To understand the Templar connection to the island of Cyprus it is first necessary to briefly look at those events that led up to the Third Crusade.
On July 4th, 1187 Saladin was successful in overthrowing the armies of Guy of Lusignan and in the process captured the city of Jerusalem from the Christians who had took it less than a century earlier, when the army of Godfroi de Boullion stormed the city walls. During the Battle of Hattin, Guy was captured by Saladin, but latterly released after giving his word never to attack the city again.
It was decided by Germany, France and England that in order to secure Jerusalem once again for Christendom it would first be necessary to hold a port in the area. This port would be Acre. The attack was launched from the port by the collective forces of the three nations; Germany took the land route, while the King of France and Richard Coeur de Lion took the sea route.
Philip’s fleet set sail direct for Acre, but the ships of Richard hit heavy storms and were put aground at Crete and Rhodes. Three of Richard’s ships that did make it on toward Cyprus sank and Isaac of Cyprus took the surviving crewmen prisoner.
When Richard arrived at Cyprus with the other English ships he was outraged at what had happened and immediately laid siege to the island. The siege was a complete slaughter, as the Cypriots were ill prepared to stave the attack of a trained army. Isaac eventually surrendered the island to Richard on the condition that he not be bound in irons. Richard accepted the terms and, instead, bound him in fetters of silver.
Richard is known to history as the Absent King and with regard to Cyprus there was little difference, for he was soon off to do other things. Without Richard on the island, the Cypriots sought to regain control and there were threats and rumors of uprising. Richard soon began to see his captured island as a liability rather than an asset.
This allowed Templar Master, Robert de Sable to enter the picture. Robert is best known for lobbying the pope to write the bull Omne Datum Optimum, which would benefit the Templars for many years to come. The Templars, who had wanted to carve out a nation for themselves for some, offered to buy the island from Richard.
Richard was quick to agree and the price was 100,000 bezants of which deSable gave a down payment of 40,000 with the rest to be paid from profits made on the island. The fact that the Templars were able to pay even 40,000 bezants so quickly after striking losses suffered during Hattin and its aftermath indicates just how wealthy the Order was. Of course part of this wealth was being generated by commerce that the Templars excelled at. Cyprus would be a key part in this endeavor, due to its key location in the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, de Sable was not able to leave a huge garrison on Cyprus, as the army was needed to do battle elsewhere. All that remained on Cyprus were 14 Templars – some accounts claim that there were as high as 20. Still this small garrison under the command of Armand Bouchart was scarcely enough to properly occupy the island. The men sent to look after the island were warriors and not administrators. Soon after arriving on Cyprus, Templar arrogance raised its head. The men began taking what they wanted and generally showed disrespect for the island’s barons and citizens.
This ill treatment soon came to a head and the populace revolted. Bouchart and his knights sought shelter in the Templar castle in order to regroup. They bolted out of the castle in full armor and assaulted the Cypriots. The massacre was over in minutes and the revolt was halted for the time being. Bouchart told deSable that his small number of men was insufficient to hold the island and that another revolt must surely be around the corner.
It was decided that the island of Cyprus would have to go. de Sable approached Richard about selling the island back to the English king. Richard was not interested in regaining the liability, but was able to find a solution. He took back the island and sold it to Guy of Lusignan. The funding for the venture came from Italian merchants eager to support Guy on the purchase in return for future favors in trade. Although the Templars did not recoup their 40,000 bezant deposit, they were however, permitted to keep their castles and other properties on the island. This allowed the order to maintain a presence on the island. They also had quarters at Famagusta and Limassol as well as castles at Gastria, Khiokitia, Yermsoyia and Limassol.
After the fall of Acre in 1291, the island of Cyprus would become the central base for the Templar Order and would remain the home of Grand Master Jacques de Molay until his imprisonment in 1307. While Henry, a descendant of Guy of Lusignan, permitted both the Hospitallers and the Templars refuge and sanctuary on the island, he would not permit them to own any additional land either through gift or purchase.
It was this lack of opportunity that possibly prompted the Hospitallers to seek out their own corner on the island of Rhodes. de Molay, by contrast, was not willing to change the Order’s base of operations and felt that they belonged back in the Holy Land. Cyprus being near by was the next best thing. It has been suggested that the gold de Molay took with him to France was to be used for the purchase of the island of Cyprus.
As there were few battles left to be fought, the Templars largely used Cyprus as a base for their financial and commercial endeavors. In July of 1296, Pope Boniface VIII issued a Papal Bull, which gave the Templars a tax-free status on exports and imports to and from Cyprus. This was a status that they held virtually everywhere else.
The history of the Templars and their connection with the island of Cyprus ends in the year 1571, long after the Order had vanished as a formal institution. It was in this year that Ottoman Turks overran the island and the Templar archives were destroyed.
The loss of this archive was a devastating loss. Had those documents survived, they could have answered many questions relating to the history and mystery surrounding the Templars.