Map drawn by Marcia Noland
Last year I was in France to speak about Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code, explaining the places where the fiction diverged from history. At one stop a teenaged boy from the Netherlands asked me (in excellent English) about the Templars. I went into my standard lecture about their literary connection to the Grail and the myths surrounding their dissolution in 1312. He listened politely for a while and then interrupted to ask, “Yes, but what were the Templars? Did they really exist?”
I came to a full stop. That young man had accepted that the novel was fiction. Therefore, he had assumed that the Templars were also fiction.
When I started to think about it, it made perfect sense. When I read science fiction, I can’t judge what’s based on cutting-edge science and what the author made up. Why should I expect readers of historical fiction to know which characters in a book really existed?
The story of the Templars is definitely the stuff of epic romance. From the time of the creation of the order, legends began to swirl around them. Some of these legends the Templars created themselves. Others appeared in popular chronicles of the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. Over the years the Templars were admired and reviled, adored and loathed. They were considered by some to be the closest that a fighting man could come to salvation and by others nothing more than materialistic money-grubbers. Their mass arrest on October 13, 1307, shocked the Western world. Some defended them; others believed they were heretics. Many who thought they were probably innocent of the charges still felt the Templars had gotten a comeuppance that they richly deserved.
Since the Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved, the stories about them have grown and mutated until they are hardly recognizable. For three hundred years after the end of the order, the Templars were largely forgotten. If anything, they were seen as an anachronism that had ended well after it had ceased to be of any use. The other military orders survived by changing and adapting to the new world.
Then there were two great spurts of interest in the Templars. The first was at the end of the eighteenth century when they were rediscovered by Protestant Europe. They became a symbol of resistance to papal tyranny and, in France, the tyranny of the monarchy. Catholics responded by remembering the Templars as the last defense against the enemies of Christ.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the creation of Templar myths took a huge leap. The new society known as the Freemasons was spreading across Europe. Through the enthusiastic efforts of a German baron, Karl von Hund, who published under a pen name, the story of the Templars was grafted on to Masonic ritual and lore. This opened the door for a wealth of imaginative theories regarding the Templars, all of which had more to do with the political situation in Europe at that time than the history of the Templars.
The second great development in the Templar myth came in the twentieth century. Late Victorian writers, such as Jessie Weston, had woven the Templars into European folklore. But it was not until the latter part of the century that the general public became intrigued by theories linking the Templars to everything from the Holy Grail, to Cathar Heresy, to modern secret societies. Currently, there are so many beliefs about the Templars that I find it impossible to keep up with them. They seem to have been involved with everything except the Kennedy assassination, and that might be next.
This book is an attempt to give the known facts about the Knights Templar, from their beginnings in 1119 or 1120 to the dissolution in 1312 and beyond. It is my hope that this will make it easier for people who are reading the latest Templar book, either fiction or history, to separate fact from fiction and give them a base from which to evaluate the ideas presented. I have arranged the book chronologically, with some chapters being an overview of events and others focusing on individual people or subjects. When there are words in bold type, that means there is a section devoted to that one topic. Some sections overlap in subject matter, giving a different view of people and events.
I have often heard that readers are put off by footnotes. Please don’t be. You don’t have to read them. They are there to let you know that I’ve done my best to find the most accurate information available. They are also there so that if you wish, you can go to these sources and check them for yourselves. Then you can decide if I’m right or not. But if you’re willing to trust me, then just ignore them. I’ll be very flattered. Studying history means that one has to be part scientist, part detective, and part psychologist. The evidence is not always complete and that’s why, when historians come to conclusions, they always let people know what sources those conclusions are based upon.
So don’t worry about my citations. I’ll be very happy if you simply enjoy the book.