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Knights Templar were a military order of the time of the Crusades. It was founded in Palestine in 1119 by a group of French knights to protect pilgrims to the Holy Places. The name derives from the fact that King Baldwin II of Jerusalem gave the knights quarters in his palace on the site of Solomon's Temple. Templars took the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and were divided into four grades: knights, chaplains, esquires, and menial servants. St. Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have drawn up their rule. The Templars spread rapidly through Latin Christendom and eventually numbered about 20,000 knights. Their fighting abilities were highly valued by the kings of Jerusalem, who were glad of their help in view of the chronic manpower shortage in the Crusading states.
The Templars early made enemies. The other military order, the Hospitalers or Knights of St. John, strongly disliked them. The two were often found on opposite sides in the quarrels and intrigues among the Crusaders, and in 1241 they nearly came to blows in Palestine, to the scandal of Christendom. Because they were under the direct authority of the pope, the Templars were exempt from royal and episcopal control, a privilege that many of the clergy resented. The recipients of lavish gifts of land and money, they grew wealthy enough to act as the bankers of kings. Their military power enabled them to convoy bullion from the East to Europe, and the Temples in Paris and London contained strongrooms where royal treasure was stored.
As long as their services were required in Palestine, they were in no danger. But in 1291 Acre fell, and the Templars and other Crusaders retired to Cyprus. The Templars also felt threatened by the possibility of amalgamation with the Hospitalers. Now reports charging the Templars with immoralities and blasphemies began to circulate through Europe, the mildest accusation being that they spat on the cross at their secret initiation ceremonies.
In 1307, Philip IV the Fair of France suddenly ordered the arrest of all Templars in his dominions, and torture extracted confessions of innumerable crimes, heresies, and witchcraft. The King, who was desperately short of money, either simply sought an excuse to seize their wealth or honestly regarded them as a dangerous secret society.
Pope Clement V, also a Frenchman and under strong pressure from Philip, set up commissions to investigate the charges. In 1312 the order was dissolved by papal decree but never formally condemned, though many individual members were tried and executed. Its vast property was in part handed over to the Hospitalers, in part confiscated by the state. In 1314 the last grand master, Jacques de Molay, and several of his associates were burned outside Notre Dame in Paris. It was popularly believed that at the stake Molay repudiated his confession and summoned king and pope to meet him at the judgment seat of God. The guilt of the Templars has been the subject of much controversy.