Post-classical history

Temple, Order of the

The Order of the Temple was a military religious order founded around 1119 in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. It was dissolved by Pope Clement V at the Council of Vienne in 1312. The order took its name from its headquarters in the al-Aqsā mosque at the southern end of the Temple platform in the city of Jerusalem, which the crusaders believed to be the site of the Temple of Solomon (Lat. Templum Salomonis).

In January 1129 at the Council of Troyes, the order received a Latin Rule; subsequently, further sections were added in French in the 1160s, in the early 1180s, and between 1257 and 1267. In 1139 Pope Innocent II issued the bull Omne datum optimum, which took the order directly under papal protection and granted it a range of basic privileges. Members could be knights or sergeants, to which the bull added a smaller group of priests. Knights wore white mantles with a red cross, and sergeants a black tunic with a red cross and a black or brown mantle, a distinction mainly based on previous social status. In addition, seculars could become associates for set periods without joining the order for life.

Templar castle of Baghras in Cilician Armenia; it served as the northern Templar headquarters. (Courtesy Alfred Andrea)

Templar castle of Baghras in Cilician Armenia; it served as the northern Templar headquarters. (Courtesy Alfred Andrea)


The origins of the order remain obscure, since they were not recorded by contemporaries. However, during the first generation of Frankish settlement in Outremer after the First Crusade (1096-1099), there was little aid for pilgrims visiting the holy places. This circumstance seems to have inspired Hugh of Payns (from Champagne) and Godfrey of Saint-Omer (from Flanders), together with a small group of other knights resident in the Holy Land, to devote themselves to the protection of pilgrims. This duty was formalized by taking vows before the patriarch of Jerusalem and was probably recognized by the Latin Church in the East at the Council of Nablus in 1120. The knights may have sought to complement the care facilities offered by the Order of the Hospital, and they may have once occupied the Hospitallers’ site in the Muristan in Jerusalem. This would have placed them close to the Augustinian Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, with whom they appear to have been associated. Both King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund of Picquigny, the Latin patriarch, encouraged their efforts, and they received benefices on the Temple platform. They seem to have taken up residence in the “Temple of Solomon” in the mid-1120s, when it was vacated by the king, who moved across the city to the citadel.

In 1127 Hugh of Payns and some of his companions traveled to the West as part of the drive by Baldwin II to stimulate interest in the crusader states, and, specifically, to complete the negotiations that would lead to the marriage of Fulk V, count of Anjou, to Melisende, the king’s eldest daughter. This journey enabled Hugh both to present his case for papal recognition at Troyes and to recruit new members and crusaders for the East. A letter to the brethren remaining in the Holy Land written by a certain “Hugo Peccator” (“Hugh the Sinner,” possibly Hugh of Payns himself) at this time suggests that some of them were losing confidence in their mission, but this seems to have been forgotten in the rapid expansion that followed the granting of the Rule in 1129. Nevertheless, the problems discussed in the letter do serve to emphasize the novelty of the concept of a military religious order, and to a degree the letter reflects doubts about the legitimacy of such an order in the wider ecclesiastical community. These doubts were countered in part by the willingness of Bernard of Clairvaux to support the order, first by making a substantial contribution to the shaping of the Rule, and second by responding to Hugh’s request to write a treatise in support of the order. The treatise, De laude novae militiae, praised the Templars as both monks and knights, for, quite uniquely, they performed both functions.


Although the original founders had been primarily motivated by the charitable desire to protect pilgrims on the road from Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) to Jerusalem, as the order gained popularity it was able to accumulate sufficient resources in the West to finance a greatly enlarged role in Outremer. This role included garrisoning castles, supplying troops for Frankish armies, and providing military and logistical support for visiting crusaders. By the late 1130s, the Templars had been given responsibility for the defense of the castle of Baghras in the Amanus Mountains north of Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey). In the kingdom of Jerusalem, they may have taken over the castle of Toron des Chevaliers, on the road between Ramla and Jerusalem, in the early 1140s; certainly they held Gaza in the south by 1149-1150. By the 1160s, together with an increasingly militarized order of the Hospital, they had become an integral part of the defense of Outremer,providing a disciplined force of around 600 knights and 2,000 sergeants.

From time to time, the Templars used turcopoles or hired mercenaries to supplement their forces. At different periods they held at least fifty castles and fortified places, ranging from modest enclosures intended to provide temporary refuge for pilgrims on the routes between Jaffa and Jerusalem, and between Jerusalem and the river Jordan, to spectacular castles conceived and built on a scale seldom contemplated in the West. Vitally important in the twelfth century was their supply depot at La Fève, where roads converged from Tiberias, Jerusalem, Acre, and Bethsan. This may have had its beginnings in the 1140s; a generation later it had been established as a formidable enclosure protected by a huge ditch. By this time, it was important for the Templars to maintain such a base in the center of the kingdom because the Frankish territories, carved out by opportunism and necessity in the early stages of the conquest, were increasingly developing definable frontier zones, and the defense of these passed more and more into the hands of the military orders. Thus the castle at Jacob’s Ford, situated at an important crossing point on the river Jordan, north of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), which survived less than a year in 1178-1179, was closely linked to the Templar sphere of influence around Saphet in northern Galilee.

In addition to their responsibilities in the north and south, the Templars were granted extensive rights in the county of Tripoli, including a substantial part of the city of Tortosa (mod.Tartûs, Syria) on the coast and the castle of Chastel Blanc (Safita) inland, enabling them to maintain east-west communication in a state that was particularly vulnerable to attack because of its small size. In the thirteenth century, the order’s wealth, together with the declining power of the kings and the secular aristocracy, made it even more important. Its role was symbolized by two castles: the great sea-castle of Château Pèlerin (Athlit), built between 1217 and 1221 next to the road between Haifa and Caesarea, which was intended to replace the order’s much smaller fort at nearby Destroit; and Saphet (mod. Zefat, Israel), largely reconstructed between 1240 and 1243, an inland castle situated on a volcanic outcrop 800 meters (c. 2,600 ft.) above Galilee and overlooking the route between Acre and Damascus. The Templars also became heavily involved in the Reconquista in Iberia; among the grants made to them were a number of important castles in Aragon and Portugal. The expertise gained from their various activities was utilized by Western rulers, especially the popes and the kings of France and England, who employed the Templars in their administrations as well as using them as bankers, envoys, and guarantors of treaties.

Structure and International Organization

As a unique organization, the order had no obvious monastic model to imitate, so initially its structure was ill-defined. However, the sections of the Rule added in the 1160s show that by this time a hierarchy had been established: the master of the order acted in concert with a chapter of high officials, usually made up of those resident in the East; in the West, provincial commanders governed specific regions. By the late twelfth century, there was a “master on this side of the sea” in overall charge of the Western lands; around 1250 this post was retitled “visitor” and divided in two, a recognition of the basic difference between France, England, and Germany, on the one hand, and Iberia, on the other.

Templar castle at Ponferrada, Spain, built between 1218 and 1282 to protect pilgrims on the road to Santiago. Much of what remains today is post-Templar. (Courtesy Alfred Andrea)

Templar castle at Ponferrada, Spain, built between 1218 and 1282 to protect pilgrims on the road to Santiago. Much of what remains today is post-Templar. (Courtesy Alfred Andrea)

Financing the order’s heavy responsibilities was never easy, but it was possible because of the growth of Western resources. According to the Rule, in the 1160s there were already provinces ofFrancia, England, Poitou, Aragon, Portugal, Apulia, and Hungary. The Western structure continued to develop, and new provinces were established in the thirteenth century. The most important of these were in Cyprus and in Aquitaine, Normandy, and the Auvergne. The emergence of a grand preceptor of Italy, with powers over provincial commanders in Lombardy, Tuscany, the Papal States, and Sardinia, reflected the need to enlarge the organization in the peninsula. Within these provinces, local pre- ceptories were established, often clustered in groups around the main house of the region. Some performed specialist functions, such as horse-breeding; others were set up in uncolonized territories that the order aimed to develop. In Paris and London, large houses were founded by the mid-twelfth century; both of these became financial as well as administrative centers. From the time of King Philip II of France, the treasurer of the Temple in Paris had become a central figure in Capetian demesne administration, acting both as a royal auditor and financial adviser and as head of what became the Templar bank. All the main houses and many of the other preceptories had their own churches, which often acted as centers of cults based on relics acquired by the order in the East.

Throughout the order’s history, Francia (the region north of the Loire) and Languedoc always produced the greatest share of Templar resources, a proportion of which was sent to the East through payments called responsions. However, in the second half of the thirteenth century, following the conquest of the kingdom of Sicily by Charles I of Anjou, the younger brother of Louis IX of France, Italian preceptories grew in relative importance, especially those situated on the southern Adriatic coast, where exports of food, equipment, and horses through the ports helped to prop up the ailing lands in Outremer. Some of these supplies were carried on the order’s own ships, although the number of ships they possessed is not known.

In Iberia, the Templars were even more directly concerned with the conflict with Islam. In 1130 Raymond Berengar III, count of Barcelona, granted them his frontier castle of Granena, although they were evidently not expected to garrison and equip it with their own personnel at this time. In 1143 Raymond Berengar IV ceded them five major castles, including Monzon and Chalamera, as well as the further castle of Corbins, not yet in his possession, and a fifth of lands captured from the Saracens in the future. The wording of the charter shows a clear intention to encourage the order to commit more men and resources to the region. Six years before, he had agreed with the master, Robert of Craon, that the order should send ten knights to Aragon, presumably to act as a nucleus of a new Templar province. This request is reminiscent of the methods of expansion used by contemporary monastic orders, such as the Cistercians. As the frontier moved south, the Templars received more castles, notably Miravet on the Ebro River. However, although Alfonso I of Aragon had shown intense interest in the idea of a military order as early as the 1120s, the first known castle granted to the order was in Portugal at Soure on the river Mondego, given by Queen Teresa in 1128. In 1147, following the capture of Lisbon, the Templars received Cera on the river Tomar, which later developed into their main house in Portugal.

The order never established houses in eastern Europe on an equivalent scale to the West, but the inclusion of Hungary in the list of provinces of the 1160s shows that its rulers were well aware of contemporary developments. Hungary lay across the land routes used by crusaders to the East, and the Croatian extension of the kingdom incorporated Dalmatian ports with Eastern connections. From 1219 there are regular references to the master of Hungary and Slavonia. To the north, in the fragmented kingdom of Poland, recorded donations are mainly from the thirteenth century, when the aim seems to have been to use the Templars (like other monastic orders) as colonizers, especially on the borders with Germany in Silesia, Pomerania, and Greater Poland, where their estates acted as a buffer against German expansionism. In Germany itself, the first donations date from the time of the Second Crusade (1147-1149), but the order never developed on any scale from this initial foothold, partly because of its uneasy relations with the Staufen rulers, who favored first the Hospitallers and then, in the thirteenth century, the Teutonic Knights. Generally the Templars of Central Europe were not intended as fighting forces; on the one occasion when they were involved in a major battle, at Liegnitz against the Mongols in 1241, their contribution was mainly in the form of peasant dependents, for there were only six knights present.

The Order in the Thirteenth Century

Although the disasters that struck Outremer at Hattin in 1187 and subsequently did not enhance the Templars’ reputation, they nevertheless continued to perform their military and financial functions as far as was possible in the changed circumstances. By the 1230s, however, the flow of donations characteristic of the formative years of successful monastic orders began to falter, and by 1250 the order was no longer as fashionable as it had been a century before. The problems arising from this decline differed according to region. On the one hand, in Aragon thirteenth-century expansion left the order stranded, with most of its strongholds now a considerable distance behind the frontier; there were only three preceptories in Valencia. In Outremer, on the other hand, the rise of the Mamlūks in the 1260s rapidly escalated into a crisis for the Franks. Fighting to preserve a shrinking landed base, dogged by the internal rivalries of the Franks (to which the Templars made a significant contribution), and committed to apparently endless defense spending, the order was caught in a situation from which ultimately there was no escape.

When the Franks were driven out of Palestine in 1291, the military orders inevitably came under scrutiny, since their presence had failed to prevent the loss of Outremer despite their heavy consumption of resources. Plans for reform, which had been circulating since the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, were now energetically promoted; the most common idea was the creation of an order uniting the Templars and the Hospitallers, perhaps under a new master appointed from outside their ranks. In practice, nothing came of these ideas, and during the 1290s the Templars continued to organize attacks on the Syrian and Egyptian coasts, even briefly establishing themselves on the island of Ruad (mod. Arwâd, Syria), off their old base at Tortosa. Their garrison there was wiped out in 1302 and thereafter their closest bases to the Holy Land were on Cyprus.

Templars burned at the stake. Anonymous chronicle. From The Creation of the World until 1384, translated by Bernard Guy. (Erich Lessing/Art Resource)

Templars burned at the stake. Anonymous chronicle. From The Creation of the World until 1384, translated by Bernard Guy. (Erich Lessing/Art Resource)

The Trial of the Templars (1307-1312)

This new situation certainly made the military orders vulnerable, at least in the eyes of those who believed that they could not be effective without fundamental changes in structure and outlook, but not even the most radical reformers predicted the events of October and November 1307. On 13 October, the Templars in France were suddenly arrested by the officials of King Philip IV, nominally acting on the orders of William of Paris, papal inquisitor in France. Accused of denying Christ, worshipping idols, and promoting institutionalized sodomy, the great majority confessed to one or more of the charges within six weeks of the arrests. The master, James of Molay, repeated his own confession before a public assembly of university theologians and leading ecclesiastics. Pope Clement V, who had not been forewarned, tried to prize control from the French Crown by taking over the proceedings; on 22 November 1307, he issued the bull Pastoralis preeminentiae, ordering a general arrest of the Templars in the name of the papacy. This began a series of trials in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Cyprus in addition to those already instituted in France and territories within the French sphere of influence, such as the kingdom of Navarre.

Encouraged by the papal intervention, the leaders of the order withdrew their confessions at Christmas 1307, and the following February Clement V suspended the proceedings. In an effort to force Clement to change his mind, the French Crown attempted to marshal academic and popular opinion by posing a series of questions to the masters of theology at Paris. It circulated anti-Templar and antipapal propaganda and called a general assembly of the French Estates for May 1308. This appeal to wider opinion met with mixed success, but the pope was finally obliged to meet the king at Poitiers in June, where he was virtually imprisoned by French troops. Following powerful speeches by two government ministers, William of Plaisians and Gilles Aycelin, archbishop of Narbonne, a face-saving formula was eventually found. A group of seventy-two carefully selected Templars was brought before the pope and the cardinals, where they repeated their previous confessions. Then, in the bull Faciens misericordiam (12 August 1308), Clement instituted two inquiries: a papal commission to investigate the order as a whole, and a series of episcopal hearings into the guilt or innocence of individual Templars within the bishops’ own dioceses. In a second bull, Regnans in coelis, issued on the same date, the pope announced that a general council would meet at Vienne in October 1310, where the agenda would cover the three themes of the Templars, church reform, and plans for a new crusade.

In practice, the inquiries that followed took much longer than the pope had anticipated. This was partly because the Templars mounted an unexpectedly determined and coherent defense before the papal commission in the spring of 1310. But in addition, the pace of the episcopal inquiries was uneven; not all of them were accomplished with the dispatch of the Clermont hearings under Bishop Aubert Aycelin, completed in only five days in June 1309. The papal commission met in Paris between November 1309 and June 1311 in a series of three sessions. It was made up of eight members, chaired by Gilles Aycelin, although in fact one of the nominees did not sit. Apart from Gilles Aycelin, who was a long-standing servant of the king, three were French prelates, and one of the others was drawn from a background likely to ensure that he was pro-French. However, once in session, the commission proved to be far more impartial than this arrangement suggests, and slowly the Templars, now assembled in Paris in far greater numbers than before, began to find their voice. By April 1310, nearly 600 of them had pledged themselves to the defense of the order, although the master, James of Molay, contributed little, continuing to insist that he would present his case before the pope once the opportunity arose.

The defense was led by two lawyer-priests: Peter of Bologna, a former procurator of the order at the papal court, and Reginald of Provins, preceptor of Orléans. They castigated the proceedings as illegal and arbitrary, declared that the Templars had only confessed because of torture and threats of force, and claimed that the king and the pope had been deliberately misled by malicious and venal informers. So effective was this defense that the French government was driven to halt it by outside intervention. In May 1310, Philip of Marigny, archbishop of Sens, and brother of the king’s finance minister, Enguerrand, condemned Templars from his province as relapsed heretics; they were handed over to the secular authorities and burnt to death. At the same time, the two leading defenders were prevented from making any further appearances before the commission, which was now fed a succession of witnesses apparently so terrified by the news of the executions that they could be guaranteed to confess. However, only a minority of these are listed among the defenders of the previous April, so it is by no means certain that the defense would have collapsed had not the French government been able to exploit its position as jailer.

The Council of Vienne began a year later, in October 1311. Opinions had been sought from leading members of the church on the matters to be discussed, and reports on the Templars had been gathered from the various inquiries. The fathers, however, were not convinced by the evidence and voted to allow the Templars to present their case, a decision apparently taken literally by seven Templars who suddenly appeared at the council, claiming to represent a further 1,500 brethren still at large in the region. But the French Crown had no intention of allowing such an outcome. After secret discussions with Philip’s representatives in February 1312, reinforced by the appearance of the king and his entourage the following month, the pope agreed to dissolve the order and grant its property to the Hospitallers. Although the bull Vox in excelso (2 March 1312) did not condemn the order, it did declare that it was impossible for it to continue and that its property should still be deployed in aid of the Holy Land in accordance with the wishes of the original donors. Another bull, Ad providam (2 May 1312), established that the Templars themselves should be considered on an individual basis, with the imposition of appropriate penances for the guilty. Monastic vows remained valid, and provision for unconvicted Templars was to be made, either in the form of pensions, as was frequently done in Aragon and Roussillon, or by acceptance into existing religious orders, such as the Cistercians, as in England.

Masters of the Order of the Temple

Hugh of Payns

1119-c. 1136

Robert of Craon

c. 1136-1149

Everard of Les Barres


Bernard of Tremelay


Andrew of Montbard


Bertrand of Blancfort


Philip of Nablus


Odo of Saint-Amand


Arnold of Torroja


Gerard of Ridefort


Robert of Sablé


Gilbert Erail


Philip of Plessis


William of Chartres


Peter of Montaigu


Armand of Périgord

c. 1232-1244/1246

William of Sonnac

c. 1247-1250

Reynald of Vichiers


Thomas Bérard


William of Beaujeu


Thibaud Gaudin


James of Molay


Dissolution of the Order (1312-1318)

The dissolution of the order brought its own problems. The French Crown continued to press the Hospitallers for reparations, both for expenses incurred and debts claimed; the Hospitallers were obliged to pay 200,000 livres tournois (pounds of the standard of Tours) in 1313 and another 60,000 soon after. Closure was not achieved until 1318, when the order paid out a further sum of 50,000livres tournois. In England, grants of former Templar property to royal supporters were not easily regained; some were still outstanding in 1338 when the Hospitallers surveyed their lands in England. In Aragon and Portugal, where there had been little belief in the guilt of the Templars, neither King James II nor King Dinis would accept the creation of a potentially overmighty order, which the Hospitaller absorption of the Templar lands might bring, and lengthy and complicated negotiations with the papacy followed. Clement V remained stubborn, but under John XXII compromises were reached.

In 1316 the Aragonese were allowed to use the Templar property to establish the Order of Montesa in Valencia, although the Hospitallers were to have the lands in the other territories of the Aragonese Crown. In Portugal no action had been taken against the Templars, and in 1319 the king was granted the right to create the new Order of Christ. In Cyprus the Templars had supported the coup of Amaury of Lusignan, lord of Tyre, against his brother King Henry II in 1306; when the king returned in 1310, it was not likely he would make much effort to help the Templars, even though the trial proceedings on the island had produced nothing to suggest that the knights had any cognizance of the accusations made by the French government. This did mean, however, that the transfer of lands was effected more easily than elsewhere, partly because of good relations between the king and the Hospitallers. Few individual Templars were still alive by the 1350s, although before that time some drew attention to themselves through criminal activities, including piracy, rape, and robbery, while others occasionally turned up in Muslim lands, either in service or in captivity. Most, however, seem to have been able to live on their pensions, which, in regions controlled by the Aragonese Crown, were often quite generous. Others of high social status were protected by their families, especially in Aragon and Germany.


The dissolution of the Templars (an act unprecedented in papal history in the early fourteenth century) after nearly two centuries of fame and power, and achieved after what was seen as a humble and pious beginning, has encouraged deterministic interpretations of its history, for it seems to offer a classic example of the Boethian Wheel of Fortune. However, despite conflict with other institutions, a decline in the level of donations, and some vocal criticism from parties who were themselves often far from disinterested, the order continued to perform important functions. This was acknowledged by Edward II of England and James II of Aragon, both of whom, at least initially, were reluctant participants in the trial. Although the fall of Acre in 1291 had been a tremendous blow, the order was still able to recruit, and there are signs that it was beginning to adapt to the new military setting of naval warfare, which, as the Hospitallers later demonstrated, was becoming the most effective means of crusading combat.

The explanation of the fate of the Templars must therefore be sought less in the nature and state of the order itself than in the motives of the enigmatic ruler of France, Philip the Fair. No consensus has ever been reached about his reasons for initiating the attack against the order. Neither is there agreement about whether it was the king or his advisers who really controlled and determined policy. The prospect of financial gain (even if only in the short term) to a monarchy under immense pressure from unresolved conflicts with England and Flanders, yet without a reliable system of regular taxation to pay for them, must have played a major part, as many contemporaries living outside France did not hesitate to point out. Moreover, Templar property in France does appear to have been more extensive than that of the Hospitallers, even if that was not necessarily true elsewhere.

The king’s own religious sensibilities, combined with a strong sense of monarchical obligation, probably deriving from his perception of the reign of his revered grandfather, may have convinced him that the Templars were guilty of heretical crimes and that, once known, toleration would bring down divine wrath upon his people. Before him lay the example of the Jews from whom, in Capetian propaganda, God had withdrawn his favor, replacing them with the French as his chosen people. In these circumstances, the king may have seen the confiscation of Templar wealth as his Christian duty. Nevertheless, in succeeding centuries some were unable to accept the order’s demise, and legends about the continued secret existence of linear successors still persist. The manner of the order’s end has created a unique historical afterlife of such tenacity that for many, “Templarism” is more real than the known history of the order in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

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