The Knights Templar were an order of warrior monks founded in the Holy Land in the aftermath of the First Crusade. Although the Crusaders had conquered Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, the surrounding territory was still perilous, and pilgrims faced the danger of Saracen raiders as they journeyed to the holy sites. To protect Christian travelers, a group of knights, led by Hugh of Payn and Godfrey of Saint-Omer, decided to form an order of brother knights in 1119. This order would take all the regular vows of a Christian monk – poverty, chastity, and obedience – but with an added vow: to protect the Christians of the Holy Land, and to defend the Holy Sepulcher – the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, granted Hugh and Godfrey’s order a base in his palace, located in Jerusalem to the south of the Temple of the Lord (the name given by the Crusaders to the Dome of the Rock). It is from their home base that these warrior monks take their name – Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, or the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar were incredibly effective and skilled warriors. They were highly trained, and their discipline made them a very cohesive and formidable fighting force. The Templars excelled at the heavy-cavalry tactics that dominated the Latin Christian military culture of that era.
At the Battle of Montgisard, for example, in 1177, the Templars were instrumental in defeating a much larger force under the powerful Muslim ruler Saladin.
The Templars could also be very valuable in a disaster, such as during the Second Crusade, during the Battle of Mount Cadmus in 1148, when the army of King Louis VII of France was badly defeated by the Seljuk Turks. In contrast to Louis’s poorly organized divisions, the Templars maintained strict discipline, and their good order resisted the Turks just enough to prevent what might have been a total annihilation of Louis’s army.
The Templars were involved in many other great victories as well, such as the Battle of Arsuf in 1191 during the Third Crusade, when the Templars commanded the vanguard, and their well-formed cavalry lines smashed Saladin’s troops.
Fact # 3:
There is no evidence that the Templars were ever involved in any sort of blasphemous secretive activity – such ideas arise purely from the realm of stories and fiction. All evidence points to the Templars having been a thoroughly Orthodox and devout order loyal to the Christian religion. Indeed, the very idea of the Templars as some mysterious secret society devoted to esoteric knowledge is not consistent with history. Rather, they were a very practical and straightforward organization, dedicated to military matters. They were, in many ways, the marines of their era.
Throughout their history the Knights Templar were quite popular all over Christian Europe. Europeans so believed in the idea of defending the Holy Sepulcher that the Templars became a favorite recipient of donations and grants, so that by the mid twelfth century the order was incredible wealthy and powerful, with houses all across Europe, and robust military establishments on the frontiers of Christendom in the Holy Land and in Spain and Portugal.
The Templars expanded their operations to help pilgrims, so that now they not only aided pilgrims as they arrived in Palestine, but in Europe they could help pilgrims to organize their journey. The Templars established a banking system in which pilgrims could deposit money with the Templars in Europe, then withdraw those funds for use when they arrived in the Holy Land. Thus the Templars invented key aspects of modern banking.
The Templars became so renowned for their management of finance that some of Europe’s highest ranking members of society began to seek them out to manage their money – including kings and bishops.
By the early years of the fourteenth century, the King of France, Philip IV, was heavily in debt, and looking for a source of cash. He began eying the wealth of the Templars. Thus, in 1307, Philip concocted a series of baseless, trumped-up charges against the Templars and had them arrested throughout his Kingdom and their assets seized. By this era, the King of France was considerably more powerful than the Pope, and so Philip was able to bully the Pope into disbanding the Templars as an order recognized by the Church. Outside of France the Templars were absorbed into other orders, but within France Philip had many Templars put to death by burning at the stake. The final Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, refused to give credence to Philip’s false charges, and went to his death calling on God to punish the King of France. Jacques’ final curse came to fruition: the same year that Jacques was burned alive – 1314 – King Philip IV suffered a cerebral stroke while out on a hunting trip. He lay in agony for weeks, finally dying on November 29th. The legend immediately sprang up that Philip’s death was the result of the Grand Master’s curse.