The Templar Knights – Basic History

The Knights Templar

On July 15th 1099 the Crusaders defeated the Seljuk Turks and took over occupation of the city of Jerusalem, four years after the start of what became known later, as the First Crusade. With the Holy Land in Christian hands, this opened up the possibility of pilgrimage there from Europe. Unfortunately, although the routes were open, they were often dangerous and many pilgrims were attacked, robbed and even killed.

The Ancient Great Seal of The Order of The Knights Templar So it was, that in 1118, Hugh de Payens, Knight of Champagne and hero of the First Crusade and his eight companions bound themselves by a solemn vow to protect pilgrims from bandits on the public roads of the Holy Land. Historical records show that King Baldwin II of Jerusalem granted by decree the bestowal of Knighthoods on its Fellows, and gave to them the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, which according to legend occupied the very same site as The Temple of Solomon and which in turn became the headquarters of The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, later to be known as the Templars.

The new group enjoyed powerful support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian Abbot often called the Second Pope and later to be canonized as Saint Bernard. A friend of Hugh de Payens, he wrote a letter to him entitled ” In Praise of the New Knighthood” which in addition to endorsing the Templar order, also elevated it above the older and rival order, the Hospitalers. The letter, stressing the order’s piety helped to popularise the order with the nobility. At the Council of Troyes in 1129 and with Bernard’s further support, approval was given to the rule of The Order, modelled on his own Cistercian Rule of conduct. Additionally came the concept that the Templars should not be accountable or answerable to anyone other than the Pope.

During the following 170 years or so, the Knights Templar’s influence and prominence as a Military Order grew throughout Europe, and the western regions of Asia. However after the fall of Acre in 1291 they were held to blame by the populace for the loss of the Holy Lands and with no more fighting to be done, they returned to their castles, churches and preceptories across Europe. There they engaged in their other activities of trading and money lending, as the first true European bankers. In the ensuing years, even monarchs sought financial assistance from them.

One such was Philip IV of France who inherited huge debts from his father after the Crusades. He persecuted the Lombards (Italian bankers) and Jews living in France, taking their wealth for France. He even recalled the French currency and melted it down to be replaced with coinage of lesser intrinsic value. He was no doubt aware of the vast wealth of the Templars and it is probable that their eventual arrest was just another short-term attempt to obtain the wherewithal to keep France afloat.

However the Templars did not have to answer to a king, only to the Pope and therefore Philip set about the creation of a subservient Pope, Clement V. He was a weak individual and the first of many Popes to reside in France rather than Rome. Bearing in mind that Philip had almost certainly arranged the murder of one, if not two previous Popes perhaps his subservience was understandable. Philip’s plans came to a head at dawn on Friday October 13th 1307 (the reason for the superstition of bad luck on Friday the 13th). In a nationwide swoop, most of the Templars, caught unaware and unprepared, were arrested and taken off to prison. Several years of torture, interrogation, trials and confessions followed on fabricated charges of heresy with devastating effect against the Order. Charges, which had their root in corruption, church, inspired and orchestrated superstition, jealousy and greed, and the fear of the growing influence of The Order.

The trial of The Knights Templars took seven years. Under savage threats, many Knights and serving Brothers admitted under hideous torture, and indescribably cruel death that the charges made against The Order were true. Finally, Papal Courts found The Order to be guilty of the accusations against it and it was dissolved, its possessions confiscated, and many of its leaders, including Jacques de Molay the last Grand Master and Geoffroi de Charnay, together with other brave Knights were burned at the stake in Paris in March 1314. It has since been accepted that the Knights Templar were also victims of the power struggle between the extremely powerful King Philip of France and The Holy See. Aware of the power of the Order, Philip wanted to have the Order suppressed, and because Philip posed as a defender of the faith, the Roman Catholic Church could not rescue the Order without appearing as an enemy of the faith it professed. The Church would not have recovered from the scandal Philip would have raised by telling the people that the Church harboured heretical Knights.

On March 22nd 1312, Pope Clement V, by Papal bull, finally suppressed The Order to the dismay of the countless poor who had come to regard them as little less than saints. A second bull on May 2nd 1312 claimed that the Templar wealth would be turned over to the Hospitalers. Little if any of the wealth made it to the Hospitalers but at the same time, France began a steady economic recovery! The suppression of The Order led to Dante and many others vigorously championing the innocence and integrity of the Templars which was subsequently admitted to be so, with great (although denied) shame resting upon the heads of their corrupt and unjust accusers.

However, the records of history and the later results of enlightened research clearly reflected the truly beneficial and chivalric character of The Knights Templar, with this later expansion of scholarship taking its place in the contemporary awareness of what they actually represented during the centuries of their pre-eminence and existence prior to the contrived and iniquitous suppression of The Order. Nonetheless, the great deeds of chivalry and courage, and the well earned affection and trust of the common people have inspired the writings of such people as Dante, Goudiev, Voltaire, and many others, and of course many of the great works of music by such people as Wagner. Indeed, theirs was the stuff of which true legends are made, and still causes the blood to race in the veins of all men of chivalric sole and moral purity.

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