“The Templars: The History & The Myth – From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons: A guide to Templar History, Culture, and Locations”, by Michael Haag, ISBN 978-0-06-177593-2, 384 pages, (2009).
Back on Friday 13th, Hypatia made me aware that I knew nothing about the Knights Templar – a gap which cried out to be filled. A search brought me to this blessedly pre-Woke volume with its unusually long title.
One of the main problems with researching the Templars is that the records of the Order have mostly been lost. Contemporaneous documentation is limited, and a key record buried in the Vatican Library was published as recently as only 2007. The author tried to compensate for this absence by putting what little is known about the Templars into the broader context of the sweep of history.
The book begins with a very compressed background history, from the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem around 958 BC, through the Arab conquest of Jerusalem about a millennium & a half later in 638 AD, to the First Crusade’s capture of the city in 1099 AD after nearly five centuries of Muslim rule. It is page 89 before the first mention of the Templars – founded 20 years later in 1119 AD.
Over the next 116 pages, the author lays out a brief summation of the convoluted history of Outremer, as the French called the kingdoms & provinces set up by the Crusaders on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. During the next 200 years – about 10 generations of fighting-aged knights – the Knights Templar played an important part in protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land, facilitating their financial transactions, building castles to resist the intrusions by Muslim forces, and fighting off the Muslims.
One of the major problems faced by the rulers of Outremer was that Crusades came and went, but they never could attract enough permanent European residents to form a stable population large enough to secure the land. The Knights Templar were an important part of the resulting always uphill battle. After about 90 years, Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187 AD, and the Europeans were finally ejected from Outremer about a hundred years after that in 1302 AD. (Parenthetically, we might note that Europeans held onto parts of the Holy Land for longer than the English held on to their North American colonies.)
The book then moves on to the fate of the Templars. With the loss of Outremer, they had largely lost their reason for existence. However, they still had large assets in France – a tempting target for King Philip IV and his scheming minister William of Nogaret, desperate for funds to support French wars against the Flemish & English. Surprisingly, the Templars were lax and unprepared – Philip IV had previously seized the property of Italian bankers and Jews in France. Five years after the ejection from the Holy Land, on Friday 13th of October, 1307 AD, his axe fell on the Templars.
As an excuse for seizing Templar assets Philip, charged the Order with heresy. During induction into the Order, Templars had to endure the kind of abuse they could expect if they were taken prisoner by the Muslims. (Similar in intent to the modern treatment of Special Forces during their training). Philip charged that the knights’ behavior during this hazing constituted heresy against the Church. Templars were tortured to admit heresy and burned at the stake. Rulers in other parts of Europe – Portugal, Spain, England, Scotland – did not support Philip’s charges; nor, eventually, did the Pope. With some rebranding, Templars in those countries were allowed to carry on. Over the subsequent march of time, various legends and myths have sprung up around the Templars, which the author explores.
The final 100 pages of Mr. Haag’s book concern directions for visitors to various Templar sites in the Holy Land, along with his reviews of books, movies, and computer games concerning the Templars – from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Mr. Haag has a dry wit, and some of those reviews are Laugh Out Loud funny.