Bertrand de Blanchefort (1109??- 1169)

Translation : Andrew Zolnai

Master of the Temple from 1156 to 1169.

Born around 1109, Bertrand de Blanchefort is the younger son of Lord Godefroy de Blanchefort in Guyenne.
Acts made him appear as Master of the Order a few days after the death of Andre Montbard, which suggests that his election was well prepared by the General Chapter of the Order.

In 1157, he takes part alongside Baldwin III in the battle against Nur Al Din before Panéas. On the return of this expedition, Baldwin III dismisses all his army and returns quietly to Jerusalem. Nur Al Din, aware of the dislocation of the Frankish army, organises an ambush south of Lake Hue(1), at the Jacob's Ford.

The surprise is so great that most of the knights are killed or captured. Only Baldwin III succeeds in escaping with some knights.
Among the captive knights, there are two dignitaries of the Order of the Temple, the master Bertrand de Blanchefort, and the Marshal, Eudes de Saint-Amand.

They remain captive of Nur Al Din for 3 years in Damascus until the Emperor of Byzantium, Manuel 1st Komnenos negotiates a treaty of peace and redeemed the freedom of imprisoned crusaders knights.

Once freed, Bertrand de Blanchefort undertook a little in-depth reform of the rule, by having the "Retraits" drawn up, specifying the hierarchical usages and in particular the actions of the master who would no longer be able to decide on the collective future of the Order without Assent of the General Chapter. It seems that he is also at the origin of the use of the Abacus as sign of the function of Master of the Order.

In 1163, Amaury Ist succeeds his brother Baldwin III as King of Jerusalem. Immediately, he decides to concentrate all his efforts to fight against the Caliphate of Cairo, prey to a civil war between Suniites and Shiites.

Bertrand de Blanchefort and the Master of the Hospital(2) go with Amaury Ist in his Egyptian campaign. In September 1163, the Frankish army arrived before Bilbeis (Ancient Pelouse), a key city in the Nile delta, and laid siege to it.
The city is on the point of falling when Dirghâm(3), the head of the Egyptian army, cuts the Nile's levees and floods the plains where the franks are trenched, thus forcing them to retire.

The following year, Amaury Ist resumes his campaign against Egypt, at the request of the Vizier Shawar who wanted to get rid of Shirkuh, a lieutenant of Nur Al Din. The Christian armies, always assisted by the convents of the two Orders, recommence the siege of Bilbeis. Meanwhile, Nur Al Din undertakes a major campaign of diversion against the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch.

Bertrand de Blanchefort then leaves the Egyptian countryside and ascends with an important contingent to the north, to face Nur-Al-Din. After a first victory, the Christian armies are defeated at the battle of Harîm (Harenc) which falls into the hands of Nur Al Din. During this confrontation, more than 60 Knights of the Temple are killed.

Still in order to counter the influence of Nur Al Din on Egypt, a knight of the Temple, Geoffroi Foucher, is sent in 1167 as an emissary to Al-‘Adîd, the Caliph of Cairo to propose him, in the name of Amaury Ist, an alliance against the Ayyubids of Nur Al Din.

In 1168, Amaury Ist decides to resume his campaign against the Egyptians, but Bertrand de Blanchefort refuses to accompany him because of the treaty alliance concluded the previous year by the envoy of the Temple.

According to the Reims Obituary, Bertrand de Blanchefort passed away from tiredness and old age on January 2nd 1169.

Previous Master : André de Montbard - Next Master : Philippe de Milly

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Notes :

(1)The lake of Hûlé or lake Hula is located around thirty kilometers north of the lake of Tiberias (or Sea of Galilee). The Jacob's ford, located to the south of this lake, was a strategic point on the road between Syria and Galilee, a road used by caravans from China and heading to Egypt, the northern Africa and the Maghreb. Nowadays, this lake has been drained and transformed into an agricultural zone.

(2)At that time, the master of the Order of the Hospital is Gilbert d'Aissailly.

(3)Dirgham was one of Shawar's lieutenants when he captured the power and title of vizier in Fatimid Egypt by murdering the previous vizier Al-Adil Ruzzîk in December 1162. In 1163 Dirgham revolted against Shawar, who must flee and take refuge with Nur Al Din. The latter then sent the following year an army commanded by one of his faithful lieutenant, Shirkuh, the uncle of Saladin. During the ensuing fighting, Dirgham is killed and Shawar regains power, under the tutelage of Shirkuh.

More references... Bibliography
  1. "Histoire des Croisades et du Royaume Franc de Jerusalem (3 volumes)"
    René Grousset ; Librairie Académique Perrin 1991
  2. "Armorial des Maîtres de l'Ordre du Temple"
    Bernard Marillier ; Editions Pardès, 2000
  3. "Les Grands Maîtres de l'Ordre du Temple"
    Jacques Rolland ; Editions Dervy, 2004
  4. "Histoire des Templiers"
    J.-J.-E. Roy ; Editions Pardès, 1999
  5. "The Central Convent of Hospitalers and Templars - History, Organization and Personel (1099/1120-1310)"
    Jochen Burgtorf ; Editions Brill, 2008
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