The Knights of St. John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, were established following the First Crusade to protect and treat Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. They were recognizable by their black or red surcoat with a white cross. An elite and powerful fighting order of well trained knights wearing heavy mail or plate armour and armed with a lance, they were feared on many battlefields of the Middle Ages. The group initially cared for the pilgrims who had reached Jerusalem following a long and arduous journey.
However the order was soon extended into providing an armed escort to pilgrims. The escort soon grew into a substantial force. The Order of St. John included both knights and monks. The members of the Knights were both monks and soldiers. These men of the new order took the monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and they added a fourth vow, which bound them to protect pilgrims and fight the armies of Islam in the Middle East. Hospitaller Knights were still monks, and continued to follow their vows of personal celibacy. The order also included chaplains and doctors who did not take up arms.
Although nobility was not required to join the monastic order, it was required to be a Hospitaller Knight. As time went on this requirement grew more strict, from proving nobility of both parents to that of all grandparents for four generations. A variety of knightly classifications evolved to accommodate lesser knights and those who gave up their vows to marry, yet remained affiliated with the order.
Medieval II: Total WarEdit
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta began as an Amalfitan hospital founded in Jerusalem in approximately 1023 to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the Western Christian conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, it became a religious/military order under its own charter, and was charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. Following the conquest of the Holy Land by Islamic forces, the Order operated from Rhodes, over which it was sovereign, and later from Malta where it administered a vassal state under the Spanish viceroy of Sicily.
The Hospitaller Knights of Saint John have formed a rather progressive order. The first St. Johns’ Minor Chapter Houses were little more than a refuge for pilgrims, established by a devout group of Christian knights in the Holy Lands. As the order decided to get involved with escorting pilgrims, the chapter houses became barracks for its highly respected troops. Increased call for the order’s protection brought about the need for the St. Johns’ Major Chapter Houses. Though the Hospitallers’ reputation as warriors of salvation has not diminished, the reality is that the order had become a small military power in its own right. This was most evident by observing the prowess of the Knights trained at a Major Chapter House.
To be a Hospitaller Knight, one has to be the son or descendant of a knight. Hospitaller Sergeants are professional soldiers unable to become Knights, and unlike the Templars, Christian Arabs were permitted to become Sergeants. Armed with a spear and light armour, these Hospitaller brethren are very effective against cavalry and no less belligerent on the battlefield than their knightly brothers.
The Hospitallers and the Knights Templar, formed in 1119, became the most powerful Crusader groups in Palestine. The order came to distinguish itself in battles with the Muslims, its soldiers wearing a black surcoat with a white cross. The Order's practice of acting first and legislating later is epitomized by the fact that it was not until 1248 that the pope, Innocent IV (1243–54), approved a standard military dress for the Hospitallers to be worn in battle. Instead of a closed cape over their armor (which restricted their movements) they should wear a red surcoat with a white cross emblazoned on it.
The rising power of Islam eventually expelled the Knights from Jerusalem. After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291 (Jerusalem itself fell in 1187), the Knights were confined to the Principality of Antioch, where they maintained their headquarters in the castle of Krak de Chevaliers.
In Medieval II: Total War, the Knights Hospitaller served whoever built a Hospitaller guild in their nation for the order. As a result, they were present in the service of many states during the Middle Ages: