusaders broke ranks and fled back to their camp area when the general advance began.
The following day Hugh of Vermandois was sent by the Emperor from the palace to Godfrey with a message. Hugh spoke about how dangerous it would be to continue fighting, and asked what was wrong with giving an oath to Alexius. Godfrey replied that Hugh had been turned into a lackey and slave and that there was nothing to be gained by being obedient to the Emperor. Hugh responded that there was much to be gained, among other things was protection, provisions, friendship and treasure. Godfrey countered by saying he wanted nothing from the Emperor and would act as he saw fit. Hugh carried this message back. The Emperor ordered an attack on Godfrey's army for the day after Easter Sunday. By Monday afternoon Godfrey and company were in full retreat.
Godfrey, after this second defeat, realized the futility of his situation and agreed to swear loyalty. His army was ferried across the straits and camped in Pelecanum. He was invited into the Bucoleon Palace, also known as the Great Palace, located in the southern quadrant of Constantinople. In one of its many throne rooms, Godfrey knelt before Alexius and swore an oath of loyalty. The Emperor then embraced him and declared him an allay and vassal. Peace again resided between Byzantium and the Crusaders. An uneasy, untrusting peace - but peace.
After Godfrey de Bouillion's forces, the next army headed on crusade belonged to the Prince of Taranto, Bohemond. His troops made the journey from Italy to the Byzantium capital very slowly. throughout the journey the army behaved in a suspiciously scrupulous and absolutely correct manner. In fact they arrived, totally without incident, in Constantinople on April 9, 1097.
Emperor Alexius had no trust for Bohemond, having fought against him in previous years. The Emperor knew Bohemond to be a brilliant commander and a relentless enemy capable of astonishingly audacious acts. However, Bohemond was extremely friendly and readily swore an oath of allegiance to the Emperor. (His nephew Tancred refused to take an oath. Instead, Tancred waited until Bohemond's forces were being moved out of the city then slipped through and out of Constantinople in the night to avoid having to take the oath.) Bohemond behaved in an exemplary manner with ingratiating punctiliousness while a guest of the Emperor. He made only one minor breach of etiquette. In an effort to use his oath as a lever to enhance his own status, Bohemond asked the Emperor to place upon him a title such as Grand Domestic of the East or Viceroy of Asia, and give him command of all the armies east of Constantinople. Alexius declined to accept this opportunity.
Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse and St. Giles, who led the next army was a quiet and reserved leader. He could be obstinate, yet always remained courteous in his words and actions. He was also deeply religious and believed in visions, miracles and the divine power of relics. This would account for his deep attachment to his fellow crusader, Adhemar of Monteil, the Bishop of Le Puy. Bishop Adhemar, on the other hand, was more pragmatic in his outlook on life. He didn't believe in visions, or miracles, or holy relics. He considered himself a searcher who valued truth above all else. Traveling with them were Adhemar's younger brothers, Francis-Lambert of Monteil and William-Hugh of Monteil.
Raymond reached Constantinople in advance of his army. He was given lodging in a palace outside the city walls and accorded with respect and service due him. He was shortly summoned for an audience with the Emperor, where he was asked to give his oath of loyalty. He refused. A courteous, but strained conversation commenced. Raymond insisted that because he was a sovereign prince, and second in command of the entire Crusader armies, behind Bishop Adhemar, he could not take such an oath as a matter of principle. The Emperor's concerns were voiced. In the end, Raymond took a qualified oath to respect the life and possessions of the Emperor and to do nothing that would bring harm to them. This resulted in Raymond gaining respect from the Emperor, and unlike Godfrey or Bohemond, he was invited to return to the Byzantium court. Two days after giving his oath, Raymond led his army to Pelecanum along with the other armies. As this combined force headed on, a few of the survivors of the Peter the Hermit's crusade, including Peter himself, joined them.
When the last army arrived at Constantinople in the early part of May 1097, the other forces had already struck their camps and headed toward Nicaea. But circumstances would let this army catch up with them. This last force was led by Robert, Duke of Normandy and Stephen of Blois. Both Robert and Stephen readily gave their oaths as they were anxious to catch up with the main body of armies. They were immediately ferried to across the straits to Asia, where they headed toward Nicaea.
Finally, all the armies had arrived at Constantinople and were now on their way to Jerusalem.
Go to Part IV
Go back to Part II
Go back to Part I
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2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 Ron "Modar" Knight
Baron Modar Neznanich, CLM, CSH, CT, CCC, OPel
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