Bernard de Tremelay originated from the Earldom of Burgundy, son of Humbert, lord of Tremelay.
The decision of Evrard des Barres to retire to the Clairvaux Abbey surprised the Order’s hierarchy. After months of negotiations the General Chapter decided to elect Bernard de Tremelay as their new Master. At the time he was Preceptor of the Temple-Lès-Dole in Jura, an important preceptory.
The moment he arrived in the Holy Land, Bernard de Tremelay was entertained by King Baudouin III. Baudouin gave him the command and property of the fortified city of Gaza, which at the time was in ruins.
de Tremelay rebuilt the city walls and built new towers and entrenchments to ensure the city was impregnable.
He also reinforced the system of coastal defences by fortifying the cities of Jaffa, Arsus, La Roche Taillée and Le Daron. These cities were indispensable to the survival of the East Latin Kingdom.
Baudouin III decided to take advantage of several military victories over Nur-al-Din armies and the internal disputes between some Muslim dignitaries. Baudouin gathered his troops and left for the fortified city of Ascalon to besiege it.
In January 1153, Franks besieged the city but failed to enter it. In the zone occupied by Templars, an assault tower was placed near the city walls, causing death and terror amongst the defenders.
During the night of August 15th the city’s defenders tried to set fire to the tower by lighting a big woodshed at its foot.
Unfortunately for the defenders, the wind turned the fire against the city walls. The walls were already damaged by mines and the constant assaults of war. A big part of the walls collapsed, opening a breach in the defences. Straight away, Bernard de Tremelay and forty Temple knights rush through this opening and entered the city. At the same time they impeded the access of others assailants.
The Turkish defenders, initially in fear of Christians entering their city, regrouped and killed or captured all the Templars, including the Master, Bernard de Tremelay. On the evening of 16th, the decapitated corpses of the forty Templar Knights were hung by their feet at the top of the city walls.
The view of these massacred bodies tortured Christians minds and provoked wrath in their ranks. The city fell 3 days later.
The original siege saw the first death of a Master of the Temple in fighting. As a consequence, an argument was created regarding the Templars’ acts.
Some chroniclers, such as Guillaume de Tyr (William of Tyre), interpreted the acts as the Templars’ desire to seize the city alone and therefore keep the plunder for themselves.
Others chroniclers saw a brilliant feat whereby Knights Templar entered the city as scouts to protect the progress of the rest of Frankish army.
According to most texts, it seems the second version is more logical, but perhaps History will remember the interpretation of the great chronicler Guillaume de Tyr; a man with a particular dislike of the Templars.
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