A brief history of the Knights Templar, who, though they play no active role in these novels (the Order was dissolved before Mariana was born) are very prominent in the background (in The Rose of Sharon) when Ferchard returns from Outremer (the Holy Land) to France then turns south and commences his scouring of Spain in search of his old friend Sir Andrew MacElpin, which results in his finding and joining up with Sir Andrew’s daughter Mariana soon after she is given her freedom by her master, Abderrahman ibn Khaldoun.


Foundation and Growth

This celebrated order of soldier-monks was founded in Jerusalem at the beginning of the twelfth century by a group of nine French knights led by Hugues de Payen. According to Guillaume de Tyre, the date was AD 1118, but it was probably several years earlier. They were known originally as the Poor Knights of Christ, and their symbol was two knights on one horse.

They were recognised initially by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and King Baudouin (Baldwin) II of “Outremer” – Jerusalem and “overseas”.

One of the nine knights was André de Montbard, uncle of the extremely influential abbot who would later become St Bernard of Clairvaux.  Bernard supported them in their early years and it was almost certainly he who drew up their Rule in 1129, when they were recognised by the Pope at the Council of Troyes.

arn-dyingThe Order had four groups of members: Knights (of noble birth), Sergeants (who were commoners), Chaplains (only these were priests), and Servants. Of these, only the knights took perpetual vows (of poverty, chastity and obedience).

In 1139, Pope Innocent III (formerly of Clairvaux) declared in a Papal Bull that from now on the Templars would owe allegiance to no one but himself, thus making them independent of kings, governments and Church authorites.

Their fame spread and the numbers joining their ranks grew. As Patten and Mackness point out in Sacred Treasure, Secret Power, “A potent mix of military virtues, such as courage, discipline, fortitude, and strength, together with the spiritual values of self-sacrifice, compassion, charity and chivalry, form a powerful archetype, which may explain something of the Order’s appeal.” And they prospered. Their fortresses made good safe-deposits, and in other ways they acted as bankers: they could convey money securely, and they had money to lend. In the thirteenth century, the Paris preceptory was (in effect) the Royal Treasury.


Their downfall was sudden. After the Fall of Acre (1291), the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and Outremer was no more; in the eyes of the world, the Templars had lost their prime purpose, though they themselves set up headquarters on Cyprus and planned a return to Palestine.

In 1307, the new Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, moved the Order’s headquarters to France. There, on Friday 13th October, 1307, Philip IV (the Fair) ordered the arrest of all Templars in France. He already had the papacy in his hands: between 1303 and 1305 he had got rid of two popes (Boniface VIII and Benedict IX) in order to get his own man, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, elected as Clement V.

The arrest of the Templars was not an entire success. They must have been forewarned, for no ships of the Templar fleet were taken – they had all sailed away and were never seen again; nor were most of the knights; nor was most of the “treasure”. This latter may have been because in the Languedoc, Philip’s order to seize the Templars and their Houses was not obeyed, and it was probably there that the treasure was stored.

Philip’s reasons for persecuting the Order are clear. An unpopular king, he had once had the embarrassing experience of having to take refuge in the Templar preceptory in Paris when he was being hunted by the mob. While there, he was able to compare their palace with his own. He then applied for membership of the Order (no doubt intending to become Grand Master and lay his hands on all their wealth and their secrets) but was turned down, no reason given. He owed them vast sums of money (as he had the Lombards and the Jews: he had reneged on his debts to the Lombards and had expelled all Jews from France). Their military might and organisation was vastly superior to his won. They planned to carve out their own independent state in the Occitan (Languedoc) – no doubt de Molay’s reason for the return to France.

de-molayA former member of the order testified that had been covert Muslims for years and had also practised sodomy. Under torture, De  Molay confessed to blasphemy, including denying Christ and spitting on the Cross, and worshipping a devil called Baphomet. Other Templars confessed to prostrating themselves before “a head”. On March 22nd, 1312, the Order was dissolved by the Council of Vienne under Pope Clement V.

De Molay later recanted, and was burned at the stake in front of Notre Dame in Paris in March 1314.

All the kings in Europe were instructed by the Church to follow suit. Not all did.

Edward II of England at first defended them, then under extreme pressure, arrested a few, but these were given light prison sentences which they served in abbeys under generally comfortable conditions. (This may indirectly have led to his deposion and death: his wife, Isabella, was was the sister of Philip IV. On a visit to her brother’s court in France, she met Roger Mortimer, an English nobleman living in exile: it was with him that she later invaded England and deposed her husband.)

Robert Bruce of Scotland had already been excommunicated himself. The Order was never dissolved in Scotland.

The Duke of Lorraine (Lorraine was not part of France then) supported them loyally.

In Portugal they were reborn as the Knights of Christ: both Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama were Knights of Christ, and Prince Henry the Navigator was the Grand Master.

In Germany, most Templars joined the Order of Teutonic Knights – who later supported Martin Luther: revenge indeed!

The Mysteries

The first mystery is the founding of the Order. Guillaume de Tyre seems to have many things wrong – including the date, which was probably 1111 or 1112, not 1118. Was the whole story of the nine poor knights either a legend or a cover-up? (For a thorough sifting of all the evidence see pp85-86 in The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, and for a full discussion of its relevance to the “Temple Treasure”, see Sacred Treasure, Secret Power.)

Asrly as 1208, at the beginning of the Albigensian Crusade, Pope Innocent III called them “unChristian” and “necromancers”. Why? Was it true, and known, even then? Or was it because they refused to support the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars? “The Grand Master at the time … made the Order’s position clear when he declared there was only one true Crusade – the Crusade against the Saracens.” (The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail)

Another mystery is how close they really were to the Cathars? Templars and Templar castles, houses and fortresses, were thick on the ground in Languedoc, the heartland of Catharism. They provided refuge for Perfects during the Albigensian Crusade. Many of the noble families of the area who supported Catharism also had Templar knights in the family. Bertrand de Blanchefort, fourth Grand Master of the Templars, came of a Cathar family, and his descendants fought with the Cathars against the Albigensian Crusaders. The Blanchefort lands in the Razès are also mentioned in Sacred Treasure, Secret Power in connection with the Visigoth treasure.


Then there is the question of the accusations against them, especially that of worshipping Baphomet. Was “the head” Baphomet? There does seem to have been a head, but whose? That of Hugues de Payen, the Founder? Or was it believed to be the head of John the Baptist? Were they Mandaeans (a heretical sect who believed that the true Messiah was John the Baptist not Jesus of Nazareth)? There were still Mandaeans in the Jordan area, and the Templars must have come across them. It is possible, but in my opinion unlikely: for a start, it is incompatible with the Templars’ close links with Catharism. Could it have been a copy of the head of the Turin Shroud, which was in the Templars’ possession until 1307? And was the so-called “repudiation of Christ” really only a repudiation of the Cross (which was also abhorrent to the Cathars)?


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