Image: The seal of Amalric I of Jerusalem.
This article is an edited transcript of The Templars with Dan Jones on Dan Snow’s History Hit, first broadcast 11 September 2017. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.
The Knights Templar were effectively answerable only to the pope which meant that they didn’t pay very many taxes, that they weren’t under the authority of local bishops or archbishops, and that they could own property and place themselves in multiple jurisdictions without being truly answerable to the local king or lord or whoever was ruling a particular area.
This posed jurisdiction-related questions and meant that the Templars ran the risk of coming into conflict with other political players of the day.
Their relationships with other knightly orders and rulers and governments was, in short, really variable. Over time, the relations between the Templars and, let’s say, the kings of Jerusalem moved up and down depending on the character, personality and goals of Templar masters and the kings.
One good example is that of Amalric I, a king of Jerusalem in the mid-12th century who had a very rocky relationship with the Templars.This was because, on the one hand, he recognised that they were an extremely necessary part of the make-up of the crusader kingdom. They manned castles, they defended pilgrims, they served in his armies. If he wanted to go down and fight in Egypt, he would take the Templars with him.
On the other hand, however, the Templars caused Amalric I a lot of problems because they weren’t technically answerable to his authority and they were in some sense rogue agents.
Amalric I and the Assassins
At one point in his reign, Amalric decided that he was going to negotiate with the Assassins and try to broker a peace deal with them. The Assassins were a Nizari Shiite sect that was based in the mountains, not far from the county of Tripoli, and which specialised in spectacular public murder. They were more or less a terrorist organisation.
The Templars were in some sense rogue agents.
The Assassins wouldn’t touch the Templars because they realised the futility of murdering members of what was effectively a deathless corporation. If you killed a Templar it was like whack-a-mole – another one would spring up and take his place. So the Assassins were paying tribute to the Templars to be left alone.
But then Almaric, as king of Jerusalem, became interested in a peace deal with the Assassins. A peace deal between the Assassins and the king of Jerusalem didn’t suit the Templars because it would mean the end of the tributes that the Assassins were paying to them. So they unilaterally decided to murder the Assassin envoy and scupper the deal, which they did.
The Assassins specialised in spectacular public murder and were more or less a terrorist organisation.
King Almaric, who was, understandably, absolutely furious, found that he wasn’t really able to do very much about it. He went to the master of the Knights Templar and said, “I can’t believe you’ve done this”. And the master said, “Yes, it is a shame, isn’t it? I know what. I’ll send the guy who did it to Rome for judgment before the pope”.
He was essentially just sticking two fingers up at the king of Jerusalem and saying, “We might be here in your kingdom but your so-called authority means nothing to us and we’ll pursue our own policies and you’d better fit in with them”. So the Templars were quite good at making enemies.