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The Knights Templar: Warrior Monks

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Jacques de Molay, in a nineteenth-century color lithograph by Chevauchet

Jacques de Molay, last grand Master of the Templars

Public Domain

Also known as:

Templars, Templar Knights, Poor Knights of Solomon's Temple, Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, Knights of the Temple

The Origin of the Templars:

The route traveled by pilgrims from Europe to the Holy Land was in need of policing. In 1118 or 1119, not long after the success of the First Crusade, Hugh de Payns and eight other knights offered their services to the patriarch of Jerusalem for just this purpose. They took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, followed the Augustinian rule, and patrolled the pilgrim route to aid and defend pious travelers. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem gave the knights quarters in a wing of the royal palace that had been part of the Jewish Temple; from this they got the names "Templar" and "Knights of the Temple."

The Official Establishment of the Knights Templar:

For the first decade of their existence, the Knights Templar were few in number. Not many fighting men were willing to take the Templar vows. Then, thanks largely to the efforts of Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux, the fledgling order was given papal recognition at the Council of Troyes in 1128. They also received a specific rule for their order (one clearly influenced by the Cistercians).

Templar Expansion:

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote an extensive treatise, "In Praise of the New Knighthood," that raised awareness of the order, and the Templars grew in popularity. In 1139 Pope Innocent II placed the Templars directly under papal authority, and they were no longer subject to any bishop in whose diocese they might hold property. As a result they were able to establish themselves in numerous locations. At the height of their power they had about 20,000 members, and they garrisoned every town of any considerable size in the Holy Land.

Templar Organization:

The Templars were led by a Grand Master; his deputy was the Seneschal. Next came the Marshal, who was responsible for individual commanders, horses, arms, equipment, and ordering supplies. He usually carried the standard, or specifically directed a specially-appointed standard-bearer. The Commander of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the treasurer and shared a certain authority with the Grand Master, balancing his power; other cities also had Commanders with specific regional responsibilities. The Draper issued clothes and bed linen and monitored the brothers' appearance to keep them "living simply."

Other ranks formed to supplement the above, depending on the region.

The bulk of the fighting force was made up of knights and sergeants. Knights were the most prestigious; they wore the white mantle and red cross, carried knightly weapons, rode horses and had the services of a squire. They usually came from the nobility. Sergeants filled other roles as well as engaging in battle, such as blacksmith or mason. There were also squires, who were originally hired out but later allowed to join the order; they performed the essential job of caring for the horses.

Money and the Templars:

Though individual members took vows of poverty, and their personal possessions were limited to the essentials, the order itself received donations of money, land and other valuables from the pious and the grateful. The Templar organization grew very wealthy.

In addition, the military strength of the Templars made it possible to collect, store, and transport bullion to and from Europe and the Holy Land with a measure of safety. Kings, noblemen, and pilgrims used the organization as a kind of bank. The concepts of safe deposit and travelers' checks originated in these activities.

The Downfall of the Templars:

In 1291, Acre, the last remaining Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, fell to the Muslims, and the Templars no longer had a purpose there. Then, in 1304, rumors of irreligious practices and blasphemies committed during secret Templar initiation rites began to circulate. Very likely false, they nevertheless gave King Philip IV of France grounds to arrest every Templar in France on Oct. 13, 1307. He had many tortured to make them confess to charges of heresy and immorality. It is generally believed that Philip did this simply to take their vast wealth, though he may also have feared their growing power.

Philip had previously been instrumental in getting a Frenchman elected pope, but it still took some maneuvering to convince Clement V to order all Templars in all countries arrested. Eventually, in 1312, Clement suppressed the order; numerous Templars were executed or imprisoned, and the Templar property that wasn't confiscated was transferred to the Hospitallers. In 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templar Knights, was burned at the stake.

Templar Motto:

    "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the Glory."
    --Psalm 115

More Templar Resources

Chronological Table of Grand Masters
Top Picks in Templar Books
Knights Templar Directory

The image of Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templars, is from a nineteenth-century color lithograph by Chevauchet. The graphic is in the public domain.

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