The Templars Dan Jones (Head of Zeus, £25)
IN ad1119, 20 years after the fall of Jerusalem to the Christian army in the First Crusade and more than 200 years before the founding of the order of the Garter by Edward III in England, the most militant Christian order of knighthood was set up to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Its members were essentially ‘knights who took up a religious calling rather than servants of a hospital that added a paramilitary wing.’ From the beginning, the Knights of the Holy Temple attracted controversy.
The rule of the order demanded that ‘the flower of chastity… the Knighthood of Christ should avoid at all costs the embraces of women;’ the alternative risk of sodomy was to be avoided ‘by their lodgings not being without light at night, so that shadowy enemies may not lead them into wickedness’.
Poverty was also a requirement, but this did not prevent the order from acquiring a reputation for pride and greed demonstrated by the villainous Knight Templar in sir Walter scott’s novel Ivanhoe (1820). Their aura of mystery and self-serving practice of moneylending contributed to the Templars’ facility for making enemies. This came to a head in the gruesome suppression of the order by the King of France, with the backing of the Pope, in 1312, when many Templars were burnt alive.
only in Portugal did the order transform itself into the Military order of Christ, which took over many Templar castles and continued the war against the Moors in the Iberian peninsular. (My own membership dates from a royal visit to Portugal in 1973 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the angloPortuguese alliance). In an age when Christian/muslim clashes continue, the story of the Templars has an immediate relevance and could have no more lively narrator than Dan Jones. John Ure
Detail of a fresco from a chapel built by the Templars at Cressacsur-charente