The Tem­plars: The Rise and Fall of God’s Holy War­riors by Dan Jones

Blood, fear and burn­ing … a no-non­sense ac­count of the Catholic mil­i­tary or­der

The Guardian - Review - - Non-Fiction - Christo­pher de Bel­laigue Christo­pher de d Bel­laigue’s The Is­lamic En­light­en­ment is pub­lished b by Bod­ley Head.

In our age, Is­lam is of­ten taken to task for the vi­o­lent im­agery that is con­tained within the Qur’an, and the ex­am­ple set by its war­rior-prophet, Muham­mad, but less of­ten scru­ti­nised is the propen­sity of Chris­tian­ity for acts of sav­agery. Many early Chris­tians held to the paci­fism of St Basil, who laid down that Chris­tians who had shed blood were not el­i­gi­ble for com­mu­nion, but St Au­gus­tine of Hippo de­vel­oped the doc­trine of the just war, ar­gu­ing that it was meritorious to use vi­o­lence against those who held other reli­gious be­liefs. By the end of the 11th cen­tury AD, ef­forts to drive the Mus­lim emirs out of Spain, and the growth in pil­grim­age traf­fic to the Holy Land – large armed groups in­fused with reli­gious zeal that could eas­ily be di­verted to fight­ing or loot­ing – were mar­ried to a gen­eral Chris­tian de­sire to own the key sites as­so­ci­ated with the life of Christ, and the Cru­sades were born.

The first of these bloody and of­ten an­ar­chic cam­paigns, launched by Pope Ur­ban II in 1095, re­sulted in the con­quest of Jerusalem, but how were the new Crusader ter­ri­to­ries to be de­fended from Mus­lim re­con­quest? In 1120 the Coun­cil of Nablus, held un­der the aus­pices of King Bald­win II of Jerusalem, de­creed: “If a cleric takes up arms in the cause of self-de­fence, he shall not bear any guilt.” The way was now open for the for­ma­tion of an or­der of knights – Chris­ten­dom was full of them, of­ten un­der­em­ployed and fight­ing among them­selves – to de­fend the Crusader states. Un­der its founder, the French­man Hugh of Payns, the new or­der was gov­erned by a strict code of hu­mil­ity, sub­mis­sion and ab­sti­nence, eschew­ing chival­ric bling – the fal­conry, the pointy shoes, the or­nate bri­dles – in favour of sim­ple uni­forms of white, “which sig­ni­fies pu­rity and com­plete chastity”.

Bald­win gave Hugh’s men use of the Tem­ple Mount in Jerusalem, named af­ter the Tem­ple of Solomon, from which the Knights Tem­plar, the sub­ject of Dan Jones’s new book, took their name. By the time the Cru­saders cap­tured it, the Tem­ple Mount had been Is­lamised through the con­struc­tion of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. The Tem­plars took up res­i­dence at what was, and re­mains to­day, the sym­bolic chaf­ing point be­tween the three Abra­hamic faiths, build­ing a large com­plex of build­ings that was de­scribed as “full of walk­ing-places, lawns, coun­cil cham­bers, porches, con­sis­to­ries and sup­plies of wa­ter in splen­did cis­terns”.

Within a few decades of their es­tab­lish­ment the Tem­plars stamped a fear- some rep­u­ta­tion on the in­va­sions, sieges, truces and un­easy co­ex­is­tence that con­sti­tuted the Crusader epoch. “They were the fiercest fight­ers of all the Franks,” ac­cord­ing to the Arab his­to­rian Ibn al-Athir, and held fast to the maxim: “Whether we live or die, we be­long to the Lord.” Among their lau­rels was an en­gage­ment at Cres­son, near Nazareth, in 1187, when 140 Tem­plars charged with sui­ci­dal courage at a force sev­eral thou­sand strong that had been as­sem­bled by the renowned Sal­adin, para­mount leader of the Is­lamic world and a ded­i­cated ji­hadi: “Fifty to sixty knights died in a shower of their own gore,” Jones writes, while “the rest were taken away to im­pris­on­ment and en­slave­ment at Sal­adin’s plea­sure”. Jerusalem fell shortly af­ter­wards; the Tem­plars’ head­quar­ters had con­tained a pig­gery, wrote the courtier Imad alDin, and Sal­adin’s ef­forts to cleanse the area of “this race of perdi­tion, un­just and crim­i­nal”, ex­tended to wash­ing the en­tire build­ing with rose­wa­ter.

Even af­ter be­ing ex­pelled from their HQ, how­ever, the Tem­plars con­tin­ued to pros­per, along with the Crusader ethos of pil­grim­age and con­quest. If the tip of the Tem­plar lance was in the Holy Land, its shaft lay in Europe. A non-domi­ciled or­gan­i­sa­tion ded­i­cated to war in the Le­vant, and ex­empt from the tithe, the Tem­plars counted on the Vatican for pa­tron­age – Pope In­no­cent II placed them un­der the di­rect pro­tec­tion of the Holy See – while bene­fac­tors con­ferred on them vast es­tates from Por­tu­gal to Cham­pagne.

When Henry II of Eng­land did cash penance for send­ingg Thomas Becket to his death in 1170, he gave his for­feit to the Tem­plars, who spent it onn the war against Sal­adin.

Within a few decades of theirheir es­tab- lish­ment, the Tem­plars were any­thing but poor knights; how­ever bravely they sub­mit­ted to unimag­in­able tor­ments in the field, their Euro­pean rep­re­sen­ta­tives en­joyed the sta­tus of bankers, me­di­a­tors and ad­vis­ers to kings and popes: with­out the bul­lion and coin con­veyed to the east, the Cru­sades could not have been fought. Al­le­ga­tions of cu­pid­ity be­gan to be heard. “Nowhere save in Jerusalem are they in poverty,” quipped the Plan­ta­genet wit Wal­ter Map, but even that wasn’t ac­cu­rate, for the Tem­plars and their ri­vals, the Hospi­tallers, were the chief landown­ers in the Crusader states, where their ranks were swelled by lo­cal Chris­tian no­bles as well as re­cruits from Europe.

Any­one sift­ing The Tem­plars for ev­i­dence of the in­ter­re­li­gious co­op­er­a­tion and trade that pros­pered in the gaps

be­tween the fight­ing, which ex­tended to joint hunt­ing trips and even Tem­plar fi­nanc­ing of Mus­lim clients, will be dis­ap­pointed. Jones is above all con­cerned with the mil­i­tary ex­ploits of the or­der, and he gives us plenty of blood and guts shed un­der its piebald flag. Nor does he seem par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the sur­pris­ing, mal­leable so­ci­ety that was cre­ated by the Cru­saders and their Mus­lim an­tag­o­nists, un­der which many Cru­saders learned Ara­bic and Mus­lims might on oc­ca­sion be found pray­ing with the Tem­plars’ per­mis­sion in the cor­ner of the old al-Aqsa mosque. Although he tells his story with a com­pe­tence that will be fa­mil­iar to read­ers of his English me­dieval his­to­ries, this book lacks the tex­ture and verve of these ear­lier pro­duc­tions, pos­si­bly be­cause Jones, like many of his knights, is on un­fa­mil­iar ter­rain.

Per­haps the most grip­ping part of his story con­cerns the Tem­plars’ fall, as vic­tims of a per­se­cu­tion as sin­gle­minded as any con­ducted dur­ing the In­qui­si­tion, and linked, in Jones’s view, to a French mone­tary cri­sis that had led Philip IV to de­value the coinage and seize the wealth of the Jews. In Oc­to­ber 1307 the king’s men ar­rested Tem­plars across France and seized their as­sets; the sub­se­quent, Europewide in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­picted them as an or­der of in­famy whose adepts spat on the im­age of Christ and were in­vet­er­ate sodomites. The im­pos­si­bil­ity of re­sist­ing a le­gal jug­ger­naut be­came clear in May 1310, when 54 Tem­plars were sen­tenced to burn. Two years later the or­der was out­lawed. The fi­nal Crusader state had in any case been snuffed out a few years ear­lier. The Tem­plars no longer had any­thing to pro­tect.

432pp, Head of Zeus, £25

To or­der The Tem­plars for £21.25 go to book­shop. the­guardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, on­line or­ders only. Phone or­ders min p&p of £1.99.

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