There are distinguishing features in describing the three well known Knights:-
1) Knights Hospitallers.
2) Knights Templars.
3) Teutonic Knights.
1) Knights Hospitallers were members of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, a religious and military order. The order was also known as the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem and as the Hospitallers and, later, as the Knights of Rhodes and as the Knights of Malta.
The order originated with a group of men who ran a hospice (shelter) for Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem during the late 1000''s. In 1113, while the group was under the leadership of a man named Gerard, Pope Paschal II recognized it as a religious order. By the mid-1100''s, the Hospitallers had also become a military order of Christian knighthood. During the 1100''s and 1200''s, the order helped provide a permanent force for the defence
of Christian territories in the Holy Land.
In 1291, the order was forced to leave the Holy Land and located on the island of Cyprus. About 1309, it took the island of Rhodes from the Byzantine Empire and established itself there. From its base on Rhodes, the order became a Mediterranean seafaring power and for hundreds of years distinguished itself as a major Western European force against the Ottoman Turks. But in 1522, the Ottoman ruler Suleiman I defeated the order, and the last knights left Rhodes on Jan. 1, 1523. In 1530, the order reestablished its headquarters, on the island of Malta. From Malta, it defended European interests in the Mediterranean until the French general Napoleon Bonaparte took Malta in 1798.
Today, the order no longer has a military function and focuses on caring for the sick. Its full name is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta. But it is usually called the Knights of Malta.
2) Knights Templars were members of a religious military order of Christian knighthood. The order was founded about 1119 in Jerusalem by the French knights Hugh des Payens and Godfrey of St. Omer. The order was first called "the poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon" because of their early state of poverty and the lodgings given them by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. The lodgings were in the compound of the king''s palace known as the Temple of Solomon.
The original purpose of the Templars complemented that of the Knights Hospitallers. The Knights Hospitallers aided pilgrims in the Holy Land while the Templars protected pilgrims on the way to and from the Holy Land.
The Templars organized under a rule (regulations for religious life) composed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He stimulated the order''s fame and growth through his writings and preaching during the Second Crusade (1147-1149). The Templars took monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They avoided extravagant ceremony and clothing, wearing the white mantle of the Cistercian order, with a red cross added.
At first the order included only knights, but gradually it admitted chaplains--priests who ministered to the knights--and sergeants--wealthy members of the middle class. The pope took the knights under his special protection, and the order added to its purpose the duty to fight all "infidels" who threatened Christianity. The Templars thus played a key role in the Crusades and became a powerful military organization. They grew rich with properties that were donated by grateful kings and princes.
The Templars entered the banking business, and Temples (local lodges) established throughouw deposits of massive wealth. Princes and commoners alike banked with the Templars, and many states became indebted to them. With the fall of the Holy Land to the Muslims in 1187, the order lost its founding purpose and became a target for unhappy and envious debtors.
In 1302, King Philip IV of France came into conflict with the pope. The king was also near bankruptcy. He waged a vicious and skillful campaign aimed at suppressing the Templars, hoping to gain the order''s wealth and at the same time to strike a blow against the papacy. Philip ordered all the Templars in France thrown into prison, where they were tortured until they confessed to accusations of heresy, unnatural practices, and dishonest business activities. Historical evidence has supported only the charge of dishonesty.
Templars in England, Germany, Spain, and Portugal also stood trial, but most were acquitted because they were beyond Philip''s immediate control. In 1312, Pope Clement V yielded to Philip''s pressure and issued a bull (official decree) suppressing the Templars. The pope, however, awarded the Templars'' property to several military orders in Spain and Portugal and its cash holdings to the Knights Hospitallers. During the French trials, the Templars'' last grand master, Jacques de Molay, confessed to false charges. He later withdrew the confession but was burned at the stake anyway in 1314.
3) Teutonic Knights, was the name of an organization of German crusaders that arose in Europe during the 1100''s. The Teutonic Knights were organized for service in the Holy Land. They modeled their organization after two earlier crusading orders, the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers .
In the 1200''s, the Teutonic Knights shifted their activities to central Europe, where they tried to convert and control the people of what became Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Their power and influence spread throughout central and eastern Europe.
In the 1300''s, the Teutonic Knights lost much of their power, and finally the Poles and Lithuanians overthrew them. In 1525, the Grand Master, Albert of Hohenzollern, embraced Protestantism, and changed the Order from a religious to a civil organization. In 1618, the Order''s territory passed to the Hohenzollern Elector of Brandenburg.