THE HISTORY OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR

About 1095 AD, Pope Urban II had what was accounted a brilliant idea.  Europe at this time was emerging from the dark ages.  Food was more plentiful and populations were growing and stratifying into three classes.  The peasants did most of the real work; the clergy attended to spiritual matters; and the nobility ruled and made war.  The principle that the eldest son of a noble family inherited the title and estates had created a growing number of noble younger sons who were unfit and unwilling for anything except fighting, and who often had to make do with general troublemaking.  At the same time, the church bemoaned the fact that the Holy City of Jerusalem, conquered by a Moslem army in 648, still remained in their hands and was nearly inaccessible to Christian pilgrims.  Urban's idea was to declare a Crusade to capture the Holy Land, at the same time getting the troublesome young nobles out of Europe and possibly allowing them to gain lands and wealth of their own in the East.  His plan was greeted with wild enthusiasm and nobles and commoners alike flocked to join the cause.  A year later four armies, estimated to total over four thousand knights and 30,000 infantry set out for the Holy Land.  Over the next three years, they were to march over 800 miles, fight numerous battles (notably at Antioch) and lose nearly two thirds of their number, but on July 15, 1099, the city of Jerusalem fell to them.  The Crusaders massacred the Moslem inhabitants, pillaged the city, and then went to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.   Pope Urban might have had second thoughts had he not died a few days earlier.
Jerusalem had become a nominally Christian city and the capitol of a nascent Frankish kingdom in the mideast, but the goal of opening it to Christian pilgrimage was far from realized.  Over the course of the next twenty years, the Crusaders extended their control and seized a number of ports which gave them access by sea rather than the tortuous overland route they had originally taken.  Even so, much of the land between their strongholds was still contested or out right controlled by Moslems.  The trip from port to the Holy City was hard and dangerous - not conducive to attracting the pilgrims for whom the whole enterprise had been undertaken.  In addition, by this time many of the Crusaders had spent major parts of their lives in the East and come to consider it their home.  To hold it and make it self sufficient, they needed an influx of new Christian settlers and fighting men, and to achieve that, the roads had to be made safe.
In 1118, a group of nine French knights, under the leadership of Hugh de Payens, agreed to commit themselves to that cause.  They were devout men with little use for the luxuries and vicious amusements of many fellow knights, so they decided to constitute themselves a religeous order, taking the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obediance.  They named themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ, and one of their earliest symbols was of two knights riding the same horse, representing their poverty.  Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, realized their potential value and granted them quarters on the supposed site of the Temple of Solomon.  From this, they derived their final name: the Knights of the Temple of Solomon, or simply, Knights Templar.  Over the next eight years, the fame of the Knights grew and they attracted some material support and associate members (those who were not committed to the order for life).  It was, however, apparent that far more was required for them to have any hope of fulfilling their mission.  In addition, in 1126 Baldwin was planning to attack Damascus and greatly desired to see the Templars increase in numbers so that they could support his campaign.  In 1125, he had granted Hugh the title of Master of the Temple, which required a more regular organization of the order.  To accomplish both of these ends, it was necessary that the Templars be formally recognized by the Church, and Baldwin knew of an ideal champion for that cause.  Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot of Citeaux in northern France, was the stellar adornment of European spiritual life in his time.He was extremely devout and compassionate, wise and eloquent, and empowered by a simple consuming faith that all admired and few could oppose.  It was to Bernard that Baldwin wrote, describing the Templars and asking help in gaining Papal recognition of their order; and it was to Citeaux that two Templars repaired in late summer to present their case.  Bernard had long decried the failings of the European knights and so he was delighted with men who not only held to the knightly ideals but desired to take the ultimate step of entering holy orders.  He appealed to Pope Honorius II, who called a council at Troyes early the following year to hear the case.  Hugh de Payens, with several other Templars, arrived to plead their cause, which he did with such eloquence that they were granted the blessings of the church and a detailed Rule for the Order in which even their clothing was prescribed (white and without adornment).  Immediately after the conclusion of the council, the Templars set out to seek the material resources they needed.  They first traveled through France and then split up, with Hugh crossing the channel to England and Scotland.  Everywhere, they received gifts of money and property, and people of all ranks flocked to join them.  Only the nobility could actually become Knights, and many of those became associates rather than taking final vows, but the Templars required a large support force in the Holy Land.  They also required a widespread network in Europe to manage their increasing properties and maintain the flow of men, money and equipment to the Brothers in the East.

They were to need all of that.  In 1129, Baldwin launched his attack on Damascus but was defeated.  It is not known what part the Templars played in the battle - certainly they had not had time to weld their new recruits into a fighting unit - but their reputation continued to grow.  Baldwin died in 1131 and having no sons, was succeeded by his daughter and her husband, leading to a period of factionalism in the Holy Land.  This was mirrored in Europe where Pope Honorius died in 1130 and two rivals, Innocent II and Anacletus II, claimed the papal throne.  Bernard of Clairvaux supported Innocent and largely through his efforts, the Council of Pisa affirmed him and excommunicated Anacletus.  In 1136, Hugh de Payens had died and been succeeded by Robert de Craon, who, while devout, was more worldly and politically adept than his predecessor.  Bernard's support of the Templars and Innocent's realization that some degree of military power was desirable led to a meeting between the Pope and the new Master of the Temple. The result was a Papal Bull giving the Templars the right to appoint their own chaplains, build their own churches, be free of all obligations to other clergy, and most importantly, to be free of all authority - clerical or secular - except that of the Pope.  Innocent II died the same year and was followed in quick succession by Celestine II, Lucius II, and Eugenius III, each of whom re-affirmed the status of the Templars.  In December, 1144, the Christian city of Edessa was recaptured by Moslems, the first major Christian loss in the Holy Land.  In 1146, Eugenius announced the Second Crusade, to depart from France the following year under the command of the French King Louis VII.  He also granted the Templars a new right: to wear on the left breast and the shoulder of the mantle a red cross formee, an equal armed cross with splayed, notched ends.  The Second Crusade was a disaster, both for the French and their German allies.  Many of them never lived to see the Holy Land; that any escaped was due to King Louis' decision to turn military command of over to the Templars.  He also borrowed money from them when his funds ran out and thus launched the Order in a new role as international bankers, a role that was to become increasingly important to their future - and to their eventual downfall.

By this time, the Templars has been joined by other military orders, the most important being the Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, or Knights Hospitallers.  The Order was begun in a hospital for pilgrims in Jerusalem before the First Crusade.  After the Christian conquest of the city, the Hospitallers were given official support and soon began to receive contibutions from Europe as well.  Following the example of the Templars, they evolved into a military order, although they never abandoned their original function of caring for the sick and destitute.  They and the Templars were at various times rivals and allies, but the two Orders provided the main Christian military strength in the Holy Land for nearly 150 years.  The 13th century saw increasing political rivalry both in Europe and the Holy Land, and the gradual reconquering of Christian strongholds by Moslem forces.  Jerusalem was lost, regained and finally lost forever in 1243.  Civil wars broke out, with the Templars and Hospitallers sometimes actively fighting for opposing sides.  In 1291 Christians held only the fortress at Acre and in a final titanic battle the defenders were overwhelmed and the dream of Pope Urban II came to an end.  Of the two great Orders, the Hospitallers weathered the change best.  They were still involved in charitable work and they had already established a headquarters in Rhodes, from which they continued to fight the Moslems in the Mediterranean and in Spain.  The surviving Templars found refuge in their extensive network of properties in Europe and the Anglo-Celtic Isles, but a storm was gathering that would sweep away that refuge particularly in France, their historic homeland.

Philip IV (Philip the Fair) of France was a cold, arrogant, distant man who believed his rule to be divinely ordained and himself to be God's paramount representative on earth (during the period of the Crusades, the true center of the Church was France and most popes lived there).  When aged Pope Boniface VIII resisted and ultimately excommunicated Philip, the latter had him arrested and accused of diverse crimes.  The Pope was freed a month later, but so broken in health that he died within a month.  His successor, Benedict XI revoked the excommunication but otherwise continued to oppose Philip's pretensions; Benedict died of  mysterious, agonizing stomach cramps within a few months.  The next pope, Clement V was a weak and venal man more interested in his own advantage than in the Church: a perfect tool to further the French King's ambitions.  Philip deeply resented the independance of the Templars, and coveted their wealth to meet his debts and finance his constant wars.  With the passing of the Order's primary purpose and their consequent loss of popularity, he saw a chance to destroy them and gain their wealth for himself.  In 1307, he ordered a well planned sweep to arrest all the Templars in France in one night and immediately have them tortured to extract confessions of blasphemy, depravity and corruption.  Among the five thousand captives was Jacques De Molay, the last Master of the Temple.  Clement made some feeble attempts to intervene, but haunted by the fates of his predecessors, eventually acceded to Philip's demands and declared the Templars guilty of heresy.  Over the next seven years, the French Templars were either burned at the stake or, if they confessed (under torture) imprisoned for life.  De Molay and the Preceptor of Normandy originally confessed but later retracted their statements and were burned over a slow fire in 1314.  Philip gained little by his persecutions: his reputation throughout Europe was destroyed, and the Templar wealth and property were finally transferred to the Hospitallers.  According to legend, as he was dying Jacques De Molay cried out a curse on Clement and Philip and a prayer that the Order be vindicated; Clement died thirty-three days afterward, Philip seven months later.  Outside of France, the Pope's condemnation was not widely enforced.  In Germany, they were acquitted outright; in England, they were reconciled to the Church; and in Scotland, where the Order had a large number of members and extensive property, only two Templars were ever arrested.
 

December 30, 1999