The Knights Templar (In Ten Minutes)
Who Were the Knights Templar?
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, better known as the Templars, were a monastic order of knights endorsed by the Catholic Church in 1129. They quickly grew to become one of the most powerful organizations in the Middle Ages. not only as a military force but an economic one.
Characterized by a red cross on a white mantle, the Templar served not only as one of the most feared and effective military units of the time but pioneered many financial innovations and built numerous fortresses and strongholds throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Establishment of the Templar
Following the conquest of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, many Christian pilgrims set out for the Holy Land. However, a variety of highwaymen and bandits prowled the outlying areas on the route to Jerusalem and these pilgrims were massacred by the hundreds. This became such a problem that, at the suggestion of French knight Hugues de Payens, King Baldwin II and Patriarch Warmund of Jerusalem granted establishment of the Order that would become known as the Knights Templar, headquartering them on the Temple Mount.
Numbering only about 9 knights initially, the Templar existed in a state of poverty until 1129 when, at the Council of Troyes, the Order was officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church and became a popular charity.
Rise to Power
The future of the Templar Order began to take shape in 1139 when Pope Innocent II issued the papal bull Omne Datum Optimum (Every Perfect Gift). This bull gave the Templar exemption from all local law, making them answerable only to the Pope and not subject to taxation or border restriction.
Knights of the Order were required to submit all of their wealth and possessions to the Templar upon joining. This influx of money and land along with donations from noblemen from throughout Europe built the order quickly to the point that they began lending to many important figures of the Middle Ages. Circumventing the religious restriction against charging interest, the lending activities of the Templar proved lucrative. Additionally, the Templar often issued Letters of Credit to Crusaders who would place their wealth in Templar control, receiving an encoded document stating the value of goods, which could then be collected in the Holy Land.
Gaining rapidly in wealth and authority, the Knights Templar continued to be a critical force in the Middle East militarily. Participating in many battles throughout the Crusades, the Templar heavy cavalry was known throughout the region for its effectiveness. In fact, one of the tenets of the Order dictated that Templars were forbidden from retreating in battle except at the order of the commander or if the Templar flag went down, and also only if outnumbered by at least 3 to 1.
Al-Asqa Mosque, former headquarters of the Knights Templar
Decline and Fall
The turning of the tides in the Crusades created disarray within the Order, especially after the fall of Acre in 1291, ending Crusader control in the Holy Land. The order relocated it's headquarters to Cyprus and still retained immense political and financial power, but the loss of the Holy Land left the Order with no clearly defined purpose. Despite several failed military efforts in Armenia and Antartus under the 23rd Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jaques de Molay, the Templar continued to expand their political power and expressed an interest in forming their own sovereign state in southern France, much to the dismay of King Phillip of France.
Concerned both by the immense power of the Templar and the considerable debt he owed them, in the early 1300's Phillip set in motion a plan to eliminate the threat that the Order posed to him.
Execution of Jaques de Molay
23rd Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights Templar, Molay was arrested in the initial wave on Friday the 13th and initially confessed to the charges brought against him under torture. Though he later denied these confessions to bishops sent by the Pope, he did not rescind them in the presence of agents of King Philip.
On the 18th of March, 1314, Jaques de Molay was sentenced to die in front of Notre Dame. That night, on a small island in the Seine, Molay and Geoffroi de Charney, Master of Normandy, were tied to stakes and burned to death with now famous composure.
Though not concrete, legend has it that Molay cursed Pope Clement V and King Phillip on his death pyre, assuring both of them that the two would come to answer for their crimes in the eyes of God "within a year and a day" and condemned the descendants of Phillip. Pope Clement V succumbed to illness in April of the same year, and Phillip in a hunting accident in November. By 1328 the House of Capet, a 300-year dynasty including King Phillip, collapsed entirely.
The End of the Knights Templar
The end of the Templar began on Friday, October 13th 1307 when dozens of Templars throughout France were arrested, interrogated, tortured, and executed, all on the orders of King Phillip. Over the next several years 138 Templar Knights would be captured, many of whom eventually confessed under torture to some of the accusations made against the Order.
In spite of efforts by the Templar to gain the aid of the Pope, the scandal spread throughout France until, under extreme public pressure, Pope Clement issued the Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which ordered all European monarchs to arrest any known Templars.
This isn't a definitive history of the Knights Templar (please don't spell it Nights Templar, that's annoying.) I urge you to investigate further if you're interested, or leave a comment if you want to know more.