The Knights Templar

Let evil swiftly befall those who have wrongly condemned us,
......God will avenge us.Jacques de Molay, 1314

On March 18th, 1314 in the shadows of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Jacques de Molay, the 23rd and last Grand Master of The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, and Geoffroi de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, burned slowly to death in flames kindled with Royal expediency and Papal betrayal. Both displayed such calmness and courage that their ashes were collected and revered as the dust of martyrs. De Molay's alleged final words, a prophetic curse upon Clement V and Philip IV did not wait long to be fulfilled, the Pope succumbing the following month, on 20th of April, 1314 and the King soon after on the 29th day of November in the same year.

De Molay, Philip IV and Clement V, meeting death in the same year, have left very different legacies. Whereas the King and the Pope are defined by their complicit roles in the Templar's destruction, the Templar's fame, stretching over seven centuries, is now shrouded in legend and myth.

Birth of an Order
After the First Crusade (1096-1099) the city of Jerusalem, captured by the Christian Crusaders in 1099, became a Holy Place for Christians and many undertook the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, though Jerusalem was relatively secure, the rest of Outremer was less so. Pilgrims were routinely attacked and killed as they travelled from the coastal town of Jaffa to the Holy Place, Jerusalem. In 1119, the French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with the proposal of creating a monastic order, ostensibly for the protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin agreed to the request and granted space for a headquarters in a wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount, in the recently occupied Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had special significance because it stood upon what was believed to be the ancient ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon's Temple and it was from this sacred location that the new Order took the title of 'Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon', or Templar knights.

The nascent Order of nine knights, including Godfrey de Saint-Omer and André de Montbard, had few financial resources and relied on charitable donations to survive, their emblem of two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing the Order's poverty. The Templars' impoverished status did not last long. They had wealthy connections and also a powerful advocate in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading Church figure and a nephew of André de Montbard, one of the founding knights. Bernard spoke and wrote persuasively on their behalf, and in 1129 at the Council of Troyes the Order was officially endorsed by the Church. With this formal blessing, the Templars became a favoured charity throughout Christendom, receiving money and land and noble-born sons from families who were eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. Another huge boost to the Templars fortune came in 1139, when Pope Innocent II issued papal bull Omne Datum Optimum, granting to the Templars a unique status that allowed them to pass freely through all lands, exempted them from all taxes and more significantly made them accountable only to the pope, a status that bestowed the Order with immediate mystique.

The Templars and The Crusades
With its clearly defined mission and increased resources, the Order grew rapidly. It must be remembered however that the majority of Templars were not Knights fighting in the Holy Land but attendants and administrators in an ever growing Order. The financial network that the Templar's had built was expansive and required many banking and administrative staff.

However, Templars were and always will be synonomous with the Crusades and they were a much feared and respected military force, if not in numbers but in valour and courage. Often they were the advance force in key battles, mounted and heavily armoured, charging the enemy, in an attempt to cause havoc and break their lines. One of their most famous victories was at the Battle of Montgisard in 1177 where some 500 Templar knights helped several thousand infantry to defeat Saladin's army of more than 26,000 soldiers. The Templars were ferocious fighter's and many died on the field of battle rather than surrender or retreat.

In the mid-12th century, the tide began to turn in the Crusades. The Muslims took advantage of dissension amongst the Christian Orders and under the able leadership of Saladin the Knights Templar and Christian armies were involved in several unsuccessful campaigns, including the pivotal Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187 and Jerusalem was captured by Saladin's forces in the same year. The Crusaders retook the city in 1229, without Templar aid, but held it only briefly. In 1244 Jerusalem was retaken by the Khwarezmi Turks and would remain in Muslim control until 1917 in the Great War.

The Templars were forced to relocate their headquarters to other cities in the north, such as the seaport of Acre, which they held for the next century. Acre was lost in 1291 followed by their last mainland strongholds, Tortosa (in what is now Syria), and Atlit. Their headquarters then moved to Limassol on the island of Cyprus and they also attempted to maintain a garrison on tiny Arwad island, just off the coast from Tortosa. However, the Templars lost the island to the Egyptian Mamluks in the Siege of Arwad. With the island gone, the Crusaders lost their last foothold in the Holy Land.

After the recent defeats Christendoms' rulers saw that the Holy Land was lost and their support for the Crusades dwindled fast and with the Templar's military force now superfluous their support also fell dramatically. The Templars however were still a powerful force. They possessed large areas of workable land and operated a political and economic network that covered all of western Europe. The Templar Houses, which were numerous and dotted throughout Europe and the Near East, gave them a widespread presence at the local level and thus their position was economically powerful. Yet such a position of power also rendereded them vulnerable. Being 'above the law' effectively made the Templars a 'state within the state', but when the European monarchs and the Vatican had no use for their military strength their economic power and their independence was bound to incite fear, jealousy and greed and heighten tensions with some European nobility, none moreso than Philip IV of France who was heavily in debt to the Templars and must have been deeply concerned with their miltary inclinations and the autonomous position they enjoyed.

Arrest and Trial
The downfall of the Knights Templar was the culmination of of a plan conceived and developed in secrecy by Philip IV of France, that took several years to prepare. The main impediment was the reluctance of Popes Boniface VIII and Benedict XI. Philip IV who had been accused of using church funds for state purposes had long battled Boniface and the Pope, in 1303, suffered the humiliation of being slapped by the Kings minister Colonna, imprisonment and being severely beaten whilst in captivity. Philip accused the Pope of heretical opinions and the standard charge of sodomy. Boniface VIII died in the same year, the cause which is still unclear. Benedict XI, who succeeded Boniface, fared little better. Elected in 1304 he did revoke the excommunication of Philip but as a defender of Boniface he proceeded to excomminicate Philips' implacable minister Guillaume de Nogaret and within eight months he died suddenly, resulting in rumours that Nogaret had him poisoned. This allowed Philip to manipulate the election and secure the appointment of Clement V whose first action was to remove the papal seat from Rome to Avignon where it would remain for many years under the influence of the kings of France.

Philip now had a Vicar of Christ who would not defend the Order that swore allegiance to and which was accountable only to his throne. Philips plans now proceeded in secret and and on Friday, 13th of October, 1307, (Giving birth to Friday 13th being unlucky), under orders of Philip IV with the complicity of Pope Clement V, the Knights Templar were arrested en masse and charged with many crimes including the customary charges of heresy, sodomy and blasphemy. The five initial charges lodged against the Templars were Firstly, renouncement of Christ and spitting on the cross during initiation into the Order. Secondly, stripping of the man to be initiated and the thrice kissing of that man by the preceptor on the navel, posteriors and the mouth. Third was telling the neophyte, (novice), that unnatural lust was lawful and indulged in commonly. Fourth was that the cord worn by the neophyte day and night was consecrated by wrapping it around an idol in the form of a human head with a great beard, and that this idol was adored in all chapters. Fifth was that the priests of the order did not consecrate the host in celebrating Mass. Future and more extreme charges would be pressed the following year, 1308. These charges were vigorously denied but some 'confessions' were extracted by means of torture.

In 1312 the pliant Clement officially desolved the Knights Templar and though many had been rounded up and exceuted it is estimated that as many managed to escape and took refuge abroad where the French Kings' influence was not great and in particular where the threat of papal excommunication carried less weight, such as Scotland where Robert The Bruce had recently been excommunicated. Also, Scotland's links with the Templars had been forged at the Order's inception and Hugues de Payens travelled to Scotland in 1128 and indeed had married Catherine St. Clair of the same family whose descendent Henry St. Clair built the incongrous and now infamous Rosslyn Chapel just outside Edinburgh.

Evidence suggests that Philip IV was unsuccessful in his attempt to place his hands upon the Templar wealth, but this perhaps is not surprising as the Templars financial organization had for a long time been able to move monies easily and securely around Europe and the Levant. The passing years have served only to give birth to countless rumours as to where the refugee Templars and their wealth found sanctuary and what role they may have played in subsequent events. Many links have been postulated: Fighting alongside Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn on June 24th, 1314 a mere three months after the death of Jacques de Molay; Crossing to the New World, L'america, long before Christopher Columbus' famous voyages; Founding the order that is now called Freemasonry in Scotland with the Scottish-French St. Clairs; Fostering the French Revolution to exact revenge for the brutal and murderous suppression of their Order and reportedly, as the Louis XVI's head rolled off the guillotine, a man leapt onto the scaffold and flung Louis' blood all over the crowd, shouting "Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!"

The image of the Templars may be glorified as the epitomy of Honour and Courage or portrayed as supreme arrogance as in Walter Scott's historical novel Ivanhoe, but their allure and mystique will live another 700 years and will no doubt give birth to many more myths and legends.