Order of the Knights Templar Is Founded

The religious-military order of the Knights Templar was founded to protect the holy land and its pilgrims. The presence of the Knights enabled the Roman Catholic Church to gain political, military, and financial power in the Middle East.

Summary of Event

During the Middle Ages, several orders of knighthood were founded while the Crusades against the Muslims were in progress. Among the first of twelve religious-military orders of knighthood were the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, popularly known as the Knights Templar, founded around 1120. [kw]Order of the Knights Templar Is Founded (c. 1120)
[kw]Knights Templar Is Founded, Order of the (c. 1120)
Knights Templar
Israel/Palestine;c. 1120: Order of the Knights Templar Is Founded[1830]
Organizations and institutions;c. 1120: Order of the Knights Templar Is Founded[1830]
Religion;c. 1120: Order of the Knights Templar Is Founded[1830]
Hugues des Payens
Baldwin II
Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint
Philip IV the Fair

A religious-military order dedicated to the protection of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which was violently taken against the Turks during the First Crusade on July 15, 1099, the members conformed to both military and religious discipline. They were soldiers with the obligations and training of knighthood, but who also took the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Knights Templar took their name from their headquarters located in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Described as “lions in war, lambs in the house, to the enemies of Christ implacable, but to Christians kind and gracious,” the Knights built castles and hospitals in Palestine with ancillary branches in Europe.

The Knights Templar grew from a group of pious soldiers who gathered in Jerusalem during the second decade of the twelfth century when the Crusaders controlled only a few strongholds in the Holy Land. An order that followed the rules of Saint Augustine, in groups of eight or nine, they protected pilgrims from marauding Muslim bands on the roads between Jaffa, on the Palestine coast, and Jerusalem and other holy places. They also provided sustenance and medical treatment. The order was founded and led by a French nobleman, Hugues des Payens Hugues des Payens , who with nine or ten other knights, swore to offer protection to pilgrims. They were welcomed by and given quarters in Jerusalem in King Baldwin II’ Baldwin II palace that, it is said, stood on the site of King Solomon’s Temple.

At the commencement of the order, the Knights were laymen who promised to follow religious monastic rules. In 1127, Hugues de Payens, traveling in Europe seeking funds, met Bernard, the abbot of Clairvaux Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint (later Saint Bernard), a spiritual leader with a large following. The idea of a military-religious order appealed to Bernard and at the Council of Troyes Troyes, Council of (1128) in 1128, the Poor Knights of the Temple were given official Church status, switching allegiance to Bernard’s stricter Cistercian Order’s regime of prayer, silence, plainness, simple diet, self-denial, and manual labor. The Knights were permitted to wear the white mantle of the Cistercians, to which Pope Eugene III had added the characteristic red cross.

To overcome the discrepancy between the military purpose of the Knights Templar and the Church’s idea of a peaceful man of God, sworn to nonviolence, Saint Bernard argued that the Knights fought for Christ’s purposes, protecting the Holy Land from unbelievers: “Not without cause does he bear the sword! He is the instrument of God for the punishment of the malefactors and for the defence of the just . . . he is accounted Christ’s legal executioner against evildoers.” Any land or property taken by the Knights became the property of the Church, and other Church orders tended to look down on the Knights Templar and considered them inferior to the “true,” that is, the monks who lived lives of peaceful contemplation within the walls of European abbeys. They were headed by a grand master, and each branch of the order was headed by a commander who swore absolute obedience to the grand master.

The seal of the Knights of Christ, an emblem of the Knights Templar.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

Because of their defense of the Holy Land, the Knights Templar gained universal approval in Catholic Europe. Their reputation was constructed in part by the propagandistic writings of Saint Bernard. Immensely successful, they quickly increased their land and power, becoming influential in European political and religious circles. Because men of all classes were accepted into their order, the feudal class came to identify with them and herein lay their primary strength. At their height, they numbered twenty thousand, and by the middle of the twelfth century, they owned estates and castles scattered throughout western Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. While the Templar Knights proper had to be from the rank of knights, a lower bourgeoisie class rank of “sergeants,” who were armed and wore brown rather then white, were accepted. Other ranks of chaplain and servant were also decreed. They surrendered all their property, joining the order for life, leaving only to join a stricter order.

In Paris in 1147, just before the departure of the French king on the Second Crusade, 130 white-robed Templars offered homage to the king and pope. Thousands of estates in England, France, and Spain were given to the Templars, and millions throughout Europe contributed funds to the continuing cause of the Crusades. Templar houses and castles were the strongest and safest buildings. Their membership increased dramatically and their wealth and position grew, until they owned property throughout most of western Europe. At this point, they came to take on the role of international banker, often granting loans to European monarchs. They adopted absolute secrecy to cover all internal activities, and because they were considered “defenders of the Church,” they were free from tithes and taxes. With this diversification of roles, they became a vital element in the defense of the Holy Land, where they built numerous castles and garrisoned every town. While the Crusades went on in the East, men and materials were needed in the West and as long as the defense of the Holy Land was in question, political attacks on Templars were unsuccessful.

A Templar knight in traveling dress, from a woodcut by Jost Amman in Cleri Totius Romanæ ecclesiæ…habitus (Frankfurt, 1585).

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

For more than one hundred years, the Templars maintained their power. Nevertheless, the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 led to the demise of the order. After the Holy Land fell to the Muslims in 1291, the Templars transfigured themselves into an international mercenary force, available to any government that had the funds to pay them. With centers in London and Paris, they retained their international banking status, servicing nobles and commoners alike. Indeed, the king of France deposited the French royal treasury with them.

For at least forty years, rumors had circulated regarding the rites of initiation of the Templars. Because of the complete secrecy of all rituals, however, no proof was available. King Philip IV of France, known as Philip IV the Fair Philip IV the Fair (king of France) , was said to have manufactured accounts of these rumored sacrilegious and obscene rites, based on magical ritual, and sent them to Pope Clement V.

On October 13, 1307, King Philip had the entire population of some two thousand members of the Knights Templar in France arrested. The king also confiscated all French property belonging to the order. Accusing the Templars of heresy and immorality, Philip blamed them for the loss of the Holy Land. Heresy;Knights Templar


Although the reasons for King Philip’s actions are not entirely clear, many scholars believe that he coveted their financial resources. When Philip ascended the throne in 1285, the country was near bankruptcy, but the Templars possessed land and money in great quantity.

Philip was not satisfied, however, with halting the activities of the Templars in France. In an effort to destroy the entire order, Philip launched a propaganda campaign that painted the Templars as a rich, corrupt organization that used magic to accumulate power. In July, 1308, the pope approved an investigation of these charges, and Philip began an inquisition that coerced confessions under torture. Although a papal council voted against the abolition of the Templars in December, 1311, Philip ordered Jacques de Molay Jacques de Molay , the Templar grand master, and other high-ranking Templar officials burned at the stake in March, 1314. At this point, the Knights Templar were dissolved and their guilt remains a historical controversy.

Further Reading

  • Barber, Malcolm. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. A well-known historian of the Knights Templar provides a fresh account of the order, including origins, the concept, their rise in the East, Templar life, and the order’s demise. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • Barber, Malcolm. The Trial of the Templars. 1978. Rev. ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Scholarly account of the latter years of the Templars with an emphasis on the politics surrounding the organization’s demise. Bibliography, index.
  • Barber, Malcolm, and Keith Bate, trans. The Templars: Selected Sources. New York: Manchester University Press, 2002. A collection of sources on the Knights Templar, with annotations. Part of the Manchester Medieval Sources series. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • Curzon, Henry de. The Rule of the Templars. Translated and introduced by Judith M. Upton-Ward. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 2001. The first English translation of the 1886 text, called the French Rule, on the life of the order. In addition to providing a historical introduction to the order’s military-monastic manual or “rule,” this text covers details about clothing, armor, equipment, and conduct, all gleaned from three surviving medieval manuscripts. Map, bibliography, index.
  • Howarth, Stephan. The Knights Templar. New York: Atheneum, 1982. Covers in great detail the period from the First Crusade in 1099 to the collapse of the Knights Templar in 1308. Readable account that contains illustrations of significant sites and personages associated with the order. Bibliography, index.
  • Nicholson, Helen. The Knights Templar: A New History. Stroud, England: Sutton, 2001. Explores the history of the order from its origins to its dissolution and downfall. Discusses the Knights’s role in banking, their protection of the Holy Land, the accusations that led to their long trial, and the trial itself. Map, bibliography, index.
  • Partner, Peter. The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and Their Myth. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Although this book is directed more at the scholar of Masonic mysticism and can be challenging for the layperson, the introduction contains concise historical information on the Knights Templar. Bibliography, index.
  • Robinson, John J. Dungeon, Fire, and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades. New York: M. Evans, 1991. Provides a concise historical account of the Templars’s religious-military mission in battling for control of the Holy Land. Contains illustrations and a comprehensive bibliography.