A Brief History of the Knights Templar Published July 20, 2009 by: Caroline Fynn
The order of the Knights Templar was initially known as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon and as the Poor Knights of Christ. It was a religious military order established at the time of the crusades. They fought against Muslims, protected convoys of Christian pilgrims, defended castles and were exemplars of courage to other crusaders. They promised to fight to the death to protect pilgrims and for the liberation of the Holy Land.
Founded in 1119 AD by Hugh de Payens who is thought to have served in the army of Godfrey de Bouillon during the first crusade, the Knights Templar initially consisted of only nine knights. They experienced difficulties in recruitment mainly because it was necessary to take an oath and vow to live as ordinary monks in poverty, chastity, self-mortification and obedience to the grand master, and they spent a great deal of time fasting and in prayer.
In 1127 the Cistercian Abbot, Bernard de Clairvaux, also known as Bernard de Fontaine and later canonised as Saint Bernard, came to their aid and assisted greatly in the growth of the Knights Templar. Bernard became one of the Templars and he re-wrote the rules establishing them around his Cistercian order, and then he wrote a letter entitled "In Praise of a New Knighthood" which was delivered to Hugh de Payens, and the new code of conduct was accepted. News of this spread and many men were then recruited into the order.
The Templars were not allowed to receive personal gifts but there was no such restriction placed on the order in general, they received a variety of significant donations including land which they farmed and therefore generated much wealth. In addition to this, when a man joined the Templars he was obliged to take the oath of poverty and his wealth was transferred to the order. Due to this, along with their gallantry during battle they became the wealthiest order of the crusades and played an important part in the wars.
It then became almost impossible to join the Knights Templar, status became so high that what could be argued as humans wanting what is out of reach; a variety of noblemen competed for entry by bestowing lavish gifts upon the order. The Templars also gained greatly in wealth due to the work they undertook for the rich, who in turn were exceedingly grateful. In Spain in 1130 for example, the Knights Templar assisted in recapturing land that had been lost to the Moors. In return King Alfonso I gave the Templars a significant amount of his wealth.
The Knights Templar assisted King Stephen of England to the throne in 1136, and in return he gave them the lucrative manor of Cressing. At this time Hugh de Payens ruled the Templars in England, and in his absence he would nominate a prior, who would then manage the estates and transfer any gained wealth to Jerusalem. The prior also had the power to admit and initiate new members. Templar houses rapidly increase in England and sub priors were appointed. In 1136 Hugh de Payens died and Robert de Craon took over as Master of the Temple.
Along with the accumulation of wealth and land, the Templars became powerful due to the secrecy within the order. Wealth and power became so great that it was sometimes viewed as a threat. King Philippe IV of France requested Templar money for war and was refused. On Friday 13th October 1307 King Philippe had the Templars arrested and it is this tragic event that gives rise to the unlucky connotations that continue to surround Friday the 13th. The Templars were tortured and said to have confessed to heresy, homosexuality and sodomy, although of course this may not have been true, it is believed that they suffered particularly brutal torture methods, therefore it may be that the Templars simply said whatever their torturers required of them, if they said anything at all.
These clever and brave men came to a sorry end. In 1312 the Templars were officially dissolved by Pope Clement V, and on 18th March 1314 the grand master Jaques de Molay was burned at the stake.
An Overview of the Knights Templar
Around 1119, nearly two decades after the First Crusade (1095-1099), Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, two French noblemen and Crusade veterans, gathered a group of nine knights to create a monastic Order under the approval of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Aiming to protect the Christian pilgrims, who were en route to the Holy Land to visit the temple sanctified to their faith, the nine knights offered to serve as a military force. The King granted the knights a wing in the Al Aqsa Mosque on the southeastern side of the Royal Palace on the Temple Mount, which was then known as Solomon's Temple. There, the knights established their headquarters in order to organize their mission. From the Solomon's Temple, they became known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, which later changed to the Knights Templar.
In the early nine years, the Templars were facing a relative difficulty in recruiting new members because not everyone liked their lifestyle and mission. Moreover, they remained eight out of nine. This caused financial problems and the Order had to rely on donations to survive. To emphasize on their poor resources and poverty they used as their emblem two knights riding on a single horse.
Around 1129, the Templars were officially endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Troyes, with the support of a powerful Church figure, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. His formal blessings swept throughout Christendom and attracted many noblemen all over Europe. The Templars organized many successful fundraising campaigns that brought about donations of money and land. The continuous support of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux kept the Order growing with the only repercussion that the donations would be used to defend Jerusalem, but also to ensure a place in Heaven for the charitable donor.
In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued the Papal Bull Omne Datum Optimum, which allowed the Templars to pass freely from the borders, to owe no taxes, and to be subject only to the Pope's authority. This Papal Bull was an exceptional confirmation of the Templars' mission, but also a favor in return to Bernard of Clairvaux's help to the Pope's rise.
Soon, the Knights Templar grew in resources and people and became the wealthiest and the greatest of the military Orders of the Middle Ages. Their wealth and well-armored costumes often put the Templars in the front line of the Crusade battles. In 1177, the Knights Templar played a key role in the defeat of the Saladin's army in the Battle of Montgisard. 500 Templars defeated 26,000 soldiers in one of the most important Templars victories.
Although the original mission of the Knights Templar was military, soon the Order evolved into contemporary financial managers. Any assets placed under the management of the Templars were becoming, in effect, accumulated wealth of the Order throughout Christendom. Since 1150, the Order was able to issue letters of credit for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. The pilgrims' valuables were guarded by the Knights Templar, who, in return, would issue a letter describing their holdings. Upon arrival to the Holy Land, or even in any stop in between, the pilgrims could use that document to repossess their funds. In effect, this was an early form of modern banking, particularly related to cheques' issuance.
Moreover, the political connections of the Knights Templar as well as their involvement to the urban and commercial life led to the acquisition of immense power, both in Europe and the Holy Land. With their wealth they built castles and churches, got involved in import and export manufacturing, created their own fleet of ships and even owned Cyprus Island.
After nearly two centuries of powerful presence in the European life and prominent defense of the Christian faith, the first signs of decline for the Templars became visible. From one hand, the constant rise of the Muslim world under the rule of Saladin, and on the other hand, the intense disagreements among Christian sections concerning the Holy Land and the rivalry of the Knights Templar with the two other Christian military orders, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, led to the political and military weakening of the Christian positions. In 1187, Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin; in 1229, the Crusaders took it back, until finally, in 1244, the Khwarezmi Turks recaptured it and Jerusalem did not return to Western control until 1917 when the British regained power from the Ottoman Turks.
Under the circumstances, the Templars had to relocate their headquarters northern. Over a series of lost battles between 1291 and 1303 in Tortosa, Atlit, Limassol and Arwad, the Knights Templar lost both their fame and control in the Holy Land. Being significantly less dominant and powerful, both politically and militarily, the Knights Templar began to lose also support.
In 1305, the Pope Clement V proposed the unification of the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar. Although neither side was pleased with the proposal, they both agreed to discuss it in Paris. The Grand Master of the Knights Templar Jacques de Molay arrived in Paris earlier. There, an issue of debt charges that had been made two years prior by an expelled Templar arose. Although the charges were false, the Pope had to investigate the issue. Hence, he sent King Philip IV of France, known as "Philip the Fair", a written appeal for assistance in the investigation. Because King Philip was already in debt to the Templars from the war against the English, he decided to help Pope Clement V to facilitate his own purposes. So, he put immense pressure upon the Church in order to set himself free of his debts.
In 1307, on Friday, October 13th, Jacques de Molay was arrested along with other French Templars with the charges of several heresies. Pope Clement V issued a Papal Bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which led to the arrest of all Templars throughout Europe and seizure of their assets.
In their arrests, the Templars confessed to have stepped on and spitted on the cross, to have worshipped an idol and actions of homosexuality and sodomy. With all these charges, they were greatly tortured to a scandalous extent. King Philip was triumphal in eradicating the power and wealth of the Templars, urging all Christian monarchs to do the same.
The official dissolve of the Knights Templar came in 1312. Pope Clement V dissolved their monastic Order on the grounds of having fallen very low in the public consciousness with their actions of blasphemy, rather than having been found guilty of debt as initially charged.
In 1314, the story ended with the burning of the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay. According to the legend, before he died, De Molay cursed both King Philip IV and Pope Clement V to join him in death within a year. In effect, both men joined De Molay in death within a year.