The Knights Templar were the earliest founders of the military orders. Many of the orders that came after were modeled after them. They remain famous in history for their humble origins, their astonishing growth and their tragic end. Conspiracy theory lovers tie all kinds of ghost and mythical stories to the order of the Knights Templar.
In 1099, after the First Crusade, Jerusalem was reclaimed. As a result of this event, many Christians started making pilgrimages to various Holy Places from the Holy Lands. Unfortunately for them, although Jerusalem was more or less secure, the surrounding areas were not. Bandits and marauding highwaymen were in high numbers; they attacked the pilgrims, who were routinely slaughtered as they tried to make their way to the interior of the Holy Land.
In 1120, the French knight Hugues de Payens, came up with the idea of creating a monastic order that would protect pilgrims. Thus the order of the Knights Templar was born. They were granted headquarters in wing of the royal palace on the Temple Mount. Hence, their name “pauvres chevaliers du temple” (Poor Knights of the Temple).
In the beginning the order had only nine knights and was impoverished. They were forced to rely on donations to survive. This status lasted until 1129 when the Order was officially approved and endorsed by the Church. They became a favorite charity in the Christendom. The Templars received money, land, businesses, and even noble-born sons from the families eager to fight for the Holy Land. Having a clear mission, their numbers and popularity grew. The Knights Templar were often shock troops in key battles of the Crusades. The non-combatant members assisted the knights and managed the financial infrastructure. Their financial networks spanned the entire Christendom.
By the mid-12th century, though, the tide had started turning for the Crusades. The Muslim world had become more united, while Christian positions had weakened. The Knights Templar were often at odds with the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. Many battles and campaigns were lost, leading to the recapture of Jerusalem by the Muslims. Their support began to dwindle.
Their decision to refuse the request of King Philip IV of France who needed money to fund his wars proved to be their downfall. On October 13, 1307 most members of the Knights Templar from France were simultaneously arrested and tortured into admitting heresy. In wake of these accusations, Pope Clement V sided with King Philip V and commanded that all Orders of the Templars should be disbanded by the sovereigns of the Christian countries. Dozens of Templars were burned at the stake in Paris, the last two that suffered this fate being the leaders of the order.
In other countries, though the Order had been disbanded, none of the knights had been tried. Many were offered pensions or were absorbed in other military orders. Some believe that the order continued its existence in secret, though no proof of this has been found. In truth, most of the remaining knights were added to the ranks of the Knights Hospitaller.
Did you know that the current position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the medieval persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust?