The Knights Hospitaller was founded in the city of Jerusalem around 1099 to provide care for poor, sick, or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land, but became a much more militaristic organization with the onset of the Crusades. Though a distinct entity, the Hospitallers were close allies of the Knights Templar from their formation, cooperating as two of the principal factions of the Crusaders, and later providing assistance to the Templars from several bases in the Mediterranean Sea, most notably Rhodes.
In the prelude to the Third Crusade, the Hospitallers fought alongside other Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 against the Saracen army of the Ayyubid Sultan Saladin of Egypt and Syria, where they sustained a critical defeat that summarily led to the loss of Jerusalem and virtually all of the Levant to the Saracens. The Saracens' recapture of Jerusalem immediately led to calls for a Third Crusade, which opened with a siege of Acre in 1189 that would last for most of the war.
Hunt for the Chalice
While the main force of Hospitallers and Templars were pinned down at Acre, others embarked on a campaign to seize the Chalice, a mysterious relic rumored to possess the power to unite all factions of the war. The Crusaders joined forces under the Templar leader Basilisk for this operation, hunting down an Assassin agent to the doorsteps of the Assassin base of Alep for vital leads on the artifact. Afterwards, they immediately followed with an assault on a village in the outskirts of Alep, massacring virtually all its residents before being routed by a counter-attack by the Assassins.
The Knights Hospitalier cooperated with the Templars in their subsequent search for the three keys to the fabled Temple of Sand thought to be the location of the Chalice, but would be dogged and thwarted every step of the way by the Master Assassin Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. Despite losing all three keys and the map to the temple to Altaïr, the Crusaders managed to locate the temple and launch an expedition into it ahead of the Assassin, only to find that the Chalice, actually a woman by the name of Adha, was not there. Ultimately, in spite of the assistance of the Knights Hospitalier and their eventual capture of Adha, the Templars would fail to see their goals with the "artifact" come to fruition. Their execution of Adha, once they discovered that she held no use for them, only incurred the fury of her lover Altaïr, whose quest for vengeance would lead to the deaths of all Crusaders complicit in her death and the command of the operation.
Human experiments in Acre
In 1191, the Knights Hospitalier was led by the French Grand Master Garnier de Naplouse, who was also secretly one of nine leaders of the Knights Templar. Garnier's penchant for human experimentation led to his expulsion from France and subsequently from Tyre when he repeated this scandal, but he nonetheless maintained his positions within the Hospitaller and Templar orders. He received the patronage and protection of King Richard I of England and was granted control of Acre after that city finally fell to Crusader forces that year.
Garnier conspired with his fellow Templars to acquire the Apple of Eden hidden within the Ark of the Covenant at Solomon's Temple. It was their dream that this ancient artifact of the Isu would allow them to inaugurate their New World Order by controlling the minds of humanity. However, the Apple was lost to the Assassins thanks to the costly efforts of Malik Al-Sayf, and one of the Templars' conspirators, the Assassin leader Al Mualim reneged on his secret alliance, coveting the power of the Apple for himself. With the loss of the Apple, Garnier returned to his usual habits of human experimentation, hoping to replicate the effects of the Apple through herbs, surgery, and drugs, of which he achieved a limited amount of success.
To supply his experiments, Garnier received shipments of prisoners from the Saracen slaver Talal, another secret leader of the Templars. Though these slaves were forcibly kidnapped from the streets or their homes, Garnier maintained that these they were his legitimate patients, for they had largely been homeless, drug addicts, lepers, or prostitutes, and that his experiments were meant to heal. Nevertheless in 1191, he was assassinated by Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad on the orders of Al Mualim, who privately sought to eliminate his former Templar allies that stood in the way of his power. Altaïr, himself, believed Garnier to be a sadistic man and that his death would end his inhumane experiments. While this proved to be true, the Hospitallers' presence in the city persisted, remaining in the city until its downfall.
In 1192, in the aftermath of the Third Crusade, the Knights Templar purchased the island nation of Cyprus from King Richard the Lionheart, himself having acquired it after ousting its ruler Isaac Comnenus. Though the Templars were the official and sovereign rulers of the island, establishing it as their new base, the detachments of the Knights Hospitalier accompanied the Templars in the efforts to consolidate control. Local resistance was fierce and the arrival of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, now the new leader of the Levantine Brotherhood of Assassins, accelerated the rapid decay in Crusader power over the country. By the end of the year, the Templars, alongside their Hospitaller allies, had been utterly ousted from Cyprus.
After the loss of Acre, the Hospitalier base relocated to Rhodes. In the early 16th century, the knightly order was responsible for capturing a number of Assassins and imprisoning them in the Palace of the Grand Master. In response, the Mentor Ezio Auditore da Firenze sent a team of Ottoman Assassins to rescue their allies. Despite their success, the Hospitallers soon afterwards killed the Master Assassin Castor, an act that provoked an Assassin assault on the Hospitalier stronghold. Their compound was burned to the ground, and the Assassins seized control of the island, establishing Dens there thereafter.
In 1522, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, an ally of the Assassins, succeeded in expelling the Hospitallers from Rhodes. He failed, however, to eradicate the Order, as they reorganized themselves on Malta and prevented the Ottoman forces from conquering the island in 1565. This event sparked a longtime grudge between the Hospitalier and the Ottoman Empire.
After 1675, the Hospitalier in Malta had been severely damaged by a plague and lacked for resources and defences. During the Seven Years' War, the Templar Shay Cormac used his fleet to send some troops to the island.
In 1747, Grand Master Manuel Pinto da Fonseca wrote a letter to Grand Master Reginald Birch of the British Rite of the Templar Order beseeching him for the aid of Templar agents in the Hospitallers' struggle against the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of France, and the Assassins.
In 2012, the Animi Training Program of Abstergo Industries featured a simulated location of the Knights Hospitalier fortress of Rhodes in the 16th century, when the Hospitallers held sovereignty over the island.
Emblem and attire
Like the Knights Templar, the emblem of the Knights Hospitalier consisted of a cross, only the colors differed, with a white cross on a black background as opposed to a red cross on a white background. Alternatively, they also utilized a white cross on a red background, which eventually became the design of their flag of Malta.
The standard armor and uniform of the Knights Hospitalier during the Crusades was nearly identical to that of other Christian military orders, such as the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights, bearing their emblem at the center. Regular soldiers typically donned black gambesons with a white cross over their chainmail while sergeants wore surcoats of the same design instead. The highest-ranking soldiers, such as the captains, exclusively equipped themselves with plate armor, a great helm, and in solidarity with the others soldiers, a black surcoat with a white cross over the armor. Other Hospitallers instead donned red surcoats with white crosses instead, favoring the order's alternative emblem, with the garrison of Hospitallers on Cyprus being notable examples of this practice.
- The French-inspired "Knights Hospitalier" has generally been preferred in the Assassin's Creed series over the English "Hospitaller", being the exclusive variant used in Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade. However, the order is instead referred to as "Knights Hospitaller" in the Mediterranean Defense minigame of Assassin's Creed: Revelations.
- In the story trailer of Assassin's Creed, the Hospitalier overseeing the execution of an individual who was killed by Altair wears an armor with a cape with the Hospitalier insignia similar to Robert de Sable but no such guard could be fought in the game's final version.
- The Knights Hospitalier in Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines wear the white cross over red color alternative color scheme instead of the original white cross over black design of Hospitallers in Assassin's Creed. This is anachronistic since this color scheme was not adopted before the fall of Acre in 1291.
- In the Captain's Cabin minigame of Assassin's Creed: Rogue, several ships feature the alternative emblem of the Knights Hospitaliers: a white cross on a red background. Flags and banners inside the cabin instead feature the original emblem of the Hospitaliers: a white cross on a black background.
- Assassin's Creed (first appearance)
- Assassin's Creed: Altaïr's Chronicles
- Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines
- Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations – Mediterranean Defense
- Assassin's Creed: Rogue – Naval Campaign
- Assassin's Creed: Rebellion – Horacio's Retribution (mentioned only)