James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.
The Knights Templar (Knights of the Temple) was founded in the Year of Our Lord 1118 in Jerusalem. Its first headquarters was where once sat the Temple of Solomon, to which the organization was dedicated, hence its name.
In 1187, Muslim invaders reconquered Jerusalem, and by 1296 pushed the Christians out of the Holy Land altogether. Cyprus became the new home base of the Knights Templar.
Our superstition about Friday the 13th comes from the fact that October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France betrayed the Templars, arresting all of them he could find—15,000 men—to plunder their enormous treasure and steal their lands. Philip also coerced the pope into permanently dissolving Order of the Knights of the Temple. Those not captured became hunted fugitives.
Origin of the Knights Templar
The First Crusade made it to Jerusalem in 1099 and took the city. The mission of the Christian warriors was just. They came from their homes in faraway Europe to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Muslims had previously come north out of their native Arabia to conquer it from Christians, through a great slaughter of all the Christian men and boys in their path. The Christian women and girls were taken as sex slaves. Ever since, the Muslims had robbed, raped, enslaved, and murdered any Christians they could find.
An Amalfi hostel and hospital was set up in Jerusalem by a group of monks for Christian pilgrims who came to walk where Jesus walked. They were very good at what they did and quite successful. In 1118, the monks decided to launch a military arm of knights to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land from Muslim attackers. The pope granted them a charter as the Hospital of St. John the Baptist of Jerusalem, or Hospitallers for short.
That same year Hugh de Payens of Champagne, France, along with eight of his fellow knights, organized as the Knights Templar, officially The Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Their mission was to protect Christians from Muslim marauders and slavers during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Europe and during their journey back home. They were granted a headquarters in the former Al-Aqsa Mosque that had been built on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem – the holiest spot on Earth to Jews and Christians. (The most sacred place of Muslims is in Mecca.)
Saint Bernard was the most famous Christian in the world at the time, and he happened to hail from Troyes, the capital city of Champagne County. Bernard would become their champion, persuading many European noblemen to gift the Knights Templars land and money, as well as to send their sons to join the organization. Even the kings of France, England, and Scotland gave the Knights enormous endowments.
Within the space of only two years, the Templars went from an obscure group of nine men to a formidable order of 300 monk knights with a great wealth of gold, silver, and estates. The organization would eventually own 9,000 manors and a fleet of ships.
The Templars took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and were devoted to daily prayers and religious rituals. They could not touch a woman, or be seen naked by anyone, or have any personal possessions whatsoever. They were allowed no privacy. Even their letters would be read aloud. They were never to retreat in combat. The Templars expected to die in battle, and most did. If captured, they were never ransomed, as a matter of policy. Of 21 Grand Masters of the order, ten died in combat.
Templar meetings were secret affairs, especially the initiations of new members. Initiates were not told much about the group at first, kept on a "need to know" basis. If they advanced in rank, they would learn more and more about the Templars. No Knights of the Order were allowed to reveal anything about their rules, plans, or affairs to outsiders, under penalty of death.
Before long, the Knights Templar had taken in more money than they knew what to do with. It was only natural that they got into ‘diversified financial services.’ For one thing, they would loan money. For another, act as collection agents of debts and taxes. They provided a safe deposit service, even for governments, at one point protecting the Crown Jewels of England. They managed property, negotiated ransoms, and issued paper money.
Templars Expelled from the Holy Land
The Muslims conquered Jerusalem again in 1187. The Templars retained a significant base nearby on the Mediterranean Sea at Acre, which was twice the size of London in those days.
Fast forward to 1282, and we will see why and how the Holy Land was lost. A new criminal secret society had become a dynamic force in Sicily, the Mafia. France ruled Sicily, until one night when the Mafia rose and killed every Frenchman on their island. This startling massacre is remembered today as the Sicilian Vespers.
Anyway, this somehow sparked a war between France, Anjou, Aragon, Genoa, and Venice. The Egyptians saw how bogged down the Europeans were fighting each other and decided this would be an opportune time to kick the Christians out of the Holy Land again.
The descendants of the Crusaders had mostly settled down as traders and merchants. They did much business with Muslims and did not foresee fighting against them or have any desire to do so. The Egyptian Mamelukes surprised them in 1289, swarming in and swamping the Christians in the Holy Land with a considerable army. They would eventually kill every single Christian man and haul off their women and children into sex slavery.
In 1291, the siege and then conquest of Acre took place, with the defenders outnumbered ten to one. Again, the Mamelukes massacred all the Christian men and abducted so many women as sex slaves; the price of them dropped to one single drachma. City after city fell to the Muslim invaders until, by 1296, there remained not one Christian person in the Holy Land.
No More Pilgrims to Protect
The Templars, and the rival Knights Hospitallers, set up shop on the island kingdom of Cyprus. The Templars were still wealthy beyond imagination and were the best fighting force in Europe. They were extensively involved not only in banking, but also in agriculture, markets, mills, shipping, and trade around Europe and the Mediterranean.
Jacques de Molay was elected the new Grand Master of the Knights Templar in 1292. However, there was a problem. With the Muslims in total control of the Holy Land, and with them forbidding any Christians to set foot in it, pilgrimages were a thing of the past. The Templars' original purpose of protecting pilgrims no longer existed.
The Betrayal of the Knights Templar by King Philip IV of France
Philip IV of France was in trouble. He had gone broke from years of fighting the English. He was massively in debt. Most of his obligation was to the Knights Templar, who had always been his best friend, supporter, and moneylender. The Knights had even sheltered the king from angry mobs, protected his treasury, and their Grand Master Jacque de Molay was the godfather of Philip’s son. Nonetheless, Philip began scheming to have his debts to the Templars canceled, and to take their wealth from them as his own. The most valuable of their lands, and most of their cash, lay in France.
Jacques de Molay came to France to drum up support for a new crusade to retake the Holy Land. He decided to make a big show of his wealth and power by parading like a king from the port of Marseilles to his temple fortress in Paris. With an entourage of sixty knights, a multitude of servants and attendants, and an incredible treasure of 150,000 gold florins, he made his way north through adoring crowds. De Molay had no inkling of Philip’s plans to bring down the Templars.
King Philip had played a big part in the election of the newest pope, Clement V, whom he held firmly under his thumb. Philip greeted de Molay in Paris like the hero of the realm he was, puffing him up with praise and honors.
Philip had recruited a disgruntled former Templar who had been expelled from the order. He made public accusations that the Templars secretly practiced witchcraft, homosexual behaviors, idolatry, and blasphemy that he claimed to have personally witnessed. During the initiation ceremony, he falsely declared, the knights spit on and stomped on the cross.
What Philip had in mind was what he did one year before. In one single day, he had every Jew in France arrested, divested of all their worldly possessions, and exiled out of the country, in an incredibly well-coordinated event. All the wealth and land of the Jews became Philip's, including any money owed to them. Philip himself owed money to many Jews, debts now canceled.
Now, doing this to the 15,000 Templars would be quite different because they were armed fighting men. Secrecy was paramount. They would have to be attacked as they slept, of course.
The Templars were not under the authority of Philip or any king or secular authority. They answered only to and directly to the pope. Templars could not be legally arrested, punished, or tortured by any ruler.
Thursday, October 12, 1307, the day before Philip made his move, Jacques de Molay served as a pallbearer for the king's daughter's funeral. The next night, 15,000 Templars would be put in chains and imprisoned.
Upon hearing this news, Pope Clement V was furious. He issued a formal protest and demanded the Templars be released immediately. Philip launched a propaganda campaign against the Knights—and against the pope—to win the French people to his side. He then went to see the pope with an army.
Soon, the pope saw things Philip's way and agreed to allow torture to be employed to extract confessions of heresy from the Templars. Torture was pretty extreme in those days; 36 Templars died from torture the first day.
One day the Knights had been feted members of an incredibly powerful order. The next, they were helpless prisoners, undergoing severe torture from red-hot irons and the rack.
The Knights Templar Become Fugitives
There is no doubt that the Knights Templars were among the toughest men on Earth. But you know, when they torture your friends in front of you, and you see them suffering in agony and hear their bloodcurdling screams, as white-hot pincers are applied to their genitals, and you know you are next in line, many people will offer to confess to anything before being tortured.
Soon, word reached the Templars who had escaped capture what was happening to their brothers. There was one place where a king had refused to arrest them: England.
Many Knights fled across the English Channel. Think of how their faith was shaken. Overnight the Roman Church, to which they had pledged their allegiance and their very souls, had declared them objects of hatred. Fear of capture made them run for their lives, to live as fugitives, to plan how to hide from any churchmen. They were angry and terrified.
Spain and Portugal also not only refused to arrest Templars, but protected them. They needed them to fight the Muslims. In Portugal, the king renamed them the Knights of Christ, and the order was extant until 1910. Germany and Cyprus also protected them and pronounced them innocent of all charges. The Templar fleet mysteriously disappeared.
The Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar
Jacques de Molay was not up to being tortured at seventy-years-old. He agreed to confess to all charges made against the Knights, except sodomitical behaviors. That was a bridge too far, even upon threat of having his genitalia burnt off.
Pope Clement V dissolved the Order of the Knights Templar. At least 1,500 Templars were hiding in England.
March 14, 1314, Grand Master Jacques de Molay was led up onto a high platform, specially built for the occasion, in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. He was supposed to admit his heresies and those of his order in front of an enormous crowd. Instead, he recanted his confession and proclaimed none of it was true. The king and the pope were monumentally embarrassed. De Molay knew what he did was suicide. Within the hour, he would burn at the stake.
Now, there was burning at the stake, and there was burning at the stake. If mercy was shown, young evergreen was mixed in with the wood, which would create fumes that would kill you of smoke inhalation before the burning started. Also, some people received painkillers. At the least, a massive roaring fire would get it over with quickly.
None of those mercies did Jacques de Molay see. Instead, he was slow roasted. As he burned, he called down curses on the king and the pope. Both soon died under strange circumstances.
Knights Templar Hide in England and Scotland
Back in 1307, King Philip had sent an ambassador to Edward II of England to implore him to arrest the Templars in his realm. Pope Clement V commanded the same through written instructions. Edward had known Templars all his life and could not believe they were guilty of the charges. He wrote back to the pope, insisting on their innocence. A papal bull was issued, which Edward could not ignore. But he dallied.
Edward sent word to the Templars that he would have to arrest them, but he gave them two months' notice. When he finally sent troops to round them up, they only found a few. When he went to raid their treasury for the pope, it nearly empty. The Knights had plenty of money and a head start. Not one of them was ever found again.
Clement V pronounced the Knights condemned men, and anyone who would give them aid, or even advice, would be subject to arrest, torture, and excommunication. The pope went so far as to send a dozen of his best torturers to England for the job. However, despite these threats of extreme punishment and damnation, no one in England ever informed on Templars.
Notably, the papal bull was not sent to Scotland, making it a haven for the fugitives, who were welcomed by King Robert the Bruce. They would have to avoid being seen by any members of the religious orders in Scotland, who would have arrested them for the pope. Those orders owned a third of the land in that country; they were ubiquitous.
Their brothers in arms that had fled the continent soon joined the Knights. New identities would be required to avoid discovery, and perhaps a secret society would be needful.
The Knights Templars were famed and celebrated as valiant heroes by the average bloke in Scotland. They also had friends in every level of society, from servants to artisans to merchants to nobles, and even some sympathetic priests. Safety demanded strict secrecy.
A man on the run needs most of all food and sleep. He seeks those he can trust to provide him with safe lodgings, and a nice meal, not to mention someone to socialize with, who are caring and supportive. What’s the news? Where can I go when I leave here? How will I know I can trust the person I call on in the next town? Some sort of signal?
The Freemasons were born about this same time and in this same place. They created a system by which a brother could identify himself through hand signals (the 'due guard'), or ask for help (the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress). They also invented a verbal code phrase, "Oh Lord, is there no help for a Son of the Widow?"
Someone who was in on it would respond to that last signal with, “Are you a traveling man?” If the response was, “Yes, I am,” it was asked, “Where are you traveling?” The only reply accepted was, “From west to east.”
Now, these signs and signals would have to be kept in the utmost secrecy. Otherwise, clergymen and bounty hunters could use them to entrap you. It was customary in those days to take a solemn oath to keep such a secret. It would include verbal acceptance of severe penalties, both earthly and heavenly punishments, for revealing the secrets. We see the legacy of this today when a child says that she can not only be trusted to keep a secret but that she will, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
Thus, it is a religious oath under penalty of death. What is the vow of a Master Mason? It is that if he reveals the secrets of his society, he hopes his body gets cut in half, and his bowels burned to ashes.
Knights Templar Connection to the Freemasons
So, for the Templars on the run, their religious order was no more, their grandmaster burned at the stake, the Vicar of Christ had condemned them. However, these men still believed in God. They still loved Jesus and Scripture. They always prayed to offer thanksgiving for their blessings, to seek forgiveness for their sins, to request guidance for the future, and solicit salvation. A Templar could not go to church. He would have to have a personal relationship with the Lord. Here we see the seeds of the Reformation and the Protestant movement.
Not all the brothers had the same ideas about how to go about this new thing. The last thing they wanted to do was argue amongst themselves about it, causing division. It was decided that all would pledge a belief in and engage in worship of God, the Supreme Being. How they went about that was to be their own business. Atheism was flat out rejected. Who would trust the oath of an Atheist?
Only two organizations in the long history of Man have first and foremost identified with the Temple of Solomon: The Knights Templar and the Freemasons. In my next article, it is the Masons to which we turn.
My primary source for this article is Born in Blood by John J. Robinson.
James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 19, 2020:
Denise McGill ~ I appreciate you taking the time to come over and read my article. And you are quite welcome. I am well pleased that you enjoyed it. Thank you for your compliments and blessings.
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on February 17, 2020:
This is a fascinating overview of the history of Knights Templar. I always wondered what happened to them.
Thanks for keeping it short and entertaining.
James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 13, 2020:
Awdur ~ Thank you very much for reading my work and for your awesome accolades. I appreciate the excellent idea you shared with me. I always treasure your opinion.
Awdur from Chicago on February 12, 2020:
The Knight's Templar are an intriguing group of men. I'd love to see a you expand on the actions of King Philip IV of France, as well as the repercussions of his betrayal. Spectacular job!
James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 09, 2020:
Pamela Oglesby ~ Thank you for reading my writings. Your lovely laudations have warmed the cockles of my heart. God Bless You and Keep You.
James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 09, 2020:
Devika Primić ~ Thank you so much for taking the time come over and read my work. I am very happy that you found it enlightening, interesting, informative, and incredible. I sincerely appreciate you letting me know. It makes a writer feel good.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2020:
This is a fascinating article. I have heard that Free Masons exist and that the are powerful with a lot of money.
However, I really enjoyed reading their history and what they had to endure. The torture was horrid. The fact that they could move, hide and still have plenty of money is interesting. Your did a wonderful job writing this article, James.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 09, 2020:
An incredible write here and such topics on history is not often heard of. I found this hub to be most interesting and informative on the Knights. I like the photos and the research you did on this topic. It enlightened me on something I don't often read of.