Hugh de Payens

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Hugh de Payens

c. 1070
Champagne or Burgundy, France


Crusader; founder of Knights Templars

William of Tyre, "The Foundation of the Order of Knights Templars," in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook,">

"In [1118] certain noble men of knightly rank, religious men,...promised to live...without possessions, under vows of chastity [purity] and obedience. Their foremost leaders were the venerable Hugh of Payens and Geoffrey of Saint Omer."

William of Tyre, "The Foundation of the Order of Knights Templars," in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook,

Hugh (also called Hugues) de Payens was a French nobleman who fought in the Holy Land during the First Crusade (1095–99), the initial stage of what became a two-hundred-year conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East over control of Jerusalem and Palestine. Staying on after the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusader forces, Hugh and a small group of other knights, or trained soldiers of noble birth, founded a protective service that would escort pilgrims, or religious visitors, from the port city of Jaffa to Jerusalem. Given quarters in what was formerly the Temple of Solomon, built by the Jews in Jerusalem, this group of knights adopted the name of Knights Templars in 1118. Ten years later this unofficial group was made a Catholic order of military monks (religious believers) who promised to live a simple life without family and away from society. By the time of Hugh's death in 1136, the Knights Templars had become one of the strongest fighting forces in the Holy Land. The order lasted for almost two hundred years, until in 1314 it was finally disbanded, or broken up, by the French king Philip IV.

From France to Jerusalem

Not much is known of the early career of Hugh of Payens. It appears he was born to the lower nobility in the

Gerard de Martigues and the Hospitallers

Hugh de Payens' Knights Templars was not the only military order fighting in the Holy Land. Another important order, both then and now, is the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Order of Saint John. Like Hugh's Templars, the Hospitallers began with a specific function—namely, to provide assistance to the growing number of Christian pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. As early as the eleventh century there was a hospital set up in Jerusalem specifically for these western visitors, attached to the small church of Saint John. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, the master of the hospital was Gerard de Martigues (1040–1120), a former soldier or merchant from Provence, a region in France. At this time the institution was part hospital and part hospice (hotel) for pilgrims. Wounded Crusader knights were treated in this hospital after the Christians took Jerusalem. Gerard, however, saw a larger, military role for members of the religious order that ran the hospital and helped to create an order of knights whose job also included protection of Christians in the Holy Land.

In 1113 his order, the Friars of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, was recognized by Pope Paschal II, with Gerard becoming the first grand master of the order. In addition to their medical duties, the monks of this order also fought the infidels, or nonbelievers, in the Holy Land. While the Templars wore a white tunic (a knee-length slip-on top) with a red cross, the Hospitallers' uniform was a black tunic with a white cross. With the death of Gerard in 1120, rule passed to Raymond de Puy. These Knights Hospitallers—or Knights of Saint John, as they were also called—took on an increasingly military role. When Jerusalem fell to the Muslim (followers of the Islamic religion) leader Saladin (see entry) in 1187, the Hospitallers moved their base to Acre. They also developed a rivalry with the Templars that ultimately led to civil war between the two Christian orders. Their hospital work nevertheless managed to continue.

When Acre fell in 1291, these knights first moved to the island of Rhodes and later to Malta, where they became known as the Knights of Malta and, still later, as the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, the name they bear today. Their primary function in the modern world is medical; members of the order are involved in hospital and ambulance work. In their nine-hundred-year history the Hospitallers have thus come full circle back to their origins.

French region of Champagne or Burgundy. The date of his birth is not recorded. However, John J. Robinson, who has written about the Templar order in Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades, notes that Hugh was forty-eight when he became grand master of the order (1118) and that by that time he had already served in the Holy Land for twenty-two years. This would seem to set his birth in 1070 or perhaps a little later. He was known to be a very religious man. While in France, it seems that Hugh was in the service of the count of Champagne, a distant cousin. Later, this count donated lands to a young French priest to build a religious institution. This young priest was, in fact, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (see entry), a powerful speaker and writer who preached in favor of the Second Crusade (1147–49). Bernard and Hugh would later be linked as a result of the process of making the Knights Templars an official Catholic order.

Hugh was one of thousands of knights inspired by the words of Pope Urban II (see entry) during his speech to the Council of Clermont in 1095, when he called for a holy war against the Islamic forces that had taken over the holy sites in Jerusalem and Palestine. It is not known which Crusader army he fought alongside, but according to Charles G. Addison, in his online essay "Foundation of the Order of Knights Templars," Hugh "fought with great credit and renown at the siege of Jerusalem." After Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099, various principalities, or states, were carved out of the Holy Land and were ruled by the local nobility according to the European fashion. Jerusalem became known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with its first ruler, Godfrey of Bouillon (see entry), refusing to accept the title of king. Instead, he was called Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, or the tomb of Christ. Upon his death in 1100, his younger brother, Baldwin I, took the title of king and ruled the Kingdom of Jerusalem until 1118. He, in turn, was followed by Baldwin II.

Hugh Forms a Guide and Escort Service for Pilgrims

During these early years of Christian or Latin occupation of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the situation for these new settlers was not always safe and secure. Beyond those cities protected by towers and walls—Jerusalem, Acre, Antioch, and Edessa, among other Crusader holdings—the countryside was dangerous. Armed bands of Egyptians and Arabs made life difficult for those Europeans living in the region. It was also risky for pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem in order to visit the Holy Sepulchre; to Bethlehem to see where Christ was born; or to be baptized in the Jordan River and visit Nazareth, where Christ had lived. Such pilgrims were in constant danger of being attacked by these roving bands of Arabs and Egyptians.

Hugh de Payens had stayed on in Jerusalem following the end of the First Crusade. Like many knights of lesser rank, he had nothing to return to in Europe; as firstborn son, his older brother, Edmund, had taken over the lands of the Payens family. Instead, Hugh dedicated his life to serving the kings of Jerusalem. He married Catherine Saint Clair, but it is not clear if this was before or after he arrived in the Holy Land. He had three sons, one of whom entered church service in France. After his wife died, Hugh decided to live a life devoted to God. In 1118 he and several other knights decided to form an organization to help pilgrims in their visits to the Holy Land. The men included Geoffrey de Saint Omer (or Saint Aldemar), Payen de Montdidier, Archambaud de Saint Agnan, André de Montbard, Geoffrey Bisol, and two other knights known only by their first names of Rossal and Gondamer. These men all promised the patriarch, or head of the church in Jerusalem, that they would live a life of poverty, obedience, and chastity (no sexual relations). At first they were only too true to their word: the knights were so poor that Hugh and Geoffrey had just one horse between them and had to ride together. In fact, the seal, or stamp, of the order showed two knights riding a single horse.

Hugh and his men acted as unofficial escorts to pilgrims landing at the nearby port of Jaffa. They would ride with these people on their journey to Jerusalem, chasing off any attackers. So helpful did these knights prove to be that the king of Jerusalem gave them a home in al-Aqsa Mosque, near the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem, which was the original site of the Temple of Solomon of biblical fame. They took their name from these lodgings and were called the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or the Knights Templars for short. They chose Hugh as their first grand master, or leader. For nine years these men carried on their protective work. As the historian Robert Payne has noted in his book The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades, Hugh inspired his fellow "brothers" in the Templars

with the energy of chastity and obedience. No women might enter the Temple; they were not permitted to embrace any woman, not even their sisters or their mothers. A lamp burned in their dormitories all night; their breeches [pants] were tightly laced, they were never permitted to see each other naked. They were permitted no privacy, and letters addressed to individual Templars had to be read aloud in the presence of the Grand Master or chaplain. They never shaved their beards. Their Spartan [simple and strict] lives were directed toward the single end of protecting the pilgrims and the Kingdom of Jerusalem by killing the enemy.

They were easily recognized wherever they went: they wore a white knee-length top, called a tunic, with a red cross on it.

Hugh and his followers went about their work with single-minded determination. They even learned Arabic and studied the Islamic faith so that they could better understand their enemy. Because of these skills, they also made good diplomats, or middlemen, to talk with the various Muslim leaders at the request of the kings of Jerusalem. So successful were they in protecting pilgrims that soon they were given the task of defending the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, this was only after their numbers had grown. They began to attract notable, or famous, members not long after organizing. In 1120 Fulk V, the count of the French region of Anjou, became a member of the order even though he was married. He was followed in 1124 by Hugues, the count of Champagne, the cousin of Hugh de Payens. It appears that such memberships were more honorary than actual, however. These men donated money to the cause rather than lifting their swords.

The Templars Gain Recognition by the Pope

Up to this point Hugh de Payens and his men were an unofficial troop. But Hugh wanted to make his Knights Templars an official order of monks, a special order permitted to use violence against its enemies. Through the count of Champagne, Hugh was put in touch with another distant relative, Bernard of Clairvaux. It seems that the Knights Templars had strong connections in France. André de Montbard, another original member of the Knights Templars who would later become a grand master, was also related to Bernard. This powerful French priest began to push for making the Templars an officially recognized religious order. Hugh himself, accompanied by several members of the Knights Templars, left Jerusalem for Rome to meet with Pope Honorius II, who was impressed with their organization. Meanwhile, Bernard had been busy behind the scenes. He arranged a meeting, called the Council of Troyes, that was attended by important officers of the church. Here the rules of the order were established, written up by Bernard from basic suggestions provided by Hugh. These rules are contained in seventy-two chapters and deal with a variety of matters, from dress to religious practices. Most important, Bernard permitted the use of deadly force by these military monks. In the case of fighting the infidel, such killings were not considered "homicide" (killing a human) but "malicide" (killing evil).

After this meeting, Hugh and his men traveled throughout Europe to raise money to help support the Templars in their work. Hugh went to England and Scotland, where he was warmly greeted and given gold and land grants, creating Knights Templars orders in these countries. He also won new recruits to the order in Jerusalem, but only after the knight proved himself willing to take a vow of poverty and obedience. As a result of this visit to Europe, Templar houses were created in many areas, from Spain to Scotland. Adding to this newfound fame was a work by Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of the New Knighthood, which honored the life of these warriors for Christ.

In 1130 Hugh returned to the Kingdom of Jerusalem with his new recruits from France and England, where he was welcomed by King Baldwin II. When Baldwin died the following year, he was succeeded by Fulk of Anjou, who was a member of the Knights Templars and who increased their role as protectors of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Funds and land continued to come into their possession in Europe, making the order very wealthy. By the time Hugh de Payens died in 1136, the Knights Templars order was well established. The order gained more independence in the following years, becoming answerable only to the pope. During the Second Crusade (1147–49) the Templars entered a new field of activity when the French king was forced to accept a loan from the wealthy order. They soon became international bankers, launching a scheme similar to modern traveler's checks, whereby pilgrims could deposit their money in a Templar house in Europe and a coded letter would be handed over to the order upon their arrival in Jerusalem, allowing them to receive the amount they had left behind in Europe. This banking role expanded over time and eventually led to jealousy on the part of secular (nonreligious) rulers; ultimately, it led to the destruction of the Knights Templars in the early fourteenth century.

Formed as a private army and police force, the Knights Templars had many legends created about them and their time spent in the Temple of Solomon. They were supposed to have discovered secret and powerful knowledge while digging in the temple. Various legends claim that they recovered the Ark of the Covenant, the box where the Ten Commandments had been stored, or the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper and into which his blood was supposedly gathered at the Crucifixion. These legends were spread, in part, because of the secret signals and codes the Templars developed for their banking practices. In reality, however, these military monks were both feared and respected by their enemies, the Muslims of the Middle East, until the order was finally defeated in 1291 and was forced to leave the region.

For More Information


Addison, Charles G. History of the Knights Templars: The Temple Church and the Temple. Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1997.

Payne, Robert. The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000.

Read, Piers Paul. The Templars: The Dramatic History of the Knights of Templar, the Most Powerful Military Order of the Crusades. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Robinson, John J. Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades. New York: M. Evans, 1992.

Seward, Desmond. The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Web Sites

"Foundation of the Order of Knights Templars." International History Project. (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"Hugues de Payens." Templar History. (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"The Knights Templars." New Advent. (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"Military Orders: The Primitive Rule of the Templars." The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies. (accessed on June 26, 2004).

"The Templars." The Military Orders of the Crusades. (accessed on April 21, 2004).

"William of Tyre: The Foundation of the Order of Knights Templars." Internet Medieval Sourcebook. (accessed June 26, 2004).