Welcome to the Autumn 2008 On-Line Edition of
Waterlooville's Parish Magazine
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A brief history of the Knights Templar (Part 2)

You may remember from our last issue, the Knights Templar had become one of the most wealthy and respected organisations in Europe. They were supported by the Pope and many Monarchs with gifts of land and tax-free concessions and were at the height of their power during the twelfth Century. However the cost of maintaining a Knight in the field was rising rapidly and the warfare skills of the Muslims was also on the increase. Mortality rates of the Knights rose reaching 90% of their comrades killed in any one battle. Their political connections were still huge and their assets included large tracts of land in Europe and the Middle East with castles, churches, farms and vineyards, a huge fleet of ships and for a time they even owned the entire island of Cyprus.

However success breeds corruption and jealousy. Two powerful rivals, The Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights began to have concerns about the power of the Templars fearing their independent army that was free by decree to move through any borders without let or hindrance. The Monarchs of Europe were also beginning to wonder what their benevolence was spawning. Additionally in 1187 came the disastrous battle of the Horns of Hattin, a turning point in the Crusades. Saladin again was the enemy and this time, because of some deadly errors by the Templars leader, Gerard de Ridefort, the result was a chaotic defeat. De Ridefort ventured out into the desert heat with his force of 80 knights but without adequate supplies of water, and his force was surrounded and massacred more or less to a man. Gerard himself was captured and then made the second big mistake by allowing himself to be ransomed. Fighting to the death was a Templar mandate and his ransom depressed the movement considerably. Several further Crusades were undertaken by European Monarchies in the eleven hundreds including our own Richard I, but these failed without the full co-ordination and support of all nations, notably France which had withdrawn from the wars after The Horns of Hattin defeat. Defeats at the Battle of al Mansurah in 1250 and the Siege of Safad in 1266 continued the downward trend. Later at the Siege of Acre in 1291 the Templars were evicted from the Holy Land altogether, and Jerusalem was returned to Muslim control. The Templars relocated to their base at Cyprus.

Battle of Hattin

Battle of Hattin, 1187

Jacques de Molay, the last of the Templars Grand Masters, took office around 1292. He tried to raise further support for the Templars and for a time had the papacy on his side. The two orders (Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller) campaigned briefly together in 1299 in Armenia but they were not successful and soon the Templar stronghold in Antioch was lost to the Muslims.

Though they still had an operational base in Cyprus, and controlled considerable financial resources, the Order of Templars became an order without clear purpose or support but which had enormous financial power. This unstable situation contributed to their final downfall which began over a matter of the request of a loan by Philip IV (the Fair) of France for his war with the English. The Templars refused. See what then happened in our next issue.

Tony Rice-Oxley

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