Nine pious knights, led by Hugues de Payens and his relative Godfrey de Saint-Omer, arrived at the gates of Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, and offered themselves as protectors of the faithful. They announced that they had taken the solemn vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, as well as a fourth, perpetual vow to protect pilgrims on their journey from the coast to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Baldwin, impressed with the knights fervor, quartered them in the eastern part of his castle, an area where the Temple of Solomon once stood.
In less than one hundred years, the Knights Templar developed into one of the wealthiest and most influential entities in Europe, second only to the Papacy itself. The Order owned huge tracts of land in England, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Austria. Owing to a huge network of territories and castles, they established themselves as history's first international bankers, arranging loans and secure money transfers for royal houses and nobles throughout Europe, safeguarding the personal wealth of pilgrims, and effectively inventing the concept of the payment cheque. They are considered to have been the world's first multi-national corporation with a hugely respected network of administration facilities via their network of preceptories.
The Templars' success was tied closely to the Crusades; when the Crusaders suffered defeat and lost the Holy Land, support for the Order faded. Rumors about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order, began pressuring Pope Clement V to take action. In 1307, Pope Clement V condemned the Order's members, having them arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and burned at the stake. In 1312, Pope Clement V, under continuing pressure from King Philip, disbanded the Order. The abrupt disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the "Templar" name alive until the present.
At the Council of Troyes in 1128 the Order was confirmed by Pope Honorius II, who gave it the strict Rule dictated by St. Bernard, a monk of the Cistercian Order who became the first Abbot of Clairvaux. The Knights also received the white mantle as a symbol of purity of their life, to which in 1146 Pope Eugenius added a red Templar cross.
The heroic and romantic ideal presented by nine fervent knights dedicated to defending innocents in the Holy Land captured the imagination of nobles and commoners, both. The ranks of the Knights Templar began to swell with those who felt their stated mission a noble one, and they were showered with financial support from noble houses throughout Europe. In addition, the papal blessing of the Order was considered a rare honor that only served to further cement their cause. As the wealth and power of these highly trained fighters grew, their activities expanded from the simple task of protecting pilgrims to become a military arm representing the Holy Catholic Church.
The Order's battle honours in defence of the Holy Land were many. Following the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 the Templars withdrew to Acre. They remained at Acre with Grand Master William de Beaujue until 1291 when the city was captured and William was killed. The surviving Templars, with their new Grand Master, were the last to leave the city. The Order withdrew to Limmasol, Cyprus and had its headquarters at the Temple Monastery in Paris.
In the thirteenth century the Muslim armies retook Jerusalem and the Crusaders retreated from the Holy Land. The Templars were the last to leave, with a defeat at Acre in 1291. The Order no longer had a purpose in the Holy Land, and had made many enemies throughout their long reign. The wealth and power that they had amassed had alienated many royal houses, as well as the Papcy itself.
The principal malefactor was Phillipe le Bel, King of France, who was financially indebted to the Order. On Friday October 13, 1307, Phillipe ordered Jaques de Molay, then Grandmaster of the Templar Order, as well as scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. This was with the intention of sequestrating all the Order's possessions. However, these were hidden in a secret place and have never been found to this day. Not able to judge the Order himself, (it was only answerable to the Pope) Phillipe set about to coerce the Pope to suppress the Order, but the Pope refused. Whereupon, the king dismissed him and created his friend, the Bishop of Bordeaux, Pope Clement V, issued the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae on November 22, 1307, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets.
In England, Edward II (a patron of the Order) at first did not take any action against the Knights Templar, but finally he allowed the inquisitors to judge the Order at the Church of All Hallows By-the-Tower. Edward then set about reclaiming English Templar lands and possessions including the London Temple, rather than passing them to the Hospitallers.
Only in France were the Templars treated with any severity, with Grand Master Jaques de Molay and others burnt at the stake in March 1314 on an island in the Seine. However, Clement V later revoked the Bull and pardoned all the Templars, including de Molay.
The Order Survives
In Portugal, the former Knights Templar were formed into a successor body, with the support of the king and the blessing of the pope. Dropping "and of the Temple of Solomon" from their name, this body became the "Order of Christ". Under its banner, the Portuguese ships of Prince Henry the Navigator sailed to discover the New World of the Americas in the fifteenth century. Today, the Order of Christ is occasionally still given to Roman Catholic heads of state as the highest order of chivalry the Holy See can award.
In the early nineteenth century, a group in France was founded as a modern revival of the order. This still exists today as the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem.