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BA History and American Studies

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Christ's Knights: Hospitallers and Templars in the Latin East and Beyond

Unit code HIST31621
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


The idea that monks – men who fought the metaphorical battle against the Devil’s temptations through prayer and contemplation – should take up the sword and fight in literal battle against the supposed enemies of the faith was a shocking innovation of the twelfth century. The study of the military religious orders, the fighting monks, is the study of a set of paradoxes: care for the sick and slaughter of the infidel; centres of action on the periphery of Europe; Christian lordship of Islamic populations – not to mention the central paradox of the ‘fighting monk’ himself. We will interrogate these oppositions to grasp what the military religious orders can tell the historian about the nature of medieval society. How could these apparent contradictions be negotiated and reconciled? What did the Hospitallers and the Templars think they were? What did others think they were? Why were so many women drawn to enter what are, at first sight, thoroughly masculine enterprises? Why were the Templars brutally suppressed, but the Hospitallers still survive?


HIST31621 is restricted to History programmes, Classics and Ancient History programmes, History and American Studies programmes and European Studies programmes (please check your programme regulations for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas; and CLAH-owned programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


This course will:

  • engage students with the histories of religious formations, belief, and social structures in the Middle Ages, by examining religious orders that transgressed accepted boundaries between lay and religious spheres of action
  • engage students with the close analysis of a wide range of documentary source materials, utilizing interdisciplinary methodologies developed through interaction with literary scholarship and historical theology
  • explore the epistemological issues inherent in the use and applicability of limited, tendentious, and fragmentary evidence in the construction of historical argument
  • equip students with the advanced skills in the independent evaluation of primary evidence, the construction of argument on that basis, and the concise presentation of complex ideas in writing, necessary to succeed with the L3 Thesis and at L4

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


1+2. Genesis: The Formation of the Military Religious Orders in the Twelfth-Century Latin East

3+4. Identity and Controversy: (a) The Construction of Collective Identity; (b) Controversy and Support in the Latin West

5+6. Lordship, Society, and Warfare: (a) Lordship and Power in the Latin East; (b) Rule in a cultural contact zone

7+8. Coping with Crisis: The Trial of the Templars (and the Hospitaller Survival)

9+10. The Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights in the Later Middle Ages: (a) Territorial Lordship and State Formation on Rhodes and in Prussia; (b) The Burden of History: the purpose of the Orders in a changed world

Teaching and learning methods

  • Eleven three-hour workshops, involving short (20-30 minute) lecture-style presentations, group discussions, and oral presentation by students in the form of student-led seminar activities driven by enquiry-based learning principles
  • All required reading to be made digitally available through Blackboard; all written work to be submitted on Turnitin. A bank of digitized articles from edited collections and book chapters to be constructed on Blackboard to relieve pressure on hard-copy library holdings.
  • Full-day excursion to London, with tour and study (a) of the Temple Church and (b) of the Museum of the Order of St John at Clerkenwell, with collection of medieval Hospitaller manuscripts and artefacts, to include object-handling seminar (These two sites were the medieval headquarters of the two main military religious orders in England).



Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand the context in which the religious military orders emerged in the twelfth century, and why historians have found it so difficult to agree on the processes that gave rise to them (‘militarization’)
  • understand why the religious military orders proved repeatedly to be so controversial; and why, as what, and by whom they found acceptance
  • understand the mechanisms by which collective identity was formed, shaped, and purposefully changed over time in a medieval context
  • understand how identity and group belonging is contingent (inter alia) upon place, time, social function, and gender
  • understand the conditions under which organizations survive in radically changing circumstances, or fail to do so

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • question the status of received ‘fact’ and understand precisely the fragile evidentiary basis, susceptible to multiple interpretation, on which historical argument rests
  • understand the difficulties inherent in the historical reconstruction of the intangible, such as conceptions of identity, belief, and patterns of thought, and their construction and encapsulation in texts of various types, literary genres, and purposes
  • critically evaluate the status of historiographical debates through independent assessment of the evidence under contention
  • understand key paradigms through which modern scholarship approaches the medieval past (e.g. centre v. periphery; mediality; identity; mechanics of power)

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • analyze challenging primary evidence from a range of textual types and non-textual sources (e.g. art; material culture; architecture), providing students with the confidence to tackle unfamiliar bodies of material
  • formulate and communicate independent conclusions effectively in writing, at the level required for the graduate-entry employment market
  • marshal arguments and supporting evidence under pressure, developing flexibility of thought
  • present and explain issues cogently and concisely in oral presentation, and be able to lead and steer discussion independently

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • work in teams in small-group discussion, and present their ideas to each other and to the full workshop group
  • express complex ideas and intellectually challenging issues with concision and fluency in writing, having full command of their chosen subject of inquiry
  • analyze raw evidence, assess competing interpretations, and evaluate the usefulness of different frameworks in which to locate the issues under consideration
  • think critically at the highest level, suitable for progress to postgraduate study or to upper-level graduate-entry employment in cognate fields (e.g. law, consultancy, management)
  • engage in debate through constructive discussion not hampered by antagonistic or simplistically dismissive assertion

Employability skills

Analytical skills
It will push students to expand their cultural and intellectual horizons, and consistently to use and to augment their powers of critical thought and judgement.
Oral communication
It will enable students to become good analysts, and to operate in written and spoken English at the level of professionalism expected for graduate-entry employment.
This course will challenge students to encounter the unfamiliar, engage in independent research to grasp it on its own terms, and secure the confidence to offer their own interpretations based on their understanding of the evidence and modern research and scholarship. It will push students to expand their cultural and intellectual horizons, and consistently to use and to augment their powers of critical thought and judgement.
Written communication
It will enable students to become good analysts, and to operate in written and spoken English at the level of professionalism expected for graduate-entry employment.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Feedback methods

Oral feedback on student-led seminars - formative.

Written feedback on source analysis, essay and examination - summative

One-to-one feedback on written work in office hours  - formative


Recommended reading

Malcolm Barber, The Crusader States (London, 2012).

Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood. A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge, 1994).

Adrian Boas, Archaeology of the Military Orders. A Survey of the Urban Centres, Rural Settlement and Castles of the Military Orders in the Latin East (c.1120-1291) (London, 2006).

Jochen Burgtorf et al., eds., The Debate on the Trial of the Templars (1307-1314) (Farnham, 2010).

Alain Demurger, The Last Templar. The Tragedy of Jacques de Molay, Last Grand Master of the Temple, trans. Antonia Nevill (London, 2004).

Robin Griffith-Jones and David Park, ed., The Temple Church in London. History, Architecture, Art (Woodbridge, 2010).

Helen Nicholson, The Knights Hospitaller (Woodbridge, 2001).

Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c. 1070-1309 (Basingstoke, 2012).

Jochen Schenk, Templar Families. Landowning Families and the Order of the Temple in France, c.1120-1307 (Cambridge, 2012).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Fieldwork 5
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 160

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Mossman Unit coordinator

Additional notes


Source Analysis: 1500 words, summative, 30%

Essay: 2500 words, summative, 30%

Examination: 2 hours, summative, 40%


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