The Hospitallers’ and Templars’ involvement in warfare on the frontiers of the British Isles in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries

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The Hospitallers’ and Templars’ involvement in warfare on the frontiers of the British Isles in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries

By Helen J. Nicholson

Ordines Militares: Yearbook for the Study of the Military Orders, Vol. 17 (2012)

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Introduction: The military religious orders’ vocation was to defend Christianity against non-Christians, not to ‹ght other Christians. Alan Forey has shown that they played little role in papally-initiated holy wars against Christians in the thirteenth century. However, there were various occasions during the thirteenth century and later in which the military religious orders became involved in warfare between Catholic Christians. Bernard Schotte has recently shown that in 1302–1303 the Templars and Hospitallers of Flanders were involved with the burghers of Flanders in warfare against the king of France, as the city of Bruges reimbursed the Templars’ and Hospitallers’ expenses in the Bruges communal army. He also demonstrated that the conŒict between the French and Flemish was depicted by individuals on both sides as a holy war. !e army which King Edward I of England led against the kingdom of Scotland in 1298 included the master of the Temple in England and the Hospitaller commander of North Wales. Adam Chapman has recently established that in 1294–1295 a Hospitaller commander was involved in military service under Edward I against the Welsh and again in 1298 against the Scots. The Hospitallers were involved in military action in Ireland from the 1270s until the Order’s dissolution in the British Isles in the sixteenth century. Given that in the twelfth century Anglo-Norman writers regularly depicted the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish as barbarians who deserved no mercy, it could be suggested that the military orders believed that they were involved in some sort of holy war against these barbarous peoples. And when King Edward I of England claimed that, having been on crusade before becoming king, he was unable to set out on crusade again because of his wars in Wales and Ireland, it could be suggested that the military orders assisted the king of England in his wars in these areas in order to – indirectly – assist his crusading cause.




In examining this problem, I will examine both published and unpublished records to establish which members of the military orders were involved in military action in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, how often and on what occasions this occurred, and their actual role. I will argue that in fact, the evidence indicates that the Templars’ and Hospitallers’ military involvement against the Welsh, the Scots and Irish was not holy war but resulted from their close working relationship with the local ruling class, to whom they were oen closely related, and with the king of England. Although in theory they were independent religious orders answerable only to the pope, in the British Isles the Templars, and particularly the Hospitallers, were increasingly secularised institutions, serving the king of England and playing important roles in royal government: as has been recently argued for the Hospitallers by Simon Phillips.

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Sharan Newman