Who Were Knights in Three Orders?

Who Were Knights in Three Orders?

The Middle Ages, also known as the Medieval Period, spanned approximately from the 5th to the 15th century. This time, far removed from us yet intrinsically woven into the tapestry of our history, saw the rise of various forms of governance, ideologies, religious orders, and institutions, among which the knights and their orders held a significant role. In this article, we will delve into the history, activities, and impact of three important knightly orders: The Knights Templar, The Knights Hospitaller, and The Teutonic Knights. These orders played a vital role in shaping medieval European society.

Who Were Knights in Medieval Times?

In the annals of history, few figures are as evocative and steeped in romanticism as the medieval knight. These warriors of the Middle Ages were more than just skilled fighters; they were influential figures in society, holding a unique status that came with a distinctive set of rights, responsibilities, and codes of behavior.

Knights emerged during the early medieval period, roughly around the 9th century, with the advent of feudalism in Europe. The term “knight” is derived from the Old English “cniht,” meaning “boy” or “servant.” This etymology sheds light on the nature of a knight’s duty – service to a lord. In exchange for this service, typically in the form of military service, the knight received a fief, which included land, peasants, and other resources.

Training to become a knight was arduous, often beginning in childhood. Usually of noble birth, a young boy would start as a page, learning about chivalry, religion, and the arts. By adolescence, he became a squire, serving a knight directly and learning the arts of war and horsemanship. After proving his courage and skills, usually in battle, the squire would be ceremonially dubbed a knight in a ritual that often involved a religious blessing, reinforcing the religious sanctity of his duties.

The code of chivalry governed knighthood – a set of moral and social codes that emphasized values like honor, courtly love, bravery, and respect towards adversaries. Stories of King Arthur’s Round Table and knights like Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain popularized these ideals of chivalry, shaping our modern perceptions of knights.

But the influence of knights extended beyond the battlefield. They were central to the political structure, often serving as advisors to kings and queens. Economically, they managed estates and undertook various administrative duties. Knights also played a significant role in cultural life, with tournaments and jousts being popular forms of entertainment.

By the end of the Middle Ages, with the rise of professional armies and changes in warfare, the military importance of knights began to wane. However, knighthood’s social and cultural impact continued reverberating through the centuries, shaping societal structures, moral codes, and our collective imagination. In many ways, the figure of the knight serves as a window into understanding the complexities of life, war, and society in medieval times.

The Role of Knights in Medieval European Society

Knights were esteemed warriors who often came from noble families in medieval European society. They were bound by a code of chivalry, an ethical system emphasizing honor, courage, and service to God and one’s lord. A knight’s primary duty was to offer military service, but their role was not restricted to the battlefield alone. Knights were also involved in various aspects of governance, economic affairs, and the social fabric, their influence weaving through the entire strata of medieval life.

Knights belonged to different orders, each with specific goals, values, and practices. These orders often arose from specific socio-religious contexts, seeking to embody the ideals of chivalry in different ways.

The Templar Order

Founded around 1119, The Templar Order, officially known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, was among the most powerful and well-known knightly orders in medieval times. The Knights Templar Order, in its foundation, was set up to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land during the Crusades.

Activities and Contributions of the Templar Order

The Templars were much more than just warriors. Over time, they developed into a complex organization with diverse functions. Besides their military responsibilities, they were involved in a variety of economic activities, including banking. This economic involvement led to a great expansion of the Templar Order, resulting in widespread influence over medieval European society.

The Templar knights also built and managed estates, mills, and vineyards. Their establishments, from fortifications to farms, dotted across Europe and the Middle East, were a testament to their widespread influence.

Downfall and Legacy of the Order of Knights Templar

Despite their influence, the Templars’ power began to wane by the early 14th century. In 1312, the Order of the Knights Templar was disbanded by Pope Clement V under the pressure of King Philip IV of France, who coveted the Templar’s wealth. Many of the knights were arrested, tortured, and executed. Yet, the legacy of the Knights Templar Order endured, and their influence can still be felt today in popular culture, literature, and conspiracy theories.

The Knights Hospitaller

Also known as the Order of Saint John, the Knights Hospitaller was a medieval Catholic military order founded around 1099 in Jerusalem. In a manner similar to the Templar Order, the initial focus of the Knights Hospitaller was to provide assistance to impoverished, sick, or wounded pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land.

Activities and Contributions of the Knights Hospitaller

The Knights Hospitaller evolved from being caregivers to also becoming a military order, defending Christian territories in the Holy Land and later the Mediterranean region. They built fortifications, hospitals, and other structures, becoming influential in both military and healthcare matters.

After losing their last stronghold in the Holy Land, the knights moved to Rhodes and later to Malta, contributing to the defense of Europe against Ottoman expansion.

Legacy of the Knights Hospitaller

Unlike the Templars, the Knights Hospitaller survived the Middle Ages. They continue to exist today in various forms, including the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, emphasizing their enduring influence on European and global history.

The Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights, officially known as the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, were founded around 1190 during the siege of Acre in the Holy Land. The order was initially established to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals for the sick and injured.

Activities and Contributions of the Teutonic Knights

Though the Teutonic Knights started as a hospital brotherhood, they quickly morphed into a military-monastic order, participating in the Crusades in the Holy Land before focusing on the Baltics. Their aim in the Baltic region was to Christianize the indigenous peoples, often through military conquest.

Their state, known as the Teutonic Order State, played a significant role in the cultural and political history of Central and Eastern Europe, shaping nations like Prussia and, indirectly, Germany and Russia.

Legacy of the Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights’ influence waned in the 15th century after a military defeat by Poland-Lithuania. Despite this, they continued to exist in various forms, and their legacy is still visible today, particularly in the Baltic region.

Knight Orders of the Crusades

The Crusades, a series of religious wars between the 11th and 15th centuries, saw the rise of numerous knightly orders. While the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Teutonic Knights are perhaps the most well-known, other significant orders contributed to the period’s military and religious endeavors.

One such order was the Order of Saint Lazarus, established in the 11th century. Initially created to operate leper hospitals, the Order evolved into a military organization during the Crusades. The Lazarite knights, many of whom were lepers, demonstrated remarkable bravery and were respected for their commitment to the Christian cause despite their affliction.

Another important order was the Knights of the Hospital of Saint Thomas of Canterbury at Acre or the Knights of St. Thomas. Established in the 12th century, they served both a military and hospitaller role, aiding English pilgrims in the Holy Land.

The Order of Santiago, founded in Spain in the 12th century, was another significant Crusading order. Named after Saint James the Greater, the patron saint of Spain, the order played a crucial role in the Reconquista, driving Muslim forces from the Iberian Peninsula.

Lastly, the Order of Calatrava also formed in Spain, was entrusted with the defense of Calatrava, a fortress reclaimed from the Moors. This military-religious order was instrumental in the Spanish fight against Muslim rule.

Each of these orders had unique origins, duties, and influences, extending beyond the battlefield to impact healthcare, pilgrimage, and broader societal structures. Although they may not be as well-known as the Templars, Hospitallers, or Teutonic Knights, their contributions to the Crusades and their effects on the social and religious fabric of the time were substantial.

What Was the Strongest Knight Order?

Determining the “strongest” medieval knight order is a complex task as it depends on the specific parameters one uses to define strength: military prowess, economic power, political influence, or longevity. Still, based on an amalgamation of these factors, many historians point toward the Knights Templar as one of the most potent knightly orders of the Middle Ages.

The Knights Templar was one of the earliest established and longest-running knightly orders. Founded in the 12th century, the Templars developed a substantial network across Europe and the Holy Land. They were renowned for their fighting capabilities and strategic acumen, participating effectively in various Crusades.

Yet, the strength of the Templars was not confined to the battlefield. They became one of medieval Europe’s wealthiest organizations, creating one of the world’s first multinational banking networks. This financial power enabled them to exert considerable political influence and fund large-scale operations, including building castles and other fortifications.

The Templars’ influence in medieval society extended far and wide, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to inspire and intrigue people today. Despite their downfall in the early 14th century, their impact during nearly two centuries of existence arguably outshines other orders. Therefore, while the “strength” of a knightly order can be interpreted in various ways, the Knights Templar often emerges as a prominent contender for the title of the strongest medieval knight order.

Modern Knight Orders at the Glance 

Even though the classic perception of knights harkens back to the Middle Ages with gallant warriors on horseback, knighthood and knightly orders still exist today, albeit in a different form. These modern knight orders often carry traditions, values, and symbolism from their historical counterparts while adapting to contemporary contexts.

Current or former monarchies recognize several modern knight orders. For instance, the Order of the Garter is considered the pinnacle of knighthood in the United Kingdom. Established by King Edward III in 1348, it remains one of the most prestigious orders of chivalry, with Queen Elizabeth II as its Sovereign. Recipients are chosen for their exceptional public service, not military prowess.

In Spain, the Order of the Golden Fleece, founded in 1430, still exists as a Roman Catholic order of chivalry. It’s awarded for extraordinary contributions to public life. The Order of Malta, a successor of the medieval Knights Hospitaller, is another such order recognized for its medical and humanitarian work worldwide.

Some knightly orders are associated with Christian churches. For example, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is a Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Pope. It aims to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Lastly, several fraternal organizations, such as the Masonic “Knights Templar,” draw inspiration from medieval knightly orders but do not have any historical continuity with them. They often focus on charitable work and community service, using the ideals of knighthood as a guide.

Even though these modern knight orders do not engage in physical combat, they carry forward the chivalric ideals of service, piety, and honor. The honor of being knighted today lies less in martial valor and more in the significant contributions made to society, nation, or humanity. 


The knights of the Templar Order, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Teutonic Knights significantly impacted medieval European society. They were not just warriors but builders, caregivers, financiers, and diplomats, often all at once. Each order’s rise and fall provide valuable insights into the complex interplay of religion, power, and society during the Middle Ages. Their legacy continues to shape our understanding of this fascinating period of history.