Geoffrey de Saint-Omer - co-founder of the Templar Order

According to William of Tyre, Geoffrey de Saint-Omer ("Gaufrede de Sancto Aldemarlo") was among the first knights of the military and religious order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Salomon, later to be known as the Knights Templar, with Hugues de Payns. What do we know of his life and that of his family?  

Geoffrey or Godefroy de Saint-Omer (also known as Godfrey, Gaufred, Geoffroy or Geoffroi de Saint-Omer or Saint-Amand) was a Flemish knight. He was born in Saint-Omer late December 1075 or early January 1076. In those days Saint-Omer was part of the County of Flanders, now Picardy Region, Pas de Calais Department, Northern France. The lords of Saint-Omer were vasals to the Count of Boulogne, the hometown of Godefroy de Bouillon, one of the commanders of the First Crusade, and the first ruler of Jerusalem after its conquest in Juli 1099.

Geoffrey probably was the son of Guillaume (or William) I de Saint-Omer (1055-1128), Lord ("châtelain") of Saint-Omer between 1097? and 1126). His mother probable was Aganitrude de Bruges (1049-????). Some sources mistakingly mention his mother to have been Melissende de Piquigny (1090-1143), who in fact was his sister in law, being married to his brother Guillaume II (1082-1143).

Geoffrey had three brothers. The first one was Hugues de Fauquembergues (died ca 1107). This Hugues was sometimes called Le Païen, the Pagan. A name which in this context is quite confusing, considering the second founder of the Temple was also called Hugues de Payns, from the village of Payns near Troyes, Champagne, France. The second brother was the earlier mentioned Guillaume II de Saint-Omer (châtelain from 1128 till 1143), and the third one Gérard de Fauquembergues (Valkenberg in Flemish). 

Geoffrey, his father Guillaume I and his brothers Hugues and Gérard participated in the First Crusade in the army of Count Robert II of Flanders, perhaps in the contingent of Geoffrey of Bouillion, Duke of Lorraine and his brother Baldwin of Boulogne. They left with the Flemish army on August 17, 1096 (the group of Geoffrey de Boullion) or a month later (the group of Robert of Flanders) and ultimately participated in the conquest of Jerusalem on July 15, 1099.

Hughes de Fauquembergues would have been noticed in the Holy Land as being one of the best knights of the kingdom of Jerusalem. When in 1101 King Baldwin had taken the princedom of Galilee and Tiberias from Tancred, he granted it to Hughes de Fauquembergues. We subsequently see him as one of the Kings most faithful advisors and most active auxiliaries, even holding the rang of senechal of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until his death in ca. 1107. During a raid aginst the territories over Chastel Neuf in 1107 he was ambushed by Toghtekin, Atabeg of Damascus and killed by an arrow. Hugues was buried in Nazareth. The title of Prince of Galilee remained or reappeared later in the Saint-Omer family.

According to William of Tyre, Geoffrey together with Hugues de Payns established the group that later was called Knights Templar around 1118, although other sources suggest activitites related to safeguarding pilgrim routes as early as 1115

In 1127 a delegation of crusaders from the East was sent to Pope Honorius III in Rome to alert him to the precarious situation of the crusaders and Christians in the recently conquered territories. Geoffroy de Saint-Omer was part of this delegation, as were Hugues de Payns, Payen de Montdidier, Archambauld de Saint-Amand, Geoffrey Beisol and Bernard Roland. The additional mission of the trip was to beg the Pope to organise a new crusade as well as mobilise men and means themself. For that purpose Hugues de Payns traveled arond France and to England.

That same year 1127 Geoffroy and several of his companions founded a commandery on land belonging to the Count of Flanders in what are now know as the outskirts of Ypres, in a village known at the time as Upstal. Records show that in that year the Order owned land and a large house there, thus constituting one of the Order's first commanderies in the West. In September 1128 Geoffroy obtained more land at Warrêton-Bas and benefits for the Order of the Temple from his family in Saint-Omer.  By 1140 Osto de Saint-Omer, son to Guillaume II and so nephew of Geoffrey, joined the Order himself.

On January 13, 1129 the Council of Troyes started. One of the issues discussed at the council was the new Templar Order with Geoffroy as important co-founder, and its acknowledgement by the Pope, as well as the preparation of a new Rule. This recognition laid the foundations in Europe for the prodigious power of the Templars. 

Late 1129 or early 1130 Geoffrey returned to Jerusalem with an agreement from his family, the ‘Lords of Saint-Omer’, to give the Order the Flanders royalties of Count Guillaume Clito of Flanders (1102- July 1128, who ruled Flanders between 1127 and July 1128). He was accompanied by Hugues de Payns, who had received colossal sums of money and property from the French nobility and the English crown. Apparently after that Geoffrey stayed in the Orient for another decade.

The theory adopted by some modern historians concerning the end of Geoffrey de Saint-Omer's life is as follows. According to this theory in 1140 Geoffrey became Duke of Athens after driving the Bulgars out of the country. Geoffrey would have ended his adventurous life in the capital of this Greek lordship Thebes. Some sources mention his year of death as 1160, but an age of 85 is improbable, though not impossible, especially for Templars.

Such a Greek episode in Geoffreys's life seems improbale at least, as a Duchy of Athens was not established till after the conquest of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204, after which it existed until 1458. It would be ruled for the majority of its history by the Burgundian founding family of De la Roche, Catalans under the rule of the kings of Sicily and the Florentine Acciaioli family. 

At the same time there is proof of involvement of the Saint-Omer family with Thebes, though much later. In Thebes, amidst the remains of a fortified castle, there is still a watch tower that the Crusaders would have called ‘Saint-Omer’, and which the Greeks still call ‘Santameri’. Indeed, this castle was built in 1311 by the Frankish Nicholas of Saint-Omer, who gave his name to it. So there was a Saint-Omer lord of Thebes, but probably about one and a half centuries after the death of Geoffrey de Saint-Omer, co-founder of the Templars.

This blog presents rearranged quotes from sources 1, 23, and 4, with snippets from several Wikipedi sources, if necessary translated from French to English by TN. The top illustration shows the Tower of Saint-Omer, or Santamer Castle in Thebes, Greece (source). Fair Use intended.

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