Secret Societies of the Middle Ages - Thomas Keightly

B6. Provinces of the Order

Eastern Provinces—Jerusalem—Houses of this Province—Tripolis—Antioch—Cyprus—Western Provinces—Portugal—Castile and Leon—Aragon—France and Auvergne—Normandy—Aquitaine—Provence—England—Germany—Upper and Central Italy—Apulia and Sicily.

We have thus seen what a number of persons of all ranks were more or less intimately connected with the order of the Temple, and how powerful its influence must have been throughout the Christian world. To enable the reader to form some conception of its wealth and power, we shall, previous to explaining its system of internal regulation, give a view of its possessions in various countries.

The extensive possessions of the order of the Temple, in Asia and in Europe, were divided into provinces, each containing numerous preceptories or temple-houses, and each under its appointed governor. These provinces may be classified under the heads of Eastern and Western.

The eastern provinces of the order were,—

I. Jerusalem.—This province was always regarded as the ruling one; the chief seat and capital of the order. The Master and chapter resided here as long as the Holy City was in the hands of the Christians. This being the province which was first established, its regulations and organization served as a model for all others. Its provincial Master, or, as he was styled, the Preceptor of the Land and Kingdom of Jerusalem, took precedence of all others of the same rank.

The bailiwicks, or commanderies, in this province, were,—

  1. The Temple of Jerusalem, the cradle of the order, and the original residence of the Master and the chapter.
  2. Chateau Pelerin, or the Pilgrim's Castle, renowned in the history of the crusades. This castle was built by the Templars in 1217, in order that it might be their chief seat after the loss of Jerusalem. It was situated on the east side of Mount Carmel, which runs out into the sea between Caipha and Caesarea. The Templars had long had a tower at a pass of this mountain, called Destruction, or the Tower of the Pass, for the defence of pilgrims against the robbers who lurked in the gorges of the mountains. They were aided in building the castle, which was also designed to be a defence to Acre, by Walter D'Avesnes and by the German knights and pilgrims who were at that time in the Holy Land, and hence, perhaps, they called it Chateau Pelerin. The Cardinal de Vitry, who was at that time bishop of Acre, thus describes it. It was built on the promontory, three sides of which were washed by the sea. As they were sinking the foundation, they came to two walls of ancient masonry, and to some springs of remarkably pure water; they also found a quantity of ancient coins with unknown inscriptions, given, as the bishop piously deems, by God to his beloved sons and warriors, to alleviate the toil and expense which they were at. The place had probably been fortified in former times by the Jews or the Romans. The builders raised two huge towers of large masses of rock on the landward side, each 100 feet high, and 74 broad; these were united by a lofty wall, broad enough at its summit for an armed knight to stand at his ease upon it. It had a parapet and battlements, with steps leading up to them. In the space within this wall were a chapel, a palace, and several houses, with fish-ponds, salt-works, woods, meads, gardens, and vineyards. Lying at a distance of six miles from Mount Tabor, it commanded the interjacent plain and the sea-coast to Acre. There the Master and the chapter took up their final abode, after having dwelt from 1118 to 1187 at Jerusalem, from 1187 to 1191 at Antioch, and from this last year till 1217 at Acre. "The chief use," says D'Vitry, "of this edifice is, that the whole chapter of the Templars, withdrawn from the sinful city of Acre, which is full of all impurity, will reside under the protection of this castle till the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt." A prophecy never to be fulfilled! On the fall of Acre, in 1291, Chateau Pelerin was abandoned by the knights, and its walls were levelled by the infidels.
  3. The castle of Safat, at the foot of Mount Tabor. This strong castle was taken by Saladin. It was demolished in 1220, by Coradin, but afterwards rebuilt by the Templars, who then held it till 1266, when they lost it finally.
  4. The temple at Acre, a remarkably strong building, the last place taken in the capture of that town.
  5. The hill-fort, Dok, between Bethel and Jericho.
  6. Faba, the ancient Aphek, not far from Tyre, in the territory of the ancient tribe of Ashur.
  7. Some small castles near Acre, mentioned in the history of the war with Saladin, such as La Cave, Marle, Citerne-rouge, Castel-blanc, La Sommellerie du Temple.
  8. The house at Gaza.
  9. The castle of Jacob's-ford, at the Jordan, built in 1178 by King Baldwin IV., to check the incursions of the roving Arabs. When Saladin took this castle, he treated the Templars whom he found in it with great cruelty.
  10. The house at Jaffa.
  11. The castle of Assur, near this town.
  12. Gerinum parvum.
  13. The castle of Beaufort, near Sidon, purchased by the order, in 1260, from Julian, the lord of that town.

We may observe that most of these abodes of the Templars were strong castles and fortresses. It was only by means of such that possession could be retained of a country like Palestine, subject to the constant inroads of the Turks and Saracens. The Templars possessed, besides these strongholds, large farms and tracts of land, of which, though their names are unknown, frequent mention is made in the history of the order.

II. Tripolis.—The principal houses of the order in this province were at Tripolis itself; Tortosa, the ancient Antaradus; Castel-blanc, in the same neighbourhood; Laodicea, Tyre, Sidon, and Berytus.

III. Antioch.—Of this province but little is known. There was a house at Aleppo; and the jurisdiction of the prior probably extended into Armenia, where the order had estates to the value of 20,000 byzants.

IV. Cyprus.—As long as the Templars maintained their footing on the continent, Cyprus, it would appear, formed no distinct province, but belonged either to that of Tripolis or of Antioch. At the time when Richard, King of England, made the conquest of this island, he sold the sovereignty of it for 25,000 marks of silver to the Templars, who had already extensive possessions in it. The following year, with the consent of the order, who were, of course, reimbursed, he transferred the dominion to Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem. On the capture of Acre the chief seat of the order was fixed at Limesal, also called Limissa and Nemosia, in this island, which town, having an excellent harbour, they strongly fortified. They had also a house at Nicosia, and one at the ancient Paphos, named Gastira, and, at the same place, the impregnable castle of Colossa.

Some idea of the value of the possessions of the Templars in Cyprus may be formed from the circumstance, that when, in 1316, after the suppression of the order, the Pope directed the Bishop of Limissa to transfer their property there to the Hospitallers, there were found, in the house in that town, 26,000 byzants of coined money, and silver plate to the value of 1,500 marks. As the last Master, when setting out for France ten years before, had carried with him the treasure of the order, this property must have been accumulated during that time out of the surplus revenue of the possessions of the order in the island.

The Western provinces of the order were—

I. Portugal.—So early as the year 1130 (a strong proof of the rapid increase of the order) Galdin Paez, the first provincial master of the Temple in Portugal, built the castles of Tomar, Monsento, and Idanna. The Templars had also settlements at Castromarin, Almural, and Langrovia. Tomar was the residence of the great-prior.

II. Castile and Leon.—In this province the possessions of the order were so extensive as to form twenty-four bailiwicks in Castile alone. It is needless to enumerate their names.


III. Aragon.—In this province, which abounded in castles, several belonged to the Templars; and the bailiwick of Majorca, where they were also settled, was under the jurisdiction of the great-prior of Aragon.

It is to be observed that most of the castles possessed by the order in Spain and Portugal were on the borders of the Moorish territory. Some of these had been given to the Templars as the inveterate foes of the infidels; others had been conquered by them from the Moors.

France, where the possessions of the order were so considerable, was divided into four provinces, namely—

IV. France and Auvergne, including Flanders and the Netherlands.

V. Normandy.

VI. Aquitaine, or Poitou.

VII. Provence.

The residences of the great-priors of these four provinces were, for France, the capacious and stately Temple at Paris, which was, as we are informed by Matthew Paris, large and roomy enough to contain an army; for Normandy, as is supposed, La ville Dieu en la Montagne; for Poitou, the Temple at Poitiers; for Provence, that at Montpellier.

VIII. England.—The province of England included Scotland and Ireland. Though each of these two last kingdoms had its own great-prior, they were subordinate to the great-prior of England, who resided at the Temple of London.

The principal bailiwicks of England were—1. London; 2. Kent; 3. Warwick; 4. Waesdone; 5. Lincoln; 6. Lindsey; 7. Bolingbroke; 8. Widine; 9. Agerstone; 10. York. In these were seventeen preceptories; and the number of churches, houses, farms, mills, etc., possessed by the order was very considerable.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly


The chief seat of the order in Scotland appears to have been Blancradox. Its possessions were not extensive in that poor and turbulent country; and in Ireland the Templars seem to have been few, and confined to the Pale. We hear of but three of their houses in that country—namely, Glaukhorp, in the diocese of Dublin; Wilbride, in that of Ferns; and Siewerk, in that of Kildare.

IX. Germany.—It is difficult to ascertain how the order was regulated in Germany, where its possessions were very extensive. We hear of three great-priors: those of Upper Germany, of Brandenburg, and of Bohemia and Moravia; one of whom, but it cannot be determined which, had probably authority over the others. Though the Templars got lands in Germany as early as the year 1130, their acquisitions were not large in that country till the thirteenth century. Poland was included in the province of Germany. Great-prior in Alemania and Slavia was a usual title of the great-prior of Germany. Though the possessions of the Templars in Hungary were very considerable, there are no grounds for supposing that it formed a separate province: it was probably subject to the great-prior of Germany.

X. Upper and Central Italy.—There was no town of any importance in this part of the Italian peninsula in which the Templars had not a house. The principal was that on the Aventine Hill at Rome, in which the great-prior resided. Its church still remains, and is called Il Priorato, or the Priory.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly


XI. Apulia and Sicily.—The possessions of the Templars in Sicily were very considerable. They had houses and lands at Syracuse, Palermo, Trapani, Butera, Lentini, etc.; all of which were dependent on the principal house, which was in Messina. The great-prior resided either at Messina or at Benevento in Apulia. Possibly the seat was removed to this last place, after the Emperor Frederic II. had seized so much of the property of the order in Sicily.

In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, the order had no possessions whatever. Though the people of these countries took some share in the crusades, and were, therefore, not deficient in religious zeal, their poor and little-known lands offered no strong inducements to the avarice or ambition of the knights of the Temple, and they never sought a settlement in them.

We thus see that, with the exception of the northern kingdoms, there was no part of Europe in which the order of the Temple was not established. Everywhere they had churches, chapels, tithes, farms, villages, mills, rights of pasturage, of fishing, of venery, and of wood. They had also, in many places, the right of holding annual fairs, which were managed, and the tolls received, either by some of the brethren of the nearest houses or by their donates and servants. The number of their preceptories is, by the most moderate computation, rated at 9,000; and the annual income of the order at about six millions sterling—an enormous sum for those times! Masters of such a revenue, descended from the noblest houses of Christendom, uniting in their persons the most esteemed secular and religious characters, regarded as the chosen champions of Christ, and the flower of Christian knights, it was not possible for the Templars, in such lax times as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to escape falling into the vices of extravagant luxury and overweening pride. Nor are we to wonder at their becoming objects of jealousy and aversion to both the clergy and the laity, and exciting the fears and the cupidity of an avaricious and faithless prince.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly