The following account was written by myself, whilst waiting for a plane at an airport. It is brief and only skims the surface, some of the information may be a little questionable. I suggest you read it and use it as a start point in discovering the story for yourself. If you do spot any mistakes let me know.
9 knights arrived in Jerusalem in 1118 and presented themselves to the king of the city. They wished to assume the role of protectors of pilgrims. Saving pilgrims from bandits on the treacherous roads from the coast to the holy city. The king accepted them with open arms and granted them lodgings in what was known as Solomon's stables beneath Temple mount at the heart of the holiest city in the world. This was where their name originated from, The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, poor, because of their vow of poverty. The knights settled into their new home and ostensibly carried off their duties as protectors. Trouble is, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to anomalies and the Templars, there is no recorded incident of them ever having helped any pilgrim in all the time that they were there.
Maybe that is not so strange, but they must have done something worthy in the seven years after their arrival, for after that time, two of the original knights journeyed back to France and presented themselves to Bernard of Clairvaux, the leading light in the Cistercian order of monks at the time. Bernard listened to what they had to say and took their cause on. It was at his instigation that the order of knights became a religious order of knights. Bernard constructed the wording of the Templar rule, a document that set the foundations of the order. Foundations that would hold firm for the next 200 years. But he went further than this, as well as constructing the rule Bernard used his influence with the Pope. Letters from Bernard to the Pope eventually convinced the Vatican to recognise the Templars as a holy military order.
But that was not all; the Pope embraced their cause, extending the papal see to include the Templars. This was the ultimate honour, and it set the Templars apart from all other organisations at the time. This important papal decree placed the Templars above all authority. No king or national official held any authority over them, they only answered to the Pope and no one else. This separation also extended to fiscal matters. The Templars were exempt from paying tax to any authority other than the Vatican. This gave them an advantage over other religious and secular bodies, as they could amass wealth without losing a percentage to the crown. This extraordinary concession on behalf of the Pope allowed the fledgling order to accumulate wealth at an amazing rate. Soon they had houses across the length and breadth of Europe. Building fabulous castles and preceptories as they spread.
As the wealth amassed, more and more knights flocked to join the order. The Templars became a formidable fighting force in a short space of time. They didn't just concentrate on expanding across Europe either, they became leading lights in the crusades, providing knights, foot soldiers and much needed funds for the Christian assaults on Outremer. The knights' brave, sometimes foolhardy fierceness, became legendary. They rallied around their flag, the Beausant, a simple black and white quartered flag, that meant all to the knights. They pledged that as long as the flag flew over the field of battle they would never retreat or leave the field, and that as long as they were on the field they would ensure that the flag was flying. A bit of a catch 22 agreement, but one that was very effective. The Templars were the vanguard of the crusading armies leading the column of fighting men from the front, never shying away from a confrontation, their only weakness their headstrong attitude and keenness to get into battle. This eagerness brought them into conflict with members of their own side on many occasions, particularly with their brothers in arms the Knights Hospitaller, who fought the rearguard and tended to be more level headed. The Knights Templar were feared and respected by their Foe. Saladin the leader of the Muslim armies never spared a Templar that didn't accept and convert to the word of Mohammed, and none ever did. The Templar commitment to Christianity was unshakable.
In the long term, even the bravery and commitment of the Templars was insufficient to hold Outremer and Christianity was driven back to Europe and the Mediterranean islands. Whilst the war against the infidels was being waged in the Middle East, the Templars in Europe were consolidating their position of power and wealth. Their business empire was truly huge. They had their own fleet of ships transporting wool, all manner of goods and, very importantly, pilgrims around the European coast and across to the holy lands. They essentially became what would today be called an international conglomerate. They introduced and established international banking. Their system of promissory notes, allowed travellers at a time of highway robbery and lootings, to move around freely without carrying their wealth with them. Money deposited at a local Templar preceptory could be claimed in part or full at any other Templar establishment along their travels. Traveller's cheques for the 13th Century. Their wealth and their strength in arms made them a very secure organisation. Their support from the Pope added to their strength, made them unassailable, untouchable. They had the free run of Europe for 200 years, and they made best use of it. They were involved in all aspects of life, business and religion. They held vast tracts of farmland from which they produced food for themselves and to be traded. They were major wool producers at a time when wool was a very valuable commodity. They had a fleet of trading ships carrying goods around Europe. They funded great building programmes and financed Kings when the royal coffers were empty. It was this great sphere of influence, wealth and strength of arms that was possibly their downfall.
In France, king Philip le Belle was struggling at the beginning of the 14th century. He was in great debt to the Templars, and there was no way he could repay. To extricate himself from the situation he hatched a plot that was as sinister as it was clever. The opportunity for his plan to swing into operation came when he managed to get one of his close friends onto the papal seat. With a friendly Pope that owed him a favour for getting him where he was, the scene was set. King Philip knew that to defeat the Templars he would have to use cunning. On the grounds of discussing a pressing matter Philip invited the Grand master of the Templars Jacques De Molay and his Hospitaller counterpart to visit him in Paris. Either De Molay had no inclination of what was in store for him or he walked into the trap, sacrificing himself for the sake of the many knights that would escape what was to come. Once in the kings hands the rest of the plan was put into action. On the night of the 12 October all seneschals throughout France would open sealed instructions. The instructions were that on the morning of Friday the 13th all Templars in their district should be arrested and charged with Heresy. The king had managed to extract from the Pope a decree that accused the Templars of being heretics, and accused them of terrible crimes against the church and religion.
The shocked regional authorities did as they were told and on Friday 13th October all Templars were arrested and thrown into prison. The king's guile had caught them off guard and unaware of what was to happen. Or were they? For this is where more anomalies appear. Part of the king's plan was to seize the Templars treasure from the Paris preceptory. But there was none there when he got to it. Also the Templar fleet melted into history, disappearing, and none falling into the hands of the king. There are unsubstantiated stories that some of the Fleet left La Rochelle in France the night before the arrests, joining the ships that had been anchored in the Seine and disappearing with the treasure from the Paris preceptory. When the total of knights arrested was calculated, only a relative handful had been captured. So where had everything and everyone gone? This is a mystery that still holds until this day, although it is a mystery that is being solved in parts. Charged with spitting on the cross, worshipping a head named Baphomet, kissing cats backsides and sodomy, the Templars were questioned by the Inquisition and King Philips henchman De Nogaret. All methods known to the inquisition were used, no torture was ignored in the attempt to extract confessions, but none was forthcoming. The cruelty expended upon the unfortunate knights was un-measurable. Stories such as that of the knight that appeared in court carrying a small bag containing the bones from his feet, lost after having them roasted over a brazier, were not uncommon.
Eventually the order crumbled under the onslaught and to all intents and purposes ended with the roasting of the Grand Master Jacques De Molay. Across Europe the Pope demanded that the Templars were arrested and their lands confiscated. These demands were only partly met in some countries. In Spain the order changed names and switched allegiance to the King of Spain. In England it took a long time for the Knights to be arrested, little torture was used, and it took years to hand over the estates to the Hospitallers. In Scotland the Papal Bull was never carried out.
How the order finally dissolved into the fabric of history is a fascinating subject. From founding Switzerland, through travelling to America and sailing the seas as pirates under the scull & cross bones flag. There are many, many theories and all deserve more research. Set off on your own voyage of discovery, starting on this site and follow the links on the links page to get vast amounts more information.