Guillaume de Beaujeu (1233??-1291)

Translation : Andrew Zolnai

Master of the Temple from 1273 to 1291.

Guillaume de Beaujeu is elected at the head of the Order on May 13th 1273.
Entered in the Order from the age of 20, he is successively Preceptor of the Province of Tripoli in 1271, preceptor of the Province of Pouilles in 1272 before being elected.
He came from a powerful family of Beaujolais and had family ties with king of France Louis IX and Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily.
As soon he is elected, Guillaume de Beaujeu undertakes to visit the main preceptories in the Occident and is convened by Pope Gregory X to the Council of Lyon during the summer of 1274. The pope seeks opinions of both of the Master of the Templars and of the Hospitaliers to organise a new crusade. Occidental barons aren’t very enthusiastic about the idea of a new expedition to the Holy Lands. The death of the pope in 1276 definitively interrupts the preparations for this expedition.
Despite of repeated calls from the Templars of the Orient, Guillaume de Beaujeu only arrives in Acre in September 1275.
In 1279, he enters into conflict with Hugh III King of Cyprus, who has the Templar properties on the Island confiscated. This crisis will last more than 20 years, and only with the Master Jacques de Molay will it find the beginnings of resolution.

In 1282, Guillaume de Beaujeu, whose politics toward the Muslims was to gain time, profited of the Mongol Invasion in the East and in the North to extend for ten years the truce signed in 1271 with Baybars.
The Frankish politics are however divided on the relationship with the Mongols and the Muslims. On one side, Armenian Christians seek an alliance with the Tartar hordes and on the other side, Christians from south prefer to stay neutral.
Guillaume de Beaujeu, on the other hand, maintains friendly relationships with Cairo.
In 1288, Kalâwun, the successor of Baybars, decides in spite of the truce to attack Tripoli.
Guillaume de Beaujeu, thanks to close relations he holds with the Sultan of Cairo’s court, gets wind of the impending preparations, and warns the dignitaries of the city, who don’t believe him because they think that they are protected by the truce. On the contrary, they think that the Master of the Templars want them to flee, because he may easily seize the city to transform it into a Templar site.
Despite warnings from Guillaume de Beaujeu, the city falls into muslim hands on April 26th 1289.

Not satisfied with the fall of Tripoli, Kalawun initiates at the end of 1289 the preparations to besiege the city of Acre.
The slaughter of Muslim merchants on the road to Acre by recently disembarked Lombard troops gives him a justification he doesn’t really need. In order to hide his preparations, Kalawun requires that those responsible for the slaughter be surrendered to him under penalty of awful reprisals.
Guillaume de Beaujeu proposes to the dignitaries of Acre to empty the prisons of thise condemned to die and deliver them to Kalâwun to save time.
The notables reject the decision of the Master of the Order of the Temple and remain deaf at the requests of Kalâwun, thinking them also of being protected by the truce concluded in 1282.
The Christians benefit nevertheless from a few weeks of respite with the death of Kalâwun in November 1290 in Cairo.
A civil war starts for the succession of the emir, but Al-Ashraf Khalil the son of the latter, manages to thwart the plot and orders the execution of the General Turuntaî, head of the rebels.
Only in April 1291 does Al-Ashraf Khalil arrive with his army, estimated by the chroniclers of the time at 200 000 men, in front of the walls of the city.
On April 05th, the city is completely encircled, and the Muslim machines of war are installed.
Templars and Hospitalers ordered by their Masters, Guillaume de Beaujeu and Jean de Villiers, forget all their dissensions and organize the defence of the northern part of the ramparts of the city, while Konrad von Feutchwangen, Master of the Teutonic Order and Amaury, the brother of king of Cyprus Henry II ordering the Syrian and Cypriot knighthood, deal with the Western part of the ramparts.
The night of the 15 to April 16, Guillaume de Beaujeu tries an exit with 300 knights. He surprises a contingent which camps opposite his positions, massacres several hundreds of combatants, but must retreat to the shelter of the ramparts of the city before being able to destroy all the war machinery located in the enemy camp.

On May 16, in spite of the arrival a few days before of king of Cyprus Henri II and of a thousand of combatants, part of the wall breaks down under as a result of the enemy sappers. The Muslims enter the breach, but the combined attacks of the three Orders prevents them from progressing further into the city, and the defenders even manage to repel the Muslims beyond the ramparts.
On May 18, Al-Ashraf Khalil launches the final attack, thousands of Muslim infantrymen arrive in front of the breach in the wall and launch the attack of the towers and the remaining walls.
Guillaume de Beaujeu gathers ten knights and as many Hospitalers including their Master, and launches into the terrible murderous storm.
With his twenty-odd knights, Guillaume de Beaujeu manages to temporarily stem the enemy flood that spread into the city. Just as he manages to push back the enemies who had seized the door of Saint-Antoine, he is mortally wounded. The arrival of several contingents of reinforcement enables him to regain the templar fortress located at the south of the city and he dies there.

The city falls into the hands of Muslims a few days later, in spite of the heroic defence of the Templars who will fight until the last, cut off in their strengthened bastion, in the south of the city. This keen defence allows nevertheless a good many inhabitants of the city and several knights to leave Acre safely and to take refuge in Cyprus.
Thibaud Gaudin and Pierre de Sevry, the highest two dignitaries still alive in Acre decide to separate. Thibaut Gaudin, commander of Acre, retreats to the sea towards Sidon still in Christian hands, while Pierre de Sevry, Marshall of the Order, continue to resist the Muslims tidal wave.
Pierre de Sevry succeeds in maintaining thousands of Muslims combatants with only a handful of defenders. The city capitulates finally on May 28, after the Templar bouse collapses on tens of defenders and over 2000 Turks who attack it.

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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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Translation : Andrew Zolnai
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