The Templars as a Financial Institution

T he Templars were an astonishingly successful business venture as well as a military Order. The start was small: as the knights were sworn to poverty, they passed all their possessions to the Order, but it was not that long before the Order began receiving donations and grants from all over Europe. It became exempt from taxes and local authority, even to the extent that it was only responsible to the Pope. Their wealth accumulated through trusts and interest they were paid by the monarchs and other dignitaries who availed themselves to the money of the Order. Later, as the Order had become the major financial institution of the period, their interest rates were complained to verge on usury, but still the Order was about the only place to turn to in need of money. Funds that had once been trusted to the Order were not paid out to anyone but the donor himself, not even to his heirs.

T he reason for the Order's financial activities was to supply the Holy Land with soldiers and money. (For the cost of a knight and other related items, see The Cost of a Knight.) The military strength of the Order enabled them to run an excessive network of commerce between Europe and the Holy Land, and with the Muslims as well, since the Order had connections with them as well. In fact, the Templar network was about the only safe passage to or from Jerusalem, and the Templar Fleet was also very powerful in the Mediterranean. The Templars even used an elaborate system of chits for transferring funds to the Near East: just as with modern-day money orders, one could deposit money at any preceptory, receive chits of no intrinsic value, and then change those for real money at the other end of the journey. Several coding systems were in place to prevent misuse.

T he Templars were very strict with the funds in their care: honesty was their trade mark. All kinds of fraud were punishable by death. On one occasion, the Preceptor of an Irish preceptory (Walter le Bacheler) was found guilty of embezzling Order funds. He was taken to the London preceptory and locked up in the dungeon in a room so small he had no place to stand or even lie down, and he was fed only bread and water. He is said to have taken eight weeks to die. This room, incidentally, is exists even today. This following excerpt was submitted by Preceptory patron Kieran Lawlor:

When I visited the still extant, round church of the Templars in the Temple area of London I came across the actual cell.

'In the north-west corner of the choir a door gives access to the triforium stair off which opens the "Penitential Cell", its two slit windows looking into the church. Herein were confined Knights who disobeyed the Master or broke the Rule of the Temple; Walter le Bacheler, Grand Preceptor of Ireland, is said to have starved to death in this grim chamber less than five feet long.'

From the guidebook 'The Temple Church London' by David Lewer A.R.I.B.A., published by 'Pitkin Pride of Britain Books'

W ith such huge amounts of money, land and other goods in the hands of so few, it was evident that the Templars aroused much envy for their wealth. Most monarchs of the period were constantly short of money, waging wars against each other, but it was Philip the Fair of France who decided to bring the Order to its demise. For the list of accusations he conjured against the Templars, please see The Accusations in the Dungeon.

Armory Bailey Barracks Chapel Dungeon Library Pub

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