He was probably born at Château Payns, about 10 km from Troyes, in Champagne around the year 1070. Hugo de Pedano, Montiniaci dominus is mentioned as a witness to a donation by Count Hugues de Champagne in a record dated to 1085-1090, indicating that the man was at least sixteen by this date—a legal adult and thus able to bear witness to legal documents—and so born no later than 1070. His name appears on a number of other charters up to 1113 also relating to Count Hugues, indicating that De Payns was almost certainly part of the Count's court and therefore the house of Payns was an important one in the County.
Within this period he also married to a woman recorded as Elizabeth de Chappes and fathered three children. De Payns' overlord, Count Hugues de Champagne, did not go on the First Crusade in 1096. He did make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1104-1107 and visited Jerusalem for a second time in 1114-1116. It is probable that he was accompanied by Hugues, who remained there after the Count returned to France as there is a charter with "Hugonis de Peans" in the witness list from Jerusalem in 1120 and again in 1123. In 1125 his name appears again as a witness to a donation, this time accompanied by the title "magister militium Templi".
According to tradition, in 1118 De Pays approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with eight knights, two of whom were brothers and all of whom were his relatives by either blood or marriage, in order to form the first of the Knights Templar. Other sources suggest an earlier and slightly different start of the proto-Templars.
In 1128, after the Council of Troyes in which the Church officially recognized the Templars as a religious and military order, De Payns became the first Master. The term "Grand Master" was introduced much later when many more houses and masters thereof were established. Hugues led the Order until his death in 1136, helping to establish the Order's foundations as an important and influential international military and financial institution.
He died in Palestine in 1136, possibly on May 24.
Text adapted from wikipedia; illustration source