The Templars and Their Legislation

Chapter 18
The Templars and Their Legislation

Jonathan Riley-Smith

Research into the activities of the Templars in the Levant is hampered by the disappearance of their central archive. We know much less than we would like about their estates and the location of their houses in the East, the make-up of the central convent, the names of commanders and castellans in the Levant, and the powers of the grand masters. Rudolf Hiestand, the latest to write on the matter, suggested that the archive was probably transferred to the Hospitallers on Cyprus and was lost with the island in 1571.1 For the following reasons I am inclined to believe that it was in Europe at least until the fifteenth century.

There survive only seven of its original charters. Six of them are in the conventual archive of the Hospital, now in Valletta, and one is in Madrid, to which it came from the Hospitaller priory of Navarre. Five of these charters could have reached the Hospitallers before 1291,2 as could a further six which are now lost but were calendared in Provence in 1741,3 because they could well have been included in bundles of deeds relating to properties the Hospital gained in agreements made with the Templars in Palestine and Syria. On the other hand, two of the surviving originals seem to have had no association with the Hospitallers before 12914 and papal letters which only the Templars in the Levant would have found useful were copied into a Hospitaller bullarium which was put together in France in the fifteenth century;5 two others were entered into a sixteenth-century collection in Poitiers, which may have been an inventory of the Hospitallers’ local archive in Paris.6 Another important charter, the confirmation in 1157 of the gift of the castle of Tortosa in Syria, was copied in Spain in 1377 for the Order of Montesa, which had taken over Templar property in Aragon together with the local archive and may have assumed that it referred to the Iberian city of Tortosa.7

So at least some pieces from the Templars’ archive must have been in Europe in the later middle ages. After the suppression of the Templars and the transferral of their properties to the Hospitallers in the early fourteenth century, the archive, or at least part of it, must have come into Hospitaller hands in the West, because one cannot otherwise explain the odd survivals or the fact that quite a large number of papal letters relevant only to the Templars in the East were copied in France in the fifteenth century. Many religious institutions in the Holy Land, with dependencies in Europe to which their documents could be sent for safekeeping, transported their archives across the Mediterranean before Acre fell in 1291. The Teutonic Knights shipped theirs to Venice. The Hospitallers sent most of theirs to Provence, where they must have remained, because an inventory of them was made in Manosque in 1531; most were not transferred to the headquarters on Malta until the seventeenth century.8 It seems likely that the Templar conventual archive was among the caches posted back to Europe before 1291 and that a large part of it was in France for the rest of the middle ages.

At any rate it has never been found and the problems we face are compounded by the loss of most of the statutory legislation which supplemented the Rule.9 This may be related to the archive’s disappearance, but it need not be. It does not follow that copies of statutes were kept with the charters and papal letters, although the Templars were very secretive, unlike the Hospitallers who circulated their Rule and statutes so widely that even had their central archive disappeared we would still have been able to reconstruct much of their legislation.10 Some, but clearly not all, Templar law was summarized in a long supplement to the Rule, recording provisions on the role and rights of officers in the Order, entitled the Retrais, a title often given to the whole collection, and collections of establissemens (or statutes) and case law.11 The supplement’s deficiencies will be described below.

The sole legislative authority in the Temple was the master in convent; only when the master and his convent were present could chapters-general, whether summoned in the Levant or in western Europe, act as legislatures.12 Given the rarity of magistral visitations, most European chapters-general must simply have dealt with discipline, accounts and the appointment of officers.13 Of the ten copies of the Rule and ten of the Retrais (or fragments of them) which survive,14 one—Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 2649—containing a Latin Rule and supplement which is to some extent adapted to local Italian conditions, begins with the words “Gratia Spiritus sancti et consilio fratrum capituli ville Mausonii statutum est …” Dr Simonetta Cerrini proposes Masone in Piedmont for the villa Mausonii and believes that the collection should be dated to the third quarter of the twelfth century; in her favor is a reference to the responsions “we have resolved to send to Jerusalem,” which certainly suggests that it was compiled before 1187.15 Another version of the supplement, an Old French one in Barcelona, Corona de Aragón, Cartas Reales 3344, also has some local case law included in it.16 The material in these two variants would lead one to suppose that western chapters could adapt Templar custom to regional conditions, but I take it to be axiomatic that whenever they legislated in a formal manner the grand master on visitation to the west and members of his convent were present, as they were, for example, when a decree was issued at a chapter at Montpellier limiting the meat served in commanderies to one dish.17

Most Templar legislation must have been enacted in the Levantine chapters-general, for which the master and convent provided the nucleus. The sergeant commander Jean Senaud testified before the bishop of Clermont’s enquiry that he had been present at many chapters-generals overseas and that when statutes (precepta generalia) were made in these chapters the grand masters made those who held offices in that land, one of which was (Jean) himself, withdraw, although he did not know why.18

Presumably some office-holders did not rank as members of the headquarters convent and so had to retire, returning only to confirm decisions that it and the master had made. We have an early “decretum et consilium” from the master and convent dating from 1143 and involving a major issue, because it marked a reversal of policy with respect to fighting the Moors in Spain.19 References to two others are to be found in depositions made to the enquiries instituted after the Templars had been arrested in 1307. During an interrogation in Sicily a Catalan sergeant called Galcerand de Teus said that the veneration of cats was legislated for in “the Order’s ancient statutes of Damietta.” This looks like a misreading of a text in which the siege machines catti—used prominently in the siege of Damietta in 1218–1219—were mentioned, but there may also be here a garbled reference to an actual meeting of master, convent, and other brothers, assembled during the siege, probably under the newly elected grand master Pierre de Montaigu.20 The other reference comes in the testimony presented to the papal commission in Paris by Etienne de Nérac, the Franciscan guardian at Lyon, who had heard that the magister passagii, a Templar official stationed at Marseille, had written to the grand master, Jacques de Molay, just before the arrests, warning him of the impending charges and of the fact that “those statutes of the order, which were made at Chastel Pèlerin,” had already been revealed to the French government.21 But this is not much and the evidence poses more questions than it answers.

Very few meetings of Levantine chapters-general can be identified and the problems one has to face in this respect are illustrated by one of them. Four charters dating from 1262 and relating to the settlement of disputes between the military orders survive in the Hospitaller archive. Three were issued by the Templar grand master Thomas Berard, two on May 31, 1262 and the third on the following December 18; the fourth, dated December 19, was a ruling on the matter by the papal legate and other arbiters. The lists of Templar witnesses in these documents provide evidence for changes in some of the leading offices in the headquarters convent. Between May and December 1262 Guillaume de Malay, who had been lieutenant marshal, was appointed marshal. Amaury de la Roche, who was soon to be grand commander of France, was replaced as conventual grand commander by Guillermo de Montañana, who had been commander of Sidon. Bernard de Poais was replaced as commander of knights by Gérard de Broies. On the other hand Gonsalve Martin was confirmed in his office of commander of Acre and Hervey de Lyon remained turcopolier.22 Since a Templar chapter-general was supposed to give final approval to all appointments to great offices, including those of the marshal and the conventual grand commander,23 a chapter must have met between May and December 1262, but later than May, because although the commanders of Sidon, Safad, Chastel Pèlerin, and Beaufort witnessed the agreements of that month there are no references in them to the provincial commanders of Tripoli and Antioch, whose presence helped to define that a chapter was general rather than conventual.24

There would have been a need for a chapter-general met in 1262. Two years before, the threat to the kingdom of Jerusalem from the Mongols had caused near panic. On 16 June 1260 a Templar messenger, who reached London bringing letters from the grand master addressed to the king of England and the commander of the London Temple, had broken all records, taking only 13 weeks on the journey from Acre and only one day to ride from Dover.25 By 1262 the Mongols had withdrawn from the region, although it must have been known that the Egyptian Mamluks, who had defeated them, were gearing themselves up for an assault on the Latin settlements, while the first effects of the decline in the Asiatic trade route which had kept Acre and the other Christian ports prosperous must have been beginning to bite. It is no surprise to learn that a Hospitaller chapter-general also met in September 1262. It issued 51 statutes and although it is clear that many of these had been drawn up at earlier chapters and were now being confirmed,26 this corpus contrasts starkly with the fact that no single decree of the Templar chapter-general of 1262 is known.

We are left with the Templar supplement, which purported to be a code of Templar custom and laws. Of the six surviving manuscripts containing them, or sections of them, one (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, W.132) dates from the third quarter of the thirteenth century, two (Barcelona, Corona de Aragón, Cartas Reales 3344 and Paris Bibl Nat, fr. 1977 (*)) date from the late thirteenth century, and one (Rome, Accademia dei Lincei, Cod. 44. A. 14 (*)) was compiled in c. 1300. The late manuscripts may be assumed to reflect the Retrais in their final form; and the Paris manuscript may have originated in the Holy Land.27 It has been suggested that these reveal evidence of the systematic codification in the second half of the thirteenth century, but Dr Vogel has demonstrated that this is questionable.28

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