History of the Ancient Order of the Knights Templar

This section will discuss the founding and rise to power of the knights Templar as well as their faults and how they may have brought on their own demise.

In 1119, French nobles, lead by Hugues de Payens, approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and requested a commission of knighthood to protect the pilgrim roads. It was typical at the time for the orders of chivalry to be housed at the palace, generally in exchange for a tribute. However, braking with tradition this order opted to set up tents on the Temple mouth. It gave the impression to the others that this was because they could not afford the tribute fees to the king, and thus forced them to live off site. Thus the Knights Templar were first nicked named “the poor Knights of the Temple.”

Little is known about the first nine years of the existence of the order. However, 1128, it is known that they were near Paris petitioning Pope Honorius II at the Council at Troyes for the formation of their own Monastic Order. What is unique about this, is that never before in history had there existed in Europe a order of knight that was also an order or the Church. No one truly knows their motivation for applying for this. One theory is that they were in need of the ability to recruit or raise funds, while another theory holds that due to the fact that they had been living on the Temple Mount, their interest had become religiously entwined (Legends say it had something to do with scrolls, treasure or even the Arch in the tunnels beneath the mount). Whatever the case was, by becoming both an order of God and an order of Kings, they in a sense, because no longer entirely accountable to either.

The original knights included men who were all nobles and from the same extended family in Champagne, France including Godfrey de Saint-Omer, Payne de Monteverdi, Archambaud de St. Agnan, Andre de Montbard, Geoffrey Bison, as well as men simply known as Rossal and Gondamer. The ninth knight, has traditionally been assumed to have been Count Hugh of Champagne. However, after their confirmation as an order of Monk their numbers sky rocketed. As the news of the formation of the order spread across Europe, as their dual affiliation became highly controversial, as many believed that men of God should never carry a sword. However, on the other hand great support also rose up from nobles who saw the cause of the active defense of pilgrims as a worthy cause. It also appealed to the very heart of the idea of the Crusade, that there existed a certain kind of “Just War”, or a war “sanctioned by God.” The sentiment was born that warrior monks, were the best to lead such a war.

Because of the fame earned, within two years the order of the Knights Templar was flooded with money, recruits and land.  Men of noble birth, who once did not join the Crusades for whatever reason, suddenly found a noble cause to dedicate their life to. It was common at the time for a king or noble who went to the Holy Land, to truly be seeking profit, rather than glory to God. The Knights Templar lent a feeling of God ordained legitimacy.

New recruits to the Order required a massive transformation from their old lifestyle as nobles. Anyone who joined was required donate all of their possessions to the Order, swear a vow of chastity  submit themselves to study, training, prayer, and even a strict diet that would ensure their optimal strength for battle. This kind of training and focus had never been seen before in Europe since the Roman legion or even the Spartans. The result was they truly became the most feared fighting force in 1000 years. They were mysterious to other Chivalric orders, who enjoyed riches and women. They were also feared by monks, who did not believe in picking up the sword. They became a class unto themselves, set aside from both church and court, revered by both yet also feared by all.

Ten years after they were granted the status of Monks, Pope Innocent II granted the Templars the  papal bull, Omne Datum Optimum, which made them universally tax exempt, and entrusted them with the ability to travel anywhere within Christian Lands. The idea of doing this was likely to make the Knights Templar the personal fighting force of the Papacy. It is likely that the Pope saw their growing popularity, and wished to ensure that their loyalty lay with him and not with one king or another. This great levity of power given to them is the modern equivalent of owning an offshore bank and having universal diplomatic immunity. This resulted in lords of all kinds, kings, even merchants approaching the Templar for every direct and indirect need. Tributes were made from all over Europe in an effort to build alliances with them, and have the “Army of God” on your side.

The result was not what the Pope had intended, as even though this may have ingratiated the Templars to the loyalty of Innocent II, he only lived another 4 years. The Templars, however continued to enjoy the privileges of the Papal Bull for another hundred and fifty five years. During that time, their influence power snowballed gaining uncontrollable momentum, through donations, conquests, and investments. Their prowess on the battle field became so legendary that people truly believed they were aided by God. During that time, the Templars transformed greatly, into something Europe could have never anticipated.

By the year 1143, the Knights Templar assets could be compared to modern Hedge Fund managers, who also own an overseas tax sheltered bank, have the popularity of the Beatles in 1964, the fighting skills and mythos of Seal Team Six, the education of Rhodes Scholars, the family connections of the Vanderbilt’s all with the supposed piety of Conclave. This kind of power transforms even the most well intended groups. It did so to the Templars in three ways. First, their education and travel, opened them up to new ideas, philosophies, and cultures outside the Catholic church. More and more they began to not follow the commands of the church, but instead looked to themselves, and even the Saracens, who were amid renaissance of science, philosophy and technology, for learning and understanding. They became accepting of all ideas and not just those dictated from the Pope. Second they learned complex mathematics by adopting ideas from Bagdad. Using that tool they were able to harness the power of the donations, tributes, and tax exemptions given to them by Europe and created the first international banking and lending system. They even provided the earliest form of a travelers check, whereby a noblemen might make a deposit to a Templar bank in London, and make the withdraw on Jerusalem  This expansion of knowledge and power laxed their discipline their dedication to the Catholic Church but also in certain vows of chastity, and temperance. “To drink like a Templar” became a common expression to describe someone who becomes glutinous from their success and pride.

In modern terms Bruce Wayne (the dark knight himself) is an excellent illustration of a Templar. Someone who is unbelievably wealthy, yet who feels alienated from the rest of society has a reputation of a playboy, yet needs to bury themselves into a just cause in order to not self destruct. At first the cause of the Templars was to protect the innocent pilgrims. Shortly there after, they became the champions of the Crusades, likely intoxicated by their massive wealth and power. However, 150 years is a long time to wage a petty war over bricks (the stones of Jerusalem). As their travel and Education grew their alliances shifted to realize the corruption of the Church and lack of vision of the European culture. More and more they began to adopt ideas, philosophies of the Muslims, and the East. They soon used this knowledge to commission some of the greatest structures in Europe and initiate some of the greatest transformations, setting the course on the long and toilsome road out of the Dark ages and toward the enlightenment.

As is the case with any tragic hero, the things that set the Templars apart also sewed the seeds of their own destruction. By 1307 so many merchants, kings, and even the pope owed the Templars so much money for either land rented to them, or interest on loans, that the debt was staggering. It is estimated that the King Philip of France owed the Templars twice the national GDP of France at the time. What is more, is that that the Crusades were over, and the Templars were seeking a permanent home in Europe. Being so independent and exempt they had their eye on several large pieces of France, where they wished to form their own independent state. This greatly frightened the king, who using the roomers about their disloyalty to the Catholic Church, and knowledge that they had entertained philosophies of the East, declared them heretics  and on a European wide strike at dawn on Friday October 13th 1307, the King of France had every Templar ambushed in his sleep Killing or capturing the vast majority of the Knights, and torturing the survivors for confessions of blasphemy, and sorcery.

While King Philip killed and captured many of the Templars  many still survived and went into hiding with friends and supporters. Also, Several leaders were never captured, nor was their treasure fleet, at La Rochelle  which is the source of the legend of the Templar Treasure.  Finally in 1312, the Pope officially disbanded the Order the Knights Templar, and those who had survived the massacre of 1307, and the ensuing Witch hunt by the King of France, had the opportunity to show their faces in pubic again, though no longer as Templars. The remaining assets were consolidated to other orders, collected by kings, or returned to the Pope. Templars were given permission to join the order of the Knights Hospitalar and the Knights of Malta. However by that time the survivors hard largely either fled to Switzerland, Scotland or Sicily, and had no intention of ever being public about their wealth, knowledge, or intentions for Europe, ever again.