A study of the Tenth Master of the Temple

By Robertí de Tyre

 IN ORDER TO understand the disastrous fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to Saladin at the Battle of Hattin on 4 July 1187, one must understand the dynamics that drove the kingdom at the time. One of the chief driving forces of this downfall was a very militant Royalist Party led by the Military Orders, the Lord of Outrejordain and a church that believed in the invincibility of the Crusader host. One of the most militant and aggressive of the Royalist Party was Master Gerard de Ridefort.

 What we know of Gerard de Ridefort is that he came to the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the ill-fated Second Crusade, preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and was part of the Flemish contingent. When the French troops departed at the end of this crusade Gerard chose to remain behind. As a younger son, he had nothing to keep him in his native Flanders, so he took service with Count Raymond III of Tripoli. Gerard hoped to be given the next available fief. Upon the death of William Dorel in 1180, Gerard expected Raymond to give him in marriage the sole heiress, Lucia of Botrun, along with her vast holdings.

According to Malcomb Barberís The New Knighthood, Raymond gave the Lady Lucia to Plivain, a wealthy merchant from Pisa, in exchange for the ladyís weight in gold. Her weight is recorded as being "ten stone", or one-hundred forty pounds. According to the source, Lucia went on the scale and the gold went into Raymondís coffers. Gerard joined the Templars in disgust, seeing no other chance for advancement in Outremer. Unfortunately for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Gerard bore a vehement hatred for Count Raymond for the rest of his life, and this grudge was to have a disastrous impact on the Kingdom in the future.

 De Ridefortís rise in the Order of the Temple was meteoric. Approximately 1183, he became Seneschal of the Order, second only to the Master of the Temple, Arnold deTorroga. Two years later, he himself rose to the office of Master of the Temple. During his tenure, events moved quickly for the Kingdom. Sadly, Master Gerard played a pivotal role in the downfall of the Kingdom.

 The year 1185 was a year of factional polarization in the Kingdom of Outremer. In March, King Baldwin IV, known as the Leper King of Jerusalem, finally succumbed to his illness. Foresighted enough to put in writing his wishes on the matter of succession, he designated his nephew Baldwin V, called "Baudoinet" as his heir. Raymond III of Tripoli was chosen as Regent until Baudoinetís majority. Should Baudoinet die before his majority or without issue, the succession was to be decided between the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Kings of England and France.

 However, Baldwin IVís wishes were ignored. During a palace coup, an alliance of Alice de Cortenay, the queen mother; Princess Sybilla, Baldwinís sister, Lord Raymond de Chatillon, the Lord of Kerak and Outrejordain and the Templars, seized the city of Jerusalem. Princess Sybilla was crowned Queen of Jerusalem. She then placed the crown on the head of her husband, Guy de Lusignan, a landless adventurer. Gerard de Ridefort was heard to have shouted, "This repays for the marriage of Botrun!"

 Raymond III of Tripoli, the former regent, rebelled openly against the new king, and in the winter of 1186-1187 (at the urging of Master Gerard), King Guy harried Count Raymond, until he felt forced to ally with the Sultan of Egypt, Saladin. Gerard saw this as further cause to denounce Raymond as a traitor to the Crown. Most of the other barons of the Kingdom disagreed, and compelled King Guy to agree to arbitration to settle the dispute.

 An embassy from King Guy was dispatched to negotiate, including Lord Balian de Ibelin, one of the most powerful and respected of his nobles, as well as the Archbishop of Tyre and the Masters of the Military Orders. The embassy set off on 29 April 1187. However, Balian remembered an errand, and promised to catch up with the party on the way to Tiberius, Raymondís chief city.

 Meanwhile, while Balian was away, the party got word of a reconnaissance in force, sent by Saladin and commanded by his son, Al-Adfal. Count Raymond, bound by his alliance, had to allow it, but stipulated they remain for but a single day and no pillage be allowed. Gerard was incensed, and ordered Jacques de Mailly, the Marshal of the Order, to summon the ninety knights from the Templar castle at Caco, and, along with the forty secular knights from the Nazareth garrison, went in search of the Muslim host. They found the Muslim formation near the Springs of Cresson, and learned the scouting force numbered five thousand.

Jacques de Mailly, along with the Master of the Hospital, told Master Gerard that it would be mad to attack a force that outnumbered them by fifty-seven to one, but he goaded the knights with accusations of cowardice. Trading insults, the one-hundred twenty-three knights rode to the attack. The astonished Muslim recon force could not believe their luck. By the time it was over, only three Templar knights, including De Ridefort, managed to cut their way out of the melee. Master Gerardís ears must have stung at the memory of Jacques de Maillyís comment, "I will die in battle as a brave man should--it is you who will flee like a traitor!"

 Count Raymond of Tripoli found himself shamed into making peace with King Guy de Lu- signan due to the disaster of Cresson. The kingdom needed to show a united front against Saladin. A series of raids into the kingdom escalated into the invasion everyone feared would come, and King Guy called for the ban and arriere-ban, the mustering of every able-bodied male of the Kingdom to defend it. The troops of Crusaders mustered at the Springs of Saffuriya, a well-watered oasis with plenty of grazing for the horses. Its position was key in the defense of the kingdom, and if they stayed at the Springs, they could effectively checkmate the forces of Saladin.

 Scouts rode in, reporting an attack on Tiberius. The city had fallen, but the castle still held out. The wife of Count Raymond was there, along with his children. Master Gerard and Raymond de Chatillon urged to press the attack. Count Raymond pointed out that the way to the city was through a waterless plain, and that the army would risk defeat if it went to Tiberius. "Tiberius is my city!" Raymond declared, "My wife and children are there. But better to lose all of these rather than the Kingdom!" His counsel prevailed.

 Later that evening, Gerard went to the kingís tent, declaring that the Templars would sell their mantles rather than let a Christian city go so easily. He dragged up all of the old arguments, calling Raymond a traitor and a coward, unwilling to save his own family. These arguments won Guy over (not a difficult task, as King Guy was notoriously indecisive), and the order to march was given.

The Hattin Campaign took place in the heat of July, and it is written that old men of ninety years couldnít remember such a hot summer. The Crusaders line of march took them over harsh, rocky desert countryside, with few watering holes, and those dried in the heat. Even though the distance was only fifteen miles, about a dayís march, it was fifteen miles spent in Hell.

As Saladinís advance scouts reported the Crusader army approach, he could not believe the good fortune sent by Allah. He ordered horse-archers into the saddle, and these troops fired thousands of arrows into the slowly marching Crusader ranks, delaying their march even further.  

After eight hours of constant attack, the Christian forces were almost mad with heat and thirst. The Templars, holding the rearguard, were waning in number and nearly separated from the main body by the ferocity of the attack. King Guy ordered a halt for the evening, and when Raymond got the news, he cried, "Alas, Lord God! The Kingdom is finished, we are all dead men!"

 The Christian host spent an uneasy night under the watchful eyes of Saladinís army. Kept awake by the sounds of sudden attacks, which never came, the sounds of comrades being sniped at by arrows and the singing from the Muslim camp, they were in poor morale. Just before sunrise, Saladin set fire to the scrub-brush surrounding the camp, causing choking black smoke to hurt already parched throats.

 The Crusaders camped on a pair of hills called the Horns of Hattin, within site of Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee. Tiberius was inaccessible to the crusaders for it was located a couple of hundred feet down a cliff face. With an enemy army between them and relief, they could see and smell water, but couldnít even reach it. Their position was made even more perilous by the desertion of their infantry, who refused to march further. They watched as Muslim cavalry slaughtered the infantry as they gathered on one of the Horns, and knew they were trapped, with no escape.

 By the end of the battle, most of the nobility of the Kingdom of Outremer were captured. All of the surviving Templars (230 brothers, according to Brother Terricusí letter to the Templars in England) and the surviving Hospitallers were beheaded, except Master Gerard de Ridefort. He was kept alive to secure the surrender of several Templar castles during Saladinís sweep of the Kingdom. We wonder if de Ridefort found that the high cost the kingdom paid was worth it.


Tiberius fell shortly thereafter, the Countess Eschiva personally giving the keys to Saladin. Her husband Raymond escaped the battle, cutting his way out before the final push to take the Horns of Hattin, and died, it is said, of shame soon after. With Saladinís victories, castles and towns surrendered to him and received generous terms until, ultimately, Jerusalem herself fell. The only major city remaining to the crusaders was Tyre, where Lord Conrad de Montferrat held firm.

In September of 1187, Master de Ridefort was freed, after securing the surrender of the Templar castle of Gaza. He is next heard of as being part of the muster of troops assembled by the now freed King Guy of Lusignan as he prepared for his siege of Acre. As Guy was now a widower, his right to the throne was in question. This may explain the attack on Acre, as a way to stabilize a shaky grip on the throne. The planning of the attack, however, was pure de Ridefort. Little did they realize that the siege would last three long years, cost countless lives and, ultimately cost de Ridefort his life.

 He was killed on 4 October 1189. The sources vary as to how he died. Ambroseís LíEstoire de Eracles Empereur et la Conqueste de la Terre de Outremer states he died in battle, refusing to leave the field for fear of being called a coward. Ibn al-Athir states that he was captured and executed. Saladin likely considered de Ridefort too dangerous to keep alive, particularly after releasing him and extracting from him a vow never to war against Islam again. De Ridefort clearly believed (and councelled Guy de Lusignan) that a vow to an infidel Saracen didnít count.

 Looking at de Ridefort from the viewpoint of the Twentieth Century, we see a man at first focused on personal advancement, no matter what the cost. When he joined the Templars, a different person emerges, a person driven by revenge against a noble who wronged him. Again we observe he didnít count the cost of his bellicose actions, not even the cost of a kingdom. At the end of his life, we see a man driven by dreams of glorious martyrdom and a fear that he would be seen as a coward. Gerard de Ridefort could be seen as a stubborn, arrogant man---or as a man completely insane. The reader may draw their own conclusions, but Gerard de Ridefort will remain an enigma to historians for years to come.