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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Riley

Who were the Knights Templar?

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Order of Solomon's Temple, the Knights Templar are synonymous with legend and mystery but, what's the real story?

A modern scene showing Templar knights charging into battle SOURCE:, Dattatreya Mandal

Who were the the Templars?

To talk about the Templars first, we must go all the way back to 11th century Europe. in November 1095, Pope Urban II called the men of Europe to arms, to defend their bothers in the east and, to take back the holy city of Jerusalem. In an event that would be later known as the 1st Crusade, thousands of European Christians 'took the cross' (the act of sowing a cross onto ones shoulder) and set out for the Holy Land (modern day turkey and Palestine) to beat back the Muslim Turks that had swept through most most of the Near East. The 1st Crusade was somewhat of a success for the christian forces, taking back the city of Jerusalem in 1099 but, once the Crusader forces left the Holy land, the gains they made were quickly eroded. With the holiest sites now in Christian hands, many pilgrims from across the known world travelled to worship at the site of the crucifixion of Christ and other such miraculous sites. The issue was, the routes between the sites were unsafe, stalked by bandits and marauders looking to pounce on the lowly pilgrims, who relied on local guides for safe passage. By the year 1118, one of the few French knights that had stayed in the Holy Land after the crusade, Hugues de Payens, decided to form an order to protect the pilgrims on their travels. The order would be called, The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, known simply as the knights of the temple or, the Templars.

Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, 1474

The Knights Templar, originally only 9 men, expanded quickly in the 1120's becoming the premier holy order. In 1129, the Templars gained support from the Catholic Church with Bernard of Clairvaux issuing the “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” furthering their support in both Europe and the Holy Land. In 1139, Pope Innocent II granted them special powers, allowing them to do virtually, whatever they liked, no taxes and the ability to build their own churches and other important buildings, put the Templars on the path of greatness. Setting up shop in Jerusalem, the Templars made the Temple Mount their base of operation in which they could both protect pilgrims and, further their interests in the region.

What did they do?

Over the next several decades, the Templars would go from strength to strength, growing both their religious and military wings to form a semi autonomous monk army. As well as their military exploits, the Templars turned their hand to finance, setting up what would be the worlds first international banking system, in which a person could deposit money at one Templar strong hold and then, withdraw it else where. The fees they charged for the privilege, earned them vast amounts of wealth and land, at one point the Templars controlled the whole island of Cyprus. As well as banking and warfare, the Templars are rumoured to have been collectors of rare religious relics. Fragments of the true cross and the crown of thorns were both believed to have been owned by the templars but, it is the holy grail that is forever paired with the holy order. No one knows for sure if the holy grail ever existed but, it added further to the mystery that was the Knights Templar. throughout the 12th century, the Templars became the most highly trained and praised order in the world, known for their excellent fighting abilities and, their unwavering piety in the face of adversity. The fact that they owed loyalty only to the Pope, created a vail of mystery around the order, furthering their prestige and their influence, continued to spread through Europe and the Holy Land.

An example of a letter of credit or, cheque, used to guarantee payment upon arrival in the Holy Land, something we still use today SOURCE:

the loss of Jerusalem and the 3rd Crusade

Since the 1st crusade, the so called 'Crusader states' that had been set up as permanent fiefdoms, were in dire straits. The Muslim forces had rallied behind the Kurdish Sultan of Egypt, named An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub known to history as, Saladin. Saladin had risen quickly to power and in 1187, took the greatest prize, Jerusalem. Not able to defeat an army five times bigger than their own, the kingdom of Jerusalem and the Templars soon surrendered, paying for the lives of the Christians of the city, likely not expecting much mercy. After the city fell to Saladin, the Templars were able to leave Jerusalem unharmed for Acre, a city on the coast, a place that would become their home for the next century.

Following the fall of Jerusalem, Richard the Lionheart and his French counterpart, Philip II led the 3rd Crusade and with the help of the Templars and other holy orders, such as the Knights of Saint John, (knights Hospitaller) hoped to reclaim the Holy city. Their attempts in the late 12th century were ultimately met with failure but, it further cemented the Templars in the hearts fo mind of Christians who now held them above almost all other powers, save the Pope. Usually forming the vanguard or rearguards of armies, the Templars where known for their determination and skill on the battle fields of the Holy Land, playing a vital role in Richard's victory at the battle of Hattin.

The fall of Acre

With Christian control over the Holy Land dwindling, Acre acted as the last bastion of hope for the retaking of Jerusalem but, it wouldn't last for long. With the Mamluk forces (a former slave class from Egypt) smashing their way through the remaining Christian centres of power, the Templars knew that Acre would be next. On 18th May 1291, after weeks of sieging, the Mamluk forces were able to storm the walls using their overwhelming numbers to take the city. The few surviving Templars new that their fate was sealed and chose, instead of fleeing, to hold their fortress deep within the city. The Mamluk engineers eventually were able to dig under the foundations, causing a collapse that killed all inside. The Martyrdom of the Templars at Acre turned a terrible loss of life (the city of almost 100,000 people was massacred) into a sign of pure faith and commitment to the Pope.

The Fall of Acre virtually ended Christian hopes of retaining the Holy Land. Attempts were made throughout the 13th and 14th centuries to Reignite the Crusader pipe dream but, the taste for it had since left many. With no bases outside of Europe, the Templars focused on finance as a way to continue the order but, this would ultimately lead to their downfall.

The end of the Templars?

By the turn of the 14th century, many secular rulers were suspicious of the Templars ever growing wealth, Acquired over centuries via mysterious and some would say, heretical ways. Now set up in Paris, the Templars began helping out the French King Philip IV, lending him vast sums of money to support his wars and lavish lifestyle. After several years of lending, enough was enough, the Templars refused to lend anymore money to the French Monarch leading him to turn on the holy order, having Jacques de Molay, the grandmaster of the order, and hundreds of other leading Templars arrested on Friday 13th, 1307.

Philip IV of France (C) and his family - left-right, his sons, Charles and Philip, his daughter Isabella, his eldest son and heir Louis, and his brother, Charles of Valois SOURCE: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/MARIEGALATEE.TYPEPAD.COM

Over the next few years, thousands of Templar Knights from across Europe were arrested, tortured, and forced to confess to crimes that included; heresy, homosexuality, financial corruption, devil-worshipping, fraud, spitting on the cross and more. Wether the crimes were at all committed was irrelevant, the Pope was a puppet of the French King and thus refused to help his most faithful Knights, leading to many being ether exiled or worse, burned alive, the favourite punishment for heretics.

In 1312, Pope Clement V finally dissolved the order, giving both Philip and Edward II of England an opportunity to size land and wealth previously owned by the Templars. Since the Friday 13th arrests, the Catholic Church has condemned the destruction of the Templar Order, sighting Clement's weakness and reliance on the French king but, that hasn't stopped historians and conspiracy theorists linking the medieval order to such organisations as, the freemasons and the illuminati. The Templars have fulled the imagination of generations of history fans, adding further to the myths and legends that surround, The Knights Templar.

I hope you enjoyed this and would love to hear what you think, please leave me a comment and follow me on Instagram @chrisriley_ for more medieval history!

As always, thanks for Reading.

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