Knights Hospitaller & Knights Templar: the difference

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Knights Hospitaller & Knights Templar: the difference



   The difference is simple, and not very subtle; the Templars ceased to exist, and the Hospitallers certainly exist right now, working for the sick. Originally the latter were of a military order, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. The name comes from the dedication to St. John the Baptist of their headquarters in Jerusalem.

These are not their only names: from 1310 they were the Knights of Rhodes, and from 1530 the Knights of Malta, but they were established themselves first in (or around) 1070 with Muslim permission, managing a hospital for sick pilgrims in Jerusalem. They only became a formal order of knights when the city fell to the first Crusaders in 1099.

They wore a black habit, with a white eight-pointed Maltese Cross. They elected a Master and under him were at first purely military, in an order which spread quickly across Europe. In questions of order and discipline they followed Augustinian rules (q.v.) and divided themselves into three classes or ranks: knights, chaplains and serving brothers.

Driven out of Jerusalem by Saladin himself they moved to Acre, from which they were expelled a century later, transferring to Cyprus. In 1310, however, they captured the island of Rhodes and remained there until 1522. Then Emperor Charles V made them a present of the island of Malta, which they had to defend by force against the Turks, but they could not deal in a similar fashion with Napoleon: by this time the Order had lost its influence and supporting voices.

Some members moved to Russia where they made Paul I Grand Master of their Order. He died in 1801 and the order collapsed temporarily in confusion, only to be restored again in England in the 1830s. Only the English branch now remains, and the aim of the Order, in the persons of doctors, surgeons, nurses etc., is to care for the sick. They stopped their military function around the end of the eighteenth century.


The case of the Knights Templar is altogether different. The Order was founded around 1118 by Hugh de Payens or Payns, a knight from the region of Champagne in France. He called it The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon; he and seven companions promised to protect pilgrims travelling on the public roads in The Holy Land. In 1128 official approval was provided by the Treaty of Troyes on the understanding they they would follow Benedictine rules (q.v.) Here is the first notable difference: the Hospitallers were Augustinian, and Templars Benedictine.

The Templars rose rapidly in popularity, attracting many noble new members; the Order became very rich, acquiring much property throughout the Christian sphere. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1387 they moved to Acre with the Hospitallers – a grave mistake. Rivalry and mutual loathing developed between the two Orders, not without violent encounters. When the Hospitallers moved to Cyprus, so did the Templars, which was also a seriously bad career move. On this island they became bankers rather more than soldiers, and attracted half the nobility of Europe to invest with them. The Hospitallers complained that what was supposed to be a religious order was now simply making a fortune and had ceased to be Christian or even religious in tone.

Sadly, they attracted the attention and disapproval of a French king, Philip IV of France (q.v.), was decidedly hostile, for reasons that can only have been financial. Clever as ever,

Philip ‘the Fair’ persuaded Pope Clement to suppress the Order, enabling the wily Frenchman to grab their enormous wealth and property. One assumes that the Pope insisted on sharing it with ‘The Fair One’.

The Templars were assaulted in their castles, mostly killed, and their Grand Master was burnt at the stake for heresy. Historians of the epoch wrote of them as blasphemers, practitioners of Black Magic, sexually depraved (historians should know), cruel and unjust. Not surprisingly, given a very bad press, they failed to form up again and vanished from History, though the Ku Klux Klan in the US claimed to follow their example and creed. Such nonsense.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.


  1. Richard February 11, 2017 at 8:51 am - Reply

    You need to re-read your history. The Knights Templar were a Christian Religious order. They were the Soldiers of Christ. They were also smarter than the rest realizing to grow and survive meant you needed money; and they were exceptional in this area. Basically, creating our modern-day banking system and even travelers checks. Their power grew to the point that a bankrupt country, France, went to them and secured a loan to make them liquid again to continue their long fight against Great Britain. King Philip simply did not want to re-pay his loan so he labeled them as heretics. However, that was not good enough. His words carried very little weight. So, he went to Pope Clement and ask the Catholic Church to label the Knights as heretics. This was there undoing. They were rounded up, tortured and murdered. There are no official records of a single Templar Knight breaking his oath.
    Trying to distinguish between Benedictines and Augustinian is like splitting religious hairs. They were very similar with the Augustinians who pre-dated the Benedictines by a century. However, when the two came together they became what is now known as Monasteries with the Monks living together and not alone.
    Traditionally, Benedictines are cloistered; living within an enclosure with very little to no interaction with the world. Being a coenobitic order, their “world” is the monks around them, which they interact with frequently (community meals, community prayer, community work, etc.). The Benedictine “motto” is ora et labora; Prayer and Work. It is thus that outside of the Divine Office, a monk’s time it usually taken up with some sort of work, not allowing time You need to re-read your history. The Knights Templar were a Christian Religious order. They were the for idle hands.
    There was nothing evil about The Knights Templar. They existed in a time when most the population was un-educated. And anybody different and able to do things that the normal masses could do could be thought of as evil; this was simply ignorance due to lack of formal education.
    And as far as the death of the final Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. He was imprisoned for 7 years and was going to be spared until King Philip, The Fair, of France went mad and demanded the church carry out his murder. And as legend has it, a curse was put onto both King Philip and Pope Clement that they would die within the next 12 months; both did!
    “The cardinals dallied with their duty until 18 March 1314, when, on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame, Jacques de Molay, Templar Grand Master, Geoffroi de Charney, Master of Normandy, Hugues de Peraud, Visitor of France, and Godefroi de Gonneville, Master of Aquitaine, were brought forth from the jail in which for nearly seven years they had lain, to receive the sentence agreed upon by the cardinals, in conjunction with the Archbishop of Sens and some other prelates whom they had called in. Considering the offences which the culprits had confessed and confirmed, the penance imposed was in accordance with rule — that of perpetual imprisonment. The affair was supposed to be concluded when, to the dismay of the prelates and wonderment of the assembled crowd, Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney arose. They had been guilty, they said, not of the crimes imputed to them, but of basely betraying their Order to save their own lives. It was pure and holy; the charges were fictitious and the confessions false. Hastily the cardinals delivered them to the Prevot of Paris, and retired to deliberate on this unexpected contingency, but they were saved all trouble. When the news was carried to Philippe he was furious. A short consultation with his council only was required. The canons pronounced that a relapsed heretic was to be burned without a hearing; the facts were notorious and no formal judgment by the papal commission need be waited for. That same day, by sunset, a pile was erected on a small island in the Seine, the Ile des Juifs, near the palace garden. There de Molay, de Charney, de Gonneville, and de Peraud were slowly burned to death, refusing all offers of pardon for retraction, and bearing their torment with a composure which won for them the reputation of martyrs among the people, who reverently collected their ashes as relics.

    Finally, the Templars do still exist; the Catholic Church will not recognize this fact.

    • Ke February 25, 2017 at 1:25 am - Reply

      This is why history is the coolest thing ever.

    • Ali Mackenzie August 10, 2019 at 1:45 am - Reply

      You need to read some history, The Knights Templar fought with Robert the Bruce against the English, hence the Auld Alliance, France and Scotland. The French Templars were given land in Glasgow and built they Glasgow Cathedral.

    • Cynthia Diaz January 3, 2021 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Very true. It seems that ‘Dean Swift’ should have stuck with sales and stayed out of history. The Masons, especially the Scottish Rite, have far better claim to connection to the Templars than the KKK. As for their heresies, it has long been known that was more of a political claim by King Philip IV who was deeply in debt to them as a way to escape his indebtedness. Any ‘historian’ should be aware of that as well as the fact that the Catholic church dropped those charges soon afterward.

  2. Stephanie November 4, 2017 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    The Knights Templar Do Not still exist. The Freemasons are most definitely Not Knights Templar no matter how much they Wish they were and for the KKK to claim allegiance is pathetic and ridiculous.
    Leave the Templars in History, where they belong.

  3. […] forces in the Holy Land, due to the large amount of wealth gifted them by the European nobles. The Templars and the Hospitallers were major forces right up until the Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. Despite […]

  4. […] forces in the Holy Land, due to a large amount of wealth gifted them by the European nobles. The Templars and the Hospitallers were major forces right up until the Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. Despite […]

  5. […] forces in the Holy Land, due to the large amount of wealth gifted them by the European nobles. The Templars and the Hospitallers were major forces right up until the Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. Despite […]

  6. Timf162 March 12, 2018 at 12:44 am - Reply

    This article clearly has some faulty research. To say “Only the English branch now remains” is false. The original order of the Hospitallers remains as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). SMOM remains the original Catholic order having relocated to Rome after being removed from Malta, and currently has diplomatic relations with 104 countries as a sovereign entity. An English branch was formed in the 1830s and reorganized under Queen Victoria in the 1870s. SMOM, as the original order, along with the four “Alliance Orders” as offshoots, all mutually recognize one another. Please do some research on the current state of the Hospitaller Order to make sure you don’t post incorrect facts.

    • Cynthia Diaz January 3, 2021 at 11:09 am - Reply

      Very true.

  7. Bigleedog April 2, 2018 at 4:03 am - Reply

    I believe the Order of Christ in Portugal still exists.

  8. Jeremy February 27, 2019 at 10:19 am - Reply

    When I was Cyprus I met some of them, nice people. They are still making that medieval Commandaria wine.

  9. Bill September 7, 2020 at 11:13 am - Reply

    Good information. Is it true that burning at the stake was a killing method used to avoid the shedding of blood which was against scriptural doctrine?

  10. Miguel Queiroz December 21, 2021 at 1:08 am - Reply

    The most important piece of history about the Templars is as usual being neglected by an anglo-centered and lusophobic attitude.

    The most significant and well documented follow up to the massacre of the Templars in France, took place in Portugal. The Portuguese king, D. Diniz, allowed the Templars to take refuge in Portugal and changed their name to Order of Christ or “Christi Militia” and returned all their land and property. They continued to operate in Portugal for 300 years and were responsible for starting the age of exploration in 1415.

    Strangely enough (or not), this is often neglected by anglo-saxon historians maybe because it gives historical protagonism to a country that it’s of no anglo-saxon interest to emphasise. But grab tour seats because the relation between Portugal and the Knights Templar don’t start nor end there. Portugal itself was founded by the Templars to be the first Templar nation and a kingdom of consciousness.

    The Templars were Gnostic, not Catholic and that’s one of the reason the Pope accepted to excommunicate them. Gnosticism asserts that God is in you and you can attain direct knowledge of him without need for priesthood. As far back as 1128, the Templars sent the father of the future king of Portugal from Burgundy to this small principality in the Iberian peninsula (county of Portus Calle) and later they helped raise his son, who became the King of Portugal. Something that even then would not happen without the Templars as it was them who helped conquer land from the Muslims, including the battles of Lisbon and Ourique.

    Yes they were also in Scotland but I’m not sure for how long and what they became. However unlike what Dan Brown presented in his novel, the Rosslyn chapel was not built by the Templars. Portugal has dozens of Templar castles and sights and Rosslyn chapel is highly inspired in the Castle of Tomar. Tomar is a town in Portugal that was the operations centre of the Templars for many years.

    Don’t take mu word for any of this. Do your research and you’ll easily confirm all of this. It’s outright incomprehensible the reasons why this keeps being intentionally overlooked.

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