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Knights Templar

The Knights Templar Order was formed after the capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. From the very beginning, it had a military character, and its purpose was to protect the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Places in Jerusalem.

In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, the Order of the Knights Templar received a house on Mount Moriah, or the Temple Mount, and it was the location of the house that gave the name of the Order. The Templars were bound by the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and were subject to strict discipline.

Member of the Knights Templar
A Member of the Knights Templar Order (right) and a Knight Hospitaller (left)
Engraving by Hollar

The Order was greatly helped by Saint Bernard, whose influence determined the official recognition of the Knights Templar Order at the Council of Troyes in 1128. The rules and statutes of the Templars were established by Bernard himself, based upon Cistercian rule. Thus, the rules governing the knights were very severe and ascetic in character.

Members were required to speak little, to give alms, to be gentle and courteous to the weak, the aged, the sick, to observe the fast days, and never to have anything but a very frugal diet. The dress of the knights was white, meant to remind them "to commend themselves to their Creator by a pure life." Soon, a red cross was added, signifying the blood to be shed for the defence of the faith. Unlike other Religious Military Orders, the Knights Templar wore long beards.

No gold or silver was to be worn upon their riddles, armour, or spurs, no hunting or hawking was permitted. Applicants in probation were well tried before being accepted. Breaking the rules meant punishment by stripes, temporary separation of the offender from his brethren, and other penalties.

After the official recognition, the first Grand Master of the Templars, Hugh de Payens, travelled through France and England, and lots of noblemen joined him, making large donations in money and lands. Once members of the Order, their noble origin and their donations did not entitle them to any favor; they were all equal as Knights Templar. Those who had been guilty of crimes or excesses were required to make reparation and undergo prolonged probation. Soon, almost every country in Europe had its house and branch of the Knights Templar Order.

The Order of the Knights Templar consisted of three ranks or classes: the knights, the clergy, and the serving brethren. The knights were required to be men of gentle or noble birth, persons of a lower class were not accepted. The knights had in their pay, and under their command, a large number of troops, both cavalry and infantry. The priests were the chaplains of the Order. Their duty was to officiate in the churches belonging to its convents and minister to the members when they were in the field. The serving brethren acted as squires to the knights, both in the field and at home.

Knights Templar - Braun and Schneider
Knights Templar
From the "History of Costume" by Braun and Schneider

The Grand Master of the Knights Templar ranked as a sovereign prince. Each country had its Grand Prior, and these together formed a chapter whom the Master called together when a very important decision required deliberation and counsel. Local chapters were held in different districts under the care of its Preceptor. The next in rank to the Grand Master was the Marshal, who was the Master's lieutenant, the acting general in the field, and the commander of the Templars during the Grand Master’s absence.

The Prior or Preceptor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the Grand Treasurer of the Order, and the guardian of the chief house in Jerusalem. The Draper had the charge of the clothing of all the brethren. The Standard-Bearer carried the banner Beauseant to the battlefield. The Guardian of the chapel had the charge of the field (or portable) chapel, which the Templars always carried with them in their campaigns. It was a round tent always placed in the centre of the Knights Templar camp.

At the height of its power, besides Palestine, the Knights Templar Order had vast estates everywhere in Europe. They had domains in France, England, Scotland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Germany. In Central and Eastern Europe they had possessions as far as Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, even Greece and Constantinople. Sovereigns in Europe granted them many privileges like exception from taxation and tithes. Their establishments had the right of Sanctuary. The Master of the Temple in England had a seat in Parliament as a Baron.

The power and influence of the Knights Templar in European affairs was considerable. They took part in numerous political negotiations between kings, resulting in important treaties. They were the mediators in private, religious, political, or financial disputes, or in the conflicts between the Papacy and European sovereigns.

The privileges and rights granted to the Knights Templar led to disputes with the civil power regarding the payment of taxes and other levies. Their privileges made them a lot of powerful enemies, contributing to the terrible end of the Order.

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