The Knights Templar were a knightly order formed just after the First Crusade and officially recognized by the church in 1128 at the Council of Troyes. They were formed to provide protection to those on pilgrimage from Jaffa to the holy city of Jerusalem and were housed in the palace of King Baldwin, which stood on the supposed site of King Solomon’s Temple. This is how they became known as the Order of Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, or, The Knights Templar.
Their lodging in close proximity to the site of King Solomon’s Temple also played a big role in the mystery of the Knights Templar and the various legends and myths that have sprung up around them.
Knights Templar History – Their Humble Beginnings
In those first few years, the Knights Templar were laymen who lived as monks, praying at set times and observing a strict code of behavior. They were fed and housed by King Baldwin, and were probably under his command in those first years. Their duties were carried out in relative obscurity to the Christian world, which led their leader, Hugues de Payns, to travel to Europe in order to rally support and seek funds for the impoverished Knights Templar.
In 1128, a church council was held in Troyes and was attended by many bishops and abbots, including St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux. St. Bernard was already a legendary speaker, and the concept of a military order of religious knights fit perfectly into his vision of a new world order. With St. Bernard’s help, the Knights Templar were officially recognized by the Church at the Council of Troyes.
The Knights Rise to Power
While the idea of a Christian order of knights who spilled the blood of men was in sharp contrast to the clergy who were forbidden to shed blood, the Knights Templar earned the approval of Europe within a few years of the Council of Troyes. They quickly became a favored charity for those wishing to fund the crusades in the Holy Lands and were even courted by King Alfonso I of Spain, who hoped to have the Templar’s support in the Iberian war against the Muslims.
The Knights themselves were often noble born, with many a noble who had been found guilty of criminal behavior electing to join the Knights Templar in order to
The Knights Templar quickly became the servants and friends to Kings, and their financial dealings led them straight into royal treasuries. In the early thirteenth century, the Temple in Paris was essentially the French Royal Treasury, and under Henry III, a Templar was in charge of the main household money offices.
The Templar also became known as a major force in battle, often riding out in front in order to break the enemy lines.
But it was their dealings with money and their growing relations with Kings and Princes that made up the seat of their power, and perhaps these very things that led to their eventual downfall.
The Downfall of the Knights Templar
The Knights Templar were given sweeping power by the Church, and this led to major resentment among the Bishops of the church. The Templar were given papal privilege and were able to use these powers even when a Bishop had put an area under church interdict and suspended services. This, in effect, meant the Templar could override the will of the Bishops, which turned a powerful faction of the Church against the Templar.
One such bishop, William of Tyre, often wrote about the greed of the Templar during the twelfth century. In one such accounting, he writes about how the greed of the Templar led them to alone penetrate through a breach in the city walls in order to be the first to plunder the city, the result being that fifty knights and a Grandmaster of the Templar were cut off from the army and subsequently killed.
Another key factor in the downfall of the Knights Templar was the failing Christian military in Syria. As the former strongholds fell and the Christians forces were swept from their occupied lands, the need for the knighthood decreased. This left them a powerful and very rich organization without an overriding purpose.
Knights Templar History – Their Trial and Burning
After a resurfacing of charges of heresy against the Knights Templar, Pope Clement V sent a letter to Philip IV, King of France, to look into the matter. On Friday the 13th of October 1307, the agents of the King Phillip arrested every known member of the Knights Templar in the kingdom based on suspicion of heresy. This is from the royal letter of arrest: “Like beasts of burden deprived of reason, in fact exceeding the unreasonableness of beasts in their bestiality, they have abandoned God their maker and sacrificed to demons and not to God.”
Within a few weeks, over half of the arrested Templar had confessed. This was after rounds of torture that were considered gruesome even for this time, as perhaps the very height of power the Templar had obtained was responsible for just how far they fell. And, in fact, many of the Templar did not even live long enough to give a confession, having died due to the extreme nature of the torture.
On November 22, 1307, Philip convinced Pope Clement to issue a decree urging other European Monarchs to arrest the Templar. Pope Clement called for papal hearings, and some Templar who had previously confessed recanted those confessions, but they were ultimately found guilty in the trials of 1310.
In all, 54 Templars were burned in 1310, each asserting to the end their Catholic loyalty, and 2 Templar leaders burned in 1314.
Why did King Philip so vehemently seize upon the opportunity to destroy the Templar? Most believe that it was the treasure of the temple, held just outside of Paris, that was Philip’s real target. Soon after the arrest, King Philip seized the treasure of the temple. Another theory is that he hoped to use the arrests to combine the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller under his own rule in order to continue the holy crusades.