The infamous Knights Templar
There are two things synonymous with the Knights Templar: Friday the 13th and the Middle Ages. The order of the Knights Templar was born in a tumultuous time, when religion was the motivating factor behind conquering people and lands and the Catholic Church was looking to expand its reach. Following the First Crusade around 1119, a French knight, Hugues de Payens, and his small band of knight relatives created the Knights Templar.
Ten years later the order was sanctioned and approved by the Catholic Church, and their influence soon became felt across Europe. As is common with any brand new organization, especially a religious one, donations were solicited in the form of currency, land and even noble sons. Setting the precedent for generations of Catholic fundraising; potential donators were told they would land in heaven if they gave to the organization.
The idea and justification for the order was based on the argument that religious men should not only be strengthened by their unshakeable faith but also by using swords to fight the infidels and nonbelievers, and to protect the church. By having both the physical and faith based means at their disposal, these powerful knights could theoretically defeat any potential foe. To buoy their efforts, large donations started to pour in from wealthy donors and every new knight had to give up all of their worldly possessions as part of their membership.
Of course, aside from asking for money and going around in cool outfits the knights also constantly trained and became an exclusive fighting unit. They were known for their fearlessness in battle, and willingness to fight until the death, because they wanted to be known as martyrs. Their crafty and cunning battle tactics also proved key in winning difficult battles, such as the Battle of Montgisard, as they proved that a small fighting squad could defeat a bigger army. In addition they were renowned for gathering together at the front of the battle lines and ramming the enemy back, and for protecting the rear.
Several decades into the existence of the Knights Templar, they had evolved into a bank like structure, due to all of the money they had collected over the years. Pilgrims that wanted to protect their assets could give their valuables over to their local Templar house and receive a letter of credit stating the amount they had left or deposited with the organization.
Therefore, these pilgrims could travel lightly, without having to worry about being robbed of their personal possessions. Their letter of credit could then be presented to other Templar houses when they needed to withdraw money. The Order was able to award interest payments on the money they held, which caused their coffers to swell.
However, their decline proved eminent, when in the late 1100’s they suffered a horrible defeat during the Battle of Hattin, which was followed by 1191’s Battle of Jaffa. All the way into and through the 1200’s the Templars continued to suffer devastating losses in key battles, until in 1291 they were pushed out of their initial headquarters and into Cyprus. Over the next twenty plus years the Templars would go through a roller coaster ride of intrigue, accusation and eventual disbandment.
One particular episode included the attempted kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII by Philip IV King of France, due to the pope not wanting to excommunicate the Templars, which the king wanted because the Templars refused to loan him money. The attempted kidnapping motivated Dante to write his Divine Comedy. In addition, on Friday, October 13, 1307 numerous French Templars were arrested and subsequently brutally tortured in order to admit to heresy. The superstitious bad luck surrounding Friday the 13th comes from that day.
After nearly two centuries of existence Pope Clement IV finally dissolved the Knights Templar in 1312. Their quick rise and swift financial accumulations were matched by their tremendous fall from grace.
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