The Knights Templar - Sarah Woodbury

The Knights Templar

In the beginning:

“Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in a body to their homes. The defense of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title “pauvres chevaliers du temple” (Poor Knights of the Temple). Poor indeed they were, being reduced to living on alms, and, so long as they were only nine, they were hardly prepared to render important services, unless it were as escorts to the pilgrims on their way from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, then frequented as a place of devotion.

The Templars had as yet neither distinctive habit nor rule. Hugues de Payens journeyed to the West to seek the approbation of the Church and to obtain recruits. At the Council of Troyes (1128), at which he assisted and at which St. Bernard was the leading spirit, the Knights Templars adopted the Rule of St. Benedict, as recently reformed by the Cistercians. They accepted not only the three perpetual vows, besides the crusader’s vow, but also the austere rules concerning the chapel, the refectory, and the dormitory. They also adopted the white habit of the Cistercians, adding to it a red cross.

Notwithstanding the austerity of the monastic rule, recruits flocked to the new order, which thenceforth comprised four ranks of brethren:

  • the knights, equipped like the heavy cavalry of the Middle Ages;
  • the serjeants, who formed the light cavalry;

and two ranks of non-fighting men:

The order grew after that, gaining power and reach within the next century:

“By spring of 1129 Templars had established a strong foothold in France, England and Scotland. In Scotland, around Aberdeen alone, a substantial quantity of Templar property was held including houses and churches in Turiff, Tullich, Maryculter, Aboyne, and Kingcausie. South of Aberdeen at Culter, they possessed a huge estate of no less than 8,000 acres.

By the second half of the 12th century the Order was flourishing and had become one of the leading landowners in Syria and Palestine. Funds and recruits continued to arrive from Europe and in order to manage this great wealth the Templars became experts in banking. By as early as 1148 they were moneylenders, despite the Church ban on usury and they soon had one of the most efficient banking networks in the western world. Pilgrims could now not only rely upon the protection of the Templars but could deposit money at their local preceptory and withdraw it as required by producing a letter of credit at any other preceptory.

With a common Rule, the Order’s legal and economic status was similar in almost every country, however it was only in the great capitols – London, Rome and Paris – that financial dealings took precedence. Outside the capitols, each commander or preceptor used his allotted lands in the appropriate way – farming, spinning, brewing and baking.

The Order’s military reputation and strength was also growing swiftly. Throughout the 12th century the Templars, together with the Hospitaller knights, were the finest fighting force in the Holy Lands. In time however, partly because fewer recruits could be found who were willing to die for the faith and partly due to growing rivalry between the various military orders which had now been created, the Templars’ military strength in the Holy Land began to decline.

When Acre fell to the Moslems in 1291, after a siege of the castle which lasted weeks and included fire bombs, catapults and mines, the Holy Land was lost forever. Over 20,000 Templar knights and sergeants had met their deaths since the Order’s inception. The Templars had lands in Cyprus and it was here that they created a new headquarters in the Middle East.

For part two see: https://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-fall-of-the-templars/


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