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Published in Medieval History, 1.

3 (1991) (ISSN 0960-0752), 7480

Templar attitudes towards women


Helen Nicholson
In her article on monasticism in the April issue of Medieval History, Janet Burton drew
attention to medieval male monastic hostility towards women: both women in general and
women in religious orders.1 She noted that women were considered innately wicked and
responsible both for the initial Fall of Man and for the fall from grace of many men since.
Therefore, many male religious writers of the twelfth century believed that they should not be
allowed into religious orders. This was the official viewpoint. But how far was it enforced at
the local level, in individual houses and among individuals?
While researching into attitudes towards the military religious orders2 during the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries, I came across many examples of this kind of antifeminism recorded
at the highest official level in the rules of the orders. However, I also came across rather
different attitudes at the local level and among individuals. We should also note that this
antifeminism only extended to ordinary women, sinners. Holy women, notably the Mother of
God, were revered and held in all the love and esteem which the orders official line denied to
ordinary women. This paper is a summary of my discoveries to date regarding one particular
military order, the order of the Temple, which was perhaps the greatest bastion of male
exclusivity in the religious life. The evidence is sparse, but this is always the case with the
Templars, as much material was lost after the destruction of the order in 1314. My research in
this area is still in progress, and I would welcome comments from other scholars.
The concept of a military order did not readily allow female involvement. The orders
initial role had been the protection of pilgrims travelling to the holy places in the kingdom of
Jerusalem. The strength of their forces consisted of cavalry, mounted knights and
men-at-arms. Women could not be knights, and, although they sometimes fought on foot - for
instance, during the defence of a fortress - they did not fight on horseback. Muslim writers
record the presence of women among the crusader infantry,3 while Christian writers record
them among the supporting forces, bringing water for the warriors.4 Although the military
orders also assisted the pilgrims in other way, providing lodging, food and money, women do
not appear to have played any role in this. The order of the Hospital originally had a sister
house of women which took care of female pilgrims, but this did not form part of the later
military order.5
. J. Burton, Reform or revolution? Monastic movements of the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries, in
Medieval History 1,2 (April, 1991), 335.
2
. The three major military orders were the order of the Temple, the order of the Hospital and the
Teutonic order. At the time of writing, there is no good general history of the order of the Temple in
English. Malcolm Barber is currently preparing a general history of the Templars. Until these appear,
the best general history of the Templars available is Marie Luise Bulst-Thieles Sacrae Domus
Militiae Templi Hierosolymitani Magistri: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Templerordens
1118/91314, (Gttingen, 1974). The standard work on the order of the Hospital is Jonathan
Riley-Smith, The Knights of St. John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, c.10501310 (London, 1967). At the
time of writing, there is no good general history of the Teutonic order in English.
3
. For example, see Imd ad-Din al-Isfahni (519597/11251201) Conqute de la Syrie et de la
Palestine par Saladin (al-Fath al-qussi fi l-fath al-qudsi) trans. H. Mass (Paris, 1972) p. 239; but see
also pp. 2023 for another role.
4
. For example, see Quinti Belli Sacri Scriptores Minores, ed. R. Rhricht (Geneva, 1879), p. 187.
5
. Willelmi Tyrensis archiepiscopi Chronicon, ed. R. B. C. Huygens, 2 vols, Corpus Christianorum
continuatio medievalis 63 (Turnholt, 1986), Book 18 chapter 5, p. 817. Translated into English as:
William, archbishop of Tyre, A History of deeds done beyond the sea, trans. E. A. Babcock and A. C.
Krey, 2 vols (New York, 1976).

Published in Medieval History, 1.3 (1991) (ISSN 0960-0752), 7480


Some of the military orders received women, as Alan Forey has discussed in a recent
paper.6 The Hospitallers had a number of female houses, but whereas the mens houses were
essentially charitable institutions, caring for travellers and the poor and sick, the womens
houses were enclosed. The Teutonic order received women, but only as half-sisters, who
were servants rather than full members of the order. In contrast, the order of St. James of
Compostella, a mainly Spanish order, received women as full members with their husbands.
Although the order of the Hospital received women as full members, the rule for the
mens houses warned brothers against associating with women.7 They were not to allow
women to wash their heads, or feet, nor to make their beds. The Templars rule, however,
went much further. Brothers should not kiss their mothers, sisters, aunts or any other women
- this at a time when a kiss was the usual form of greeting, the equivalent of shaking hands
nowadays.8 Women were not to be admitted to the order at all.9
So said the latin rule, drawn up at the Council of Troyes in 1128, when the order of the
Temple received official recognition. Under the second master, between 1139 and 1147, the
rule was translated into french. The ban on women members was reiterated:
The company of women is a dangerous thing, for the company of women the ancient
devil threw many from the right path of paradise. From this time forth ladies should not
be received as sisters in the house of the Temple, for the reason, dearest brothers, that
from this time forth this custom should not be the practice, so that the flower of chastity
may appear for ever in your midst.10
It would appear that women had hitherto been received into the house despite the ban in the
rule, and that the leaders of the order were anxious to stamp out the practice.
Charter evidence bears out this theory. A number of women were admitted to the order
during the twelfth century. The evidence decreases during the thirteenth century, but evidence
from the early fourteenth century indicates that the practice had continued, at least at the local
level. In 1133 one Azalais, a woman of Rousillon, gave herself and her property to the order
of the Temple, to do the service of God under the obedience of the master who is there,
because she wished to be a pauper for Christ, just as He was poor for her.11 It certainly
appears that Azalais had joined the order, but five years later the orders house at
Richerenches refused admission to a woman who wished to join with her husband and son.
Although Hugh de Bolbotone and his son were admitted, the woman was advised by the
master of the Temple to remain in the family home, and later advised to join a community of
women.12 Obviously at this time, or at this house, the order was anxious to enforce the letter
of the rule.
Later in the century, other houses were not so scrupulous. In 1170 at Rouergue one
Laurenza and two of her sons were recorded as having been admitted into the house of the
. A. Forey, Women and the military orders in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Studia Monastica
29 (1987), 6392.
7
. Cartulaire Gnral de lordre des Hospitaliers de S. Jean de Jrusalem, 11001310, ed. J. Delaville
le Roulx, 4 vols (Paris, 18941905), no.70, sections 4, 9; no. 2213, sections 30, 57, 64.
8
. La Rgle du Temple, ed. H. de Curzon (Paris, 1886), section 72. An English translation of the
Templar rule is being prepared by Judith Upton-Ward.
9
. Ibid., section 70.
10
Ibid.
11
. Cartulaire Gnral de lordre du Temple, 1119?1150, ed. le Marquis dAlbon (Paris, 1913),
no.68.
12
. Cartulaire de la commanderie de Richerenches de lordre du Temple (11361214) ed. le Marquis
de Ripert-Monclar (Avignon, 1907), no.7.
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Published in Medieval History, 1.3 (1991) (ISSN 0960-0752), 7480


Temple at St. Eulalia.13 According to the cartulary of the French convent of Sommereux, in
1172 Robert Hardels and his wife left their property and decided to join the society of the
Templars.14 In 1178 Eudes de Pichange, a knight, was recorded as having made a donation to
the house of the Temple at Tilchatel, in the diocese of Langres, for the repose of the soul of
his mother, whom the brothers of the said house had received as a sister (soror).15 We must
note the distinction between a consoror, an associate of the order who made annual donations
and enjoyed certain privileges, and a soror, a full sister. Between 1189 and 1193 one Joanna,
wife of Richard, a knight of Chalfield in Wiltshire, resolved to subject herself through the
grace of God to the rule of the Temple. No scandal could arise from her admittance because
she was already an old woman and had made a vow of chastity in the presence of Azo the
archdeacon. It is unclear, however, whether she actually entered a house of the order or
whether she remained at home with her husband.16 Alan Forey also notes three examples in
Spain of women joining or proposing to join the order, notably one Berengaria of Lorach
who, in the thirteenth century, appears as a soror of the Catalan house of Barbara. Her name
appears in witness lists among those of the brothers, and she is recorded as giving counsel to
the commander of the house.17
Another lady Templar is recorded at the Templar house of Mosbrunnen, probably in
1310 (i.e. after the arrest of the French Templars). The master of this house, Brother John,
wrote that Sister Adelhaide, in order to serve God the better, had chosen continual
habitation in the house of the Temple for her remaining lifetime. However, because of the
sisters weakness of body she could not bear living under the rule. Hence, with the agreement
of the diocesan bishop, Philip, bishop of Eichstadt, the master had arranged for her to move
into a separate house, with various properties transferred to her. The real motive behind this
manoeuvre then becomes clear. When Adelhaide died, her properties would revert to the
order, if the order survived the current crisis. But if, God forbid, our order is perhaps
destroyed then the property would go to the orders good friend the bishop of Eichstadt;
rather than to whomever fate might decree.18
These are scattered examples. But during the trial of the order in France, Brother Ponzard
de Cizy, preceptor of Payns, referred to the admittance of women as an established and
commonplace practice. His complaint was that the sisters were then abused by the same
masters who had admitted them.19 If sisters were so common, why are there no records of
arrests of Templar sisters in 1307? We must conclude that Templar sisters had no legal
standing in the order. They were admitted because they and their husbands were the orders
patrons, on whom it depended for its survival. It was difficult for a religious order to make a
stand on its principles in opposition to the wishes of determined patrons.
Without legal standing, we might expect the sisters role in the order to have been a
lowly one, like the serving half-sisters of the Teutonic order. The evidence discussed above,
however, suggests otherwise. The example of Berengaria of Lorach and the complaints of
13

. Les Plus Anciennes Chartes en Langue Provenale: recueil des pices originales antrieures du
XIII sicle, ed. C. Brunel, 2 vols.(Paris, 192652), no.385.
14
. Cited by Forey, Women and the military orders, pp. 656.
15
. Histoire des Ducs de Bourgogne de la Race Captienne, ed. E. Petit, vol.2 (Paris, 1888), p.393 no.
622.
16
. Records of the Templars in England in the twelfth century; the Inquest of 1185 with illustrative
charters and documents, ed. B. A. Lees (London, 1935), p. 210, Wilts. charters no. 5.
17
. Forey, Women and the military orders, p. 66.
18
. Michael Schpferling, Der Tempelherren-orden in Deutschland. Dissertation zur Erlangung der
Doktorwrde (Bamberg, 1915), pp. 612.
19
. Le Dossier de laffaire des Templiers, ed. G. Lizerand (Paris, 1923), pp. 15860. Referred to by
Forey, Women and the military orders, 66.

Published in Medieval History, 1.3 (1991) (ISSN 0960-0752), 7480


Brother Ponzard indicate that the sisters lived as equals in the same house as the brothers.
This is so far from the spirit of the rule that we may question whether the brothers had ever
endorsed the antifeminism of the rule wholeheartedly.
There is more evidence to consider. In 1272 Bishop Eberhard of Worms gave the order
ownership and administration of the estates of the nunnery of Mhlen, and the duty to
support the women. He obviously saw nothing amiss in this, considering the brothers to be
the most trustworthy men for this responsibility, and the order apparently accepted the trust. 20
It is possible that the clause of the rule excluding women was inserted by the
archbishops, bishops, abbots, nobles and officials present at the Council of Troyes in 1128.
They examined the new orders customs in detail, approving some and removing others.21
They were concerned that this knightly order should not be compromised by association with
women. Knights were notoriously familiar with the fair sex; monks, on the other hand, should
not be. But the esgarts, or judgements, of the order indicate that it was always an uphill task
keeping the brothers of the order away from women.22 During the orders trial, one brother
denied the charge of homosexuality by saying that he could always get a lovely woman when
he wanted one, and that he had them frequently. He added that brothers of the order were
frequently removed from their houses for this reason.23 The esgarts bear this out. Marie Luise
Bulst-Thiele notes that at Famagusta, on Cyprus, it was said that the Templars claimed that
no girl was a woman until she had slept with a Templar.24
Interestingly enough, outsiders did not criticize the Templars for this behaviour. They
seem to have accepted any sexual laxity among Templar brothers; as if it was only to be
expected from knights, even monk-knights. In a love song by Gontiers de Soignies, written in
the early thirteenth century, the order of the Temple was presented as a fitting place of retreat
for a man who had been crossed in love; while in two later thirteenth century romances the
Templars were even depicted as sympathetic towards lovers.25 This was a far cry from the
spirit of the rule.
But it was not so far from the mind of the Templar who wrote a declaration of undying
love to a worthy lady in three four-line stanzas of rhyming couplets on the blank page at the
end of a copy of the Templar rule. This was published by Jane Oliver in 1981.26 The writing
dates from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, and the rule appears to have come
from northern France, perhaps from the Templar house at Dourges. As only the preceptor
(commander of a Templar house) was supposed to have custody of the rule, presumably the
preceptor had been amusing himself making verses on the favourite literary theme of the day.
The grammar is erratic27, the style is awkward, and the content is extremely conventional: the
writer no longer sings as much as he used to (a monk singing, except in praise of his Lord?)
for he does not wish to show any sign of love towards his worthy lady, because of the
20

. Charter quoted by Schpferling, p. 33.


. Rgle, section 3.
22
. Rgle, p. 156 section 236, p. 243 section 452, p. 309 section 594.
23
. Example quoted by Bulst-Thiele, Sacrae Domus, p. 350 note 262, quoting Procs des Templiers,
ed. J. Michelet, 2 vols (Paris, 184151), 1 p. 326ff.
24
. M. L. Bulst-Thiele, Sacrae Domus, p. 350, note 262.
25
. Gontiers de Soignies: il canzoniere, ed. L. Formisano (Milan and Naples, 1980), no.XVIII p. 130,
lines 634; Li romans de Claris et Laris, ed. J. Alton (Tbingen, 1884; reprinted Amsterdam, 1966),
lines 98639871, 99079922; Sone von Nausay, ed. M. Goldschmidt (Tbingen, 1899), lines
64376840, and also see lines 87056. A Breton folktale portraying the Templars as rapists is
undateable, and may belong to a much later period. I have not found any examples of Templars
depicted as lovers, as members of other religious orders were in some fabliaux.
26
. J. Oliver, The rule of the Templars and a courtly ballade, Scriptorium, 35,2 (1981), 3036.
27
. Line 10 seems only to make sense if amour is substituted for amours.
21

Published in Medieval History, 1.3 (1991) (ISSN 0960-0752), 7480


mauvaise gent, the evil people who would cause trouble for him. But he knows that he will
not leave off because of them, nor would he for anything think of any deed to wrong her. So
he thanks love for setting him on the road: that I might give heart and body to her
completely without return, to you, worthy lady.28
Was this written purely for amusement, or was there a worthy lady in the world outside
the house? Or, was the preceptor addressing his devotion to some ideal of spiritual feminity,
like Deborah the prophetess, la prous, Thais, the converted prostitute, St. Euphemia of
Chalcedon, or the Blessed Virgin Mary? These were all women whose virtues were brought
to the brothers attention; and the cults of the latter two were promoted by the order. In
contrast, the brothers do not appear to have taken particular interest in male saints, not even
military saints such as George or Sebastian.29
Deborah, the prophetess of the Israelites, appears in the Book of Judges, chapters 4 and
5. The Bible says very little about her. However, when the Book of Judges was translated for
the order of the Temple in England during the third quarter of the twelfth century, the
translator (who was not a Templar) added a few details to explain difficult points and to make
the text more interesting for his readers. He insisted that Deborah was prous (wise),
referring to her consistently as Deborah la prous, although this was not in the latin text,
adding that she was intent on delivering Gods people which was not in the latin text either.
It appears that he expected his listeners to take a special interest in Deborah. Later, in chapter
11, he noted his approval of the fact that the daughter of Jephthah died a virgin, although she
herself had bewailed her premature death.30 Chastity was to be applauded!
The life of St. Thais was a popular legend in the middle ages. A version of her life was
written for Henry dArcy, preceptor of the Templar house at Bruer, Lincolnshire, from
116174, by an anonymous poet, and survives in two manuscripts. Although it probably did
not have a wide circulation (being written in execrable Anglo-Norman French) it may have
circulated around the English houses. This is a brief version of Thais life, and lacks detail,
but one cannot help wondering how this tale of the penance of a female sinner could be
suitable listening for (as they claimed to be) holy men with no interest in women. The poet
justifies his subject by explaining at the end of his poem that, as Thais was forgiven of her
sins after repentance and penance, so may we be.31
The order claimed to possess relics of both St. Euphemia of Chalcedon and the Blessed
Virgin Mary. It was hardly surprising that the order should have a devotion to the Virgin
Mary, as her cult was rapidly gaining popularity during the early twelfth century. 32 Numerous
charters connected the order closely to Mary; the Templars promoted her cult at Saidnaa and
claimed that she had rested on a stone which stood outside their fortress of Castle Pilgrim.33
St. Euphemia is more puzzling; it is tempting to think that her relics, which were kept at
28

. Ibid., p.305.
. At least, I have found little evidence for such devotion to date. The exception to this was in the
promotion of a local saint by a single house, such as St. Bevignate of Perugia.
30
. Le livre des Juges. Les cinq textes de la version franaise faite au XII sicle pour les chevaliers du
Temple, ed. le Marquis dAlbon (Lyons, 1913), p. 15, chapter 4 verses 4ff; p. 46 chapter 11 verse 45.
31
. Thais, ed. P. Meyer in Notice sur le manuscrit Fr 24862 de la Bibliothque Nationale, Notices et
extraits des manuscrits de la Bibliothque Nationale et autres Bibliothques, 35 (1896), 147151; M.
D. Legge, Anglo-Norman Literature and its background (Oxford, 1963), pp.1912.
32
. See C. Morris, The Papal Monarchy. The western church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford, 1989), pp.
4645.
33
. P. Devos, Les premires versions occidental de la lgende de Saidnaia, Analecta Bollandiana, 65
(1957), 2556, 258, 273;Philippi Descriptio Terrae Sanctae, in W. A. Neumann, ed., Drei
mittelalterliche Pilgerschriften III, Oestereichliche Vierteljahresschrift fr katholische Theologie, 11
(1872), 76.
29

Published in Medieval History, 1.3 (1991) (ISSN 0960-0752), 7480


Castle Pilgrim, in Palestine, had been brought from Chalcedon, on the Bosporus, following
the Fourth crusade.34
These women were dead and gone to glory, but in the thirteenth century the order was
also connected with a living saint, Hedewig, wife of Henry I, Duke of Silesia. According to
her Life, St. Hedewig wore a tightly knotted belt of horsehair next to her skin as a penance.
When this wore out, she was concerned that she would be unable to obtain another, but a
Templar (vir quidam religiosus de ordine Templariorum) came to court and presented her
with one as a gift.35 What was a Templar doing presenting a woman with a gift, when the rule
forbad him even to greet her? Or were saintly women not women in the sense of the rule?
The rule of the order of the Temple took a traditional monastic attitude towards women,
being strongly antifeminine in tone, and seeing women as contaminating the brothers. The
evidence discussed above, however, although scattered, suggests that the brothers had a more
secular attitude to women. We have seen that they were prepared to give way to pressure
from their lay patrons and to admit women to full membership of the order, even, in one case,
to accept responsibility for a nunnery. The evidence also indicates that, like knights of the
world, they were inclined to romanticize women, and they seem to have preferred the cults of
female saints to male. They were, however, as was normal in their society and class, too
ready sexually to exploit ordinary women. This was apparently accepted by outsiders as
understandable, for whereas the Templars were criticized for pride and greed, they were not
accused of lack of chastity. Until the accusations brought against the order in 1307, the
brothers also escaped the accusations of homosexuality hinted against more traditional
monastic orders by secular clergy such as John of Salisbury and Walter Map.36 Perhaps the
charges of 1307 carried weight through their sheer outrageousness.
*

Note on the original publication


Helen Nicholson received a Ph.D. from Leicester University in July 1990. She is currently working full time as a
mother and is working on a book based on her Ph.D. thesis, Images of the military orders, 1128-1291 to be
published by Leicester University Press.
Note on the online reprint
This e-edition of the article has been produced from the original electronic files. Although the
formatting and typeface have been updated, the contents and references have not been updated.

. Philippi Descriptio Terrae Sanctae, 76.


. Acta Sanctorum, ed. J. Bollandus et al., (Antwerp, 1643ff., reprinted Brussels, 1966), October VIII
p. 232 E.
36
. John of Salisbury, Policraticus, ed. C. C. J. Webb, 2 vols (Oxford, 1909), 2 p. 199, Book 7 ch.21,
695cd, and note on line 21; Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium, ed. and trans. M. R. James, C. N. L.
Brooke and R. A. B. Myers (Oxford, 1983), p. 80.

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