By Matthew Bennett
Studies in Medieval History presented to R. Allen Brown, edited by Christopher Harper-Bill, Christopher J. Holdsworth and Janet L. Nelson (Boydell, 1989)
Introduction:`In the charge against both cavalry and infantry each man will ride at his opponent at full speed with the fixed determination of running him through and killing him…. In the melee, if both sides are equally determined, success depends on the handiness of the horse and the skill of the soldier as a man at arms.’ (Extract from Cavalry Training (Horsed) (1937))
No one who has heard R. Allen Brown lecture could doubt that he was once a cavalry–man. In any display of slides, usually depicting castles, his Army sword is brought into play to point out important features. Also, it has long been his contention that medieval soldiers were as professional as during any age. This brief investigation of the Old French Rule of the Knights Templar is designed to show how a well-organised medieval cavalry regiment worked. For that is what the Knights of the Order formed on campaign; up to 300 lance-armed heavy cavalrymen with all the additional personnel and logistical support such a body needs. La Regle du Temple provides an unique insight into medieval military professionalism.
It is exceptional because of its format, contents and date. As edited by Henri de Curzon the OF Rule is a compilation of the mid-thirteenth century. It predates the first vernacular translations of Vegetius by a generation. In addition, it is probable that the military instructions it contains were drawn up at least a century earlier, when the Templars first took on their (self-imposed) task of protecting the Holy Land against the infidel. It is important that it is composed in the spoken language of the brothers, because this brings us closer to their actual drills. But this is not a drill manual, although it reads like one in parts. Nor is it a military manual after the style of the De re militari or the Strategikon of Maurice, in the Roman and Byzantine tradition. If it shares the pedantry of a modern training manual, in listing the equipment each brother must have, it is for a different reason. For the Templars were monks, living in communal poverty and so must give up the luxurious trappings of their knightly caste – except for the military essentials. Monastic rule and military instructions fit uneasily together. It is significant that the original Latin Rule contains (almost) nothing of use to the practical soldier. The OF Rule, on the other hand, is the empirical product of the largely French-speaking warrior class that made up the Order. There are none of the references to classical authority so beloved of military treatises. This is its great value.
Of the Regle’s 686 articles the first seventy-two are translated from the Latin Rule adopted at the Order’s official foundation at the Council of Troyes in 1128. There follows a series of seventy-five statutes describing, in great detail, the pieces of equipment, animals and retainers that accord to all the ranks down from the Master to the brother knight. The next twenty articles describe the organisation of a campaign and the rules for conduct in camp, on the march and on the battlefield. Another thirteen statutes deal with the officers of the sergeants. There are further sections on meals, punishments and the ordering of the conventual life, before, barely half-way through, the work becomes a list of revisions or expansions of previous statutes (315ff.). The last articles deal with historical examples of infringements of the Rule and their punishments, and finally the ceremony for receiving a new brother into the Order.