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Knights Templar 18th Grand Master: Guillaume de Sonnac

Guillaume de Sonnac

Guillaume de Sonnac was born to a French noble family around 1200, in the Rouergue region.  He joined the Knights Templar, becoming Preceptor of Aquitaine, and arrived in the Holy Land in 1247.

He found the Order of the Knights Templar in tatters.  Armand de Perigord had been taken prisoner at the “Battle of La Forbie” in 1244.  Richard de Burres had taken over as Grand Master of the Order.  Sonnac got himself elected as Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar from 1247, thus replacing Richard de Bures.

Sonnac’s tenure was to be a violent one, Christian forces had lost bases in Tiberias, Mount Taber, Belvoir and Ascalon.  Which called for a new campaign from King Louis IX of France, who landed at Limassol, Cyprus on 17th September 1248.  Sonnac sailed from Acre to meet him and discuss preparations.  Sonnac advised the French King, he had an envoy from the Sultan, offering a peace deal… the King refused any peace deal, for he wanted a military campaign

On the 5th June 1249, the French Crusader army combined with Sonnac and his Templar Knights landed in Egypt.  They targeted Damietta, just as the Fifth Crusade had years earlier.  Fighting on the Egyptian beaches was heavy and the King fought in waist-high water alongside the troops.  After a prolonged battle, Muslims were forced to retreat leaving the city almost undefended.  The city had been captured.

Sonnac’s next engagement was at the “Battle of Mansurah” for the city containing the area’s defensive force, the last obstacle for central Egypt.  The Muslims had been protected by the high rising Nile, but on the 8th February 1250, local Bedouin showed them where to cross in safety.  Sonnac, Robert of Antois and William II leader of the English troops launched an assault on Muslim forces without the main Frankish army.  Taken by surprise, Egyptians retreated from the riverbank into the city, and Count Artois gave.

Three commanders charged into Mansurah with tired forces, and were drawn into heavy fighting.  Sonnac seeing they were surrounded on all sides, refused to surrender, and the Templars fought to the very last man.  Earl Longespee was killed in battle as was Count Artois.  Sonnac’s escape from the city would make him a famous templar warrior, he who was a man of diplomacy.  With heavy wounds fought through Egyptian forces and out of the city where he found the Frankish army.  He refused rest but accepted medical treatment for his wounds, then returned to the battle pushing back the Muslim forces.

Christian forces were under constant attack by Muslim forces and Sonnac joined the Frankish charge to meet the enemy face on.  He fought along the riverbank until he was hacked down by Muslims and died on the 11th April 1250.

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