Review: The Templars: History & Myth: From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons
I’m most at home when reading medieval history and having read about the Crusades in the past I was eager to try Michael Haag’s book about the Templars, the order of knights founded to defend the Holy Land after the First Crusade who went from being revered to reviled in Europe in the space of two centuries.
Haag’s book covers an extensive timeline beginning with the earliest references to the Temple of Solomon, its building, destruction, rebuilding and so on until we reach the First Crusade where Jerusalem was captured by the Christians in 1099. Though a foothold was gained in the Holy Land or Outremer, it was a dangerous place for travelling pilgrims who wished to descend on Jerusalem in honour of their faith. In 1119 the Knights Templar were formed to protect travelling pilgrims, beginning as a small group that would escort and protect travellers, but over time growing into a widespread, wealthy and highly respected order. Haag deals with the rise and fall of the Templars and their legacy.
Haag’s book is more a summary of events rather than an in-depth chronicle of the Templars. This is not a criticism, however. Haag has to cover so much history in such a short book that it is admirable he has delivered a text that is less than 400 pages. Each Crusade is probably worth a book of its own, especially the First Crusade and, of course, the Third Crusade involving Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. Though the Templars began as an impoverished order reliant on donations, they soon rose to a position of great power and influence. With the backing of the Pope the Templars were largely untouchable and a sensible way for monarchs in Christendom to please God was in donations to the Templars to help bolster their efforts in the Holy Land.
Not that the Templars were completely restricted to the Holy Land. They received donations in money and land throughout Europe, and provided an early form of banking, storing funds and possessions and maintaining records of deposits for their customers to prove ownership of goods and to retrieve them. As with every rise though, there has to be a fall. The once revered order donning their white mantles with red crosses were soon despised in Europe when the Holy Land was lost at the start of the fourteenth century and within a decade the order had been dissolved and many of its members left at the mercy of vengeful rulers such as King Philip IV of France who played a major role in the end of the Templars.
Haag’s book is a sad account of the Templars who were devoted to their faith and remained loyal and firm in their convictions. As soon as the Holy Land was unsurprisingly lost, Christendom needed a scapegoat and the Templars were the perfect choice. Historical evidence only discovered in the last few years indicates a lot of the persecution of the Templars could have been prevented but sadly it was not to be. The Templars have left a legacy in the form of surviving groups who some argue link back to the holy order of knights but the section covering these conspiracy theories is not as interesting as the history of the order itself.
The Templars is a good account of this holy order of knights who fought to keep Christendom in the Holy Land and to protect the pilgrims that wished to travel to Jerusalem. It’s a sad testament of how a fall follows a rise to power and that no group, no matter how powerful, can ever hope to last forever. History proves that eventually dissent creeps in and after that it’s only a matter of time before change. The Templars knew this all too well.
(Book source: reviewer’s own copy)