Several Orders of Knights were founded in the Holy Land at the end of the eleventh centry. Amongst these, the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar are the most famous. Their foundations were a response to events that were occurring in the Middle East and in particular the Holy Land at the time. To understand why this was it is useful to understand the background to the events that led to their creations.
The Crusades Begin
AD 638: The Muslims captured Jerusalem in 638 and the city became ruled by the Islamic religion.
1095 : A delegation led by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus visited Pope Urban II to raise the problems he was having fighting the Muslims in the East. Pope Urban removed the excommunication that had been placed on the Emperor by Pope Gregory and promised to help. The Pope was well aware that the knights in Europe needed a common goal to prevent them fighting each other and a war in the East was one such goal. At the Council of Clermont Pope Urban II called for the European Christians to travel to the Holy Land and claim Jerusalem in the name of the Christian Church. The Crusades had begun.
The Peoples' Crussade and the First Crusade
1096 : Several groups of Christians heeded Urban's request and travelled to the Holy Land to claim Jerusalem back from the Muslims. One of these groups was led by a man called Peter the Hermit who banded together an army of ordinary people. This crusade was known as the 'People's Crusade'. The army of people were untrained when it came to fighting and they were poorly equipped to travel such a large distance and to survive in the hot climate. Because they had embarked on their Crusade without enough provisions these people attacked and looted the towns they passed and many of them died before the army had reached the East. What was left of the army reached Constantinople and were welcomed by the Emperor Comnenus. He advised the pilgrims to wait for better equipped knights but they were eager to continue. The Crusade ended in failure at Civetot (Anatolia) where they were attacked and massacred by the Muslims.
1099 : The next crusade, now known as the 'First Crusade', began when several, more professional, groups of crusaders travelled to the Middle East. One of the armies was led by Raymond, Count of Toulouse. Another army was led jointly by Godfrey Bouillon and his younger Baldwin. A third army was led by the Italian Bohemond of Taranto and a fourth army was led jointly by Robert of Normandy, William the Conqueror's son, and Stephen of Blois, who was married to one of William's daughters. The joint armies of the First Crusade stormed the city of Jerusalem and killed a large number of people without mercy.
Pilgrimages to the Holy Land
For many Christians a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was an important part of their lives. Even before the fall of Jerusalem they travelled from all over Europe to reach the Holy City. Many pilgrims were attacked and killed as they made their way across the Middle East, and those who managed to reach Jerusalem were often starving, weak and poor.
The Knights Hospitaller
A group of monks led by Gerard, a knight from Provence, set up a hospital to attend to the needy pilgrims. This hospital was named after St. John the Compassionate, a Patriarch of Alexandria. The monks who worked in the hospital lived under a strict rule and accepted no luxuries. The order of monks became known as the Knights Hospitaller. The Hospitallers were able to run their affairs from donations given to them by travellers or others who just wanted to support their work. After Jerusalem was captured the new rulers recognised the good work that the monks did and granted them land so that they could have a steady income.
The Knights Templar
Inspired by the success of the Knights Hospitaller, a knight from Burgundy called Hugh de Payens, along with a hand full of other like-minded knights, formed a group to assist the pilgrims. Their purpose was to guide and protect the pilgrims on the dangerous roads to Jerusalem where bands of robbers frequently attacked, robbed and killed the unwary travellers.