Established in 1119 CE, the Knights Templar was a medieval military order affiliated with the Catholic church. Although the Order was established in 1119 CE, it was not given papal recognition until 1129 CE. The Knights Templar was established to defend pilgrims and Christian holy sites in the Middle East and some other parts of the world.
The headquarters of the Knights Templar was first at Jerusalem before it was moved to Acre. The Knights Templar was actively involved in The Crusades, and their insignia of a red cross on white became an iconic reminder of The Crusades. Their fighting brought them great loot, and they controlled properties in Europe and the Levant.
But, things went awry, and the Knights Templar was accused of corruption, heresy, and other crimes. On Friday the 13th, October 1307 CE, King Philip IV attacked the Order, and in 1312 CE, Pope Clement V dismissed the Order.
Early Beginnings of The Knights Templar
In 1119 C.E, a Frenchman called Hugh of Payns and six other knights came together and swore to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Thus, the Brotherhood was established. In 1120 CE, the Brotherhood was given a palace by Baldwin II, the king of Jerusalem. The palace was the former Aqsa Mosque which was located on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. The building was called ‘The Temple of Solomon,’ and because of this, the brotherhood was called ‘the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon or ‘The Templars.’
The Brotherhood was supported by the Church. In January 1129 CE, at the Council of Troyes, the Brotherhood became officially recognized as an Order by Pope Honorius II. Thus, the Knights Templar became the first military order to be recognized by the Pope. At first, the Knights Templar was considered a branch of the Cistercians. Then in 1145 CE, the knights who fought with the Knights Templar were permitted to wear the mantle with white hoods that Cistercians monks wore. They wore a white cloak, and they used the red cross on a white background. They were permitted to fight for nothing else than a just, religious cause such as the defense of the Holy Land and the Crusades. The first major battle that the Knights Templar was involved in was against Muslims in the Second Crusade in 1147 CE.
The order received donations from people who appreciated them for what they did to protect Christians. They received donations in the form of money, food, land, horses, military equipment etc. They also received tax breaks and other incentives. The Templars spent wisely and invested a lot of what they got. They bought properties that fetched them revenue including farmlands, churches, mills, vineyards, townships etc.
They conquered cities and obtained loot from conquered cities. They soon established subsidiaries in other states in Western Europe. These subsidiary centers fetched them revenue and served as recruitment centers for new members.
Though, the Knights Templar was making a lot of money, they still had a lot of expenses. The wars they fought cost a lot of money and they incurred losses from some battles. Some knights had as much as four horses and all these horses had to be maintained. Squires had to be taken care of. Equipment and armor had to be bought and maintained. There were taxes to be paid, tithes had to be paid to the church, donations to be made to the papacy and they had to perform Christian services like masses. The Knights Templar also donated to the poor, and they gave one-tenth of their bread to the poor along with other donations. It is possible that the Knights Templar was not as wealthy as we think they are due to the above.
The Knights Templar grew in influence, and at the mid-12th century CE, they fought in the crusade campaigns of Iberia. They fought in these campaigns on behalf of rulers in Portugal and Spain. The Templars also fought in the Baltic crusades against pagans. By the 13th century CE, the Knights Templar owned large properties stretching from England to Bohemia. They had become a formidable force with vast resources. They had a lot of men, arms, equipment and even a sizeable naval fleet of their own. They became a model army for other forces like the Teutonic Knights and the Knights Hospitaller.
How Men Were Recruited and Organized in The Knights Templar
Recruits to the Knights Templar came from all over France and other places in Europe. The recruits joined for various reasons. These recruits came out of a free will and a religious duty to defend Christians everywhere. Some joined because they thought they would get a sure entrance to heaven, some joined for adventure, some joined for a regular income while some joined because of the respect that came with being a Templar.
Recruits must be free men who were born legitimately. Recruits were also expected to be free of debts. A lot of recruits were mandated to make donations upon joining the Knights Templar. In the 13th Century CE, the Knights Templar mandated that those that wanted to become Knights must descend from a knight. Married men were allowed to join the Order as long as their wife permitted them to join. Most recruits were in their mid-20s, but some minors joined the Templars as their parents made them join so that they could get some military training. A few recruits joined in their old age. Sir William Marshal who died in 1219 CE is one of such. He joined the Templars shortly before he died and he left them a substantial amount of money in his will.
The Knights Templar had two ranks namely knights and sergeants. The sergeants included laymen and non-military personnel. Most recruits joined the sergeants as only a few could join the knights. Most times, the knights were not more than 500, especially during intense wars. There were thousands of other soldiers like infantry, archers, mercenaries and non-combatants like baggage bearers and squires. Other people in the Knights Templar are laborers, servants, craftsmen, priests and some women who joined from nunneries.
A Grand Master led The Knights Templar. Each convent owned by the Knights Templar were grouped into priories and other geographical locations. In the Levant and other trouble areas, the convents were castles which were built for protection. A commander or preceptor managed each convent, and the commanders reported to the head of the priories. Communication between convents was made through documents, reports and letters which were carried by two knights on a horse. The documents and letters all carried an official seal of the order. 1/3 of the revenue from each convent was sent back to the headquarters of the Order. The Grand Master resided at the headquarters in Jerusalem before it was moved to Acre in 1191 CE and then Cyprus in 1291 CE. The Grand Master was assisted by the Marshal, Grand Commander and other top officials. Most of the local convents were quite independent, and they were run with minimal interference from the headquarters. Occasional meetings were held in which representatives from each province attended. Convents were only sanctioned for serious offenses.
Uniform and Rules
Before joining the Templars, a knight took some vows. They vowed to be obedient to the Grand Master, and they must attend church services. They must remain celibate, and they must partake in communal meals. They were not permitted to engage in worldly pleasures like hawking and hunting. They were not permitted to wear arms and flashy clothing like regular knights. They wore a simple wool belt as a sign of chastity instead of leather belts which were worn for decoration like other knights.
Over their armor, the Templar knights wore a white cloak and surcoat and carried a red cross on their left breast. The red cross was also on the pennant of the order and the regalia of the horses. The shields carried by the Templar knights were white with a black stripe top. This was to make them look different from the Teutonic Knights that wore a black cross on a white background and the Knights Hospitaller who wore a white cross on a black background. The sergeants wore a black or brown cloak or mantle. The Templars all grew beards, and they had short hair compared to other men. Knights were allowed to have their personal property. In the spring and summer, knights were allowed to wear linen.
Members were punished for flouting rules by flogging them, withdrawing them or even imprisoning them for life for grave offenses.
The Knights Templar and Banking Origins
Templar communities were heavily guarded and fortified, so people began to see them as a safe haven for storing precious items and money. The Knights Templar also had a lot of cash reserves, and they began to loan people money to for interests. Soon, the Templars started keeping unified records in all their convents, so people could deposit money in one convent and withdraw in another convent.
The Knights Templar also started the predecessor to present day current accounts in which merchants and noblemen deposited large sums of money and paid out fixed sums to other people. By 13th Century CE, the Templars became trusted bankers that even nobles and the Kings of France kept treasuries with the order. Kings forwarded large cash sums to the Templars, so that the Templars could disburse the money to their armies in the Levant. Their cash holdings were so much that the Templars even lent money to rulers. This became the foundation of the modern banking system.
The Knights Templar and the Crusades
The Crusader army consisted of the Knights Templar and other military orders. They were well-trained, and they were well-armed with lance, swords and crossbows. They often fought at the rear, flanks and vanguard on the battlefield. They were disciplined and fought in well-ordered cavalry charges. They caused serious havoc through the lines of the enemies and created openings for other troops to penetrate. They imposed penalties on knights that do not follow orders and knights that lost their horse or their sword. The Crusade Commander was often wary of Templars as they were a distinct unit more zealous and eager for victory than others.
The Templars were responsible for defending important passes, and they were able to acquire castles and lands that Crusader states could not maintain due to limited manpower and resources. The Templars built new castles and rebuilt destroyed castles to defend Christians better. They built small forts along routes patronized by pilgrims to protect them, and they acted as bodyguards for them.
The Templars were responsible for great victories and acquiring regions like Constantinople in 1204 CE, Damietta in 1219 CE and Acre in 1191. But they also faced some defeats, and they were usually executed if they were caught. One major loss was one in October 1144 CE which was the battle of La Forbie in Gaza in which 300 knights were killed, and a large army was defeated by an Ayyubid army. Another major battle where the Templars suffered losses was the battle of Mansourah in Egypt during the Seventh Crusade. In 1187, the army of Saladin who was the Sultan of Egypt and Syria beheaded 230 Knights after the Battle of Hattin. More important members were exchanged for ransom and not killed. After the battle of La Forbie, the Templar Castle at Gaza had to be forfeited in exchange for the Master that was captured.
The vast resources owned by the convents helped them to replenish manpower and other lost resources.
The Abolition of The Knights Templar
The Templars were so powerful that they became a law to themselves. They had a lot of economic power and military might. They were accused of abusing their powers, corruption, greed and pride. Some criticized them saying they wasted money on waging Holy Wars. The Templars were accused of wasting resources to compete with rival orders like the Hospitallers. Some argued that the warriors and monks should not mix and talked about how the Templars killed Muslims instead of trying to convert them.
A lot of these criticisms came from those who know very little about the true state of affairs of the Templars. Many of these people were merely jealous and suspicious of the Templars. There were talks of amalgamating all military orders and bringing them together into one force under the Church. Later, around 1307 CE, serious rumors and accusations against the Templars began to spread. They were accused of denying Christ, His crucifixion and the Cross. They were accused of making recruits spit, trample and dishonor crucifixes as part of their initiation. The French government was part of those that made these grave accusations. A lot of religious clergies were also jealous of the Order and spread these accusations.
Religious and political establishments then collaborated to bring down the Templars. In 1291 CE, several Crusader states were lost which made many to think that the Templars were unnecessary. On Friday the 13th of October 1307 CE, King Philip IV of France ordered that all Templars in France be arrested. The probable reasons why King Philip IV gave this order were to acquire the wealth of the Templars, curtail their military threat, gain an advantage over the papacy. It’s also possible that he believed the rumors spread against the Templars.
The Templars were further accused of homosexuality, immoral kisses and idolatry. The Pope of that period (Pope Clement V) defended the Knights Templar and wanted the accusation from the King to go away. But King Philip IV had already arrested several Templars and tortured confessions out of them. Among the Templars tortured was Grand Master James of Molay. The confessions made Pope Clement V to order the arrest of all Templars in Western Europe. Their properties were also seized. The Templars tried to fight back, but they could not do so successfully except in Aragorn where some of them resisted arrest until 1308 CE.
A trial was held in Paris in 1310 CE, and 54 knights were burnt at the stake. In 1314 CE, Grand Master James of Molay and Geoffrey of Charney, the preceptor of Normandy were burnt at the stakes. The 1311 CE Council of Vienne carried out investigations and confessions acquired through torture. Most of the knights confessed to some things under duress but not to the most serious accusations. Some knights were not even allowed to defend themselves before they were declared guilty.
On 3rd of April 1312 CE, the order was declared terminated by the Pope. Verdicts were pronounced without summary evidence. There was no physical evidence by the council. No record and no physical sighting of any of the idols that the Templars were accused of worshipping. Some knights that had already confessed retracted their confessions. Most former knights were giving pensions, disbanded and banned from joining military orders. Several assets owned by the Templars were handed over to the Knights Hospitaller based on an order that the Pope gave in 2nd May 1312 CE. A lot of money and land ended up among the nobles.
But other military orders were left alone, unlike the Templars. They were not combined together as previously discussed. The Teutonic Knights were saved from criticism by the close affiliations with German rulers, and in 1309 CE, they moved their headquarters from Vienna to the remote region of Prussia where they will face less scrutiny. The Knights Hospitaller moved their headquarters to Rhodes where they existed in one form or the order until today.
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