The Templar Order was formed in 1118, when nine knights took holy vows to defend Jerusalem. In 1128, their founder received a blessing from the pope to formally form a new order of warrior knights. They adopted the order of St. Benedict, remember we talked about them in previous weeks too, and the white robes of the Cistercians and began recruiting. Men flocked to their banner, and were accepted in a hierarchical system of knights, sergeants (who wore black robes), farmers, and chaplains.
Within fifty years, the order became one of the largest landowners not only in the Holy Land but in France and England. They became money lenders in the major cities, and were one of the finest fighting forces in the world.
On the way to accumulating land, wealth, and the power that came with it, they established monasteries throughout Europe, called commanderies. Although the Templars didn’t start recruiting in Britain until 1128, ten years after their founding, by 1185, they had holdings throughout England, centered on the “New Temple” or Temple Church in London. In 1200, Pope Innocent III issued a Papal Bull declaring the immunity of persons and goods within the houses of the Knights Templar from local laws. This ensured that the New Temple became a royal treasury as well as the repository for the order’s accumulated revenues. These financial resources provided the basis for the development of the Templar’s local banking facilities.
The decline of the Templars began in the 13th century, as various possessions in the Holy Land were lost to Muslim forces. In 1291, the last stronghold in the Holy Land, Acre, fell, and many in Europe began to question why the Templars continued to exist. Taking advantage of this resentment, in 1307, King Philippe of France ordered the arrest of all the Templars, in every commanderie throughout France, all on the same day. This included the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. That first day, 625 knights were arrested.
With this coordinated action, Philippe was able to confiscate all Templar wealth, land, and possessions, including their fortress in Paris, known as The Paris Temple. In England, however, King Edward at first refused to believe these accusations and did nothing about them until January 1308, when the pope intervened and ordered him to arrest Templars. During those three months, many fugitive Templars came to England, seeking to escape torture and execution. Finally, after repeated pressure from Philip IV and Clement V on Edward II, who was now king since Edward I died in July 1307 too, a few half-hearted arrests were made. During a trial running from October 1309 until March 1310, most of the arrested Templars were forced to acknowledge the belief that the Order’s Master could give absolution was heretical, and were officially reconciled with the church. Many then entered more conventional monastic Orders.
Most Templars in England were never arrested, and the persecution of their leaders was brief. The order was dissolved due to damaged reputation, but all members in England were free to find themselves a new place in society. Templar lands and assets were given to the Hospitallers, as in France, a sister military order—though the English crown held onto some assets until 1338. The loss of the Holy Land by then had removed the primary reason for Templar existence anyway.