Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Knights Hospitaller

by Scott Higginbotham

The Hospitallers’ primary mission was care and protection of the poor and sick in the Holy Land, owing to their network of hospitals and staying true to their original mission. The four arms of the Maltese cross represent: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance; while the eight points are the signs of the eight Beatitudes: Spiritual Joy, To Weep Over Thy Sins, To Love Justice, To Be Sincere and Pure of Heart, To Live Without Malice, To Humble Thyself To Those That Injure Thee, To Be Merciful, and To Suffer Persecution. [Hospitaller]

Public Domain - From Wikimedia Commons

Along the way, they seemed to have drifted from their beginnings, for they fought alongside the Knights Templar and other knightly Orders, and were oftentimes at odds with their knightly brethren. There were instances where there was bloodshed between orders that were supposed to be fighting a common foe.

As they grew in size and favor they became more of a military order. “But Raymond du Puy (master, 1119–24) permitted the Order to undertake military activities and these soon began to take precedence over the charitable work from which it took its name. Upon the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 the hospital there was lost and the Order became completely military. Its headquarters remained in the Holy Land until removed to Rhodes in 1310 and thence in 1530 to Malta.” [British History Online]

 Popes and each successor gave the Hospitallers many rights and privileges, exempting them from paying tithes, giving the order rights of sanctuary, and authorization to keep as many lay people as needed to maintain their houses in care of the poor and sick. The order was divided into chaplains, knights, and sergeants, with the Grand Master being the head. There were also provincial leaders in their structure, much like the Templars.

 In England there were quite a number of houses, a few of which had been under Templar jurisdiction – the Templars and their leaders having been arrested in 1307 for heresy. “In 1338 there were in England 41 commanderies, eight of which had been houses of the Templars. [British History Online]

The beginning of the Order in England is not clear, because grants and dates are difficult to pin down. Moreover, the Templars seemed to have been more popular there in the early years of their Order and out-shined the Hospitallers. However, Richard the Lionheart still held the Order in high esteem, having fought alongside of them during the Third Crusade. “Richard I, who held the Order in affection as a result of services to him on Crusade, granted the English Hospitallers a charter in 1194 enlarging their privileges, and handed over to their care hospitals at Worcester and Hereford. John, too, extended his patronage to them. His relations with the Order remained amicable throughout, although, like other religious orders, they suffered from his exactions.” [British History Online]

In 1309, the direction of the Order began to change dramatically. Having purchased the island of Rhodes, Greece, they protected seafarers and merchants in the waters around that island, but eventually turned to piracy, finding many ripe pickings plying the waters and dotting the coastlines of the Middle Sea.

But in the present, they have largely returned to their original mission of charity, a worthy ideal that knows no time period.

 If you enjoy historical fiction, sometimes you begin to live the history.

For Further reading:


A Soul’s Ransom

Scott Higginbotham writes under the name Scott Howard and is the author of A Soul’s Ransom, a novel set in the fourteenth century where William de Courtenay’s mettle is tested, weighed, and refined, and For a Thousand Generations where Edward Leaver navigates a world where his purpose is defined with an eye to the future.  His new release, A Matter of Honor, is a direct sequel to For a Thousand Generations.  It is within Edward Leaver's well-worn boots that Scott travels the muddy tracks of medieval England.

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