The rise and fall of the Order of the Knights Templar

This is the fascinating tale of the Templars, probably the most powerful and mysterious organisation of the Middle Ages. The Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon originate from a group of nine aristocrats, whose sole aim was the protection of the Holy Land from the Saracens.
So, let us undertake a journey into the past, back to the origin, rise and fall of the Order of the Templars. A journey, which will lead us to the legendary world of the Knights of the Cross. 
Deus lo vult)

The tale commences in 11th Century Europe at the time of the first crusade. The Pope was the head of the church and representative of God on Earth. His words were law. In 1095 the Moslems marched to the East where they founded their new capital a few miles away from Byzantium. But since Byzantium was the capital of the Christian Byzantine realm, Alexios - King of Byzantium - sent a message to Pope Urban II seeking help. Like his predecessor Urban dreamed of a Christian kingdom which - united under the Pope's banner - would reach from the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Holy Land. Thus he had a unique chance to free both Byzantium and Jerusalem, the Holy City at the same time whilst demonstrating to the European kings his might as well as making a name for himself. So he made an urgent appeal to all Christians in Europe to forget about their quarrels among themselves and to join the crusade in order to free Jerusalem. Those who joined the first crusade left a path of looting, pillage, sack and rape. The first unit to reach Byzantium was a horde of 15,000 vagabonds lead by Pete the Hermit. King Alexios was shocked and disappointed as he expected the support of hundreds of armed knights. Shortly after, thousands of French and German knights and their followers came. With the arrival of these crusaders the massacre took place when the City of Lycea was captured and all citizens, including children and old people were slaughtered. As has been proved most citizens were Christians .... The butchering continued all the way to Jerusalem. Anno 1099 Jerusalem was taken. The Knights of the Cross mercilessly massacred the defenceless population and killed the Moslems even in their own places of worship. It is said that such masses of blood were spilled that it covered the knights' ankles. In Europe this crusade was celebrated as an overwhelming victory as they succeeded in seizing the Holy City from the unbelievers.
(Knights of the Cross)

Because of their success the crusader's fame and tales of their exploits spread all over Europe. Jerusalem finally dwelled in the hands of Christians again. Thousands of pilgrims went on the long journey to the "Land on the other side of the world" also called "Outremer". But the pilgrimages were not blessed with good fortune as the Christian kingdom was still surrounded by hostile Islamic states. The pilgrims were in need of protection on their way to and even while staying in the Holy Land and so the scene for the Monks of War was set. Thus Hugo de Payens, a French nobleman from the Champagne, offered his services to King Balduin of Jerusalem. He himself and his eight comrade-in-arms subscribed themselves to protecting the pilgrims' long path. Balduin agreed, doubting that they could carry out the task. But the knights performed so well that Balduin accommodated them in a wing of his palace. When the Moslems ruled this wing had been the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. It was built on the ruins of the Holy Temple of Solomon. Therefore Hugo de Payens gave the new order the name "The Order of Christ's Poor Knights and Solomon's Temple" - in short: The Templars. They called themselves "The Poor Knights of Christ" because they were monks vowed to chastity, poverty and obedience. According to ancient records the Templars were often shown riding one horse with two or more persons. At first the order grew slowly but their ranks expanded more rapidly as the recruits were trained as warriors and as highly specialised war machines. Hugo de Payens became the first Grand Master of the Templars. Under his command the humble order grew into a disciplined organisation with well qualified specialists and an effective command. Due to their vow of poverty the Templars owned just ordinary clothes: they wore a plain white coat which later on became embroidered with the notorious eight-pointed red cross. (Monks of War)

Owing to their deeds in Outremer the Templars were seen as procreators of heroes in Europe. Anno 1129 the order became officially acknowledged by the Pope. After being blessed by the Pope the Templars started to recruit new members. They were considered as noble warriors who devoted themselves to the protection of the Holy Land from the hated Saracens and who lived with humility. A worship of heroes spread throughout Europe unlike any admiration before. Fortunes of gold as well as properties were given to the Templars. In the long run estates in France, Spain, Portugal, England and Scotland were transferred to the order. Even the poorest of the poor gave whatever they could spare. In 1139 Pope Innozenz released the Templars from the duty to obey all secular rulers. From this moment on they were solely subordinates to the Pope. At this time the first doubts about the Templars were rumoured. These rumours became stronger over the course of time.
(Heroes of this Time)

But in Outremer the tables of war started to turn. The famous leader of the Saracens - King Saladin - succeeded in settling the rivalry among the Islamic groups and united them into one strong force. An open war raged in which Saladin gradually secured victory. The help from the West did not come fast enough, thus the population of Outremer was on its own. To make matters worse the Moslems brought forth their own monks of war. These assassins were the Islamic counterparts to the Templars, however they were even more fanatic. They were specialised in attacking people. Their leader, The Old Man of the Mountains, was said to put his warriors into a state of euphoria then influencing them with his visions of paradise prior to sending them on dark missions. Even Richard Lionheart's nephew Henri de Champagne witnessed this obedience towards their leaders: On one occasion, while negotiating in a Moslem castle the Muslim lord ordered his subordinates to commit suicide by jumping of off the castle wall. Henri de Champagne was severely shaken by this event. (Fanatic Assassins)

Richard the Lionheart could not escape from the Pope's appeal and sailed towards Outremer. Together with King Philip Augustus of France he headed for Palestine in July 1190 in order to help the fighting crusaders. On their way to the Holy Land they stopped in Messina to gather their troops. Their stay in Sicily was longer than planned due to local political disturbance. In March 1191 the Kings left Messina. Philip sailed directly to the Holy Land but Richard headed to Cyprus for personal matters, Emperor Isaac had taken Richard's fiancée as a prisoner. Thus Richard was obliged to capture Cyprus and free his fiancée. After the settlement in Cyprus he sold the island to the Templars and sailed towards Akkon. As the fleet anchored in Akkon the battle broke loose. On July 11th 1191 Akkon was back in the hands of the crusaders and Richard moved on to Jerusalem. The Saracen prisoners were a burden to him and so he tried to get rid of them looking for a pretext. Cool-headed Richard declared that Saladin had broken the state of peace and consequently ordered the slaughter of all 2700 prisoners. In September 1192 Richard and Saladin agreed to a peace. With this Richard considered his duty in the Holy Land as fulfilled. On his way back to England he was caught by Duke Leopold of Austria and put into prison for one year. After paying a vast amount of ransom he was set free and could continue his journey to England. Upon his return he had to fight the corrupt wheelings and dealings of his brother John (the tale of Robin Hood). After settling his affairs in England he fought brilliantly for 5 years in France. On March 26th 1199 in Limousin an arrow went astray and set his life at an end. (Lionheart)

The quest for the Holy Grail has remained one of the greatest mysteries of our time. What is the meaning of the Holy Grail? Is it a wooden bowl in which the blood of Jesus was collected the day he was crucified? Is it a sacred stone which has been worshipped for ages? And is it true that the Templars were the keepers of the Holy Grail? The Castle of Munsalvaesche is said to be the place where the Holy Grail is kept. It is, just like the Grail itself, the centre of various tales. According to epic poems such as "Parzival" from Wolfram von Eschenbach or "Perceval" from Chretien de Troys the Castle is either located on a mountain or at a lake or river. Albrecht von Schaffenberg, last significant epic poet of the Grail, used the term "temple" for the Castle of Munsalvaesche. It is known that the most important churches of the Templars were chiefly called temples due to their size. There is some evidence that the Templars are in connection with the Holy Grail. However, our descendants will keep on considering the question about origin and whereabouts of the Holy Grail. (Keeper of the Holy Grail)

It happened Friday, October 13th 1307. A black day for the Order of the Templars. In the early morning servants of King Phillip entered the French temples and took the surprised and non resisting Templars as prisoners. Only some of them escaped. In Paris 138 members of the Order were sent to the dungeons, one of them was Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Order. King Phillip in his role as protector of church and faith accused the Templars of heresy. A court of priests and monks devoted to the King ran the investigation. The Templars were charged of religious and moral transgression. One was the worshipping of the devil by means of an icon called Baphomet. They were said to have sold their soul to Lucifer and prayed to him in the form of a gigantic cat. There are some theories which state that Baphomet is a distorted alteration of "Mohammed". The Templars might have mingled their Christian faith with those of the Moslems since they had been in the Holy Land for many years. Actually the imprisonment of the Templars was not legal because they were solely subordinates to the Pope and released from the duty to obey secular rulers. But as the incumbent Pope Clemens was elected with the King's support, he did not interfere. The goodwill of the Pope encouraged further emperors to proceed against the Order. All over Europe legal action was taken. The Templars who confessed their guilt were given a small pension and were bound to dwell in poverty. Those who denied the charges were either put behind bars for life or were burned at the stake. After countless tortures, confessions and executions the Order of the Templars became finally dissolved by the Pope in March 1312. The enormous fortune of the Order on which the Pope and the King had an eye played a main role within the inquisition. However, when it came to the arresting of the Templars their gigantic treasure as well as their fleet had disappeared. To this day it is unknown when the fleet left and to where its sails were set. Only one thing is clear: the fleet left La Rochelle at dead of night because this is where it had been seen for the last time. The arrests in France gave a sign. Scotland and Portugal were the only states which did not show interest in handing out the Templars to the inquisition. Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, himself was just excommunicated from church and did not tend to take action against the them. Thus there are grounds for the assumption that the fleet headed towards Scotland or Portugal where the fugitive Templars hid. The remaining Templars in Spain, Germany and Cyprus were cleared from the above mentioned suspicion. (Inquisition, Baphomet and Over the Sea)

Jacques de Molay was the last Grand Master of the Order, he confessed while being arrested. On March 14th 1314 he was brought before the Cathedral of Notre Dame in order to hear his life sentence pronounced. But the event took an unexpected turn as he addressed the crowd with the following words: "It is only just that I may speak in such a moment for the sake of the truth. I am standing here before Heaven and Earth and all of you my as witnesses and I plead guilty. I am guilty of the most sinful deed I could ever have been doing. Because I lied as I said that the accusations against me and my brothers were true. Herewith I declare the innocence of the Order in all points of accusation. Its purity and holiness are beyond suspicion. I confess that I confirmed the accusations because I wanted to spare myself from the horrible pain of torture. One has offered me life for the price of infamy. But life is not worth this price." After this public confession the sentence for a life in the dungeons was modified into the sentence of death at the stake. On the evening of March 18th 1314 Jaques de Molay together with his representative were burned at a low flame in front of a howling crowd. The crowd shuddered at the last words of the Grand Master: "We die innocent. But in Heaven is the Throne of Judgement before which the weak will always find forgiveness. The Pope will face this Throne within 40 days and I will await you, Phillip, in one year." On April 20th 1314 Pope Clemens died and on November 29th 1314 the King became the victim of a heart failure. (The Course of Jacques)

Our last album (Tunes of War) was about the Scottish struggle for freedom against the English. A part of the history of the Templars is mingled with that of the Scottish. Robert the Bruce was excommunicated by the Pope as he had committed the sin of murdering John Comyns in a church. Thus he was no longer subordered to the church and the fugitive Templars could seek shelter in the Scottish Kingdom. On June 24th 1314 the Battle of Bannockburn took place near Stirling Castle. The date is worth mentioning since June 24th is the day of Holy John and therefore of high importance to the Templars. Chroniclers reported that all Scottish units were involved in the fight and that the outcome of the battle remained undecided when the English saw a new unit appearing in the Scottish rows. The rearguard stormed the battle-field with waving banners. According to some descriptions the rearguard consisted of children, yeomen as well as other non-fighters. However, the Scottish must have counted on their support since they did not seem to be surprised at all. But who could these men have been? The sudden appearance of this new unit decided the end of the battle. Panic spread among the English. King Edward fled with five hundred knights from the battle-field. The demoralised infantrymen took this as an example - defeated the English troops left their supplies, baggage trains, money, arms and equipment behind. As we know the Templars were trained warriors and highly specialised war machines. Their reputation and their tales were famous all over Europe and as far as the Holy Land. Is it possible that the English took flight in such a hurry because they realised that the rearguard were the Templars? Did they decide the battle in favour of the Scottish or were they just children and peasants? Like many other questions about the Order this one will also remain a mystery left to be revealed. (The Battle of Bannockburn)

The true story of the legendary Templars will remain what it always has been: One of the greatest mysteries of life.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped us drawing up this story: Thanks to Matthias Bölsing for the inspiration, Markus Neumann for the provision with literature, Peter Angus Cavanaugh-Hoch for the German summary of Battle of Bannockburn, Yvonne Thorhauer for the excellent translation of the booklet and Dave Bown for suggestions for improvement.
- Chris Boltendahl
March 1998

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