Knights Templar: The Fall of Acre

Acre in Holy Land

Acre had long been the most important sea port, which was well fortified, built on a peninsula and protected by the sea, with walls dotted with twelve towers.

From 1191, was the headquarters of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller.  A strong medieval force of Teutonic Knights and Knights Templar were also located in the sea-port.

On the 28th May 1291, the Order of the Knights Templar, surrendered their fortified city of Acre to the Mamlukes, which had been under constant siege.

The loss of Acre was more than a defeat, for it had been captured by Richard the Lionheart on the 12th July 1191, and become home to Templars and Hospitallers.

Losing Acre marked the end of an era, they had lost their headquarters in the east, and the Templar Grand Master; Theobaud Gaudin in battle.  William de Beaujeu next elected Grand Master of the Knights Templar, from Sidon, the Templar Fortress some sixty miles north of Acre.

Beaujeu’s new Grand Master of the Order, left the island for Cyprus, and sought out assistance for his brethren.  As much as he tried, no help came, and on the 12th July, they were forced to abandon Acre and join fellow comrades on Cyprus.  On the 14th July, Christian forces left Acre by sea in the dead of night bound for Cyprus.

Pope Nicholas IV, with a heavy heart, heard of the Christian defeat at Acre, and sought a plan should be drawn up, to take back the Holy Land.  Sadly, before anything could be put in place, Pope Nicholas IV died.

Knights Templar 22nd Grand Master: Thibaud Gaudin

Thibaud Gaudin

Thibaud Gaudin was born in 1229, to French nobility and entered the Order of the Knights Templar pre 1260.

In 1279, Gaudin fulfilled the function of any a Commander of the land of Jerusalem.  For in 1291 he rode at the side of Guillaume de Beaujeu in defence of the city of Acre, under attack from Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil.  Guillaume de Beaujeu 21st Grand Master of the Knights Templar, died in defence of Acre on the 18th May 1291.

Gaudin remained in Acre with remaining knights of the order, and non-combatants, taking shelter in the temple of the Templar Fortress.  One week passed and still the Muslim forces had not gained access to Acre. Pierre de Sevry, Marshall of the Order brokered a deal, which allowed Thibaud Gaudin, the then treasurer of the order, along with possession and non-combatants and few knights leave bound by boat for Sidon.  The following day Acre fell to Muslim forces.

Upon his arrival at Sidon, Gaudin was elected as the 22nd Grand Master of the Knights Templar.

In the October of 1291, a chapter of the order met in Cyprus, at which time it was confirmed that Thibaud Gaudin was the new Grand Master, and Jacques de Molay was named Marshal, successor to Pierre de Sevry who died at Acre.  In 1292 Thibaud Gaudin died, leaving the rebuilding of the Order of the Knights Templar to his successor.

Knights Templar 21st Grand Master: Guillaume de Beaujeu

Guillaume de Beaujeu

Guillaume de Beaujeu was born in 1230, with family ties to King Louis IX, Charles of Anjou and King of Sicily.  He entered the Order of the Knights Templar in 1250, at the age of twenty, becoming Preceptor of the Province of Tripoli in 1271 and Preceptor of Pouilles in 1272.  On the 13th May 1273 Beaujeu was elected as the 21st Grand Master of the Knights Templar.

Beaujeu attended Pope Gregory X’s council in Lyons 1274 advocating professional troops should be brought in to reinforce Acre, and proposed a blockade of Egypt would weaken it automatically.

He argued that Crusaders would need to establish their own fleets so that they did not depend on the Maritime Republics of Genoa and Venice, which were only interested in making money from trading with Muslims.  Beaujeu toured European Preceptories before returning to the Holy Land.  Closeness to the Capetians compromised his position among Palestinian-Frankish barons of the Holy Land who saw him as Charles of Anjou’s agent.  War broke out over control of Sicily between Aragon and Charles of Anjou, it put an end in the eyes of Templars, all hope of relief from the west for the Holy Land had died.

By 1180 Baybars successor was General Qalawun of the Mameluk’s.  Qalawun sent forces aimed at reducing Frankish presence in the Holy Land.  Beaujeu learned the Mameluk’s planned to attack Tripoli and sent a warning messae to its citizens.  Its leaders distrusted Beaujeu, refusing to believe its contents, consequently Tripoli was captured with ease.

Beaujeu informer told him of Qalawun’s attack on Acre, and once again they took no notice.  Qalawun died on route, and his son stepped in; al-Ashraf Khalil to lead his father’s army into battle. Acre forces were severly outnumbered, yet they fought brilliantly with determination.  Beaujeu fought side by side with Templar forces as they attacked the Mameluk camp, time and time again.  Templar and Hospitalier forces defended St. Anthony’s Gate pushing Muslim forces back.  Moats filled with bodies as blood flowed, and the Mameluks pressed home their attack.  The city’s defensive towers started to crumble… Templars and Mameluks fought for possession.

Guillaume de Beaujeu rushed forth to counter attack, but was wounded and his forces pushed back and back.  It is said at one point during the battle, Beaujeu dropped his sword and walked away from the walls.  I am not running away, he spoke out loud, for I am all but dead.  He raised his arm showing the mortal wound from an arrow which had penetrated his armour. They carried him to the Templar Fortress by the sea, where he died of his wounds.  Remaining Templars battled on, but they knew the end was nigh, they would rather die on the battlefield than be taken prisoner.

Knights Templar 20th Grand Master: Thomas Berard

Thomas Berard Coat of Arms

Thomas Berard was born in the 1200’s and joined the Order of the Knights Templar.  He became the 20th Grand Master in 1256.  It was he who sent word to Europe of the threat of advancing Mongols, who had blazed their way across the Middle East.  He reported their atrocities and predicted annihilation was inevitable.  Berard presided at the time when the Mameluks under Babybars were putting pressure on the Crusader States.  Whilst based in Acre Berard heard of the fall of Antioch and that Baghras was under attack.  Unable to offer assistance, knowing the castle could not withstand such an attack, sent message; surrender and withdraw.

In 1266 large Templar fortresses were coming under attack by Egyptian Mameluks under the command of Bailbars, the Sultan of Cairo.  The Templar Fortresses of Beaufort, Gaston, Chastel Blanc and Montfort along with the city of Antioch fell.

Berard asked the Pope to send assistance, the Pope promised an Eighth Crusade, which never arrived. On the 25th March 1273 Thomas Berard died.

Knights Templar 19th Grand Master: Renaud de Vichiers

Renaud de Vichiers

Renaud de Vichiers was born in the early 1200’s and joined the Order of the Knights Templar, appointed Preceptor of Saint-Jean-d’Acre in 1240, and Master of France from 1242-1249.

He was supporter and comrade in arms to King Louis IX of France, who helped in his election as Grand Master, following the death of Guillaume de Sonnac who was killed in Egypt in 1250.

He acted as godfather to a son born to Louis.  Relations later deteriorated when Louis started to feel that the Templars had overstepped their authority, negotiating independently with Damascus.  The King decided to make an example of the Order, compelling Renaud de Vichiers to exile the Order’s new Marshall Hugues de Jouy from the Holy Land.  The King tried to curtail the Order’s independence…

In 1252, Renaud de Vichiers retired from the Order of the Knights Templar to a monastery, where he remained until his death on the 20th January 1256.

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.

Knights Templar 17th Grand Master: Richard de Bures

Knights Templar 1

With Armand de Perigord captured at the “Battle of La Forbie”  the Templar Order had no Grand Master to lead them.  So it came to pass that Richard de Bures stepped forward to become the Order’s 17th Grand Master.  He was looking after the position until a new leader could be elected.

Date of Birth:     1215

Date of Death:   1250

Nationality:        French

Grand Master:   1244-1247

Knights Templar 16th Grand Master: Armand de Perigord

Armand de Perigord

Armand de Perigord was born in 1178 to parents Helie IV Talairand and Raymonda de Turren, descendants of the Counts of Perigord.

Perigord joins the Order of the Knights Templar and soon after becomes the Master of the Province of Apulia and Sicily from 1205-1232, when he was elected as the 16th Grand Master of the Knights Templar.

In 1236, the Syrio-Cilician border is the stage for a Templar disaster.  Some 120 knights, archers and turcopoles attempt to sieze the city of Darbsak (Terbezek) in a surprise attack.  Templar forces entered by way of the lower town, but were rebelled by Ayubid soldiers from the fortress, as Cavalry from Aleppo closed upon their rear, and slaughtered them.  Less than twenty knights escaped the carnage, returning to the Templar Fortress of Baghras.

The beginning of his Grand Mastery, Perigord had to deal with much conflict, involving the three orders.  We had the Templars wanting to create an alliance with the Sultan of Damascus.  Whilst the Hospitallers and Teutonics sought an alliance with the Sultan of Cairo.

In 1239 the Baron’s Crusade led by the Count of Champagne (Theobald IV) disembarked in Acre.  These Crusaders refused advice from the Master of the Order, or from the Latin State Lords, which ended in their annihilation by Muslim forces.  Templars, Hospitaliers and Teutonics who refused to get involved in the French Crusaders madness, recovered a few survivors and offered them shelter in Acre.

Armand’s skill was the saving grace, as he managed a truce between Templars and the Sultan of Damascus.  The Hospitaliers followed the Templars by agreeing to a truce, with the Sultan of Egypt.

In 1244 Templars, Hospitaliers and Teutonic Orders reconciled their differences, joining with the Sultan of Damascus to confront the Khoresmians who had joined with the Egyptians.  They clashed at the “Battle of La Forbie” in October 1244, where Egyptians and Khoresmian forces triumphed, and hundreds of prisoners were taken to Egypt to receive their fate… death or captivity.  Among those taken prisoner was Armand de Perigord, Grand Master of the Knights Templar.  His fate was never known; execution or life in captivity!

Knights Templar 15th Grand Master: Peire de Montaigu

Peire de Montaigu

Peire de Montaigu was born in the latter years of the 1100’s and close friend of Guillaume de Chartres, the 14th Templar Grand Master who had been struck down at the Siege of Damietta, and died later of pestilence.

Montaigu had been Master of the Temple in Provence and Aragon and fought at the “Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.”  Elected as the 15th Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and brother to Garin de Montaigu, Grand Master of the Hospitallers from 1208-1228.

During the Sixth Crusade Peire, became an enemy of Emperor Frederick II who ratified Jerusalem’s return in a treaty with al-Kamil, without the seal of the Templars.

Peire had made an enemy of Frederick, and the Templar’s were suspected of plotting against Frederick, who in turn besieged them at Acre.

On the 28th January 1232, Peire de Montaigu died.

Knights Templar 14th Grand Master: Guillaume de Chartres

Guillaume de Chartres

Guillaume de Chartres was born in 1178, the son of Milo IV, Count of Bar-sur-Seine, in Champagne, France.  Guillaume joined the Order of the Knights Templar, aged sixteen at the Preceptory of Sours, near Chartres.

With the death of Philippe de Plessis in 1209, Guillaume was elected as the 14th Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar in 1210.  His first official act as Grand Master, was to assist in the crowning of Jean de Brienne as King of Jerusalem.  This was just an honorific title for de Brienne, as Saladin had controlled Jerusalem since 1187.

During his reign, Templars flourished in Spain, with victories over the Moors.  Spain was like France, with Lords and Noblemen, joining the Templar Order, and donating lands to them.

In 1217, Jean de Brienne (King of Jerusalem), Pelage (Pontifical Legate) and Andre II (king of Hungary) decided to invade Egypt by sea, starting at Damiette (NE side of the Nile Delta).  Guillaume de Chartres spoke out against this, but was obliged to follow this conquest.  The siege lasted some eighteen months, and all assaults failed.  Conflicts between Jean de Brienne the King of Jerusalem and Pelage the Pontifical Lagate over command of the army left the door open, for Muslim reinforcements to access the city.

In an attempt to hold off Muslim forces gaining access, Guillaume led the Templar army into battle, to save Christian forces.  On the 26th August, Guillaume de Chartres Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar, was struck down by Muslim forces at Damiette.  His wounds didn’t kill him, but a plague that spread through the Frankish armies left him weak.  In 1219, he died of pestilence, a consequence of being wound at Damiette.