HISTORY OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR #10
CONCLUSION: THE TEMPLAR MYTH
The impact of the trial of the Templars varied from area to area. In the Mark of Brandenburg, where no Templars were arrested, people would not have noticed any changes. In areas where the Templars were arrested, lands were taken into royal custody and pensioners and other creditors went unpaid, outsiders would certainly have noticed the upheaval. Some Templars were unaccounted for: in Germany and eastern Europe many were not arrested, and their later history is unknown. Some of their lands passed to the Hospital of St John; some did not. In France, any Templar who escaped custody was hunted down and imprisoned; in England, the sheriff of York was in no hurry to lock up the Templars. As it was regarded as dishonourable for a knight to run away, most Templars did not try to flee. Yet Brother Bernard des Fons fled to Tunis and became ambassador for the Muslim ruler of Tunis; there may have been others who acted similarly.
Some Templars remained in Muslim prisons in the East, captured either during the final fall of Acre or on Arwad. The German priest Ludolf of Sudheim met two such ex-Templar prisoners during his pilgrimage to the East in around 1340. Others lived on in religious houses in the West, supported by a daily pension. A few took up new career opportunities, such as the would-be Templar necromancer mentioned in the previous chapter. All in all, the end of the Order of the Temple was rather untidy.
Contemporary views of the downfall of the Order varied according to their geographical location: those within lands controlled by the king of France or his relatives or in their service supported the trial; others condemned it. Opinions did not soften with time, and late in the fourteenth century the St Alban's chronicler Thomas of Walsingham was still condemning the trial. Templar properties continued to be called 'the Temple' long after they had passed to the Hospital of St John. The Flemish continued to refer to the Templars as 'white Templars' and the Hospitallers as 'Black Templars', on the basis of their knights' mantles. Writers of fictional literature were confused as to the relationship between the two orders: Joanot Martorell, writing his great novel Tirant lo Blanc in the 1460s, stated, that the Hospital of St John was founded after the Order of the Temple had been destroyed by the Muslims, and that the Hospital had rebuilt the Temple of Solomon on Rhodes.
The Templars continued to appear in fictional literature throughout the Middle Ages, although usually in peaceful roles rather than fighting the Muslims; perhaps because audiences were not absolutely sure what the Templars' role in the Holy Land had been. They continued to appear as defenders of the Grail Castle in German works written in the tradition of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, but not in other Grail romances. Their image in fictional literature was almost invariably good; they were holy men, dedicated to God's service.
There were obvious moral lessons to draw from the downfall of the Templars: fortune rules all in this world, how quickly the great can fall from favour, how the poor-knights of-Christ became rich and proud and so they met their downfall.
Commentators were not slow to make such points. In fact, it is only human nature to try to come up with some reasonable explanation for the Templars' sudden and unexpected downfall at a time when they were still an active and pious religious Order. Historians from the Middle Ages to the present day have developed a 'mode' of the rise and fall of the Templars: the pure ideals of the first knights became contaminated as the Order grew rich and involved in politics; the Order became corrupt and greedy and increasingly unpopular, and meanwhile the West lost interest in the Crusades; so when Philip IV of France attacked the Order for its money, no one defended it and the Order fell. Because this provides an attractively simple explanation for the otherwise unjust and inexplicable fall of the Order, this model has gained wide acceptance, despite the fact that it is false.
The modern image of the Templars as magicians with secret esoteric knowledge of the divine is rather different from the devout but uneducated warriors who have been the subject of this book. Scholars such as Malcolm Barber, Peter Partner and John Walker have traced the development of this 'post-Templar history' in depth, while others such as Sharan Newman and Evelyn Lord have produced accessible surveys of the modern myths for non-experts. Their researches indicate that there were no accusations of magic against the Templars until the work of Henry Cornelius Agrippain the sixteenth century, which mentioned the Templars in passing as a group destroyed after being accused of witchcraft. Scholars in general ignored such views. For example, Thomas Fuller, in his Historie of the Holy Warre (1639), made no reference to magic in his account of the Templars' trial, concluding: 'They are conceived in generall to be guiltlesse and innocent from those damnable sinnes wherewith they were charged,' and 'the chief cause of their ruine was their extraordinary wealth.' It was not until the mid-eighteenth century with the rise of secret societies such as the Freemasons, that the Templars came to the attention of the educated, upper middle-class layman as an example of a secret society that had been destroyed because of its esoteric knowledge. Initially the Freemasons claimed no link with the Templars: it was the German Masons who in the 1760s introduced the idea that the Templars must have had secret wisdom and magical powers, which they had learned while they held the so-called Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. This wisdom and power, they claimed, had been handed on down a secret line of succession to the present-day Masons.
Such 'medieval mystery' fitted well with the growing Romantic movement of the period. 'Short-lived-Templar' orders were set up in France and England. Writers of fiction developed the concept of the Templars as an institution with secret purposes. The most famous of these was Walter Scott (1771-1832), whose negative depictions of Templars in Ivanhoe (1819) and The Talisman (1825) are still influential. Scott used the modern myth of the Templars as a secret society combined with the traditional 'model' of the gradual corruption of the Templars to create threatening yet fascinating villains. The negative image of the Templars in The Talisman, which is set during the Third Crusade, reappears in modern films based on this crusade, most, recently Kingdom of Heaven (2005). Another sinister depiction appeared in George Macdonald's gothic novel Phantastes (1858), where the hero, transferred to 'fairyland', comes across a mysteriously rectangular woodland clearing, walled with yew trees, in which stand 'three ranks of men, in white robes, standing silent and solemn, each with a sword by his side, although the rest of his costume and hearing was more priestly than soldierly'. The author calls this area a 'temple'. At one end is a platform, on which is a throne on which a 'majestic-looking figure' sits, which turns out to be a wooden idol. A youth and a girl are led up to the platform and sent through a door; we assume that they are going to some happy mystery, but then discover that they have been killed. The hero destroys the idol, which turns out to contain a huge beast that devoured the young people offered to it; the hero kills the beast, but is himself killed by the sword-wielding white-clad priests. The word 'Templar' is never mentioned, but the parallels with the Templars and the charges against them are clear: white-clad knights who are also religious, operating in a temple, worshipping an idol which destroys its young initiates.
The evil atmosphere around these 'Templars' was echoed half a century later in M. J. James's short story 'Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad' (1904), where a bronze whistle found in the ruins of one of the Templars' circular chapels summons a ghostly creature which tries to destroy the whistler. The original purpose of such a whistle remains unclear, but the reader is left with the impression that the Templars were a dubious organization: 'you never knew what they might not have been up to'.
For James, as for Scott and Macdonald, the primary purpose of his writing was to entertain. However, some writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries developed the myth of the Templars as a sinister secret society for political or religious reasons, even fabricating physical evidence in order to 'prove' their arguments.
Such writers were following the example of those who had contrived the original charges against the Templars: projecting their own fantasies and obsessions on to their victims. For example, in 1796 Charles Louis Cadet de Cassicour portrayed the Templars as part of a secret conspiracy which was behind the French Revolution and the execution of King Louis XVI, in revenge for the death of Jacques de Molay in 1314. In 1818 Joseph von Hammer Purgstall published a book entitled The Mystery of Baphomet Revealed that linked the Templars to the Gnostics, a religious movement of the early Christian era, condemned by pagans and Christians alike for their alleged sexual depravity. Hammer argued that the Templars were Gnostics and the 'Templars' head' was a Gnostic idol called Baphomet. In fact 'Baphomet' is simply the Old French word for the name Mohammad and the Gnostics did not have idols, because they did not worship anything with a physical form. They believed that the physical world is an invention of evil, while God is incorporeal and belongs to the realm of light, beyond the spheres of physical existence. Gnostic religion was a long way from the beliefs of the Templars, who were orthodox Catholics. Peter Partner has concluded that Hammer attacked the 'Templar masons' in order to discredit the Freemasons.
Hammer's vein of pseudo-history won a large following and underlies the modern mythical Templars. He also linked his mythical Templars to the legend of the Holy Grail, arguing that the Grail legend itself represented Gnostic mysteries. The fact that Wolfram von Eschenbach put 'Templars' into his Grail story encouraged Hammer and his successors to believe that the Templars (whom they did not understand) must be deeply connected with the Grail legend (which they did not understand either). The Templars appear by name only in Wolfram's version of the story and its sequels, but their absence elsewhere only encouraged scholars to search for hidden Templar influence in all the Grail romances.
Yet the medieval stories of the Holy Grail have no direct connection with the Templars. Like the Order of the Temple, such stories catered for knights, being written for knights and sometimes by knights; and like the Order, they set out the Way in which knights could reach God. However, unlike the Order of the Temple, the Grail stories depicted knights finding God by themselves, through their own personal quest, with little help from priests or the institution of the Church. In contrast, Templars had to commit themselves to a religious Order and vow to obey a superior without question, live without sexual intercourse and without personal wealth, and very probably die in action against the Muslims. The Grail stories allowed knights to find God without having to sacrifice their independence of action, obey anyone or give up their wealth. In addition, Muslims could also find the Holy Grail; they had to convert to Christianity before they could see it, but they could be much more successful in the search for the Grail than many Christians. This did not fit the Templars' ideal of fighting and killing Muslims as enemies of Christ.
Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, the supposed Templar involvement in the Grail legends has reinforced the supposed Templar connection with secrek societies and esoteric knowledge. However, this 'Templar myth' did not enter mainstream culture until 1983, with the publication of The Holy :Blood and the Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. This bestselling book stimulated wide interest in the Templars. Many 'discoveries' about the Templars have followed, many of which are little more than fantasy, with less basis in actual historical events than most historical novels.
Yet the Templars have not always had a negative or occult image in modern times. In the mid-nineteenth-century United States several temperance fraternities took the title 'Good Templars.' They named themselves after the medieval Knights Templar partly because of the play on words between 'temperance' and 'Templar', perhaps partly because of a myth that the original Templars drank sour milk, and also because they were fighting 'a great crusade' against 'this terrible vice' of alcohol. In 1851, in Utica, New York State, an 'Independent Order of Good Templars' was setup, which grew to become a world-wide organization, the International Order of Good Templars or IOGT. Urging absolute abstinence from alcohol, the Order also campaigned for prohibition, strove to provide social, facilities, that served only non-alcoholic beverages, promoted education and self-help, and supported decent working conditions for working people. It had its own youth organization and produced its own newspapers and books. Its institutions included fine regalia, impressive titles, secret passwords and ceremonies that 'cannot be divulged to the uninitiated'. The majority of its members were drawn from the skilled-working and lower middle classes.
Unlike the original medieval Order of the Temple, women were admitted as members from early in the 'Good Templars' history, and played a significant role in the organization. Women rarely held the highest offices in the Order, but often held the offices of Vice Templar and superintendent of Juvenile Templars - the support roles that were socially acceptable for women. Even these restricted roles allowed the women who held them more freedom than was then usual in western society - Jessie Forsyth, a leading campaigner within the Good Templars from 1872 to 1937, relished her opportunities to travel and meet people in the United States, Europe and Australia. The Good Templars were less successful in promoting racial equality within the Order, leading to a temporary schism in 1876: the British Good Templars broke away in protest at the refusal of the Good Templars of the southern Unites States to allow racially mixed lodges.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the IOGT is still active around the globe, campaigning against the use of alcohol and other drugs, equality for all, peace, justice and education. It remains an example of a modern 'Templar' organization not associated with the occult or esoteric knowledge.
Another Templar group with a positive message, also founded in around 1850, was the German Templar movement, set up by a Lutheran pastor and dedicated to 'the spiritual and economic development of the Holy Land'. The society was so named because 'each member of the Society was to be a "stone" in the spiritual Temple of Jerusalem'. The society was intended to show that 'a reasonable economic standard could be attained by adherence to religious principles in religious life'.
The German Templars founded a number of communities in Palestine, which was then under Ottoman rule, and lived peacefully and prosperously until the First World War, when Britain first occupied Palestine. Some of the German Templars emigrated to Australia, but the Palestinian settlements of Sarona, Waldheim and Wilhelma survived until the British mandate in Palestine ended after the Second World War. In 1947 the British High Commissioner of Palestine, having decided that the German Templars' property did not constitute 'enemy property' as the organization had had no relations with the Nazis - was anxious to arrange its sale and allow, the remaining German Templars to join their co-religionists in Australia. The German Templars were in danger from zealots in Palestine - two had been killed when one of their settlements was attacked and the Australian government was willing to allow them entry to Australia if they could finance themselves. Some of the property was sold in spring 1948, but the new state of Israel refused to release the proceeds. Eventually the German Templars successfully emigrated to Australia and the United States, but the dispute over who owed them was dragged on for many years, not being resolved until the 1960s.
The modern 'Temple Society' in Australia does not now claim any link with the medieval Knights Templar, and uses the spelling 'Templer' to refer to its members.
Some Templar appearances in literature since the mid-nineteenth century have mirrored these positive images of the Order. Edgar Wallace (1875-1932), thriller-writer supreme, was a member of a temperance society in his youth and made the occasional reference to the 'Good Templars' in his works. In Angel Esquire (1908) we meet an inspector of police who is a past Chief Templar; The Hand of Power (1927) refers to them alongside other fraternities 'these societies …. Good Templars and Buffaloes and Sons of the Phoenix, and knights of the Round Table' - while White Face (1930) features a conscientious, if unimaginative, policeman who is a member of the local. 'Good Templar' lodge and dreams of becoming Chief Templar. We are left with the impression that the Good Templars are a worthy part of modern society.
Jerome K. Jerome, in his Three Men in a Boat, to say Nothing, of the Dog (1889)mentioned the Templars only in passing in his description of Bisham Abbey 'whose stone walls have rung to the shouts of the Knights Templars', before going on to describe a ghost story of the seventeenth century. For Jerome, the Templars were not associated with ghosts but were a positive part of England's past.
The image of the Templars is darker in John Meade Falkner's The Nebuly Coat (1903), in which the heir to the Blandamer estates makes a vow 'as faithfully as ever taken: by a Templar' to serve his family interests. In the event, he murders twice and sacrifices his own life in this cause. The central image of the story is of a great church undergoing restoration, which has stood firm for so many centuries but is no longer able to carry the burden of its own weight: a literal case of decline and fall.
Perhaps the most poignant of these depictions of the Templars as a positive and integral part of England's past appears in Rudyard Kipling's story 'They' (1904), which describes enduring love and the pain of loss. The narrator, returning to southern England from the United States, becomes lost as he drives through the rolling hills of the Downs. He passes a Norman church, a Roman road, 'an old smithy that cries aloud how it had once been a hall of the Knights Templar' and finally comes to a Tudor hall, where dwell a blind, childless woman, and the ghosts of children. Our narrator realizes the truth of the place when the ghost of his own dead child kisses his hand. Here the Templars form part of the enduring network of the past which is for ever lost to us but in which our lives are based and from which they draw meaning. The ghosts are affectionate and loving, far from the menacing spirit of M. R. James's 'Oh, Whistle'.
A positive image of the Templars is also echoed in Leslie Charteris's adventure stories of Simon Templar, 'The Saint', a sort of proto-James Bond figure who works outside the law against international criminal conspiracies, and protects the innocent and vulnerable. Although the connection with the medieval Templars is seldom made explicit, Charteris explicitly draws a parallel with the (supposed) ideals of medieval chivalry. In the first story, Knight Templar (1930), the hero is described as living in 'a world of flamboyant colours and magnificently medieval delights', and compared to a series of medieval heroes: 'It was Gawain before the Grail, it was Bayard on the bridge of Garigliano, it was Roland at the gates of Spain.' In The Saint Overboard (1936), he is 'the perfect gentle knight, dying to save a lady's honour'. In Vendetta for the Saint (1964), the hero's connection with the Templars is articulated in a discussion about the origins of the Mafia:
'Right up to the unification of Italy, the Mafia were usually on the side of the oppressed. Only after that it turned to extortion and murder.'
'I seem to have heard that something like that happened to the original Knights Templar' said the Saint reflectively. 'But aside from that, I don't see why you should connect them with me.'
Later, in discussion with the Sicilian heroine of the story, the Saint describes the Knights Templar as 'a dubiously noble band not unknown in these parts' and claims a connection with them. As he adds that he cannot prove that he is actually descended from them, the connection must be that he is on the side of the oppressed, although readers of The Saint will know that he is also sometimes involved in extortion and murder of criminals. Charteris's swashbuckling hero was far from the austere, hard-working Good Templars and German Templars of the mid-nineteenth century, but nevertheless played a positive - if underground - role in society.
The Templars of fiction have taken many forms over the past two hundred years, from sinister villains to chivalrous defenders of the oppressed.
Today, several modern institutions exist which carry the name 'Templar'. Some of these new 'Orders of the Temple' carry out charitable work, like the 'Good Templars' of the temperance movement; others have a religious aspect and offer their members spiritual insights. Still others are a cover for criminal activities.
These new 'Templar' Orders are themselves now the subject of scholarly study. It is a strange tribute to the enduring appeal of this ordinary religious order - in existence for less than two centuries, and last seen nearly seven hundred years ago - that not only the original Order but also the myth of the Order and the 'false' modern Orders that bear its name have become part of serious history.
AS I STATED EARLY ON, THIS BOOK BY HELEN NICHOLSON CONTAINS EXTENSIVE "NOTES" COVERING PAGES 278 TO 332 FOR ALL SHE STATES, WITH THE OFTEN USED NUMBER SYSTEM IN CHAPTERS (1, 2, 3…..10, 11, etc.) WHICH I LEFT OUT.
I WOULD SAY A PRETTY GOOD OVERALL BOOK FOR THE BASIC TRUTHS OF THE HISTORY OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR…… A GROUP OF ROMAN CATHOLICS, SINCERE IN THEIR RELIGION AND PRACTICES, CONTAINING A LESSER GROUP INSIDE THEM CONSISTING OF FIGHTING KNIGHTS….. ALL PERHAPS SINCERE, BUT SINCERELY WRONG IN MANY ASPECTS OF THEIR LIVING (AND FOR SOME, IN THEIR PHYSICAL FIGHTING).