Gerard de Ridefort (1141??-1189)

Translation : David COBBOLD

Master of the Order from 1184 to 1189

Born in Flanders around 1141, Gerard de Ridefort arrived in The Holly Land as an adventurer wanting to try his luck.
His first move was to form a friendship with Raymond III, Count of Tripoli. He soon angered though when the Count refused to arrange his marriage to the rich heiress of an important fief of the Earldom.
Gerard de Ridefort then turned to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where he became an intimate of Guy de Lusignan, who, at that time, was in a good position to succeed Baudouin IV, the young dying king.

de Ridefort succeeded to enter the Order of the Temple where he was elected Seneschal in 1183.
At the end of 1184, he was elected Master of the Order much to the surprise of the Barons of the Holy Land.
In 1185, after the death of Baudouin IV, de Ridefort resolutely sided with Guy de Lusignan against Raymond III for the succession to the throne. Gerard de Ridefort and Guy de Lusignan manoeuvred so well that the latter seized the crown in July 1186.

The political situation in the East was very confused at this time. Saladin wanted to invade Territories of the Kingdom of Jerusalem because the new king refused to chastise Renaud de Chatillon for the raids he committed in Muslim territories.
But to enter the Kingdom, Saladin had to pass through lands belonging to Raymond III with whom he was at peace. This made the situation of Raymond III rather uncomfortable. On one side he had to respect the negotiations he concluded with Saladin and on the other side he had to allow Muslims to pass through his domain even though he knew they wanted to slaughter Christians.

Raymond III found a compromise with Saladin’s messengers. He accepted that only the advanced guard of Saladin’s army could enter Galilee and only for one day.
They would be allowed to appear before the cities of Nazareth and Tiberiade but without doing any damage. To avoid conflict Raymond III informed the garrisons and the inhabitants of these regions to shelter behind the walls during the Muslim’s demonstration of force.

The compromise by Raymond III would have been successful if it was not for the pride of Gerard de Ridefort. On May 1st, de Ridefort alerted the Templar garrison of Qaqûn (between Acre and Chateau Pelerin) about the approaching force.
The alert prompted 90 Templar knights to go to Nazareth and rally defenders of the city.
They immediately advanced towards the Muslins, meeting them near Sephoria’s fountain (Saffûrya).

The pride of de Ridefort resulted in the slaughter of all the Frankish knights. Despite attempts by Roger des Moulins, Master of the Hospital and Jacques de Mailly, Marshall of the Temple, to reason with Gerard de Ridefort, the Master wanted to lead his 150 knights against 7000 Aiyubids warriors.
The ensuing battle saw only three knights escape. Gerard de Ridefort was one of them. The Master of the Hospital, Marshal of the Temple and other Templar knights who weren’t killed on the battlefield were captured and beheaded immediately.
In the beginning of July, Gerard de Ridefort was once again before the armies gathered by Guy de Lusignan and the reconciled Raymond III.

The pride and madness of de Ridefort were elements which provoked the disaster of Hattin Horn.
In this battle, 30000 Crusaders were killed or captured, with only a few managing to escape. Saladin captured and executed 230 Templar knights. Gerard de Ridefort was also captured, but for an unknown reason, by order of Saladin, he was set free.
After this great victory, Saladin continued his advance through the Kingdom of Jerusalem and seized several cities. These included Gaza and Ascalon, which were defended by Templars who surrendered without fighting.

On the eve of the Third Crusade only some cities and fortresses were defended in the rest of the four Latin States.
In 1189, the Franks, with renewed zeal from the presence of Conrad de Montferrat and thanks to the arrival of numerous troops preceding the Third Crusade, undertook the siege of Acre. The city had been previously seized by Muslims after their victory at Hattin.
During the siege, Saladin arrived at Acre with a reinforcement army and encircled the Frankish army which surrounded the city.
The battle was violent, and the Franks, galvanized by the presence of the Templars, managed to break down Saladin’s lines and make their way to his tent. Saladin only just succeeded to escape, protected by the sacrifice of his Mameluks.
The fight however remained indecisive. The Templars, lead by their Master Gerard de Ridefort, managed to contain and fight off the Muslims. Nevertheless, on October 1st 1189, Gerard de Ridefort died at the foot of Mount Toron, on the plain near the walls of Acre.

Previous Master : Arnaud de Toroge - Next Master : Robert de Sablé

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More references... Bibliography
  1. "Armorial des Maîtres de l'Ordre du Temple"
    Bernard Marillier; Editions Pardès 2000
  2. "Histoire des Templiers"
    J.-J.-E. Roy ; Editions Pardes 1999
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