In 1099, Christian armies overtook the then Muslim controlled Jerusalem. After the overthrow, Western European Christians were tasked with traveling through Muslim-controlled territories to reach the Holy Land.
The Knights Templar
During the medieval era, the Knights Templar were created — in the year 1118 — by Hugues de Payens a French knight and devout Christian. This religious military began with the name, the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. The purpose of this militia was to protect the Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land of Jerusalem.
The original Knights Templar consisted of just nine men, men who were relatives and acquaintances of commander Hugues de Payens.
For years, the Knights faced backlash from European religious leaders until the year 1129 when the Catholic Church formally endorsed the militia. However, the Knights did not see real growth until 10 years later, when Pope Innocent II gave his endorsement — allowing the Knights special privileges.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II gave the Knights Omne datum optimum, a type of public decree known as a papal bull. This papal bull promised all assets acquired from Muslim armies to be given to the Knights of Templar. This gave the Knights unprecedented power and privilege. This order was exempt from paying taxes and allowed to build their own churches.
After they were given the papal bull, the Knights grew richer and expanded. The order became known as brave warriors, devoted to Christianity and the fellow believers of the religion. The militia of nine men grew to 15,000-20,000 men during its peak. The army was vastly wealthy, powerful, and militarily revered
The Knights became the Catholic protectors of the Crusader States in the Holy Land — allowing for the expansion of Christianity. They controlled castles and most of the Mediterranean Sea, furiously defeating Muslim armies that sought to retake control of Jerusalem.
The First Crusade
The Crusades were a group of religious wars during the medieval period. Both parties involved, Christians and Muslims, considered the surrounding sites of Jerusalem to be sacred. In the seventh century, this sacred territory fell under Islamic control.
Though the reasons why the First Crusade was created is up for debate, it is believed that when the Egyptians passed control of Jerusalem to the Seljuk Turks in 1071 — the need for a crusade became evident. Compared to the Seljuk Turks, the Egyptians were relatively passive toward Christianity believers. The Turks were a much more ruthless regime with little tolerance for Christians.
The First Crusade took place between 1095-1099 C.E., over 400 years after Jerusalem was claimed by Muslims. Under the orders of Pope Urban II, the First Crusade was the first official attempt made by Christians to claim the Holy Land of Jerusalem from Islamic control.
Earlier attempts to retake the Holy Land did take place, however, any attempts conducted before Pope Urban II’s orders became classified as the People’s Crusade. This crusade made of mostly French citizens stood no chance. The crusade was eventually demolished by Muslim armies quite easily.
On November 27, 1095, during what would become known as the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade in his speech, pleading to the hierarchy of the church. His speech, mostly exaggerated — talked of horrible violence against Christians and the defilement of Christian monuments.
Pope Urban II’s words did not go unnoticed, as many Christian men took his words to heart. After the speech, those willing to risk their lives swore an oath to become a crusader and claim the Holy Land for Christianity.
Tens of thousands of crusaders, including thousands of Knights, embarked on an incredibly violent journey to take Jerusalem. These crusaders spent years battling with Muslim armies in attempts to reclaim territories. Casualties were high for both sides of this holy war.
The First Crusade Reaches the Holy Land
It wasn’t until the year 1099, that the crusaders reached Jerusalem. After arriving, the members of the first crusade spent several weeks building towers to enter the fortified city.
With their numbers extremely reduced, the Christian soldiers entered Jerusalem and began massacring the population with the city. When the events of extreme violence were over, Christianity would become the ruling entity of the sacred city. The first crusade was successful and would be the only truly successful crusade out of the nine that would ensue.
The First Crusade and the Knights Templar Connection
The Knights Templar formed nearly two decades after the First Crusade had ended. Though the two did not have an immediate connection, the Knights did form because of the result of the First Crusade. Now under Christian control, Jerusalem and believers of the religion would need protection. The Knights Templar were created to protect the ideals of Christianity that were installed in Jerusalem after the First Crusade.
After the disbandment of the first crusaders, Christian pilgrims needed protection against Islamic revenge. Without the successful reclamation of Jerusalem, the Knights Templar would not have formed, and the Crusaders would have still been tasked with overthrowing Islamic control of the Holy Land.
The Knights Templar Weaken
In the late 12th century, The Knights Templar’s powerful regime began to falter. Infighting between Christian armies erupted, which weakened the political and military power of Christianity. These feuds between the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, wreaked havoc on the Christian position.
In 1187, Jerusalem was once again recaptured by Muslim forces. The Templars failed to protect the city that members of the first crusade had given their lives for.
In 1229, Christianity regained control of Jerusalem under the leadership of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
The Knights Templar were not involved in the recapture that has become known as the Sixth Crusade. Frederick took a more political approach to regain Jerusalem with little bloodshed between both sides of the Crusade. However, this time Christian control only lasted 15 years, as Jerusalem once again fell to Islamic control. This time the Ayyubid dynasty and mercenaries of Khwarezmi ruled the Holy Land.
The Fall of the Knights Templar
As Muslim armies began expanding in both size and strength, they became the controlling party of the Crusades. The once powerful and feared military of the Knights Templar became weak. In the late 12th and earlier 13th centuries, the Knights Templar were forced to relocate numerous times.
In the late 13th century, the Crusader city of Acre was the last remaining stronghold of Christianity in the Holy Land. This city was a hub for international trade, the lone remaining hub for military supplies for Christianity — extremely vital to the Knights Templar and the Christian people.
In 1291, Egyptian forces demolished the city, including the castle of the Knights Templar. They had failed to protect their last remaining territory surrounding the Holy Land.
The Knights had lost the support of Europeans. In 1312, Pope Clement V was forced to disband the Knights Templar after facing intense pressure from King Philip. The Knights’ assets were seized and dispersed to the Knights Hospitaller, one of the feuding armies of the Knights Templar during the 12th century.
Some of the Knights were persecuted on unjust charges, while others were executed, including the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay. The once prominent army and protector of Christianity had fallen quite spectacularly in a relatively short amount of time.
Key Takeaways from the Knights Templar and the First Crusade
During the medieval period, the holy wars plagued Europe and the Middle East. Control of the sacred city of Jerusalem was the key contributor for thousands of casualties and devastating destruction during the Crusades. These religious wars between Christianity and Islam waged for centuries.
The First Crusade was the most impressive feat by Christianity during the medieval era. It allowed for the religion to flourish and groups of Christian regimes such as the Knights Templar to emerge.
Infighting between armies was the beginning of the end for Christianity’s brief control of sacred territories. As Muslim armies expanded, Christianity weakened and fell. The successes of the First Crusade was undone in just over a century, as the Knights Templar failed to protect Christianity.
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