The story of the Templars only begins with their dissolution. Their fate was so dramatic and sad that some people still don’t want to let them go. So especially over the past one hundred years the Templars have been woven into all kinds of theories that allow a large number of them to escape, almost always with a treasure.
A lot of people think they know what happened to the Templars after the end of the order. My favorite scenario is that they all either went cheerfully into monasteries and lived long dull lives of prayer and garden duty or they wandered around for a while, met the right girl, and settled down to live long, chaotic, but happy lives.
Unfortunately, there isn’t more than a shred of proof for either of these, especially the cheerful and happy parts.
In France we know that fifty-six Templars were burned at the stake. Many more died in prison between 1307 and 1312, as a result of torture, deprivation, and, possibly, outright murder.1 The remaining French Templars were either sent to monasteries or prisons and swallowed up, as far as history is concerned.
In Britain only two Templars died in prison, William de la More, the master in Britain, and Imbart Blanc, the preceptor from Auvergne who happened to be in London at the time of the arrests.2 The rest of them confessed in order to be absolved and were sent off to monasteries, where the Hospitallers paid four pence a day for their upkeep.3
In Provence, which was not yet part of France, twenty-one Templars were arrested. The arrests took place on January 24, 1308, two months after Pope Clement V issued the order. All twenty-one were eventually imprisoned in Aix. There is no record of a trial ever taking place.4 In other places outside the control of Philip IV the Templars simply did as they did in England: confessed to whatever, were absolved, and retired to a monastic life. But we don’t know if that is what happened to those twenty-one men.
This worried historian Joseph-Antoine Durbec, as it would anyone who had studied the Templars long enough to know them. One day, in a list of members of the Hospitallers in Nice in the year 1338, he found two familiar names from the Templars of Provence: Guillaume Bérenger and Rostand Castel. One was from the house of Grasse and the other either from Ruou or Nice. What are the odds, Durbec considered, that two Templars with these names would be the same men as two Hospitallers with the same names thirty years later? He admits that it could be just a coincidence. There is no solid proof. But he wants to believe that two Templars survived.5 Because if two did, then maybe others did, as well.
Historians have to be hardheaded when they do research, but not hard-hearted.
In Aragon the trials of the Templars didn’t take place until after the dissolution of the order. On November 4, 1312, the Templars were all judged to be innocent.6 That was great for them, of course, but it still left them out of work.
While they had been kept under arrest, their upkeep had been provided for from Templar property. Now the same property was used to pension them off. Unlike the fate of Templars in other countries, most of the brothers in Aragon were not sent to various monasteries, but back to the ones they had come from. Sometimes other people had taken over the house, but the Templars were still assigned rooms in it. They were also given money for their support according to their status in the order.7
These terms were good enough that some Templars who had escaped, returned. One, Bernardo de Fuentes, had become head of the Christian militia in Tunis and returned to Spain on a diplomatic mission. He arranged for his absolution and pension and then returned to Tunis to complete the treaty he had been assigned to arrange.8
The king of Aragon, James II, also worked for the release of Templars who had been taken prisoner in Egypt. What they must have felt when they discovered what had gone on since their capture is hard to imagine.
In theory, the ex-Templars were supposed to stay in their assigned houses and live off their pensions, which didn’t always arrive on time. In practice, many of the brothers, still in their twenties and thirties, weren’t ready for retirement.
They were only trained for one thing, fighting. So quite a few of them signed up as mercenaries in various sorties against the Moors in Spain or even in Africa. Some ignored the old vow not to fight against Christians and enlisted to fight for Aragonese noblemen. One, Jaime de Mas, turned pirate and seems to have made a good living at it.9
Pope John XXII heard about the unclerical lives many of the ex-Templars were leading and sent a letter telling them to stop living like laymen: to get rid of their concubines, behave more like monks, and stop wearing striped clothing.10
This letter and others were largely ignored and the Templars in Aragon continued to live in a variety of ways, according to age and taste. The Hospitallers, once they had managed to get the Templar property, were stuck paying their pensions. The last year one was recorded was to Berenguer de Coll. It was 1350, thirty-eight years after the Templars had officially ceased to exist.11
In Portugal a new order was created from the Templar property, called the Order of Montesa.12 Some former Templars joined this.
In the Germanic countries, the Templars had also all been acquitted, so the Hospitallers had to pay pensions to them as well. Because many of them came from influential local families, their fate was much milder than in other areas. Otto of Brunswick both took the pension and took over the Hospitaller commandery at Süpplingenberg. He was commander there until 1357 and, after he died, the Hospitallers had to pay nine hundred marks to get the commandery back.13
In Mainz, the Templar property was kept by the family of two of the Templars. The Hospitallers had to buy it back from them.14
So in many cases, the Templars in Germany just went on being Templars. Others probably followed like patterns. Some entered other military or monastic orders. Others may have felt that, without an order, their vows were no longer valid. So they found work, got married, and settled down.
The truth is, there isn’t much information on what happened to many of the Templars after the order ended. Most of them were not noblemen and so not likely to show up on donation charters or in chronicles. The ones we do know about were those who did something unusual, like turn pirate. Others got into less dramatic trouble with the law. But, other than that, they just drifted back into private life.
MANY feel that is just too dull an ending for the Templars. Therefore, a number of books, articles, television programs, and films have been based on the idea that the Templars got away. One of the most popular theories is that they went to America, sometimes via Scotland, sometimes Portugal. And they took their “treasure” with them.
Well, someone had to pave all the streets with gold, right?
Obviously, fiction is fiction, and novels, television shows, and movies can rewrite history as much as they would like. The confusion, however, in separating fact from fiction arises when this fiction is based on faulty theories put forth in books published as nonfiction. I’ve read these books and found reading them tough going. The “facts” they give remind me of why I am inflicting so many footnotes on my patient readers. I want you to know what sources my conclusions are based on. Many times I would find that the information I found least believable in these books had no footnotes. Other times there were footnotes but only to other books that give unsubstantiated opinions.
I’ll try to summarize what I think the main erroneous Templar theories are. It’s not easy. To do this properly one must be like the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, who could believe six impossible things before breakfast.
1. The Templars had some secret knowledge. They may have dug it up under the Temple in Jerusalem or learned it from the Arabs or maybe aliens. It varies.
2. They knew in advance that they were going to be arrested and had time to get their treasure out from under the nose of Philip the Fair and to their fleet in La Rochelle in Normandy. The number of ships ranges from four to eighteen. That’s a lot of treasure to take along French backroads. They couldn’t have taken it down the river because there were tolls collected all along the rivers and someone would have noticed. And, of course, no one has proved there was a treasure in the first place. Nevertheless, we should forge on.
3. The Templars made it to Scotland, where they were greeted by the Sinclair family, who are descended from Vikings and Jesus. The knights fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. That’s actually not impossible. Fighting is what they were trained for, after all. But in Scotland, the ex-Templars are also said to have gotten into building and navigation, because they were training to be Freemasons. Part of this conclusion seems to be based on the idea that Templars built churches.15 Now, most of us when we say we’re building a house don’t mean we’re pouring cement and hanging drywall, although I have friends who can and do. The Templars didn’t. They hired people to build their churches, farm their lands, wash their clothes, and pick their grapes. They had to spend half the day at prayers and much of the rest of it taking care of their horses and gear and practicing how to kill Saracens without getting killed. There wasn’t time left over to learn another trade. There is nothing in the Rule about taking an hour to lay bricks or study Euclidian geometry.
4. Henry Sinclair, prince of Orkney, was not only of the “Holy Bloodline,” supposed descendants of Jesus, but a secret Templar, and he or one of his family took a band of Templar knights to America, along with the treasure. This treasure is now hidden on an island off Novia Scotia.16
5. While in America they wandered as far as Minnesota and also built a tower in Rhode Island. I don’t know who built this tower or when, but one explanation says that it is Romanesque and based on the round churches that the Templars introduced to Europe and they were helped by a party of Cistercian monks, who were well known for their engineering skills, which allowed them to control commerce. Wow. Romanesque churches are not round and the style began over a hundred years before the Templar order was founded. They did not introduce round churches to Europe. Cistercians did invent some practical machinery and were good at diverting water for irrigation and waterwheels. They didn’t build cathedrals any more than I built my own house. And I can’t see them traveling to America with a bunch of Templars. The Cistercians frown on gadabout monks. And that’s just from two paragraphs in one book. Not daunted, I shall conclude with . . .
6. The Templar treasure was then buried under New York City and the Templars battened down to wait for the founding of the United States so that their beliefs could live again. I didn’t make any of this up. There are no footnotes in the last half of this chapter because none of the books I consulted used any. Their authors want the reader to believe all of this on their word alone. In the Middle Ages, belief without proof was called Religion.
Please see chapter 30, The Arrest and Trials of the Templars.
Evelyn Lord, The Knights Templar in Britain (London: Longman, 2002) p. 200.
Ibid., p. 200.
Joseph-Antoine Durbec, Templiers et Hospitalliers en Provence et dans les Alpes-Maritimes (Grenoble, 2001) p. 268.
Ibid., p. 269.
Alan Forey, The Fall of the Templars in the Crown of Aragon (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2001) p. 210.
Ibid., p. 213.
Ibid., p. 216.
Ibid., p. 222.
Ibid., p. 226.
Ibid., p. 240.
Malcom Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge University Press, 2006) p. 275.
Karl Borchardt, “The Templars in Central Europe,” The Crusades and the Military Orders: Expanding the Frontiers of Medieval Latin Christianity ed. Zsolt Hunyadi and Josef Laszlovszky (Budapest: Central Hungarian University, 2001) p. 239.
Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. The Templar Revelation. (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998) pp. 110-13.
Steven Sora. The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 1999) p. 177ff.