The Templar Power - Part I

Knights Templar

Knights Templar

Functioning not only as holy warriors, the vast wealth and influence of the Order made them an international organisation. Templar fleets would carry pilgrims to the Holy Land, while the Order also operated as international bankers ‑ introducing the first ever system of the 'cheque'. A pilgrim travelling to Outremer, or someone conducting business both within or outwith his own country would be able to use the Templar cheque system.

The Templars also operated an international intelligence network paralleling today's CIA. Although lacking the sophisticated technology available to today's intelligence services, they utilised a network of agents and had their own secret codes of recognition. Secret communication was based on a cypher involving the Templar cross.

The mediaeval knight in all his glory

The mediaeval knight in all his glory

Of the Templar wealth, William of Tyre said towards the end of the 12th century: "They are reputed to have immense posses­ both here (The Holy Land) and across the sea, such that there is not a province of the Christian world which has not granted a portion of its wealth to these brothers; and that they may now be said to have wealth like the opulence of kings".

By the early 13th century in Scotland alone, the Order held lands ‑exempt from taxes ‑, which included estates in East Lothian, Falkirk, land in Glasgow including what is now the city's Stockwell Street and the estate of Marycoulter, in Mearns. The present‑day 'Temple' area in the heart of London was Templar property while among their vast international possessions they also owned and operated the port of Pollensa, on the island of Majorca.

The splendour of the Cistercian Abbey

The splendour of the Cistercian Abbey – plain for all to see even after hundreds of years

Paralleling the growth of the Knights Templar was the growth in the Cistercian Order whose military wing the Templars had become under the guidance of Bernard of Clairvaux. In his lifetime Bernard created 530 abbeys throughout Europe, in addition to a host of priories and nunneries.

As both monk and warrior, the Templars were a contradiction. Sworn to monkly obedience yet armed with a sword, taking spiritual inspiration from the message of brotherly love expounded by Bernard of Clairvaux, yet also taking spiritual comfort from the bloodthirsty Biblical exploits of Joshua.

Doubtless the Templars recognised the parallels between the attempts by the twelve tribes of Israel to claim by force the lands which lay beyond the Jordan river and the order's own role in reclaiming and maintaining the Holy Land for Western Christendom. Justification for the measures required to achieve this end could be found in Joshua's

Mediaeval sword

Mediaeval sword

exploits. After the fall of the city of Jericho, for example, the Old Testament relates how Joshua and his army "Utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young, and old and ox, and sheep and ass with the edge of the sword".

In battle, the Templars were the elite of their age. Clad in a chain mail tunic, quilted undershirt, padded breeches and carrying a kite shaped shield, a Templar knight would ride into battle on a mule before mounting his destrier, or warhorse. His weapons were a two‑edged sword, lance, and mace. The sergeant members of the Order, similarly armed, would ride in the rear ranks of the knights. The cavalry, equipped with Danish axes, crossbows, and spears, would provide cover for the cavalry before it charged.

Into battle would be carried the Templar's Beauceant (Be Noble) ‑the war standard and also the Order's battle cry. This standard ‑ a vertical banner divided into two strips of black and white representing sin and purity and that Templars were fierce to foes but fair to friends ‑ held a special significance for them. To lose it in battle led to expulsion from the Order. Never allowed to retreat unless the odds against them were at least three to one, Templars were also forbidden to use the funds of the Order for ransom.

Statue of Bernard of Clairvaux

Statue of Bernard of Clairvaux

It was due to the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux that a rival international order ‑ the Order of St John the Baptist (Hospitallers)‑ were also allowed to bear arms in the Holy Land. This Order, which was to be granted Templar lands after the Templars' dissolution by Papal Bull in the early 14th century also took vows of poverty chastity and obedience. They were responsible for a hospital in Jerusalem, catering for crusader and pilgrim alike.

Co‑existing beside the Hospitallers and the Templars in the Holy Land were the Order of St Lazarus and the Knights of our Lady of Montjoie. The Order of St Lazarus, founded after the formation of the Templars, was responsible for caring for leprosy victims ‑ it was a rule of the Templars meanwhile that any knight who was stricken by leprosy must join the Order of St Lazarus. The Knights of Our Lady of Montjoie, who took their name from a hilltop castle outside Jerusalem, had been recognised by Papal Bull since 1180.

The fall of the territory of Edessa towards the end of 1148, after Jerusalem was stormed by forces commanded by Zengi, led to Bernard of Clairvaux preaching the Second Crusade. Two armies, one led by France's Louis V11 and one by the German Emperor Conrad 111, descended on the territory of Anatolia four years later. Caught in an ambush by the Turks, the Germans were all but wiped out. Following a nightmare march through Anatolia, meanwhile, a dispirited Louis, his army ravaged by pestilence, the elements, and relentless guerrilla raids, finally handed over control of what was left of his demoralised force to the Knights Templar.

The Templars restored order among the army, but the Crusade itself was a lost cause by less than one year later. By 1177 the great Saladin ‑ born near the same village in modern Iraq where Saddam Hussein was born ‑ ruled as king of Egypt and Syria. In November of that year, with an army more than 26,000 strong, he launched an attack on Jerusalem. But a force of only 300 knights, including 80 Templars managed to inflict a heavy defeat on his force.

Knights Templars

Knights Templars

Saladin was to exact vengeance for this defeat ten years later, in what has become known as the Battle of the Horns of Hattin ‑ a hill on which 1200 knights and more than 20,000 other Frankish ranks had camped. With a force of 60,000 at his back, Saladin all but slaughtered the Franks. He ordered the hill scrub to be set alight, leading to the disintegration of the Frankish infantry. The battle raged for hours until all that was left of the Franks was an exhausted force of 150 knights, who surrendered. Templar knights and Hospitaller knights, after refusing to save their skins by converting to Islam, were hacked to pieces.

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Holy Warriors

The Templar Power -
Part II

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