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The Military Orders
Part One: The Templars

"[A Templar Knight] is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, for his soul is protected by the armor of faith, just as his body is protected by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly-armed, and need fear neither demons nor men."

Bernard de Clairvaux, c. 1135, De Laude Novae Militae
( In Praise of the New Knighthood)

Origins

In early 1119, Hugues de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer, two battle-hardened veterans of the First Crusade, approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with a proposal for the creation of a new monastic order. But rather than seeking a cloistered life of contemplation, this new Order would serve by protecting pilgrims as they traveled to the Holy City.

Although Jerusalem had fallen into Christian hands in 1099, the &quote;Frankish&quote; conquerors made up only a fraction of the population. Beyond the walls of the great cities and strongholds, insurrectionists and bandits abounded, making the pilgrim routes often more dangerous to the faithful than they had been before the Holy City came into Christian possession. Consequently, the knight's proposal appealed to King Baldwin, and he granted their request, gifting them and their seven brother knights with a headquarters on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount was believed to be Solomon's Temple (in reality, it was the Al Aqsa Mosque), and it was from this place that the new Order took its name: the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon. As a monastic order, the knights swore themselves to poverty, and chose as an emblem two knights riding upon a single horse.

The fame of this odd new order of &quote;monkish knights&quote; spread rapidly, and drew the attention of a powerful patron, the famed Cistercian orator, Bernard of Clairvaux. It was primarily Bernard's efforts that brought the knights of the Temple to both the attention of the Pope, and official Church endorsement, at the Council of Troyes in 1129. With the Church's patronage, and Bernard's continued preaching of the &quote;new knighthood of Christ&quote;, the Templars' fame spread; and with that fame came new brother knights and donations of money, land, even mercantile interests, throughout Europe. So swift was the Temple's rise that by 1139, only twenty years after its inception, Pope Innocent II declared the Order free of obedience to all authority except his own, freeing the brother knights of all taxes, feudal obligation and travel restrictions throughout Christendom.

Organization

The Templars were organized similarly to Bernard's Cistercian Order, with a strong, hierarchical chain of authority. When a member was received into the Order, he was required to willingly sign over all of his wealth and goods to the Order, and to take vows of poverty, chastity, piety, and obedience. Most brothers joined for life, although some were allowed to join for a set period of years. Sometimes a married man was allowed to join for a set time or to fulfill a vow, if he had his wife's permission, but he was not allowed to wear the white mantle of a brother knight. These &quote;irregular&quote; knights were known as confrere, and were not considered full members of the Order.

Local chapters of the Order were preceptories, and combined the qualities of monastery and castle. Each was governed by a preceptor, who functioned as an abbot and military governor. All Preceptors within a given kingdom reported to a single Master of the Temple, who, in turn, was subject to the Grand Master in Jerusalem. The Grand Master was appointed for life, and oversaw all military and financial matters, although he had an extensive command staff, organized much like a royal household.

The specifics of the Templar's &quote;Rule&quote; or code of behavior was penned by Bernard of Clairvaux and Hugues de Payens, and consisted of 72 clauses, based largely on the Cistercian Rule, but adapted for the needs of the &quote;new knighthood&quote;. The Rule included governance over every aspect of life: how often a knight was to pray, how often he was permitted to eat meat, what types of robes he was to wear, how many horses he could have, etc. As monks, full brothers of the Order were forbidden physical contact of any kind with women, even members of their own family. As the Order grew, more guidelines were added to the Rule, eventually reaching several hundred in length.

The Templars ranks were actually divided into a three-tier system of aristocratic knights, lower-born sergeants, and the clergy. Knights were required to have been born to families of knightly rank, and served as the Order's heavy cavalry and commanders. Each knight was attended by one to two squires, who were generally &quote;confrere&quote; - non-members of the Order, either hired for a specific time or volunteers who had taken an oath to serve the Order for a set period of time. Beneath the knights in the Order and drawn from the lower classes were the sergeants, professional fighting men, who served as light cavalry, infantry commanders and administrators. Finally, the third Templar class was the chaplains, ordained priests who saw to the Templars' spiritual needs. Although the Order's number swelled to somewhere between 15,000 - 20,000 members by the turn of the 13th century, only about 10% of this number were actual knights. The vast majority of the rest were comprised of sergeants and support staff.

Knights of the Order wore the now famouswhite mantle and white robes, which had been granted to them at the Council of Troyes in 1129. The right to bear the red cross over the breast was likely granted at the start of the Second Crusade in 1147. The robes and mantle were not only a uniform, but the sole garments of the knights; they were forbidden to dress otherwise. Sergeants and confrere were distinguished by a black tunic with a red cross on front and back, and a black or brown mantle, and were required to be &quote;in uniform&quote; only while they were in service.

Apogee

The knights put their special freedoms and growing wealth to good use, and rapidly built a network of priories and preceptories throughout Europe and the Levant. They also developed an efficient, well-trained military machine; an elite fighting force that became one of the key lines of defense for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. With a vow of not turning from battle unless outnumbered by more than three to one, the Order developed a reputation of near invincibility. But the Templars were also shrewd tacticians, and this combination of military acumen and fearlessness often allowed them to wield far more influence on the field of battle than their number would have suggested.

The military reputation of the Temple was cemented at the Battle of Montgisard, in 1177. Saladin had marched an army of over 25,000 men from the south to pin down the forces of the sixteen year-old leper king, Baldwin IV, about 500 knights and several thousand infantry, near Ascalon. Eighty Templar knights and their own entourage attempted to reinforce the army and bring Saladin to battle. Seeing them as too small a force to be worth engaging, Saladin turned his back on them and led his army towards Jerusalem.

Once Saladin and his army had moved on, the Templars joined with King Baldwin, and pursued north along the coast to Montgisard. Here they found that Saladin had permitted his army to temporarily spread out to pillage villages on their way to Jerusalem. The Templars took advantage of the Saracen's disorder to launch a surprise ambush directly against Saladin and his bodyguard. Caught completely unawares, Saladin's army was spread too thin to adequately defend themselves, and he and his forces were forced to fight a desperate retreat south. From here, things only got worse, as the Sultan was harassed and attacked by Bedouin nomads. By the time he arrived back in Egypt, only a tenth of his army remained, and his entire bodyguard of Mamelukes had been slaughtered, most in battle against the Templars. Although the battle only bought the Kingdom of Jerusalem a year's truce, the victory, and the Temple's role in it, became the stuff of legend.

Although relatively small in number, the Templars routinely joined other armies in key battles, their reputation allowing them to claim the vanguard or defense of the army's rear during a retreat. Although the Order's focus remained the Levant, by the late 12th century, the Temple was contributing growing numbers of knights to the Iberian &quote;Reconquista&quote;.

The Horns of Hattin

After the death of King Baldwin IV in 1186, the throne passed to his sister, Sibylla, and through her, to her husband, Guy of Lusignan. This was in large part due to the support of the Temple.

While handsome, brave, skilled in personal combat and from a powerful, old family, there were many reasons to distrust the wisdom of making Guy king. A relative newcomer to Outremer, he had little understanding of the delicate balance of power that Baldwin, or his predecessors had maintained by acknowledging and protecting many of the unique social and legal institutions of the native population. Worse, Guy's crusading zeal was matched with his crass opportunism. In 1184, he attacked a tribe of Bedouin shepherds who had paid a tribute to the local Christians for allowing them the privilege of grazing their sheep. Guy and his men massacred as many of the tribe as they could and drove away the rest along with their flock. Although reprimanded by Baldwin, Guy continue to pray off of subject Muslims, straining racial tensions within the kingdom.

Further, while an excellent field commander once battle was enjoined, Guy had shown little skill as a tactician or strategist, and suffered from indecisiveness. Unfortunately, he had also been a patron of the Temple, which was itself chomping at the bit for a chance to engage Saladin, after the long series of truces that had been maintained by Baldwin, and his eagerness for battle may have been part of what led the Temple to throw Sibylla and Guy its support.

Certainly, if the Temple wanted war, its opportunity, and near destruction of its presence in the Levant, came on July 4, 1187, at a place called the Horns of Hattin. The Horns are so called for the two rocky peaks that rise over the brush covered slopes behind Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Saladin brought an army of over 12,000 mounted men to meet the forces of Jerusalem. The exact numbers of King Guy's forces are unknown, but while his army has been estimated at 15 - 20,000 men, no more than 1,000 were knights, hastily assembled by depleting the garrisons of the surrounding cities.

At the urging of the Templar Grand Master, the Christian army set out for Tiberius in the early morning hours of July 3rd, leaving in their wake a well-watered camp to trek across the dessert, under the hot desert sun. By evening of July 3rd, the crusading army arrived at a plateau below the Horns of Hattin, having yet to find any water. Saladin's men had come before them, and blocked the only stream.

Panic began to set in, and many men set out from the plateau to quench their thirst, only to be captured by Saladin's men. The Moslems then set the dry grasses covering the hill ablaze, exacerbating the Christian's thirst and desperation. By morning, Saladin's men had completely enclosed the crusaders, and as dawn approached, the Moslem horns called the attack. Half-mad with thirst, and dramatically outnumbered, Guy's army charged recklessly into the enemy. The battle was a slaughter. By the end of the day, only a small contingent of knights, charged with protecting King Guy and his command tent, still stood.

The leaders were then rounded up and taken to Saladin's camp. The common soldiers were sold into slavery. The barons and knights were to be ransomed back to their people, with the exception of the Military Orders. Each Templar and Hospitaller was forced to his knees and beheaded. Saladin spared none except for the Grand Master of the Temple, Gerard de Ridefort. As for Guy, Saladin is said to have told him, &quote;Have no fear. It is not the custom of kings to kill kings.&quote; Guy was released the following year from a prison in Nablus. He was ultimately forced to renounce his claim to the throne of Jerusalem; although he would later purchase Cyprus from the Templars and found a dynasty of Cypriot kings that survived for three hundred years.

Accusation and Trial

Although the Temple's fortunes rebounded during the Third Crusade, even the gains of Richard I (the Lionheart), could not restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem, only fortify its remains for a time against the inevitable. In 1291, the city of Acre, which has served as the kingdom's capital for a century, fell to the Mameluke Sultan Baibars, thereby extinguishing the last vestiges of &quote;Outremer&quote;. With the Holy Land back in Muslim hands, the Military Orders' raison d'etre came into question. The Hospitallers fell back to their fortresses at Rhodes, Cyprus and Malta, and turned their eyes to protecting the eastern Mediterranean sea lanes against the ascendant Mamelukes. Other Orders sought enemies of the faith closer to home. Since the 1220s, the Teutonic knights had launched successful crusades against the Prussians, and now turned their attentions to the Lithuanians and Orthodox Russians. Only the Iberian Orders were largely unaffected by the fall of the Holy Land, as their battle had always been on the borders of their own homeland. As the Levantine Crusades came to an end, the Spanish Reconquista was entering a new phase of aggression, and the Iberian Military Orders were in the forefront.

But the Temple's focus had been tied to the fortunes of Outremer. While the Temple had become increasingly involved in the Reconquista, the Iberian wars simply did not justify the vast network of preceptories dotted around Europe that made the Order omnipresent in the daily affairs of the Christian kingdoms. The Templars still owned vast land holdings, businesses, and shipping interests, and they still functioned as a bank or store-house for the personal valuables of some of the wealthiest European nobles and merchants. Since the Order was still not subject to any but the Pope, its wealth, military power and legal freedoms effectively made it a &quote;state within a state,&quote; bolstered by an army that had the legal authority to freely pass across any borders, but now had little clear purpose. It seemed only a matter of time before the Templars sought to create their own &quote;monastic state&quote;, as the Hospitallers were doing in Rhodes, and the Teutonic Order was seeking to do in the Baltic. But while Rhodes and Russia were on the fringes of Roman Christendom; the Templar's European power-base was in France, England, Italy and Spain. It was thus little surprise that the rulers of Europe began to eye the Temple suspiciously.

Unfortunately for the Order, it was about to run afoul of the one man with the authority to bring it to heel, the Pope. The Avignon papacy, or as it became known, the &quote;Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy&quote; had already begun, and the new pope, Clement V, was a weak man, at precisely the same time that France was being ruled by a particularly aggressive, and ambitious, king: Philip IV (&quote;the Fair&quote;). Philip was deeply in debt to the Templars from a failed war with the English, and had made several attempts to ingratiate himself with the Order, even suggesting a role for himself as a member - while still maintaining his throne. Precisely what Philip proposed with his membership, and what this meant continues to be debated by historians, but the Order refused. Meanwhile, Pope Clement sent letters to both the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and the Hospitaller Grand Master Fulk de Villaret to discuss the possibility of merging the two Orders; an idea to which neither was amenable. But as their overlord, both agreed to meet with the Pope. During this meeting, de Molay and Clement discussed charges that had been made two years prior by an ousted Templar, which both agreed were likely false. Or so de Molay thought. Clement did not drop the matter, but sent a written request to King Philip, asking for his assistance in the investigation.

This gave Philip the opportunity for which he had been waiting. On Friday, October 13, 1307, Philip ordered de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested across France, on the charges of heresy and blasphemy. Under torture a number of knights, including Grand Master de Molay, confessed, and Philip sent the confessions to the Pope. Clement issued the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets. While a number of monarchs followed the orders, others delayed, allowing the knights a chance to flee.

As hearings to determine the Templars' guilt or innocence began, many of the knights, now freed from torture, recanted. Many determined to defend themselves in public trials, but Philip moves swiftly, and used the forced confessions to burn over fifty Templars at the stake while the Papal hearings were still proceeding. The proceedings dragged on; until the king then made it quite clear to Clement that he was willing to use force if the Pope did not comply with his wish to have the Order disbanded. At the Council of Vienne in 1312, Clement issued the Vox in excelso, which officially dissolved the Order. However, if Philip has expected to seize the Templars' assets, he was thwarted, for Clement also issued the Ad providam, which turned over most of the Order's wealth and holdings to the Hospitallers.

As for the leaders of the Order, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and Geoffrey de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, recanted their confessions and were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics. They were sentenced to burn alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. According to legend, de Molay called out from the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year. Although de Molay's curse is likely the stuff of legend, that legend spread quickly, and probably helped begin the Templar &quote;mystique&quote; that continues to this day.

The remaining Templars were arrested and tried throughout Europe, but few were convicted. Many joined the other military orders, while the Templars of Portugal simply changed their name to the Knights of Christ. In Scotland, the already excommunicated King Robert the Bruce refused to take any action against the Order, and many English Templars may have simply fled north, just as many German and Italian knights are believed to have slipped into Switzerland, were the papacy's power was weak.

Thus the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon passed into history and mythology, and lives on primarily in the speculations of Masonic historians and conspiracy theorists today. The Roman Catholic Church has long held the position that the persecution of the Templars was unjust, and that Pope Clement was pressured by King Philip to disband the Order. The Vatican set the matter to rest in October 2007, the 700th anniversary of the Templars' arrest, when the Vatican published secret documents about the trial of the Knights Templar, including the Chinon Parchment, a record of the trial of the Templars, showing that Clement initially absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308, before formally disbanding the Order in 1312.

 

Bibliography

Barber, Malcolm.The Trial of the Templars, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Barber, Malcolm.The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Frale, Barbara (2004). &quote;The Chinon charter - Papal absolution of the last Templar, Master Jacques de Molay&quote;, Journal of Medieval History 30 (2): 109-134.

Howarth, Stephen,The Knights Templar, Marboro Books, 1991

Partner, Peter.The Knights Templar and their Myth. Destiny Books; Reissue edition (1990).

Upton-Ward, JM.The Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Rule of the Order of the Knights Templar. The Boydell Press, 1992


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