Thesis: Knights Templar

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¶ … Knights Templar were, what their source of great power was, and what happened to them, in MLA footnote style. The Knights Templar were a famous group of knights who became a religious order as their numbers grew, and they became one of the richest religious orders of their time. The order formed around 1095, and existed until 1312, when they were officially disbanded. Their story shows how powerful a religious order can become, and how they can threaten others who have power and greed.

The Knights Templar began as a rather informal group that formed around the end of the 11th century to help protect pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land (Jerusalem and surrounding areas), and at first, there less than a dozen of these knights. The leader of the group was Hugues (Hugh) de Payens, and after a while, de Payens and his followers were given a place to stay in a wing of the palace on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

They became an established religious order with a formal name in 1129. Two Templar historians write, "The Knights of the Temple of Solomon of Jerusalem were established as a religious Order of the Latin Church in 1129, when they were officially accepted at the Council of Troyes in Champagne."

Jerusalem had fallen into Christian hands in 1099 after the first Crusades, and it became quite popular for pilgrims to travel to Jerusalem, bathe in the Jordan River, and visit the many religious sites in the area. However, the pilgrims often faced unsafe conditions during their travels, and the Knights formed to guard their safety while they visited these Holy Land sites. Another historian notes, "The members swore oaths of poverty and chastity, and their distinctive badge was a red cross on a white mande. They rapidly gained recruits and grew into medieval Christendom's leading military order."

While they could not own many possessions or items of value, the order itself could, and as the order gained popularity, their recruits grew, and so did their prosperity. Many people who could not join the group gave them money and lands, instead. The two historians continue, "Alfonso I, King of Aragon, who, in 1131, left his kingdom to be divided between the Hospitallers, the Templars and the canons of the Holy Sepulcher makes better sense in this context."

However, in the beginning, they relied on the charity of the king and the patriarch for their accommodations and survival, which indicates the depth of their dedication to their cause. In the beginning, they were closely associated with the "Augustinian canons of the Holy Sepulcher, and their Hospital, because they were housed near the Hospital building, and their work helped support pilgrims treated at the Hospital.

By the mid-1100s, the Order had spread from the Holy Land to many locations throughout Europe, with a heavy concentration in France. They also had holdings in Italy and Spain, and helped fight the Moorish invasion in those areas. The historians continue, "Their early years in Palestine and Syria are less documented, but there is enough evidence to show that during the 1130s and 1140s they had come to be regarded as a major institution. From this time all masters were leading political and military figures in the Kingdom of Jerusalem."

The Order continued to gain power through land and monetary donations, and their holdings grew extremely vast, which frightened some of the rulers of countries such as France. These rulers were afraid the Knights had gained too much power and prestige, and it was these worries that would eventually lead to the disillusion of the Order and many Knights' grisly fate. During their tenure, they grew from a small group of less than a dozen, to thousands of members at all levels of service throughout the Order.

The Knights were popular because they offered men the opportunity to live in a monistic society, while still enjoying the art of combat and action that was so common during the Middle Ages. There were many layers in the Temple hierarchy, and at the top was the Grand Master, who was the supreme commander and answered to no one but the Pope. (the Order had come under the protection of the Catholic Church when several different popes offered letters of protection during the mid-12th century.)

Next came the Seneschal, who was the assistant to the Grand Master and advised him, also took care of many of the administrative duties for the Grand Master. The Marshal was in charge of war and any planning or activity related to war. Many felt he was the second most important member of the hierarchy. There were also Under Marshals, a Standard Bearer, Drapers, Commanders of the Lands, Provincial Masters, and finally, the Knights and Sergeants. There was also a large retinue of squires and other support personnel, so it is easy to see how the Order mushroomed into a very large organization during the 12th century and beyond.

In addition, the Order became very close with the Catholic Church, and from 1151 on, they acted in various roles for the Church, including administering castles and estates throughout Europe, acting as the papal treasurer, and collecting monies to help fund crusades.

While the Order gained in popularity and power, there were those who were extremely critical of the organization, especially because of the growing authority it wielded. While the individual members of the Order could not own personal possessions, the Order as a whole is said to have amassed great wealth due to generous donations from patrons, along with the spoils of many successful battles. (in fact, the Pope gave them the privilege of keeping these spoils, along with several other privileges.)

The historians continue, "Their wealth in gold and other possessions increased, as it did in armor of all types, in flocks of sheep, oxen, pigs, camels, horses, until they had more than all the kings."

The men joined the Order for life, and had many rules they had to follow, including chastity. They wore a simple habit of white over their armor, emblazoned with a large red cross in the center. They not only fought the Muslims, they administered food and clothing to the needy, cared for the sick, and they provide for the aging, as well. They also helped fund pilgrimages and crusades, and operated chapels, hospitals, and hospices throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Because the Knights enjoyed the Pope's blessings, and they began to amass great land holdings and wealth, they began to come under scrutiny from others. Saint Bernard, extremely influential in the Catholic Church, championed the Knights, and many believe he was responsible for their eventual recognition by the Church. He wrote of the Knights and their activities, "Hail, therefore, holy city, sanctified as His temple the Most High, who will save so great a nation in you and through you."

However, not all the people were so taken with the Knights. Some Catholic officials condemned them for their wealth, which they used to form a Templar Bank and make loans to many of Europe's leading monarchs, and to build more Templar establishments throughout Europe and the Middle East. Another writer notes, "They acquired substantial lands in France, England, and Spain. Their efficient military network enabled them to move gold bullion safely and they became rich and powerful as bankers to European kings."

Many others criticized them as well, and believed that they were on the way to setting up their own "kingdom" in France. In the late 13th century, the Muslims retook Jerusalem and essentially sent the Christians packing, and this included the Knights Templar, who left the area. Many resettled in the south of France, leading many people to believe that they were going to create their own area to rule. This frightened many people, including the King of France, King Phillip IV, who eventually had all the Templars arrested on the same day, October 13, 1307. In addition, Phillip seized all their possessions, land, and buildings.

After their arrest, most of the Templars were held in prison and tortured until they "confessed" to a variety of crimes, including heresy, homosexuality, and a variety of other charges. Many historians believe the arrests and subsequent trials of the Templars had more to do with Phillip's lack of revenue, rather than any guilt on their part. The historians note, [I]t is impossible to look at the history of the trial without recognizing the evident short-term financial advantages which the spoliation of such a wealthy Order could bring to a monarch whose ambitions consistently outran his resources."

The Knights were tried, and their confessions were used against them during the trials. Author Cavendish continues, "Many of the knights afterwards denied their confessions, but in May 1310 fifty-four Templars were burned at the stake in a field outside Paris, after which many of those still alive in prison hastily announced that their confessions had been true after all."

The trials made the Knights even more mysterious, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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