A Short History of the Knights Templar

A ccording to Archbishop William of Tyre, writing between 1175 and 1185, The Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the temple of Solomon was founded in 1118 by Hugues de Payen. The background of the Order was the recapture of Jerusalem from the Saracens in 1099. This enabled the Christian community to embark upon pilgrimages to the Holy City, but the routes to the city were very dangerous. The Knights Templar provided security to travellers and were often employed by kings to guard the pilgrims. The Order gradually became wealthy, although the brotherhood were sworn to chastity and poverty. In its high noon the Order claimed authority over that of kings, which well irked monarchs and the church.

I n 1187 Jerusalem was again lost to the Saracens, and in 1291 the last Crusader fortress of Acre fell. The Order relocated to Cyprus, but with the Holy Land lost, it no longer commanded such prestige as previously. The Order was also increasingly at odds with monarchs, who were jealous of the immense funds the Order had amassed.

F inally, in 1307, Philip the Fair of France issued orders to arrest all Templars and to confiscate their possessions, basing his orders on accusations of blasphemy, heresy, and illicit behaviour of the Templars. He claimed to pass the possessions on to the Church, but actually intended to fund his own campaigns of war with the treasure. The trial of the Templars took seven years because of the papacy, which also was fighting against Philip, was not very keen to dispel its most effective military wing. Under pain of torture, many knights and serving brothers admitted that the charges made against the Order were true. Finally, the Order was found by papal courts to be guilty of the accusations and it was disspelled, its possessions reclaimed, and two of its top men, namely Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charnay burned at stake in Paris in March 1314. The famed Templar treasure, however, was for the most part not found, and it has been the object of avid inquiry ever since.

I t now appears to be generally accepted that the Templars were also victims of the power struggle between the extremely powerful King Philip of France and the Holy See. Because of the power of the Order, Philip wanted to have it suppressed, and because Philip posed as a defender of the faith, the Church could not rescue the Order without appearing as an enemy of the faith it professed. The Church would not have recovered from the scandal Philip could have raised by telling the people that the Church harbored heretical knights.
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