The Knights Templar

Warriors, bankers, religious zealots: these are all words used to describe the Knights Templar.

Hugh de Payens
Urban II
Templar Knights lending money to rulers
The Fall of Acre in 1291

A Brief History of the Templar Knights

The Templar Knights were a Catholic medieval military order combining military skills and monastic life.

Christian forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099, and many pilgrims made the journey to the Holy Land. Led by Hugh de Payens and Bernard of Clairvaux, nine knights living in Jerusalem took it upon themselves to protect visiting pilgrims.

The Knights Templar was established in 1119 and received papal recognition in 1129. They had headquarters in Jerusalem and Acre and defended Christian holy sites with religious zeal. They were considered a branch of the Cistercians, a Roman Catholic monastic order, which is where the white hooded mantle came from, and later added the red cross to the uniform.

The first major battle involving Templars was in 1147 against Muslims during the second crusade, 1147-1149. By the 13th century, the Knights Templar had become an international military order taking part in Crusades in Iberia and the Baltic.

Although the organization was not secret, its activities were. The Knights became very powerful and accumulated property, lands, and wealth.

Structure and Rules

There were two ranks within the Knights Templar hierarchy. There were a few hundred full-brother knights but much more non-military personnel called sergeants. These were soldiers, mercenaries, squires, baggage bearers, priests, artisans, and laborers.

The order was led by a Grandmaster who was chosen from within the temple by 12 senior Templars. The Grandmaster held great power but had to answer to a group of senior brothers called The Grand Chapter. Convents were grouped into geographical locations and managed by a preceptor who reported to the local Priory and the Grandmaster.

Templar Knights followed The Rule of Life that governed daily life and included obedience to the Grandmaster, compulsory church attendance, celibacy, communal meals, and the prohibition of worldly pleasures. The Rule of the Knights Templar dictated they were never to retreat, surrender, or charge without being ordered. This made them formidable fighters.

The Crusades

The Templar Knights and their history have been popularized by modern books and movies, very often in relation to their involvement in the Crusades.

The Crusades were religious wars that occurred from 1095 to 1291 in the Holy Land or what is now called the Middle East. They were started by Pope Urban II, whose goal was to recover Jerusalem and the surrounding areas from Islamic rule.

The Templar Knights were skilled fighters renowned for their discipline during group cavalry charges. They were considered religious zealots who believed in the work of the crusades to check the spread of Islam, conquer pagan areas, and recapture formerly Christian territories.

The violent and ruthless conflict made European Christians significant players in the fight for land in the Middle East. The Templar Knights benefited financially from these wars despite their monastic vows.

Medieval Bankers

The Knights Templar were not just fearsome fighters but savvy businessmen as well.

Templar convents were considered safe places, and people often stored their money, jewels, and important documents there.

People could also deposit money in one convent and transfer and withdraw it from another providing they had a suitable letter. You could also make regular payments to the convent, and the Templars would pay out fixed sums on behalf of the account holder. In the 13th century, even nobles and kings of France kept their treasuries with the order.

Templar Knights had amassed wealth over the years of the Crusades and they often lent money to rulers. This was an important element in the evolving financial structure of late medieval Europe. However, this efficient banking system would play a part in the eventual downfall of the Knights Templar.

The End of the Templar Knights

The prosperity of the Templar Knights had drawn the eye of powerful monarchs and political players.

In the late 12th century, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem, and the Fall of Acre in 1291 meant the end of the last crusader refuge in the Holy Land. In 1303 the Knights Templar moved their headquarters to Paris. With dwindling European support, many secular and religious leaders criticized the Templars for their wealth and power.

King Philip IV of France was denied additional loans from the Templar Knights, which was thought to have played a role in their demise. On October 13th, 1307, on the orders of King Philip IV, French officials arrested Templar Knights. They were charged with heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, and institutionalized sodomy. Many knights were burned at the stake and tortured until they confessed to false charges. The Pope officially dissolved the order in 1312.

Modern Templars: The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem

The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem is an NGO, accredited by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

They seek to emulate the chivalric and charitable traditions of the original Templars. They consider themselves a modern Christian order of knighthood seeking God and promoting love and respect for their communities. They encourage understanding between religions and focus on helping pilgrims visit Holy places and maintaining a Christian presence in the Holy Land. They believe in standing against oppression and protecting freedom of speech.

This modern group has three guiding principles: an inter-denominational Christian membership, democratic functioning, and an international outlook. Members of the Order are expected to have prolonged involvement with local charities and support order activities within their talents and financial means. Members are expected to follow the Modern Rule of Christian Life and a Code of Chivalry based on the original Rule of Life that the Templar Knights followed.

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