Order & Discipline

The Order of the Temple was extraordinarily highly disciplined, especially in battle. Their Rule forbade the knights from retreating unless they were outnumbered by three to one - and even then not without their commander's consent. On the other hand, any knight who pre-empted the order to attack was severely punished.

The Grand Master in Jerusalem was in overall, autocratic charge. He was elected by a 'college' made up of 13 senior The three Templar ranks, left to right: Sergeant, Knight and Clericknights, representing (it is said) Jesus and his disciples.

The Templars had three ranks:

Knights: free men of noble birth who wore the white mantle and red Templar cross.

Sergeants (a rank invented by the Templars): free men of lower class who acted as men-at-arms and sentries. The sergeants wore a black or brown mantle emblazoned with the red cross.

Cleric and chaplains: the priests of the Order, who also acted as scribes and record-keepers.

Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of the Templar army was actually made up of warriors of Arab extraction, often of mixed Arab and European blood - Turcopoles, who were familiar with the Saracens ways of warfare. For this reason the Order employed many Arab interpreters.

 

The vast majority of members of the Order were not knights: fighting men required a huge back-up service of squires, grooms, armourers, blacksmiths, cooks, etc., and their lands and property needed a large staff - stonemasons, carpenters and all kinds of servants and labourers - to run and maintain them.

Historians estimate that knights made up only around 10%, if that, of the Order's total membership. At the height of the Templars' power, this probably made a force of no more than 1,500 knights.

Poverty, Chastity and Obedience

A new recruit had to give himself up entirely to the Order, surrendering all his possessions (or, if he had none, bringing with him a gift of money). Thereafter they were forbidden The seal of the Knights Templarto own anything, even the smallest personal possession. If a new recruit was married, his wife was expected to go into a nunnery: he would never see her again. Only free men of good health were accepted (new recruits underwent a stringent medical check-up).

The new recruit had to pass through an initiation ceremony, at which he vowed to serve 'God and the Lady St. Mary'. At the end of the ceremony he would be given his mantle, and the Master and chaplain would kiss him on the mouth. (Although this has since raised suspicions about the Order, this was not an uncommon practice at that time, and the Rule made it abundantly clear that homosexual practices were not to be tolerated.)

As American historian John J. Robinson writes in Born in Blood (1989):

First came the three basic monastic vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Chastity took count of both sexes. No Templar was to kiss or touch any woman, not even his mother or sister. Even conversation with any woman was discouraged, and often forbidden. Templars wore sheepskin drawers that were never to be removed. (The Rule ordered that Templars should never bathe, so the ban on the removal of drawers was seen as support for the prohibition of sexual activity.) No Templar was to allow anyone, especially another Templar, to see his naked body. In their dormitories, lamps burned all night to keep away the darkness that might permit or encourage homosexual practices, a constant concern in all-male societies, including monasteries.

Excommunicated knights were welcomed into the Order, provided that their excommunication was first lifted by a bishop.

There were also 'associate' members - knights who signed up for a specified period (and who had to pay for the privilege of fighting with the Templars). This could include married men (whose widows were given a pension if their husbands died in Templar service). There were other bodies of associate membership in which men and - at least in the early days - women could volunteer to serve the Order (usually paying for the privilege).

Women of the Temple

It is sometimes stated as a fact that women could play no part in the Order of the Temple, but this is not correct: there were - albeit limited - ways in which females could participate.

There were various 'associate' groups attached to the Knights Templar, and women were allowed to join some of them. There is some evidence that women were permitted to play a more active role - at least in the early years.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh note in The Temple and the Lodge (1989):

a late twelfth-century account in England speaks of a woman being received into the Temple as a Sister, and seems quite clearly to imply some sort of feminine wing or adjunct to the Order. But no elaboration or clarification of the matter has ever been found.

French-based researchers Nicole Dawe and Charles Bywaters (quoted in Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince's The Templar Revelation , point out that 12th-century documents listing people who joined the Order include the names of women. The majority of these documents come from the Languedoc in southern France, one of many factors that highlights the special character of the Languedocian Templars.

There was, however, a later change to the Rule that expressly forbade women from joining the Order in any capacity - but this also implies that previous to this they had been allowed to join.

The problem in researching this particular aspect of Templar life is that there is very little information available on how the Order was structured and run in the period 1150-1250. The regulations and working practices of the Order were governed by the Rule, which was originally laid down at the Council of Troyes in 1128. The Rule in force at the time of the Templars' suppression in 1307 - which was, like the organisation itself, far more complex than the original - almost exclusively related to the structure of the Order after 1250. What regulations were in force between those dates in unknown. As historian Edward Burman comments:

It is as if the Templars themselves had little knowledge of their past, especially of a kind of 'middle age' between the intervention of St Bernard and the 1250s.

Secrecy

All Templar chapter meetings, including those for the initiation of new brothers, were held in secret, and Templars were forbidden, on pain of expulsion, to reveal anything that went on in them, even to members of lower rank.

The Order was, in fact, obsessed with secrecy, an obsession that was later to rebound on them. Even their own Rule was a matter of mystery to the members, as John J. Robinson describes:

The total contents of the Rule, which could be altered, added to, or even totally ignored from time to time by each grand master, were highly confidential. The beginner was told just enough of the Rule to permit him to take his place at the bottom of the order. As he rose in the Templar hierarchy, further sections of the Rule were revealed and explained to him. Knowledge of the contents of the complete Rule was confined to the highest ranks of the order. To everyone else it was doled out on a 'need to know' basis. One of the most serious offences in the order was for a knight of any rank to reveal any part of the Rule.

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