Warriors, Monks, Diplomats and
The Templar organisation lay outside the two poles of authority - secular and religious - of medieval Europe.
Although nominally answerable to the Pope, the Templar Grand Master was in practice a law unto himself, and the
equal of Kings.
James Wasserman, in his recent book The Templars and the Assassins (2001), sums up the Order's autonomy:
The Order was responsible to the pope alone. The Templars were his private army; he their sole authority.
They were granted the right to construct their own churches to protect
themselves from the company of sinners. They were allowed to retain any booty seized in battle. They were
exempted from all church tithes and authorized to collect tithes for themselves. They were freed from all
authority except that of the pope. This included kings and emperors as well as the entire church hierarchy.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem who had presided over their founding was stripped of any authority over their
behaviour. No one was permitted to require an oath of a Templar. No one who was not already a Templar could be
elected as Master of the Order (making it more difficult for a king to 'fix' an election). All changes to the
Rule were to be made only by the Master and a chapter of knights. Furthermore, the bull not only identified
the Templars as protectors of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, but asserted that God and Saint Peter had
authorized them to protect the Catholic Church itself and to defend it against enemies of the Cross.
John J. Robinson, in Born in Blood (1989), adds:
In no way were the Templars to be bound by the laws of the countries in which they might reside from
time to time. Only their own Rule governed their conduct, and only their own superiors could discipline
In his 1139 Bull Omne datum optimum (Every Best Gift), Pope Innocent II had exempted the Templars from the
tithes and taxes that the rest of the populace had to pay to the Church. And although they were not automatically
exempt from the taxes levied by Kings or local nobles, in practice most voluntarily excluded Templars properties on
their lands from paying. This naturally caused resentment among the general populace - a resentment that was, in
some cases, increased by the fact that the Templars worked with the tax collectors. In England, for example, the
Order was responsible for monitoring the King's tax collectors and ensuring their honesty: the revenue collected
was deposited in the Temple Church in London.
The Templar Domains
Cambridge historian Evelyn Lord, in The Knights Templar in Britain (2002), sums up the rapid rise of the
Templars in the Holy Land:
Thanks to St Bernard's promotion of the Order, by the time Hugh de Payens died in c.1136 the Order was well
established. In 1149 they had been consigned the city of Gaza and its
surrounding district in perpetuity. [The German monk] Theoderic, recording his observations in the 1170s, saw
Judaean villages revived by the Templars, and notes the strong castles and fortresses they had built. Their
deeds in the Holy Land were recorded by contemporaries, both Christian and Arab. They remarked on their
courage in battle and siege, but also noted their arrogance towards others.
But it was not just in Outremer that the Order flourished. Once
the Pope had endorsed it, kings, princes and noblemen fell over themselves to shower it with gifts of money,
land and property. Under the first two Grand Masters, Hugues de Payens and Robert de Craon, the Templars were
given 600 charters - granting land, revenue from rents, market rights and so on - throughout Europe. According
to the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris, in his day the Templars owned some 9,000 manors across Europe.
Added to the bounty that they won in war, and their growing financial operations (see below), and coupled with
their freedom from taxes and tithes, the 'Poor Knights', as they continued to style themselves, soon became
rich beyond the envy of kings and popes.
The gifts included farmland, livestock, vineyards, mills and mines.
This huge amount of property and the various kinds of business carried on in it meant that the Order had to
build up the structure and organisation necessary to manage and maintain it, and to ensure that the revenue
from the estates was channelled to the central task of the Order - fighting the Saracen. This organisation was
modelled on that of the Cistercian monastic order, which is not surprising given the close ties between the
two (the Templar Rule having been drawn up by Bernard of Clairvaux, head of the Cistercians).
The holdings in Europe were organised into provinces or langues,
grouped by language - each province with its own Master. The first Master of England, Hugh of Argentein, was
appointed in 1140. Within the langues, the properties were further subdivided into baileys, which were under
the control of Commanders.
The Templars owned huge estates in England, and some in Scotland and in eastern Ireland. Their name lives on in
place names such as Temple in Lothian (the site of the preceptory of Balantrodoch), Temple Fortune in north London,
Temple Meads in Bristol and Templecombe in Devon.
The Templars' founder, Hugues de Payens, had visited the British Isles in 1128 to promote the new Order and to
solicit support and donations. It is said (although there is no documentary proof) that he personally founded the first Templar
establishment in England, at Holborn, which was then outside London's city walls. This later became known as
the Old Temple, the buildings being demolished as late as the end of 17th century.
In 1161 the Templars moved to a larger site, the New Temple, by the side of the River Thames, which is now the
centre of the English legal profession. All that remains of the New Temple today is the famous, characteristically
round, Temple Church (although today's structure is largely a reconstruction, the original building being seriously
damaged by the Luftwaffe raid of 10 May 1941).
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