The loss of the County of Edessa to the powerful Selkjuk leader Zengi in 1144 shocked Western Europe and triggered a call for a new crusade. Pope Eugenius made the official appeal, while St. Bernard became the most passionate, articulate and effective preacher of this new crusade. Although St. Bernard succeeded in recruiting the German King, Conrad of Hohenstaufen, from the start the driving force behind this crusade was the young French King, Louis VII. Louis had in childhood been destined for the Church and only became heir to the crown of France after his elder brother’s death. Throughout his life, he was noted for his great piety, and the crusade appealed to him greatly. After an impassioned speech by St. Bernard at Vézélay on Palm Sunday 1147, enough nobles (including the Duchess of Aquitaine, wife of King Louis) had been recruited to make the crusade viable.
One of Louis’ envoys was the Master of the Temple in France (not to be confused with the Grand Master.) This was a certain Everard de Barres, already a close confidante of King Louis, and commander of 130 Templar Knights and probably equal numbers of sergeants and support elements for a total of about 300 Templars. These Templars were presumably all recent recruits from France, but they had had time to undergo training and indoctrination. From the start of the Second Crusade, they appear to have assumed their now traditional role of protecting pilgrims ― in this case armed pilgrims and their very large baggage train including the Queen of France and many other ladies.
After crossing the Bosporus in late October, the French crusaders received alarming reports of the destruction of the German crusader ― rumors that soon proved all too true. The German has been all but annihilated near Dorylaeum (the site of a great crusader victory in the First Crusade). Allegedly only one in five of the German crusaders escaped the slaughter. Conrad von Hohenstaufen preferred to blame “betrayal” by the Greeks rather than take responsibility for his own poor leadership and failure to send out scouts. It was the message of “betrayal” that he gave King Louis.
Shaken by his experience, King Louis effectively turned the command of his entire army over to the Templars! Everard de Barres organized the crusader force into units of 50, each under the command of a single Templar. The Templars established an order of march and insisted that it be maintained. They also gave orders for the infantry to protect the horse during attacks and that ensured that no counter attacks were undertaken until ordered and properly coordinated and led. These were simple things, but they had evidently not been instituted prior the Templars taking command ― in sharp contrast to the highly disciplined army of Richard the Lionheart half a century later.
Yet discipline is not substitute for food and fodder. The Turks employed a form of “scorched earth” policy to deny the advancing crusaders both. Soon the crusaders were eating their horses ― except for the Templars, who had husbanded their supplies and could still feed both themselves and their mounts. This enabled the Templars to disguise the weakness of the entire force ― and beat off four more attacks by the Turks before the crusaders finally reached the Byzantine controlled port of Adalia. (Howarth, p.88)
Here King Louis VII ignominiously (and unlike his descendant and namesake King Louis IX) promptly abandoned his army, and took ship for Antioch with his wife and his leading nobles. The common crusaders were left to die of plague and hunger or sell themselves into Turkish slavery in order to survive.
The rest of the Second Crusade was equally disastrous. At Acre on June 24, 1148 a joint decision was taken by the leaders of the crusade including Conrad of Hohenstaufen (who had sailed from Constantinople directly to the Holy Land and joined the crusader council), King Louis and King Baldwin of Jerusalem to attack Damascus. The choice seems odd since the Sultan of Damascus at this time had been comparatively friendly and was a joint enemy of Zengi’s successor Nur ad-Din. Although the Masters of both the Temple and the Hospital were present at this war council, their opinions are not known, and their voices were not yet powerful enough to be decisive.
The failure of the Second Crusade had serious repercussions. It proved that “Frankish” knights were not invulnerable and Frankish armies not invincible. This greatly bolstered confidence among the Turks. In Western Europe it proved that God was not always on the side of the crusaders. But since God had to be on their side, the search for scape goats was on at once. The most obvious scapegoat was the Greeks. Both Conrad and Louis felt they had been “betrayed” ― misled at best or intentionally led into ambushes at worst. Another scapegoat were the “Poulains” ― the barons and lords of the Kingdom of Jerusalem ― who seemed to the crusaders too ready and willing to make truces with their Saracen foes.
Yet as Barber points out it is ominous that one German chronicler pinned the blame for the disaster at Damascus on the Templars. The Templars, he claimed, had accepted a massive bribe from the Saracens to give secret aid to the besieged (Barber, p. 69). It is notable that this allegation came only from German sources and not from French. King Louis returned to France full of praise for the Templars, and their reputation there continued to grow. The Templars never really put down strong roots in the German speaking world and within half a century, the Germans would found their own Order, the Deutsche Ritter Orden. Yet it would be a French king who destroyed the Templars.
The Templars are present to a greater or lesser extent in all my novels set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem: