Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Beginning of the End For the Knights Templar

The Beginning of the End For the Knights Templar


      Today marks the anniversary of the widespread arrest in 1307 throughout France of the members of the Order of Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and Temple of Solomon, better known as the Knights Templar.

      Founded shortly after the First Crusade as a monastic order, the mission of the Templars was to provide protection to pilgrims coming to the Holy Land and otherwise protect the Latin Kingdom.  Eventually, the Order developed a rather sophisticated banking organization.  For example, one proposing to travel from England to the Holy Land could deposit funds with the Templars in England, receiving in return what was essentially a letter of credit against which the individual could make withdrawals as they travelled through Europe and ultimately to the Holy Lands.  The military component of the Order, although not large in actual numbers (never more than 1,500 to 2,000 knights), was considered highly effective – after the Battle of Hattin, Saladin ordered the execution of all captured Templars.

      With the eventual loss of the Holy Land territories by the turn of the 14th century, the Templars were without a reason for existence.  At the same time, Philip IV of France, anxious to address a depleted royal treasury by expropriating Templar property and as well exterminate his substantial debts to the Order, fabricated numerous salacious allegations against the Templars, leading to their mass arrest on October 13, 1307.  Ultimately Pope Clement V, then resident in Avignon and largely a pawn of the French crown, issued a bull directing that Templars, wherever located, should be arrested.  The remnants of the Order, other than those executed on spurious charges of heresy, were eventually either pensioned or absorbed into other military orders such as the Knights Hospitaller or the Teutonic Knights

      A papal finding (a/k/a the Chinon parchment) determined that the Templars were not guilty of the many charges against them including idolatry and heresy.  Their actual failing was having lost their mission while being at least perceived as being wealthy while a king needed funds.  Those assertions are in many instances questionable – a detailed review of the inventories of the English properties of the order demonstrated a far less than extravagant lifestyle. Although the Templars would be found innocent of heresy, as a political concession the Order was dissolved in 1312, its properties turned over to the Knights Hospitaller.

      Notwithstanding the efforts of numerous modern authors, the Templars did not possess the Holy Grail, irrespective of whether that was a physical cup or, as suggested in one particularly fanciful book, an oblique reference to Mary Magdalene and, ultimately, the line of Merovingian kings. Ignore the movies as well – Guy de Lusignan was not, as “The Kingdom of Heaven” would have you believe, a Templar. A well written introduction to the history is The Templars by Piers Paul Read.  The books by Malcolm Barber are as well worthwhile.

        Philip IV's moniker is “the Fair”; who says history does not have a sense of irony?

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