Whatever Happened to the Templar Fleet?

O ne night, I reckon it must have been early October 1307, as I was walking home from the tavern along the Quai d'Orsay, I was feeling quite light-headed. You know how it goes with Mathieu, one bottle of wine is too much and all the wine in the world is not enough. The mist was really thick, so my drinking was not the only reason for my tipsy walk, mind you. Anyway, as I was standing right at the bank, wondering whether I should go home at all and let my dear missus yak me into oblivion, or should I go back and open another one with Mathieu, I saw a lightless galley drift down the river. This was odd. I have been in the boating trade myself - I would never enter the river at night, not without some light, but this galley just floated down, out of the mist, passed me without a sound, and then disappeared in the thick fog. Then there was another one, and another, and yet another, eighteen in all. When I tried to squint my eyes, I think I saw the red patté cross on the ships' sails, but at that time I could not say why the Templars would venture out in the thick of the night with the whole fleet. So I returned to the tavern and had a few more, but no one would believe me when I tried to tell people of what I saw. It was only after the arrests and the rumours of the missing Templar treasure that Mathieu finally agreed that I might have seen something on that night. After all, it was only a few days before the arrests began, and people started to wonder about the fleet. And let me tell you, the fleet left Paris that night, and returned never."

S uch a story might well have been told by the people of Paris in 1307. Apparently, despite Philip the Fair's extensive red tape campaign, the Templars had heard of the impending arrests and moved their funds and threasures out of Paris. In the Temple and the Lodge, Baigent and Leigh suggest that the fleet escaped down the Seine, out into the Atlantic, around the far side of Ireland, and entered Scotland unscathed. Surely the finance officer and his closest companions escaped the arrests, as there is no record of them in the otherwise very thorough lists of arrested Templars, and escape from Paris by land was well nigh impossible. Also, the booty Philip expected to find at the Paris preceptory, which should have been huge by all standards, was for a large part not found, and to transfer it by land was also impossible. Hence the assumption that the treasure left Paris by the Seine.

T he Templar fleet was a concept in its own class in the Medieval world. Soon after the founding of the Order it found that by far the most expedient route to and from the Holy Land went by sea, and they began assembling a fleet. Soon thereafter the fleet was large enough to merit complaints from ports (to whom the Templars paid no taxes, being ecclesiastically exempt) that the Templar fleet was trafficking too much and harassing other users of the ports. At the peak of the Order they were transferring 6,000 pilgrims yearly to Palestine, not to mention the arms, fighters, cloth, weaponry, and other items of trade. The Templar fleet was safer than other carriers, because they were escorted by armed galleys, and the Order could be trusted not to sell its passengers off to the Muslims.

S urely it is evident that Philip the Fair wanted a piece of the action, too. The fleet must have been quite a lure in his eyes. However, he did not capture it as it slipped through his fingers. It is possible the fleet headed south to seek asylum among the Muslims, with whom the Order was in friendly terms, but to cross into the Mediterranean from Gibraltar would have been hard, if not impossible. Also the route north was perilous, because the Irish Sea was patrolled by forces loyal to the King of England. The only truly safe route was to run round Ireland and then to pass just south of the Mull of Kintyre and enter the sound behind it. There is some evidence to corroborate Baigent and Leigh's claim of the fleet reaching Scotland. In a place called Kilmartin there is a lonely graveyard in the small village in which there are over 80 graves of Templars. Scotland also figures prominently in Freemason mythology, which may or may not be evidence of Templar survival in Scotland into the 14th and 15th centuries.

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