Friday, June 24, 2016

The Temple's Dirty Dozens

Fighting over a shield wall rather than between the shields

There are too many holes in the history of the original Knights Templar aka “The Temple” to account for their combat effectiveness or of their operations planning and training.  We have detailed instruction in the Rule for the order, but those do not deal with combat operations, and given the theoretical time usage of the Rule, there would be not enough time to train for the operations they were so good at.

There are records of the details of the training of Byzantine troops which, to the modern eye, are consistent with training rigor required for combat excellence.  That must include individual and collective tasks, plus those of command and control.  Just the formation of shield walls, and the opening of them to allow cavalry to make passages of line out and in return, is the highest order of collective competence.  This done at Arsuf by Richard I, by the Knights that counter attacks Saladin’s encircling forces, and drove him from the field.

There is also a popular perception that the Templars were uptight and religious today emulated with pomp and circumstance of which I have enjoyed.  But as a combat veteran and long serving solder of 33 years, those don’t fit.  The Anal Retentive is the default standing army preferred personality type, but which in combat tend to freeze in indecision or stick to a stupid one regardless.  Likewise the default Anal Retentive is obsessed with neatness, while the original Templars were filthy in accordance with the notion that filthy is faithful piety.   Something that many monks followed.

It was a matter of pride and practice that the garb of the Templars were hand repaired and often tattered and torn.  Yet the complaints against them was often that they were arrogant and offensive to others.  Such is the manner of elite troops forever more.

Likewise there is a popular notion that the Temple was religiously fanatic in accordance with (Catholic) doctrine.  As a matter of fact, Cathars were welcome. The last we hear of the order after the burning is of Cathars in possession of important artifacts of the order.

The first real clue as to the nature of the knights real makeup is found in St Bernard’s presentation in which he condemns the disreputable nature of those who are about to turn their lives around. 

Praise of the New Knighthood
Liber ad milites Templi : De laude novae militae
Chapter 2

What then, O knights, is this monstrous error and what this unbearable urge which bids you fight with such pomp and labor, and all to no purpose except death and sin? You cover your horses with silk, and plume your armor with I know not what sort of rags; you paint your shields and your saddles; you adorn your bits and spurs with gold and silver and precious stones, and then in all this glory you rush to your ruin with fearful wrath and fearless folly. Are these the trappings of a warrior or are they not rather the trinkets of a woman? Do you think the swords of your foes will be turned back by your gold, spare your jewels or be unable to pierce your silks?

As you yourselves have often certainly experienced, a warrior especially needs these three things--he must guard his person with strength, shrewdness and care; he must be free in his movements, and he must be quick to draw his sword. Then why do you blind yourselves with effeminate locks and trip yourselves up with long and full tunics, burying your tender, delicate hands in big cumbersome sleeves? Above all, there is that terrible insecurity of conscience, in spite of all your armor, since you have dared to undertake such a dangerous business on such slight and frivolous grounds. What else is the cause of wars and the root of disputes among you, except unreasonable flashes of anger, the thirst for empty glory, or the hankering after some earthly possessions? It certainly is not safe to kill or to be killed for such causes as these.

The recruits here addressed are being dressed down for their lethal egotism and in view of the Popes desire for a Peace of God to cut down on rampant petty warfare.  St Bernard established the desired goals of the “New Knighthood’ in Chapters 3 and 4 of his treatise.

CHAPTER 3 - On the new knighthood

. But the knights of Christ may safely fight the battles of their Lord, fearing neither sin if they smite the enemy, nor danger at their own death; since to inflict death or to die for Christ is no sin, but rather, an abundant claim to glory. In the first case one gains for Christ, and in the second one gains Christ himself. The Lord freely accepts the death of the foe who has offended him, and yet more freely gives himself for the consolation of his fallen knight.

 The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and die yet more confidently, for he serves Christ when he strikes, and serves himself when he falls. Neither does he bear the sword in vain, for he is God's minister, for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of the good. If he kills an evildoer, he is not a mankiller, but, if I may so put it, a killer of evil. He is evidently the avenger of Christ towards evildoers and he is rightly considered a defender of Christians. Should he be killed himself, we know that he has not perished, but has come safely into port. When he inflicts death it is to Christ's profit, and when he suffers death, it is for his own gain. The Christian glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ is glorified; while the death of the Christian gives occasion for the King to show his liberality in the rewarding of his knight. In the one case the just shall rejoice when he sees justice done, and in the other man shall say, truly there is a reward for the just; truly it is God who judges the earth.

 I do not mean to say that the pagans are to be slaughtered when there is any other way to prevent them from harassing and persecuting the faithful, but only that it now seems better to destroy them than that the rod of sinners be lifted over the lot of the just, and the righteous perhaps put forth their hands unto iniquity.

In addition to the details in  Liber ad milites Templi : De laude novae militae, the Rule of the order addresses behaviors in detail to keep order in the close confines in collective life of the Brotherhood.

There is reference to meetings of the knights of the order in their commanderies in which only knights were to attend.  Given the amount of time necessary for training and planning for an active military force,  I suspect that these  had a military  and political orientation.  The training should have involved war gaming, staff coordination, and exercise in specific techniques.

Changing spear from spear point up to out for fighting over the shield wall

There remains the question of field exercises which are absolutely necessary for collective training, as well as drills for mounted and massed formations.  In addition to fighting mounted and dismounted as needed, the Temple was used as advisors like Special Forces to train and lead formations of otherwise less capable forces. 

Since the Temple fought in consistent fashion, a consistent doctrine should have been available for use in coordinating the effectiveness of the forces.  No documents have been surfaced to date that indicate what they said, but the content can be partly deduced here and there.  This doctrine would have been treated as classified. 

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