A lot of people have heard of the Templar Knights before, but how much do we really know? Apart from their distinctive white tabards with the iconic red cross emblazoned on the front, they’re practically the stuff of myth and legend.
Let’s face it, most of us only know the juicy bits we’ve picked up from quasi-historical novels, video games and movies… so here’s your chance to find out more!
With HISTORY’s new drama series Knightfall coming up on 7 December on Astro Ch 555 and HD 575, we thought we’d take a closer look at these legendary warriors. This way, we can pretend we know what’s going on and show off our knowledge to our (ahem) less-enlightened friends with some interesting facts when we tune in!
#1. “He started it…”
Actually three men can be said to be responsible for the beginnings of the Templar Knights. The first was Hugh de Payens, a French Knight who started a patrol to protect Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. Nice guy, eh? Well King Baldwin II, who ruled Jerusalem at the time, thought so too, so he allowed them to live in the palace on the Temple Mount, hence their name. Similarly, the French Abbot Bernard de Clairvaux was so fascinated by the Knights that he developed official rules for them. Essentially, they would be warriors who lived like monks, wearing only white or black robes, spending lots of time in prayer and taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
#2. So the Templar Knights are real? No way!
Yes, the Templar Knights really existed. Did you really think they were just invented by an over-imaginative historical fiction novelist together with his gaming buddies and movie producer friend? Historical records show that this brotherhood of Knights was the real thing, and even inspired the Jedi’s from George Lucas’ epic Star Wars saga.
#3. Warrior monks, Crusaders and bankers… wait, what?
In a nutshell, the Knights started out as bodyguards but they soon evolved into elite troops during the Crusades. They were so well-loved that people donated not only money, but land and property too, which were farmed or rented out. At the same time, rich pilgrims would use the Templar’s houses, or Commanderies, as safe places to store their valuables. Inevitably, with so much wealth to manage, the Knights branched out into areas such as accounting and tax collection, becoming the first bankers. In essence, while the Knights themselves had taken a vow of poverty, the organisation became very, very rich. This is especially ironic as they were originally known as the Poor Knights of the Temple!
#4. So what went wrong?
Well, with wealth comes power and influence, and certain people didn’t like that. Although the Templars used their wealth for the Crusade and even literally paid a king’s ransom for the release of King Louis IX, it was his grandson Philip IV who conspired to bring about the downfall of the Templar Knights. Using vicious rumours, gossip and character assassination, the Templar Knights were portrayed as having strayed from their faith in a multitude of ways. Many were arrested, tortured and killed, with the Order being abolished and the final Grand Master Jacques de Molay killed on Friday, 13th October 1307.
#5. So where are they now?
Some believe the Templars still exist, lurking in the shadows to manipulate governments and world events. While this may seem far-fetched, there’s actually no need to look far at all. Although more than 700 years have passed, the Templars have retained an undeniable presence in the minds of millions. Just look them up online and you’ll find hundreds and thousands of references in academic and religious books, novels, movies, games and of course as the central characters in Knightfall, which premieres on Thursday, 7 December at 9.55pm on HISTORY® (Astro Ch 555 & HD 575).
Find out more about Knightfall and the Knights Templar at history.com/shows/knightfall.