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The Military Orders - 30 credits  (HS1805)

Module Tutor: Professor Helen Nicholson Nicholson, The Knights Templar on Trial: The trial of the Templars in the British Isles, 1308-1311 (2009)

Course Description

The leading Military Orders were the Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights. These were religious orders set up in the 12th century to defend the Christian pilgrim routes and holy sites in Palestine. They rapidly acquired property all over Europe and became influential in royal courts and at the papal curia, as well as being leading bankers and shippers. This course not only studies the Military Orders' role in crusades, but also examines their activity in Europe, from which they drew money, supplies and personnel for their wars in the East. It begins by examining the origins of the controversial concept of the 'monk-knight' in the development of the ideals of knighthood, holy war and monasticism. It goes on to follow the Orders' career in crusades in the Middle East, the Baltic and Spain, and their economic activities, literature and relations with rulers.  We will discuss in seminars not only the Military Orders’ activities in the Holy Land and in Europe but also how the members of the order saw themselves, what they believed their function to be and how outsiders regarded them. How far did the Military Orders actually fit into the ideals of knighthood, holy war and monasticism? Why did young warriors join the Military Orders? What was the Orders’ contribution to European society? What did outsiders expect of them? The course ends with a study of the infamous trial of the Templars, in which the brothers of the most famous Military Order were tried for heresy. Students will study original sources in translation and examine the historiographical debates which surround the Military Orders.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year


Necessary for

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures, seminar discussion of major issues and workshops for the study of primary source material. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

Seminar and Source Workshops:
The primary aim of the sessions will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants, focused in particular on primary source material. Seminars and source workshops for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students:
(a) to discuss topics or issues introduced by the lectures,
or (b) to discuss related themes, perhaps not directly addressed by the lectures, but drawing on ideas culled from those lectures.
and (c) to analyse different types of primary sources available, discussing the principal ways in which they can be used by historians.
Seminars and source workshops will provide the student with guidance on how to critically approach the various types of primary source material. Preparation for seminars and workshops will focus on specific items from the sources and related background reading, with students preparing answers to questions provided for each session. Both seminars and source workshops will provide an opportunity to discuss and debate the issues with fellow students. Classes will be divided into smaller groups for discussion purposes, with the results presented as part of an overall class debate at the end of the session.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one essay relating to primary sources [20%], an assessed essay [30%] and an examination paper [50%].

Course assignments:

The Assessed Essay relating to primary sources will contribute 20% of the final mark for the module and must be no longer than 1,000 words.

The Assessed Essay will contribute 30% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words.

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

Part One: The Military Orders as defenders of Christendom

  • What was a Military Order and how did Military Orders begin?
  • The sources for the beginnings of the Military Orders
  • How did the Military Orders fit into the society from which they came?
  • Pilgrims, knights and monks
  • Crusades to the Holy Land in the twelfth century
  • What did the military orders achieve in Latin East before 1200?
  • William of Tyre: historian of the Latin East
  • William of Tyre and the Military Orders
  • The Military Orders in the Holy Land: 1200–1244
  • Philip of Novara and Matthew Paris
  • The Military Orders in the Holy Land: 1250–1280
  • The loss of Acre, 1291 and the end of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem
  • How far were the Military Orders to blame for the decline of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the loss of Acre in 1291?
  • The Iberian Peninsula and the ‘reconquest’
  • The Military Orders in the Iberian Peninsula
  • The Teutonic Order and the Crusade to the Baltic
  • What did the Military Orders contribute to the defence of Latin Christendom, 1100–1310, and how successful were they as military forces?

Part Two: Everyday life: the Military Orders at home

  • Why support the military orders? Relations with donors
  • Organisation and everyday life of religious orders
  • How religious was the Military Orders’ everyday life?
  • Recruitment to religious orders.
  • Why join a military order?
  • Literature and art of the military orders
  • How did the Military Orders see themselves?
  • How monastic were the Military Orders?

Part Three: Relations with the public in the West

  • The Military orders in royal service.
  • Were the Military Orders essential civil servants?
  • Economic development
  • The Military Orders as economic forces.
  • The Hospitallers and Teutonic Order after 1291.
  • Had the Military Orders outlived their usefulness by 1300?
  • The Trial of the Templars
  • What did the Military Orders achieve?

Learning outcomes

  • demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of the Military Orders’ role in Medieval society
  • demonstrate a comprehensive critical understanding of a range of concept/perspectives/debates within the appropriate secondary literature
  • discuss with reference to the primary and secondary material selected topics such as the Military Orders’ role in the defence of the Holy Land, the Teutonic Order’s career in the Baltic, the Military Orders’ role in Spain, recruitment to the Military Orders, noble patronage of the Orders, the Military Orders’ services for secular rulers and the trial of the Temple, 1307-1312
  • demonstrate a detailed critical understanding of  certain primary sources and their significance
  • apply that understanding of the nature of primary sources in the assessment of historical interpretations and methodologies
  • elucidate and evaluate the significance of the relative merits and demerits of a range of interpretations relevant to particular themes and issues

Skills that will be practised and developed

  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence
  • an ability to modify as well as to defend their own position.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions
  • an ability to use a range of information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
  • time management skills and an ability to independently organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.    

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Malcolm Barber, The Two Cities: Medieval Europe 1050–1320 (Routledge, 1992), CB351.B2 – background, lists of monarchs and popes; history of different countries and of the crusades
Bernard Hamilton, Religion in the Medieval West (Arnold, 1986), BR738.2.H2 – religious context
The Medieval World, ed. Peter Linehan and Janet L. Nelson (Routledge, 2003), CB351.M3

To find out more about this module, the module handbook can be downloaded from: