Brother Gérard’s organisation had become so important that Pope Paschal II gave ecclesiastical recognition to the Hospital by issuing the Bull “Pie Postulatio Voluntatis” in 1113. The servant of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary became then known as the Hospitallers of St John. The Order had practical aims. Their members dedicated themselves to the religious life but kept at the same time an active role in the world. This order attracted a lot of crusaders who chose to stay in the Holy Land after their military activity. Brother Gérard had promoted pilgrim travel from Europe to the Holy Land but there was still a weak point in the organisation. In effect if the crossing of the sea was relatively safe, the journey from the harbours to Jerusalem was still dangerous due to the presence of Moslem towns in the vicinity. Gérard saw the need for a military role for the Order. To put it in practice was not difficult as most of the order’s members participated militarily to the crusades. Some Hospitallers rode with the pilgrims on the roads from the coast and guaranteed their safety.
In 1220 some knights led by Hugo de Payns assembled to protect the pilgrims in their travel to the Holy Land. The king of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, gave them a headquarters in the Temple of Solomon from which they took their name, the Templars. In their first 10 years of existence they were no more than nine and they protected the pilgrims in the Jordan Valley. They were in one way complementary to the Hospitallers. The Templars did not grow much until 1228 when Hugo de Payns went on a very successful recruitment campaign in France. They then grew very fast towards being a very powerful military order. They became more powerful that the military side of the Hospital. Their example had a large influence on the Hospitallers from that point of view.
Brother Gérard died in 1120. The successor of Brother Gérard was the Frankish knight Raymond du Puy who came to Jerusalem to fight in the first crusade and who then joined the order. He increased the military role of the Hospitallers well beyond what was foreseen at first. In 1228 he fought alongside Baldwin II at Ascalon. By 1230 he sent knights to fight in Spain. The needs of the crusader states increased the needs and the influence of the knights of the Hospital. In 1236 King Fulk of Jerusalem asked them to defend the Egyptian border and for this they received the castle and the fortified town of Bethgibelin. They were also asked to colonise the territory and to form a base for the conquest of Ascalon. In 1140/42 the Count of Tripoli asked their help to defend the Eastern border and gave them five castles including Crac. By 1148, during the second crusade, the order of the Hospitallers was recognised as part of the military effort to defend the Holy Land. Until 1206 the distinction between knights and other members of the order was not clear. In fact the Order relied for its military activities on ex-soldiers who joined the order without taking the vows. The number of knights residing in Jerusalem was small but the total force of the Order was larger due to these “lay” members who participated to the order activities and worked towards the common aims without being full members. The expansion of the order under Raymond du Puy was of greater importance. In Jerusalem the Hospital took over the Abbey of St Mary, its mother house, that took new quarter in the north-east in 1130. The buildings of the Hospital were quite impressive and dominated the Christian quarter of the city. It had room for 2000 pilgrims and hundred of knights and other brethren. In the 1140s Raymond du Puy built a large building in Acre to receive the pilgrims coming by sea. He also increased the importance of the European hospices. In 1157/58 he travelled to Europe to organise these possessions although he was already 80 year’s old. He led the order for 38 or 40 years and is one of the more important Master of the Hospitaller Order. The members of the Orders -both frate and confrate- helped to promote the ideal of the pilgrimages in the Holy Land. (j)
With the election of Gilbert d’Assailly as Master the military importance of the order increased rapidly. Unfortunately he had a rather unstable character. Under his guidance the number of Hospitaller castles increased from 7 or 8 to twenty. In 1168 he was the instigator of the invasion of Egypt that turned into a disaster. The Templars opposed this campaign as it broke a negotiated truce and they refused to participate in it. King Amalric’s army started the invasion in October and 500 Hospitaller Knights went with him. It was the first disagreement between the two orders. The order of St John rose to a position of military equality with the Templar as a result. The Egyptian Caliph called the Emir of Damascus to his help and the Christian army had to retreat. Gilbert resigned his mastership. The army of Damascus overthrew the Egyptian monarchy and when Saladin came to power he was the leader of both Egypt and Damascus ending the division of the Moslems threatening Jerusalem as a direct result. After this defeat Jerusalem declined rapidly. Amalric died in 1174 and was succeeded by the leper King Baldwin IV. He was a very weak king and he had to resign in favour of a child 8 years old and to give the regency to his cousin Raymond, Count of Tripoli. Finally the crown passed to Guy de Lusignan after the child died in 1186. This coup d’Etat was organised by Renaud de Chatillon and the Master of the Templars, Gérard de Ridfort who was the enemy of Raymond. Only the Master of the Hospital, Roger des Moulin, opposed this action but he could not prevent it. The Hospitallers did not assist to the coronation. Renaud de Chatillon, in disregard of the truce, attacked a caravan on its way to Cairo. Saladin took this opportunity to prepare the invasion of Jerusalem. Gérard de Ridfort, the Templar Master decided to attack the Syrian army against the opposition of the Master of the Hospital, Roger des Moulins, who was forced to take part in it. The Christian army was defeated and the Master of the Hospital died in the fight and only Gérard and two knights escaped the massacre. Two months later Guy de Lusignan led his army to a complete defeat in Hattin and Jerusalem fell to the Moslems. Saladin murdered all the Hospitaller and the Templar prisoners.
The Hospitallers took refuge in the castle of Belvoir but after a siege of 18 months they had to capitulate. They were allowed to retreat to the castle of Margat in the county of Tripoli. The Hospitallers were unable for three years to elect a Master to succeed Roger des Moulins. Finally they elected Garnier de Naplous when the third crusade under Richard the Lionheart and Philip August of France had been decided to retake the Holy Land. Garnier had close links with both the French and the English and if only for this reason he was a good choice. It was now obvious that the Hospitallers were now above all a military order even if the Pope as late as 1180 reminded them of their primary religious mission. By 1191 even Rome admitted that they were first of all a military order. The Statutes of Margate of 1206 legalised this orientation. They established formally the distinction, already existing among the Templars, between the Knights, who had to be of noble origin, and the Sergeants at Arms and the serving brethren who came from the middle class. Slowly but surely the knights took over the power from the priests in the Hospital. From 1262 the mastership was reserved to the knights and from 1270 they hold also most of the top positions. Acre was taken back by Richard the Lionheart in 1192 and became the capital of the kingdom of Jerusalem. This kingdom consisted only of the coastal cities. The Hospitallers had their home base in the North and they did not move from Margate. However a few years later they moved their headquarters to Acre that was now the most important city in the region. Here they had a beautiful church and the Hospital was the largest one after that of Jerusalem. They were dominating the city since the middle of the 12th century. The pilgrims’ lodging, started in 1230, was immense too. When Acre became the royal capital the need of space in the Hospital increased and the knights had to leave it and find a lodging outside in a house known as the “Auberge”. The brethren’style of life was substantial without luxury. The Order placed more emphasis on charity that on austerity. (j)
The Templars and the Hospitallers were equally useful in the military defence of the Holy Land but their continuous quarrels helped the decline and fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Emperor Frederick II became King of Jerusalem in 1225 due to his marriage to Queen Yolanda and their son Conrad inherited the title at his birth. Frederick was the Regent until Conrad came of age in 1243. However his emissary to the Holy Land, Ricardo Filangieri, was prevented to enter Acre by the regime barons. Acre was in a complete anarchy. The Hospitallers agreed to support the King and led Filangieri to Acre in 1242. But the plot was discovered and the Hospital was besieged by the barons supported by the Templars. The Hospitaller Master, Vieille-Brioude led an army from Margat to attack the besiegers and it took six months and the death of Vieille- Brioude to stop the civil war. This was the end of the Royalist who lost Tyre, their last city. Other clashes took place between the Templars and the Hospitallers over public policy and discordant rights. They lasted until 1258 when an agreement was negotiated between the two orders. Not only the fighting stopped but they agreed to support each other against the Saracens. The treaty of 1229 that gave back Jerusalem to Frederick II was not accepted by the Hospital. This was in line with the Church that condemned the agreement and the absence of real guaranty against the Moslems taking Jerusalem back again. However the Hospitallers took back their old possessions, helped and sheltered again the pilgrims but they kept their capital in Margat. In 1244 the city was taken by the Turks. The Saracens menaced the cities of the interior but the coastal forts remained safe linked by boats to Italy. Acre with 40,000 inhabitants, its palaces and 40 beautiful churches was the main city of the kingdom but the confusion was reigning as 17 jurisdictions were in use. It was also a very rich city surrounded by poverty stricken Moslem towns.
The crown of Jerusalem was inherited by the King of Cyprus but ten years later Charles of Anjou challenged him and took Acre. In 1286 King Henry of Portugal, 15 year old, became the King of Jerusalem and was feasted by the Hospitallers always true to their royalist feelings. In 1289 Tripoli fell to the Saracens and was destroyed. Acre was besieged by the Egyptians in April 1291. The presence of too many authorities did not help and the Saracens entered the city on 18 of May 1291. Both the Templars and the Hospitallers fought as much as they could but to no avail. The Master of the Hospitallers, Jean de Villiers, wounded was taken to Cyprus by ship. The city fell on the 28 of may 1291. All the other Christian coastal strongholds fell one after the other and the last piece of land was lost in 1302. (j)
When the first crusaders took Jerusalem Godfrey of Bouillon became chief of the government but he refused to be named King as he said that in such a place this title was reserved to Christ. His successor had not such reservations and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was created. To the north Raymond, count of Toulouse, created the fief of Tripoli. Other crusader states included Antioch and the County of Edessa. These states aimed to created a military block capable of resisting to the Moslem pressure. The resources to do this were never available and this explains why the Templars and the Hospitallers were drawn in the military field. These orders were able to attract able, disciplined and dedicated men from Europe and the kingdom was not. The Hospitallers received first the newly fortified town of Bethgibelin together with ten surrounding villages. They were asked to take Ascalon. This happened in 1153. In 1142/44 Count Raymond entrusted the Hospitallers with the defence of the eastern frontier and for this they were given five castles: Mardabech, Lac, Felice, Chateau Bosquée and Le Crac des Chevaliers. Crac was the greatest and strongest castle of the Knights of St John and was at the same time their main military and political centre. After the fall of Jerusalem Crac was reinforced under the supervision of the best experts in frontier defence. Moreover the Hospitallers under Gilbert d’Assailly acquired at least thirteen other castles. The bigger one was Belvoir in Galilee bought in 1168 and, immediately, rebuilt. It looked for many miles over the Jordan valley and the sea of Galilée as well as on the mountains of Gilead and Golan. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 Belvoir was the only castle, with Tyre, to resist for 18 months to the Moslem attacks before surrendering at the end of 1188. The kingdom of Jerusalem had been lost but in the North the Hospitallers were still very strong. Beside Crac they had recently bought the castle of Margat. Saladin attacked them in 1188 but without success. They fortified even more both Crac and Margat making them more or less impossible to take. Crac could accommodate up to two thousand soldiers. However in the 13th century there was never more that 300 Hospitallers but they controlled many more local fighting men.
It is said that Crac and Margat had provision for 5 years. Food was produced locally and it is thought that both castles controlled and supported a population of about ten thousand. Later on a chapel and a palace were built in Crac. In 1255 the Hospitallers received the fortified monastery of Mount Thabor near Belvoir as well as a lot of land. In this way they were again controlling a large part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The main castles were always protected by many smaller ones acting as watch towers. Margat was not as strong as Crac but it was also magnificent. With it, when it was bought in 1186, came the town of Valenia, three abbeys and nineteen villages. Being on the coast made the communications with Tripoli easy. It became the Order’s Headquarters in 1187 and survived until 1285. After 1191 the nobles, tired of the battles against the Moslems, moved in large number to the safety of Cyprus conquered that year by Richard the Lionheart. Their military duties had to be taken over by the military orders who became the main defence elements of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 13th century. The Order of St John bought land in Arsur in 1261 four years before the Moslem attacked and took it. This lost was of capital importance to the Hospitallers who had 80 to 90 killed and 180 taken prisoners. That was more that half the Order’s fighting strength in the Holy Land. The following year, in 1266, the Templars were similarly beaten at Saphet and, again, the Hospitallers lost a battle at Caroublier and 45 Brothers were killed. Crac and Margat resisted the attack in 1269 but with such lost that when the Bibars attacked again in 1271 there was not enough soldiers to resist anymore. On 8 April 1271 Crac capitulated and the remaining Brothers withdrew to Tripoli. The Hospitallers were left with Margat only to loose it in 1285. Tripoli fell in 1289 and by 1291 the Kingdom of Jerusalem did not exist anymore. (j)