The Knights Templar


The Templars were organized as a monastic order, similar to Bernard's Cistercian Order, which was considered the first effective international organization in Europe. The organizational structure had a strong chain of authority. Each country with a major Templar presence (France, England, Aragon, Portugal, Poitou, Apulia, Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, Anjou, and Hungary had a Master of the Order for the Templars in that region. All of them were subject to the Grand Master (always a French knight), appointed for life, who oversaw both the Order's military efforts in the East and their financial holdings in the West. No precise numbers exist, but it is estimated that at the Order's peak there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Templars, of whom about a tenth were actual knights.

It was Bernard de Clairvaux and founder Hugues de Payens who devised the specific code of behavior for the Templar Order, known to modern historians as the Latin Rule. Its 72 clauses defined the ideal behavior for the Knights, such as the types of robes they were to wear and how many horses they could have. Knights were to take their meals in silence, eat meat no more than three times per week, and were not to have physical contact of any kind with women, even members of their own family. A Master of the Order was assigned "4 horses, and one chaplain-brother and one clerk with three horses, and one sergeant brother with two horses, and one gentleman valet to carry his shield and lance, with one horse." As the Order grew, more guidelines were added, and the original list of 72 clauses expanded to several hundred in its final form.

There was a threefold division of the ranks of the Templars: the aristocratic knights, the lower-born sergeants, and the clergy. Knights were required to be of knightly descent, and to wear white mantles. They were equipped as heavy cavalry, with three or four horses, and one or two squires. Squires were generally not members of the Order, but were instead outsiders who were hired for a set period of time. Beneath the knights in the Order and drawn from lower social strata were the sergeants. They were either equipped as light cavalry with a single horse, or served in other ways such as administering the property of the Order or performing menial tasks and trades. Chaplains, constituting a third Templar class, were ordained priests who saw to the Templars' spiritual needs.

The knights wore white robes with a red cross, and a white mantle; the sergeants wore a black tunic with a red cross on front and back, and a black or brown mantle. The white mantle was assigned to the Templars at the Council of Troyes in 1129, and the cross was most probably added to their robes at the launch of the Second Crusade in 1147, when Pope Eugenius III, King Louis VII of France, and many other notables attended a meeting of the French Templars at their headquarters near Paris. According to their Rule, the knights were to wear the white mantle at all times, even being forbidden to eat or drink unless they were wearing it.

Initiation, known as Reception (receptio) into the Order, was a profound commitment and involved a solemn ceremony. Outsiders were discouraged from attending the ceremony, which aroused the suspicions of medieval inquisitors during the later trials.

New members had to willingly sign over all of their wealth and goods to the Order and take vows of poverty, chastity, piety, and obedience. Most brothers joined for life, although some were allowed to join for a set period. Sometimes a married man was allowed to join if he had his wife's permission, but he was not allowed to wear the white mantle.

The red cross that the Templars wore on their robes was a symbol of martyrdom, and to die in combat was considered a great honor that assured a place in heaven. There was a cardinal rule that the warriors of the Order should never surrender unless the Templar flag had fallen, and even then they were first to try and regroup with another of the Christian orders, such as that of the Hospitallers. Only after all flags had fallen were they allowed to leave the battlefield. This uncompromising principle, along with their reputation for courage, their excellent training, and their heavy armament, made the Templars one of the most feared combat forces in medieval times.

Who Were The Knights Templar?

History of the Knights Templar incorporates about two centuries during the Middle Ages, from the Order's founding in the early 1100s, to when it was disbanded in the early 1300s.

Following the victory of the First Crusade a group of knights, led by Hugues de Payens, offered themselves to the Patriarch of Jerusalem as a military force. This proposed military force had the mandate of protecting Christian pilgrims who were en route to the Holy Land In the year 1118 AD King Baldwin II granted the Templars quarters on the Temple Mount.

For the first nine years of their existence, the order consisted of nine knights. Speculations of treasure hunting aside, one of the reasons for the limited number of members may have been the reluctance to take Templar vows. Chastity, poverty and obedience were hardly a lifestyle greatly sought after.

In the year 1127 the Cistercian abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, wrote a rule of order for the Templars that was based on his own Cistercian order's rule of conduct. Additionally, Bernard did a great deal to promote the Templars. Perhaps Bernard's greatest contribution to the order was a letter that he wrote to Hugues de Payens, entitled De laude novae militae (In praise of the new knighthood.) This letter swept throughout Christendom with the result being that many men, of noble birth, joined the ranks of the Templar Order. Those who were unable to join often gifted the Templars with land and other valuables.

While it is true that the Templars were not permitted, by their rule, to own much of anything personally, there was no such restriction on the order as a whole. As such the gifts of land were accepted and put to immediate use by the order. From humble beginnings of poverty in 1118, when the order relied on alms from traveling pilgrims, the Order quickly grew to have the backing of the Holy See and the collective European monarchies.

In the process, the order became wealthy. Aside from the gifts showered upon them, they were experts in commerce and free from the taxation and tithes imposed on other orders. However, in less than two centuries, the Templars would meet their demise perhaps because of their wealth or fear of their seemingly limitless powers. It is generally agreed that Philip IV was envious of the Templar's wealth and sought to secure it for himself.

Regardless of the motivation, the order was taken down at the hands of Pope Clement V and the King of France in 1307. On October 13, 1307 Philip had the Templars arrested on grounds of heresy; since this was the only charge that would allow the seizing of their money and assets. The Templars were tortured and confessions were given.

On March 19th, 1314 the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake. De Molay is said to have cursed King Philip and Pope Clement as he burned, asking both men to join him in death within a year. Whether the story is an apocryphal legend or a matter of historical fact depends largely on one's point of view. However, Pope Clement V died only one month later and Philip IV seven months after that.

Base of Operations

From the Order's foundation in 1119/1120 until the fall of Jerusalem the Grand Master was headquartered in Jerusalem. From 1191 until 1291, he was stationed at Acre and after the loss of the port city in 1291 was stationed on the Island of Cyprus.

List of Grand Masters From 1118 - 1314

While historians generally agree on the names of the men who led the Order over its nearly 200 years of existence, there is considerable disagreement in the dates that some individual Grand Masters held their post. The list below has been compiled from the works of three books on the History of the Knights Templar:

* The New Knighthood by Malcolm Barber
* The Templars by Piers Paul Read
* Dungeon, Fire and Sword by John J. Robinson

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