Odo de St. Amand, the eighth Master of the Temple

byRobertí de Tyre


THIS article is the first of many I hope to write about Templars in history, with an end to better educate people and help them see the individual members of the order for what they really are --simple men trying to live to an ideal made for them by St. Bernard de Clairvaux, while trying to balance these ideas with the realities of warfare in the Kingdom of Outremer. Iíd welcome any commentary or suggestions.


ODO de St. Amand was among the first of the Masters of the Temple to be elected from among the native French of Outremer. The records of him show that he was a member of the middle nobility, who held minor fiefs from the King of Jerusalem, and later, served as Kingdom Marshal, Castellan of Jerusalem and Butler between 1156 and 1164. He was an ambassador to Constantinople from 1165-67, and was the kingís candidate for Master of the Temple (in many ways, like Thomas Becket was made Chancellor of England) in 1173, and, according to Malcolm Barberís The New Knighthood, wasnít even a member of the Order in 1169.

 But, like with Becket, the plan backfired, and Odoís tenure as Master of the Temple was a time of strife, when the Order in Outremer was torn between its independence and the will of the Crown. What needs to be remembered about Master Odo is this; he was a staunch defender of the rights and privileges the Templars won from the Holy See, and would ad- here to those rights to the letter. 

The first incident in which the needs of the Order went contrary to the needs of the Kingdom occurred in the year 1170, during the reign of Amalric I, King of Outremer. Amalric was a ruthless, ambitious, greedy ruler who, nonetheless, made for a strong king. The Templars, as was previously stated, lent de St. Amand to the king as his butler. Amalric was so pleased with the service rendered by St. Amand that he asked, (and got) permission to send him to Constantinople as his ambassador to the Byzantine Court, to arrange a marriage and alliance with the Emperor Manuel Comnenus. Upon the resignation of Philip de Milly, the seventh Master of the Temple, the Order elected de St. Amand. But if Amalric expected Master Odo to follow his bidding without question, he was to be sadly mistaken.

 The Assassins, a fanatical Shiite sect of Islam, kept sway over the Middle East through political murder. The Syrian branch of this sect was headed by Sheikh Rashid ed-Din Sinan, known to the Latin Christians as the Old Man of the Mountain, so called because of their fortress of Aluh-amut in the Nosairi mountains of Syria.

 Sinan sent ambassadors to Amalric, claiming that he and his entire sect would convert to Christianity if they would agree to an alliance against Nur ed-Din, the Syrian Sunni leader. All they asked was that the annual tribute the Templars demanded of his people living near the Templar castle of Tortosa be ended. Amalric readily agreed, thrilled that he would have available to him a fierce counter to Nur ed-Din. Master Odo, however, disagreed.

 As the Assassin ambassadors were returning to their mountain fastness, a squad of Templar knights commanded by a scarred, one-eyed knight named Walter de Mesnil set them upon. The ambassadors and their party were slaughtered. When King Amalric heard of this cavalier disregard of his royal authority he sent Master Odo a scathing message demanding that de Mesnil be handed over to him for punishment and imprisonment. Master Odoís reply was that the king had no authority over any Templar, and that if he had a complaint, he could send de Mesnil to Rome to be judged by the Pope.

 The king replied by storming Sidon, where Walter de Mesnil was being held for safekeeping, and personally arrested him. He was imprisoned in the royal dungeons, never to be seen again. In another instance where Amalric wanted to invade Egypt (while he was bound by a treaty) the Templars refused to join him. The Templars were proven right when the crusader forces were defeated, but this still caused further enmity between the Order and the king.

 The last straw came when the Templars were placed in charge of the cave-fortress of Suet. The fortress was attacked in 1174 and the Templar garrison of twelve knights and a few sergeants surrendered. The king, learning of this, found the knights and hanged them. He then had Archdeacon William of Tyre (a staunch enemy of Master Odo) to draft a letter to the Pope, demanding that the order be disbanded, and that the Templars were no longer welcome in his kingdom. However the letter was never sent, for on 11 July 1174, Amalric died due to the ravages of dysentery and his doctorís treatments by bleeding. Also dead in 1174 was Nur ed-Din, which made way for a new ruler, Malik an-Nasr Salah ed-Din Yu-suf, known to the crusaders as Saladin.

The next king of Outremer was Baldwin IV (known as the Leper King). His bravery was exemplary, particularly considering the battle with his illness. In 1177, he reached the age of majority at 16, and in November, received his first challenge from the Muslims. Saladin attacked the city of Ascalon, and left a token force of soldiers to besiege it. Thus freed, Saladin took the remainder of his army and sped for his true objective--Jerusalem.

 King Baldwin managed to get a message to Master Odo to come to his aid, and the combined forces of Baldwin and the Templars easily overcame the Muslim besiegers. Hard riding allowed them to overtake Saladinís forces, catching them in disarray and taking them completely by surprise. Nearly the entire Muslim force was killed, and Saladin only escaped by using a racing-camel. The Templars and de St. Amand were at the height of their prestige. It was not bound to last.

 On 10 April, 1179 Saladin sent his nephew into the field as a reconnaissance force prior to invasion. They caught the crusader army led by King Baldwin near the town of Banyas and caused a complete rout. With the crusaders swept away, Saladin kept up the pressure by raiding the County of Galilee and Lebanon, pillaging and burning the region.

 Baldwin regrouped, and learned Saladinís nephew was raiding up the coast. He sent part of his forces to attack the Muslims between the Litani and Jordan Rivers, at a place called Marj Ayun, or the Valley of the Springs. He then dispatched the Templars toward the Jordan.

 King Baldwin didnít count on what Master Odo would do next, because they sighted the Muslim force and immediately attacked, without coordinating with Baldwin. Baldwin was also unaware that Saladin was shadowing both segments of the crusader army. Saladin counterattacked and drove the fleeing Templars toward Baldwin. Soon the entire crusader army was in full retreat, with Baldwin barely escaping with his household knights. Most of the force was not as lucky, being killed or captured. Master Odo de St. Amand was among the prisoners.

 Saladin received ransom for the captured crusader leaders, but knew that the Templar Rule forbade ransoming a Templar for anything more than his belt and sword, so he tried to arrange a negotiated prisoner exchange. De St. Amand would be released in exchange for Saladinís nephew. Master Odo stubbornly refused, too proud to concede that a Paynim prince was equal in worth to the Master of the Temple. His stubbornness was to be his undoing, and he died in a Damascus dungeon in 1180.

 Holy Writ tells us that pride goeth before a fall. This is a lesson that the Templars were in bad need of learning under de St. Amand. The Templars came under heavy criticism for their reckless behavior at Marj Ayun. This, coupled with their poor relationship with King Amalric and the now Archbishop William of Tyre led to a backlash against the Order. This led to a letter of reprimand sent by Pope Alexander III in 1179. The Templars under de St. Amand clearly were seen as overstepping those privileges granted them under Omni Datum Optimum.

Thus chastened, the Order was to elect a more conciliatory Master, the story of whom, I will relate in a future issue.