A History of Knights Templar
It is thought by many that there were only two orders of Crusaders, The Knights Templar and The Knights of St. John or the Hospitallers. In fact there were five Crusader Orders. The Knights of St. John, or Hospitallers,(1), and the Knights of St. Lazarus which were an offshoot of the Knights of St. John and supported a leper hospital outside the walls of Jerusalem, the knights being lepers themselves, (2), the Knights Templar,(3), the Hospitaller Knights of St. Thomas of Canterbury at Acre, (4) founded in 1191, an Order restricted to Englishmen, and the Teutonic Order, (5), which was essentially a German Order of Warrior Monks. Of all the Orders founded at this time only one, the Knights Templar was dissolved by Papal Decree in 1312 its assets were subsequently awarded to the Knights of St. John; one, the Order of St. Thomas of Canterbury at Acre, was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII at the Reformation, its hospital and chapel in London, which were eventually destroyed in the Great Fire of London, were sold to the Mercers Company by the king and the other three Orders are still in existence, mainly now as religious or charitable organizations.
It is important to remember that the Crusader Orders were all founded at a particular time and for a particular purpose. For centuries, particularly following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity, pilgrims had made the long and arduous journey to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem in particular to visit the Holy sites of their faith. The first hospital to care for sick and injured pilgrims was commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great in AD 600, this was enlarged many years later and only destroyed by Caliph Hakim in 1005 along with numerous churches and other buildings. In 1023 the hospital in Jerusalem was rebuilt to see to the needs of sick and injured pilgrims and out of this institution following the First Crusade there evolved two major Orders of Chivalry, The Knights Hospitaller , which became known as the Knights of St. John and the Knights Templar which were founded some twenty years later and provided a much needed military arm to the Hospitaller Order out of which emerged in c.1142 the Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus and to protect the pilgrims who had made the long and hazardous journey to the Holy Land.
Historically the Knights Templar were the most famous and feared of all the Crusading Orders which sprang up as a result of the Crusades from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. Their official title was The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon to emphasise their original poverty when they were founded around 1119 by two noble French knights, Hugues de Payens and a close relative Godfrey de Saint-Omer who were both veterans of the First Crusade and saw the need for an order of knights to be founded to protect Christian Pilgrims to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. They proposed founding a monastic order with this vision in mind and from the vision of those two French knights the Knights Templar were founded. The Order was officially endorsed by the Holy See in about 1129. The Knights Templar soon became a favoured charity throughout Christendom, and the Templar knights in their distinctive uniform of white surcoat and mantle emblazoned with the Red Cross soon became one of the most skilled and feared fighting forces in the Holy Land.
As an Order they soon branched out into other fields of endeavour including building fortresses and an early form of banking. Their success in their financial endeavours, however, was ultimately to be the instrument of their down-fall. As the Order had been inextricably involved in the Crusades the series of defeats by the Saracens forced them increasingly to retreat from areas of the Holy Land, including Jerusalem. As a result support for the Order waned and the Order was further weakened by feuds between the main Orders of Warrior Monks, the Knights of St. John and the Teutonic Order. The loss of Jerusalem forced the Templars to re-locate their headquarters from the El Aqsa Mosque to the city of Acre which they held for over a hundred years, but eventually this too was lost and the Order moved to Cyprus, and by 1302 their final possessions in the Holy Land were irretrievably lost. With the loss of their possessions in the Holy Land their raison d'etre had gone, but unlike the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights who had carved out their own monastic states, in Rhodes and Prussia, the Templars operated more like "a state within a state," not
subject to the laws of the nations amongst whom they lived. This increased their unpopularity. Pope Clement V who was based in Avignon proposed a merger of the Hospitaller Knights and the Knights Templar, an act which was not received by either Order with much enthusiasm. A meeting, however was proposed between the Pope and the Grand Masters of The Temple and The Hospitallers, but this was unfortunately delayed and so Pope Clement asked the French King for help.
Philip IV was in debt to the Templars following his wars with England and so his predatory eyes were cast in their direction and the fortune which was rumoured to be in their great treasury in Paris. Over the years the Templars had built up a vast financial empire and had lent money to a number of important clients, including Philippe Ie Belle and now he could see that if he played his cards right then he could be freed from his burden of debt to the Templars and pressured the church to take action against the Templars. So, with the Pope in his pocket he ordered the arrest of all the Knights Templar in France on Friday 13th October 1307 on trumped up . charges of apostasy, heresy and idolatry and under pressure from the French king the Pope in November of that year issued a Bull, 'Pastora/is Preeminetiae' calling on all Christian monarchs to arrest all Templars and seize their property. The Pope called for papal hearings to determine the guilt or innocence of the knights. This course of action was blocked by Philip IV and, as the Pope was effectively under the thumb of the French king, he was susceptible to the threats made by the French Monarch and issued a further Papal Bull in 1312 which effectively dissolved the Order and transferred their assets to the rival Hospitaller Order ofSt. John. (6) Following the execution in Paris of the Last Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, the Order save for two branches, one in Portugal and the other in the Papal States, was absorbed into the Hospitaller Order of St. John and passed into history. But its reputation as a ferocious fighting force survived and created a legend which has persisted down to today.
The Masonic Order of Knights Templar arose in the eighteenth century, the originators taking as their pattern the mediaeval order of warrior monks whose name they took. There have been numerous attempts by some scholars and writers to link the original order with Freemasonry, but the link is unsubstantiated. The eighteenth century was an age when new ideas were being promulgated, especially on the continent and following the de-Christianisation of the Craft in 1723 some masons wished to maintain or create a Masonic system which championed the Christian faith. The romantic appeal of a distant chivalric past attracted many, especially in France where a number of orders which explored the more philosophical side of a system which was gaining influence and popularity in Europe, Freemasonry. By the 1740's a number of these degrees appeared supported especially by Scottish, Irish and English Jacobite exiles and their influence eventually spread to England. There was some resistance by the establishment in Hanoverian England to this 'Jacobite Masonry'. But it had its attractions and elements started to be worked in Royal Arch Chapters
and as a result of which today one of the qualifications to become a Masonic Knight Templar is to be a Royal Arch Mason.
A number of Encampments, as Preceptories were called before 1873, were founded in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, the earliest of which operated un~er Time Immemorial Constitutions, some that have a date to refer to have Warrants dating back to 1786. In Devonshire the earliest Preceptory, or encampment, was founded in Exeter and . called Union or Rougement (7) which operates under a Time Immemorial Constitution this was followed in 1806 by a Preceptory in the Plymouth area calling itself Royal Veterans and this was followed quickly in 1812 by a Preceptory in North Devon calling itself Trinity in Unity. It took another twenty years before a Preceptory raised its banner in the Torbay area calling itself Royal Sussex, presumably in honour of HRH The Duke of Sussex KG who was Grand Master of the UGL of England at the time.
Cornwall had to wait another three years before a Preceptory was founded in the county calling itself Restormel (8) after the great fortress which was the Cornish headquarters of Edward the Black Prince, 1st Duke of Cornwall. The Masonic Order of Knights Templar now started to consolidate itself in Devonshire and while it expanded in other parts of the country it took one hundred and ten years before a second Preceptory was founded in Cornwall by some of the leading members of Freemasonry in Cornwall. This Preceptory took its name from another great fortress which at one time guarded the main road between Cornwall and England, Launceston Castle (9) the ruin of which still dominates the town.
As they were founded, many of the Preceptories took their name either from some great castle or fortification associated with the area in which they operated such as Rougemont in Exeter or Restormel or Launceston in Cornwall. Sometimes, however, a Preceptory chose as its name a person who made some mark in the original Order of Knights Templar or of some aspect of the Trinitarian Christian faith, such as 'Trinity in Unity' and 'Holy Cross,' and all of the Preceptories had attached to them a Priory of Knights of St. John, which is an integral part of the Order.
The Masonic Order of Knights Templar has prospered over the years and no more so than in the past fifty years which has seen a great resurgence of this great Christian Order in Devonshire and Cornwall, it has a dedicated and loyal membership who greatly value the Order and the values it espouses. It is an order which appeals to the enquiring Christian Mason who is seeking a deeper spiritual meaning for his Masonry. It is one of the great Christian Orders in Masonry and it has been truly said that the Order is truly 'an initiatory rite, leading the initiate from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge. The candidate for reception into the Preceptory, if he takes it seriously, will have taken an important step on his spiritual journey and it is this which is the true link with those illustrious crusading knights, whose name and clothing, we as Knights Templar have appropriated. (10)
1 Knights of St. John founded 1099 to present day
qv. Runciman, op cit. Vol2 under references to Order of Hospital:. Runciman op.cit Vol 3 under ref. Hospital: Hospitallers
2 The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus originated in a leper hospital founded by the Hospitaller Knights who themselves
were lepers. Further reading: Leper Knights, The Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in England c. 1150 - 1544 by David Marcombe
(Rochester NY, Boydell) 2003
3 The Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon commonly called the Knight Templar founded 1119 - 1314
qv Phillips, Jonathan "Holy Warriors" refTemplars.
4 The Military order ofSt. Thomas of Acre founded 1191 -1538
article by Alan Forey in 'The English Historical Review' 92 (1977) pp.481-503
5 The Order of the German House ofSt. Mary in Jerusalem known as The
Teutonic Order founded c.1190 to present day
q.v. Phillips, op.cit. ref. Teutonic Knights
6 Martin op.cit pp.123-124
7 Rougemont see Murray op.cit p.19 & 20.
8 Restormel Castle see Murray op. cit. p.239
9 Launceston Castle see Murray op. cit. p.l59-161
10 Article "The Knights Templar" by Michael Christmas in Freemasonry Today
January 2002 Issue 19.
A History of the Crusades by Steven Runciman in 3 volumes pub. Peregrine Books 1965
The Knights Templar: The History & Myths of the Legendary Military Order by Sean Martin (2005) Pub. Thunder's Mouth Press, New York
Murray's Handbook for Devon & Cornwall (1859) re-printed 1971 For background to Exeter, Restormel and Launceston castles.
Holy Warriors, A Modern History of the Crusades, by Jonathan Phillips. Pub. Bodley Head 2009: ISBN: 9780224079372.