The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 2 | December 1995
Adventures of the Oriental Templars:
On Geoffery Fulcher


The Crusaders travelled to the Orient to wrest possession of sacred sites of Outremer, the Land "Beyond the Sea," from the Islamic "infidel ." Their success came as the creation of the Kingdom ofJerusalem under European Christian rule. The Order of the Knights of the Temple was brought into being shortly thereafter as a group of warriormonks pledged to defend Christian travellers in the Holy Land. Far from the glorified crossing-guard role suggested by their charter, the Templars were an organized military body that was instrumental in the vast majority of Christian military operations after their creation.

When the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1099 e.v. there were two claimants to supreme authority in Islam. The orthodox (Sunni) Caliph in Baghdad was the nominal leader of Muslims throughout Asia. But these Abbasid Caliphs, the second dynasty of Sunnite Islam, were presented with rivalry from the Shia (the "sect") in the form of the Fatimid Caliphate based in al-Kahira, known to the Crusaders as Cairo, the "victorious city" of Egypt that had been Heiopolis. The Fatimids were Ismailis, adherents of the authority descendent from the Imam Ismail, who was the seventh of a line of Shiite leaders or Imams running back to All, the husband of the Prophet's daughter Fatima. Because of its geographical and temporal position, Ismailism inherited much of the gnostic tradition of the southern and eastern Mediterranean area. Ismailism also was heir to the mystical and initiatory heirarchy of the Shia, divided into a lodge system of ten degrees, which had been developed for psychagogy and protection from Sunnite oppression.

By the year 1167, the fortunes of the Fatimids had waned so that their sect weilded little temporal authority, though the Caliph was still honored throughout Egypt and much of northern Africa, and an elaborate "court religion" was maintained in Cairo. It was in that year that Nur al-Din, the Sunnite ruler of Syria opted to attack Cairo in pursuit of territory and greater resources for his anticipated campaign against the Crusader states. Shawar, wazir of Egypt, sent to the Frankish king in Jerusalem for aid.

The request was greeted favorably by King Amalric. Of all the Crusader kings of Jerusalem, Amairic had perhaps the most sympathy for and fascination with Islam. He had sided his troops with Shawar at Bilbeis against Nur al-Din three years earlier. Amalric brought his army to Cairo. Shirkuh, the commander of Nut al-Din's army, immediately lifted the seige, and negotiations were begun by the Egyptians to keep the Franks in Egypt until Nur al-Din's forces departed or were destroyed. Once these negotiations were completed, it remained for the Crusaders to see that the Fatimid Caliph himself put his hand to the treaty. The two Crusaders charged with this mission—the only two permitted within the palace of the Caliph—were the nobleman Hugh of Caeserea (who spoke no Arabic) and Geoffery Fulcher, commander of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem.

The two were brought through the palace, both hands held. Hugh of Caeserea's account of the adventure, preserved by his contemporary chronicler William ofTyre, emphasized the splendour and labarynthine extent of the palace. Just when the two thought they must finally be brought before the Caliph, they would be confronted with new marvels, such as a huge courtyard managerie fill of animals totally unknown in Europe, beautiful fountains, or another huge gallery with gilded ceilings, sculpted walls and mosaic floors.

Fulcher must meanwhile have noticed the development of arcane exchanges among the Ismaili initiates as the two were brought deeper into the courts of the Caliph. In the context of the Caliphate, the Ismaili secret signals had taken on more ritual elaboration and mystical import. Shawar accompanied them, but they were led by the chief eunuch of the court.

Finally, they were brought to a stop in a chamber where a jewelled veil was pulled aside to reveal the enthroned figure of a sixteen-year-old boy, the Caliph al-Adid Shawar immediately abased himself before the successor of the Prophet. Hugh of Caeserea wanted to shake hands with the Caliph to ratify the agreement. He was promptly told that even to ask for the bare hand of the Caliph would be impertinence verging on blasphemy. Hugh insisted that without the clasp of hands there would be no assurance of good faith on the part of the Caliph, and to the shock of the assembled guards and courtiers, al-Adid offered his hand.

After the brief bout of diplomacy in al-Khira, it was time for these two warriors to return to the field. The allied armies of Jerusalem and Egypt harrassed Nur al-Din's forces, which retreated into Upper Egypt. A division of the Franks pursued, and were caught at Ashmunein by a standard Moslem cavalry tactic-the feigned retreat: "Lurk! Withdraw! Upon them!" A detachment camped between two hills, waited for the charge, and retreated, drawing the opposition into position for an attack from both sides by the remainder of the force. As a result, both Hugh of Caeserea and Geoffery Fulcher were captured. The leader of the Moslem center in charge of the feigned retreat distinguished himself at Ashmunein. His name—not yet known among the Crusaders—was Saladin.

Hugh of Caeserea was eventually ransomed. Templars, on the other hand, could not be ransomed—it was against the monastic rule of their Order. As the premier fighters of the Kingdom ofJerusalem, they would not be offered in an exchange of captives. Geoffery Fulcher had to choose between death and conversion to Islam in the camp of Saladin. History does not record his fate.

< Back to Vol. III, No. 2 main page