Barracks Logo Graphic

Grand Master Profile - Gerard de Ridefort

GM 1185 - 1189

I f there ever was a Grand Master who was a controversial figure, we are talking about Gerard de Ridefort. Before he arrived in Latin Syria to seek his fortune and personal gain, he was just another French knight on the loose. While in Tripoli, he befriended both King Amaury and Raymond of Tripoli, the latter even to the extent that Raymond promised Gerard the next available good marriage. However, Raymond was forced to eat his word for lunch one day, when a very lucrative marriage deal was available for Gerard, but a merchant from Pisa arrived and promised Raymond the weight of the bride in gold. This, apparently, was more than eternal gratitude Gerard had to offer, and the lady in question went to Plivain of Pisa. Gerard was pretty disappointed at this development and left immediately for Jerusalem. While there, he was ill for some time and after that joined the Templars. I don't know whether the two events were related.

T he big break for Gerard came in 1184, when the then Grand Master Arnold de Toroga died. Gerard was elected. He had his revenge in 1186, when he sponsored the coronation of Baldwin IV's sister, Sibylla, against the wishes of Raymond and other potentates. This helped to create a dangerous rift in the leadership of the Latin Kingdom. Gerard sure knew the power of the order he commanded and he was not the easiest to be persuaded into projects that were not playing into his hands.

I n 1187 Gerard was instrumental in two disastrous military exercises, at Nazareth and Hattin. Having escaped with just his life from Hattin, Gerard set about to collect the remnants of the Order, severely diminished by the disasters, and continued upon his chosen management style. In 1188 he again was the center of a controversy when he refused to return the remaining assets paid to the Order by Henry II for penance after killing Thomas a Becket. This, to be fair, was also due to the general financial principles of the Order. And the final chapter of Gerard's life was written in 1189 when he led the Order along king Guy of Jerusalem to lay siege on Acre.

I t was August 1189, and king Guy decided that he should try and acquire Acre from the Muslims. In September the Christians successfully repelled a small Muslim army that tried to relieve the siege, and they rejoiced in this feat so much that they failed to see that Saladin was only three weeks' march away, with a substantially bigger army. When he arrived, the Templars took to holding the left wing of the Christian army under their command. For some time, the battle was a draw, but the Christians saw that they could not prevail, and started to discuss retreating. This was unacceptable for Gerard, and for a while he took on the Muslim army by himself, as the only Christian refusing to retreat. This gave some amusement to the baffled Muslims, who, after letting Gerard fight them for a second or two, captured him and brought him to Saladin. He was not amused, but rather had Gerard decapitated on the spot, thus ending the life of a foolhardy Templar Grand Master.

T he legacy of Gerard was not only a severely decimated Templar Order, but also the basis for accusations against the Order in years to come. His haughty actions were seen as examples of wrongdoings of the Order that brought harm to the Latin Kingdom in whole, and certainly some of that was true, given the meaning of Templars to the security of the Franks' Holy Land. I personally wonder about his character; was he just lusting for glory, or was his instinct for self-protection somewhat deficient in the light of the silly attacks at Nazareth and Acre. If only I knew.

Armory Bailey Barracks Chapel Dungeon Library Pub

Portcullis | Quick Tour | Search the Preceptory