Organisation & Recruitment of the Knights Templar

Organisation & Recruitment of the Knights Templar

Recruits to the Templars came from all over western Europe, although France was the largest single source. They were motivated by a sense of religious duty to defend Christians everywhere but especially the Holy Land and its sacred sites, as a penance for sins committed, as a means to guarantee entry into heaven, or more earthly reasons such as a search for adventure, personal gain, social promotion or simply a regular income and decent meals.

Recruits had to be free men of legitimate birth, and if they wished to become medieval knights they had, from the 13th century, to be of knightly descent. Although rare, a married man could join provided his spouse agreed. Many recruits were expected to make a significant donation on entering the order, and as debts were a no-no, the financial status of a recruit was certainly a consideration. Although some minors did join the order (sent by their parents, of course, in the hope of a useful military training for a younger son who would not inherit the family estate), most new recruits to the Templars were in their mid-20s. Sometimes recruits came late in life. An example is the great English knight Sir William Marshal (d. 1219), who, like many nobles, joined the order just before his death, left them money in his will, and so was buried in Temple Church, London where his effigy may still be seen today.

There were two ranks within the order: knights and sergeants, with the latter group including non-military personnel and laymen. Most recruits were for the second group. Indeed, the number of knights across the order was surprisingly few. There were perhaps only a few hundred full-brother Templar knights at any one time, sometimes rising to 500 knights in times of intense warfare. These knights would have been greatly outnumbered by other soldiers used by the order such as infantry (the sergeants or recruits from vassal lands) and mercenaries (especially archers), as well as squires, baggage bearers, and other non-combatants. Other members of the order included priests, craftsmen, labourers, servants, and even some women who were members of affiliated nunneries.

The order was led by the Grand Master who stood at the top of a pyramid of power. Convents were grouped into geographical regions known as priories. In troubled zones like the Levant, many convents were in castles while elsewhere they were established to control areas of land the order owned. Each convent was managed by a 'preceptor' or 'commander' and reported to the head of the priory in which his convent was situated. Letters, documents and news reports went back and forth between convents, all carrying the seal of the order - most commonly two knights on a single horse - in order to foster some unity between distant branches. Convents typically sent one-third of their revenue to the order's headquarters. The Grand Master resided in the headquarters at Jerusalem, and then Acre from 1191, and Cyprus after 1291. There he was assisted by other high-ranking officials such as the Grand Commander and Marshal along with lesser officials in charge of specific supplies such as clothing. There were occasional meetings or chapters of representatives from across the order and chapters at provincial level, too, but there seems to have been a great deal of autonomy in local convents, and only episodes of gross misconduct were ever sanctioned.