Who Were the Knights Templar?

As an organization, the Knights Templar was able to develop into a most powerful military order that influenced business and banking, partly because of their special status with the Pope. With an official papal exemption from all authority in the year 1139 AD, the Knights Templar were in effect untouchable and free to pursue their goal of protecting Christianity.

The organization was monastic, consisting of strong men who were devoted to their cause, and members functioned quite uniquely as part warrior and part monk. Initially formed at the conclusion of the First Crusade, this organization has, as a mandate, the task of protecting traveling Christian pilgrims who were making their way to the Holy Land. These pilgrims showed appreciation for this protection in the form of donations to the Knights Templar.

Eventually the Knights Templar grew into the most powerful organized business effort in the entirety of Europe. Following the end of the Crusades, these men became European moneylenders serving the monarchs. These European leaders were very wealthy and wanted their assets to be protected by this strong and powerful organization of fighting men.

As the Knights Templar accumulated great wealth over time, the group actually invented the beginnings of modern banking. They even found a way to circumvent restrictions put upon money lending by the church. The church commonly forbade the activity of lending money in exchange for interest profit. The Knights Templar found a way to deal with this problem and began charging service fees for their lending activities. With another innovation, they also began the first formal use of a system of cheques used by pilgrims as a means of protecting their assets while traveling.

The reign of the Knights Templar was not very long, only about two centuries in duration. It began around 1119, created by two First Crusade veterans, Hugues de Pavens, a French knight, and family member Godfrey de Saint-Omer. Their goal was an attempt to save Christianity by providing protection to traveling religious pilgrims. King Baldwin II granted their request to form a monastic order and allowed them to post headquarters upon the Temple Mount. This location was mystical, in that it was allegedly built over the Temple of Solomon ruins. Hence came their first name that referenced their poverty and the Temple of Solomon. They soon were just called the Templar. As an organization pledged to poverty, they relied solely upon donations. A Grand Master headed up the Order, and a Commander who obeyed the Grand Master led each Chapter.

The Catholic Church officially endorsed the Knights Templar in 1129. Not long afterwards, in 1312, Pope Clement V acted to eliminate the Order due to the strong influence upon him of King Philip the Fair. The Knights Templars were pledged to poverty and chastity, and they also held secret meetings and secret ceremonies. King Philip used this secrecy in his attempt to take away their wealth and get rid of the organization. A weakened church could not protect the Templars, but forgave them all charges. The King took away their wealth anyways and sentenced them all to die. Their forced false confessions included transgressions like spitting on the cross, allowing sodomy, and idol worshipping.

Punishment within the Knights Templar organization meant losing their coat, their rank, or expulsion. Punishment by King Phillip meant losing all their buildings, meeting places, assets and their lives. The King collected some assets, but the Templars hid most of the valuables and fled the country in a huge fleet of ships. The mystery of the Knights Templar remains until today because neither the treasures nor the fleet were ever located.