The three principal military orders in the Holy Land included the Hospitallers, the Templars, and the Tuetonic Knights. Each order had its own history, structure and administrative system. Although many of the documents that remain from these powerful international organizations were written in Latin, many texts were also composed in French.
The Hospitallers, also known as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, produced and maintained many texts in Old French, which were in turn housed in the various locations in the Latin East where the Order found its headquarters over the course of its long and troubled history. French played such an important role in Hospitaller culture that historian Anthony Luttrell characterized French as "the official language of the Hospital." These texts, of multiple genres, included legislative documents produced for efficient functioning of the order (The Hospitaller Rule and subsequent changes to the Rule, esgarts, and usances), collections of diplomatic texts that establish rights and privileges accorded to the Order, and a body of texts translated into Old French from various languages for the use of members of the order. A few manuscripts also contain a compilation of many different kind of Hospitaller texts, all written in French, which attest to the breadth of functions that the French language served within the Hospitaller organization.
The central archives for the Hospitallers, which contained many diplomatic texts for the order, were moved from their initial repository in Jerusalem to Tyre (in 1187), to Acre (in 1191) in then to Cyprus (1291), Rhodes (1310), and finally to Malta (1530), with a large collection of charters sent to southern France in the late thirteenth century. From those moved to France, a number of them were sent the central archive in Malta in the eighteenth century, but never arrived.The perpatetic nature of the archives, therefore, does lead to some difficulties in pinpointing the locale of production for many of these French texts. These texts are cross-referenced on the corresponding pages when the locale of production is known.
Templar documents, on the other hand, are much more rare than their Hospitaller counterparts, due to the unfortunate loss of the Templar archives some time after the destruction of Acre in 1291 (for a discussion of this loss, see especially R. Hiestan, Archivalische Zeitschrift Zum Problem des Templerzentralarchivs, Bohlau Verlag, 1980.) However, a copy of Rule of the Templars in Old French does still exist, as do some Templar diplomatic texts that were culled from Hospitllar collections and from the collections of western archives.
The Teutonic Knights, also called the Order of the Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, was a smaller organization than the two mentioned above, but also used French in certain diplomatic documents that originated from their order.
Rule of the Templars
Jochen Burgtorf. The Central Convent of Hospitallers and Templars. History, Organization and Personnel, 1099/1120-1310. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
Johnathan Riley-Smith, The Knights of St. John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, 1050-1310. London: Macmillan, 1967.
Anthony Luttrell, "The Hospitallers' Historical Activities: 1291-1400," Annales de l"ordre Souverin Militaire de Malte, XXIV. Rome, 1966, 126-9.Ibid. "Fourteenth-Century Hospitaller Lawyers," Traditio 21 (1965), 449-465.
Ibid."The Hospitallers' Early Written Records,"in The Crusades and their Sources: Essays presented to Bernard Hamilton,ed. J. France and W.G. Zajac, Aldershot, 1998, 135-54.