In the year of Our Lord 1118 the Order of the Temple was founded, nineteen years after the liberation from the Saracens. Pilgrims from all over Christendom had taken part in the Crusades to the Holy Land. Rank and wealth, peasants and nobles made the inhospitable journey which was brought on by religious excitement to offer their devotions at the places made sacred by the life of Our Saviour.
The pilgrims faced numerous hardships and difficulties, not only from the Saracen raiders and Christian bandits but also unscrupulous Traders and Inn-keepers. Hugo de Payens and seven other worthy Knights decided to afford the weary and unguarded pilgrims some level of protection which led to the creation of the Order. Baudoin II, (commonly known as Baldwin II) King of Jerusalem, granted these Knights quarters adjacent to the royal palace, traditionally that of Solomon’s Temple. This led to the Order to be known as “Knights of the Temple”.
The Order quickly grew into an effective fighting force after receiving generous gifts of land and money. The Knights were a formidable force and the original role of protecting pilgrims was overtaken by the fighting of the Saracens. The Knights were the only standing army on the Christian side still standing after 300 years following the expulsion of the Crusaders in 1291 at the city of Acre, situated on the mainland of Palestine.
The Order stood alone for the most part from the Rulers of the Holy Lands and were subject only to the Pope in Rome. They were also free from taxes and quickly became holders of great wealth. Houses were erected throughout Christendom and travellers started using them has ‘banking houses’. The traveller could deposit money in one Preceptory and with a promissory note, considered to be the first evidence of secure banking using a chequing system, draw money at another Preceptory while on their journey.
Philip the Fair, the King of France owed the Templars a vast some of money and tried in vain to have the Order accept him as Grand Master, wanting to gain access to the great wealth held by the Knights. This was done under the pretext that he would lead a new Crusade. The Knights, however, having ‘retired’ to Cyprus decided to manage their assets instead.
The King finally received help, albeit reluctantly given, from Pope Clement V and in 1307 all Templar Knights were arrested in France. All countries apart from Portugal followed suit. Philip the Fair then secured convictions for heracy which led to many Knights being tortured to gain confessions. This created many scandalous stories about the Knights. Many brave men resisted torture and where burned at the stake as heretics.
The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay was put to death in Paris 1314. The following paragraph are his final words.
"It is only right that at so solemn a moment and when my life has so little time to run, I should reveal the deception which has been practised, and speak up for the truth. Hear me! Before heaven and earth and all of you for my witnesses, I confess. I confess that I am indeed guilty of the greatest infamy, but the infamy is that I have lied. I have lied in admitting the disgusting charges laid against my Order. I declare, and I must declare, that the Order is innocent. Its purity and saintliness have never been defiled. In truth, I had testified otherwise, but I did so from fear of terrible tortures. Other Knights who retracted their confessions have been led to the stake, I know. Yet the thought of dying is not so awful that I would now uphold my confession to foul crimes which were never committed. Life is offered me, but at the price of perfidy. At such a price, life is not worth having. If life is to be bought only by piling lie upon lie, I do not grieve that I must lose it.”
Historians now reject the charges against the Templars as unfounded, but the king’s plan succeeded and the greatest fighting force of the Crusades was finished, less than twenty years after the fall of Acre.