At the beginning their main activity was the protection of the pilgrims going to the Holy Land. This was their initial and only objective as Gregory IX said in his bull of 1238. This meant, in particular, the protection of the road from Jaffa to Césarée. This was an everyday job involving frequent fighting.
Their first recorded battle was however in Portugal. In September 1132 they defended Grayana and the Marche and for this they received the castle of Barbara from the Count Ermengaud d’Urgell. Liberating Spain and Portugal of the Moslems was considered as important as taking back the Holy Land. The first crusade to free these countries started in Toulouse in 1064 and aimed to free Barcelona. The Templar military story at the beginning involved mainly Spain. They received their first fort, Calatrava, between 1126 and 1130. When the King of Spain, Alphonse d’Aragon died in 1134, having no heir, he left Spain to the Templars, the Hospitallers as well as to the Chaplains of the Holy Sepulchre. The Templars refused feeling that their first vocation was in the Holy Land. However they had large estates in the peninsula. The Queen of Portugal gave them the castle of Soure. They also received the forest of Cera and there they founded the towns of Radin, Ega and Coimbra. In Spain they received many castles and forts such as Monzon and Montjoie following their participation in the war against the Moslems. Their first known battle in the Holy Land was in 1138 and it was a defeat. Robert de Craon took Tequoa from the Turks but they came back in strength and took back the town killing most people. These Turks d’Ascalon were always attacking pilgrims on the Jaffa to Jerusalem and the Jerusalem to Hebron roads. The Templars cleared these roads and made them safe around the middle of the 12th century. They received the red cross to attach above the heart on their white cloak in 1147 from Pope Eugene III. It was supposed to act as a shield so that they would not escape in front of the Moslems. They soon had the opportunity to show their worth to the King of France. The French army went inside the Pisidie canyon on 6 January 1148 and was more or less exterminated by the Turks. Only the determination of the Templar Knights under Everard des Barres saved what was left of the army. Everard des Barres became Master after the death of Robert de Craon but he abdicated to live a contemplative life in the Abbey of Citeaux where he died in 1174. He was succeeded by Bernard de Tremelay. In 1153 Baldwin III, King of Jerusalem, decided to put the siege before Ascalon a strong place held by the Turks. The Templars and the Hospitallers were with the King’s army. When a breach was made in the enemy defence Bernard de Tremelay and his soldiers blocked it and did not allow the other to enter. This allowed the Turks to counter attack and all the Templars including their Master were killed. Finally Ascalon was taken 19 August 1153. In about 1168 Amaury now King of Jerusalem, although he had an alliance treaty with the Egyptians, decided to attack them. The Hospitallers decided to join him but the Templars, under their Master Bertrand de Blanquefort, refused on the base that this would break the agreement and induce an alliance between Egypt and Syria. The Kingdom of Jerusalem could only survive if Syria and Egypt did not collaborate. This attack prompted Egypt and Syria to negotiate a new alliance and this helped the end of Jerusalem as foreseen by the Templars. (r)
Moreover, and due to many fortunate circumstances, Saladin became the head of both Egypt and Syria in 1183. King Amaury died of typhus in 1174 and his heir, Baldwin IV was 13 years old and ill with leper. At that time they were strong disagreements between the Templars and Amaury. His death avoided their solution. Baldwin IV with the Templars’ help defeated Saladin at Montgisard in 1177. However he died in 1185, 24 years old without direct heir. Before dying he nominated regent the Count of Tripoli Raymond III who, unfortunately, was in very bad terms with the Master of the Templars, Gérard de Ridefort. The power was to be taken by his half sister Sybille whose husband Guy de Lusignan was not liked. This Master joined force with Lusignan and led the kingdom to his fall. Renaud de Chatillon who owned land in Transgiordania attacked an Egyptian caravan despite that a truce had been negotiated. As a result Saladin invaded Giordania with a big army and informed Raymond de Tripoli of his intention to attack Acre as a revenge. Raymond let Saladin’s troops go through Galilee. However Gérard de Ridefort attacked Saladin at Casal Robert and most of his men were killed. He was one of the few to escape. Saladin took Nazareth and then besieged Tiberiade in 1187. Raymond de Tripoli who owned Tiberiade joined the King Lusignan’ s army at Séphorie near Nazareth. Gérard de Ridefort convinced the King Lusignan to attack Saladin although they had fewer men and no water. The army left Séphorie on 3 July 1187 but did not succeed to reach the water well by the evening and had to make camp in difficult conditions on the mont of Hattin. They were soon surrounded by Saladin’s army. Raymond de Tripoli succeeded to escape but the whole army was defeated on 4 July. The King of Jerusalem was taken prisoner. Renaud de Chatillon was beheaded as well as all the Templars and the Hospitallers. Gérard de Ridefort not only was not killed but he was freed by Saladin. Later on he ordered the surrender of Gaza and all the forts near by even if elsewhere such things did not occur. He urged the people of Ascalon to surrender too but they did not listen and the siege lasted 6 weeks. Soon it was the turn of Jerusalem that surrendered after a difficult battle. However the Europeans remained in the Middle East for more than one century but only in a small piece of land along the sea where they built strong forts in which the military Orders had the opportunity to show their worth. The resistance started at Tyr where some reinforcements under the Marquis Conrad of Montferrat landed on the peninsula 10 days after the defeat of Hattin. (r)
With the arrivals of new troops headed by the kings of France and England the crusaders were ready to take back Acre. The Templars 18 months after the death of Gérard de Ridefort in 1189 elected a new Master, Robert de Sablé. They acquired Cyprus that Richard the Lion Heart had taken from the Byzantines. But they were badly received by the population that besieged them in their castle in Nicosia (5 April 1192) and finally it was given to Guy de Lusignan. The new King of Jerusalem was Conrad of Montferrat but Jerusalem was never to be conquered again. The Templars fought with Richard the Lion Heart against Saladin. In 1193 Robert de Sablé died and was succeeded by Gilbert Erail who had been a candidate against Gérard de Ridefort and who was a master of Provence, Spain and Europe. Saladin died in 1193. In 1204 the King of Jerusalem, Amaury de Lusignan, recovered the territory of Sidon in the North and Lydda and Ramla in the South. However the survival of the kingdom was not certain. In 1218 the crusaders fortified Cesaree and built the Chatel-Pélerin fort at Athlit and entrusted it to the Templars. In 1219 the Templars helped the King of Jerusalem, Jean de Brienne, to attack Egypt and to take Damiette. The Moslems offered to give back Palestine to the King of Jerusalem if he left Egypt. Due to lack of a clear decision the proposal was abandoned. The Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen negotiated a settlement with Egypt that led to the Treaty of Jaffa of 1229 that gave back Sidon and Toron to the crusaders. In principle Jerusalem was also given back but with many exceptions like the Omar and Al-Aqsa Mosques, the Templum Domini and the Templum Solomonis. The Templars opposed this treaty with all their strength. Moreover the walls could not be changed and this allowed the Saracens to plunder it at will. Only the Teutonic Knights agreed completely with the Emperor. Frederick became on his own will the new King of Jerusalem but the Pope Legate did not recognise him. He attacked the Templars at Acre but finally he was obliged by a popular insurrection to leave the Holy Land on 1 May 1229. The real effect of the actions of Frederick II was to create some friction between the military orders. The Teutonic Knights had been founded in 1198 (although the organisation existed since 1190). It was known as the “German Hospital”. It was a strictly German order. The relations between the Templars and the St John Hospital of Jerusalem deteriorated as the last one was less hostile to Frederick II. In addition the presence in the Holy Land of the German Emperor led to anarchy and civil war in Cyprus and Palestine as well. (r)
In 1238 Templars and Hospitallers were fighting for the possession of two wind mills. In 1241 the Templars attacked the Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. The last followers of Frederick II were finally expelled from Cyprus, Syria and Palestine in 1243. Due to their alliance with the Sultan of Damascus the Templars were able to occupy again their houses in Jerusalem and to fortify them when, at the request of Egyptian Sultans, Jerusalem was attacked and plundered by the Khwarismiens. The Holy Grounds were destroyed in 1244. Later the Templar Master, Armand de Périgord was killed near Gaza in an open ground battle with these Turkish fighters. Jerusalem was definitively lost and the Western army nearly completely destroyed. The Templars lost 312 knights on a total of 348. The Kingdom of Jerusalem seemed near its end. The army and the three military orders had lost most of their men. What was really stopping the West to send some reinforcement was the continuous fight between Frederick II, nominal head of Jerusalem, excommunicated by the Church, in permanent fight with the Pope and mistrusted by the Christians of Syria and Palestine and the other western temporal and spiritual leaders. He had made a strong alliance with the Egyptian Sultan that had taken Damascus in 1245. In these conditions it was not possible anymore to play on the Moslem divisions. The Templars asked to buy back their brother prisoners but the Sultan Aiyub accepted only Frederick as an intermediary. Moreover the Sultan refused the truce offered by the Pope Innocent IV. In 1244 Louis IX became a Templars. In 1247 the Sultan Aiyub took Tiberiade and Ascalon. However the Pope deposited Frederick and nominated Head of Jerusalem Henry, king of Cyprus. After some long preparation Louis IX took back Damiette in 1249. He waited in this town the end of the inundation’s. This allowed the Egyptians to regroup their forces. In the following battle of al-Mansura the Templars played their part unwillingly. King Louis IX’s brother, Robert d’Artois, attacked the Egyptian camp near al-Mansura and then the town itself in February 1250. It was a complete defeat, the soldiers and the Templars present were lost and Robert d’Artois was killed. Louis IX saved the main army but it was stuck in march land and they tried to retreat but were made prisoner one day before arriving at Damiette. The Templar Master, Guillaume de Sonnac was among the dead.
The King of France, Saint Louis, ordered the Templars to close their alliance with Damascus. It was the beginning of the end of their independence that had given them their reputation of arrogance and insubordination. When saint Louis sailed back to France on 25 April 1254 he had rebuilt the fortifications of Césarée, Jaffa and Sidon but above he had imposed his authority on the military orders. A 10 year truce followed. (r)
The commercial rivalry between the Italian cities of Genoa, Pisa and Venice generated bloody battles in the towns occupied by the Europeans in the Holy Land. In the war of Saint-Sabas Genoa was allied to the Hospitallers while Venice and Pisa were helped by the Templars. Despite the intervention of the Pope Alexander IV the war went on in 1258 weakening in the process the kingdom of Jerusalem or what was left of it. The war ended only in 1270 when Pisa and Venice submitted to the injunction of Saint Louis. In this deteriorated climate Acre was taken by the Moslems. The end would have come earlier if it had not been for the fear of the Mongols by the Moslems. The Sultan Baibars, head of Egypt, had taken Alep and Damascus. He then took in succession Césarée, Saphet, Jaffa, Beaufort and Antioche (1265-1268). A second crusade by Saint Louis stopped the conquests but after, in 1271, Baibars took Chatel-Blanc from the Templars and the Crac des Chevaliers from the Hospitallers. Another 10 year truce followed but the Europeans were not able to reorganise themselves and in 1288 the Sultan Qalaoun took Tripoli and his successor attacked Saint-Jean-d’Acre. All the military orders participated in the battle: the Templars led by their Master Guillaume de Beaujeu, the Hospitallers led by Jean de Villiers as well as the King of Cyprus, Henry II, also King of Jerusalem since 1286. However the Egyptians were too strong. The resistance lasted two months from the 5 April to the 28 May 1291. The Templars tried to go out to burn the Egyptian war machines by they failed. The final assault started on 18 May. Guillaume de Beaujeu was deadly wounded and Jean de Villers was also badly hurt. The Templar Convent was the last defence left. Their occupants saw the few boats leaving for Cyprus with the few survivors. They fought to the last men and the battle finished 28 May with the Convent collapsing on the Templars and the attacking Egyptians. Tyr, Sidon and Tortose were abandoned without fighting. The last place to fall was the island of Rouad in front of Tortose held by the Templars until 1303.