The Knights Templar was a military order based in Jerusalem after the city came into Christian control following the First Crusade in the 11th century.
The order was primarily established to protect the pilgrims coming to the Holy Land from all over Christendom. Established at the beginning of the 12th century, the order soon rose to one of the most powerful and wealthy institutions in Christendom.
Knights Templar Origins
The order was established in 1119 by a French knight. It was aimed at protecting the pilgrims from the bandits who attacked caravans of people coming to Jerusalem. The order remained an impoverished organization until it received official recognition from the Church in 1129.
The earliest headquarters of the Order were based on the Temple Mount, the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It was for this reason that the Order was also called the Knights of the Temple of Solomon.
Knights Templar Rise in Power
Although the order was initially poor and scarcely manned, the papal recognition in 1129 helped it grow rapidly. It was soon able to attract the well-off members of the European nobility, recruiting them as permanent members of the Order. The Order also began receiving vast donations in money, land and other services which made it an economic powerhouse in medieval Europe.
By the 12th century, the Order had become a huge financial institution with property and interests spread all over the Christendom. Papal backing gave the Order independence from the laws of European kingdoms, making it a veritable state within a state. While the Crusades continued, the Knights Templar proved a formidable part of Christian armies on the battlefield.
Knights of the order would often serve as shock troops who would disrupt enemy lines. The Order proved particularly effective in many battles of the Crusaders against Saladin’s forces.
Knights Templar as a Financial Organization
After the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin, the Crusades effectively came to an end. The Knights Templar continued to exist. During the Crusades, it had established itself as a financial organization of sorts. It issued letters of credit to the pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, received land grants from European nobility and was often the guardian of a noble going off to take part in the crusade.
After the Crusades, the Order continued to maintain vast properties all over Europe. For a period during its existence, the Order owned a whole fleet of ships and had the effective control of the island of Cyprus.
Dissolution of the Knights Templar
After the Crusades, the military purpose of the Knights Templar had essentially ended. Yet the organization continued to enjoy many rights and privileges while operating throughout Europe. King Philip IV of France had run a sizable debt with the Order. In 1305, he purportedly pressured Pope Clement V to launch charges against the leaders of the Order.
Criminal charges were brought against Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and other members of the Order. Most of the leaders were executed and many members were forced to confess to a long list of sins. The Pope later issued an edict in 1307 condemning the Order and effectively dissolving it.