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The Knights Templar and Scotland
By Robert Ferguson
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Robert Ferguson
All rights reserved.
THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR OF JERUSALEM
Who were the Knights Templar? What were they? These questions are particularly important in the context of Scotland because in Scotland their purpose was purely economic, and their only engagements were Bannockburn and the battles that led up to it. But still, in Scotland the Templars had a purpose, and no less a mystique than the mystique that existed in France and Palestine. To that end, this chapter describes who the Templars were and what they did. It is not meant to be exhaustive. For this, there are several books listed in the Bibliography.
If the Templars fled to Scotland after their arrest in France, would they have been inclined to stay there? The answer to this question is found in the description of how the Templars lived, and what aspects of their lifestyle in Europe and Palestine were consistent with their life in Scotland. There is also the question of whether the Templars were present at the Battle of Bannockburn. Would the Templars have remained in a fighting mode for eight years?
The Knights Templar are often described as 'warrior-monks'. Most authors emphasize the Templars' battles, with some discussion of their extensive commercial and banking activities. But there is little discussion about a Templar Knight's daily life, or how he lived as a monk. Because Scotland involved no Templar battles, and was exclusively a commercial center devoted to raising money, a more complete picture of the Templars is essential.
The Order began as the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, and ultimately became the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitane, the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, or the Knights Templar. It was formed in 1119 by Hughes de Payens and Godfrey of Saint Omer to defend Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land during their pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The Order was made up of knights and other nobles who took the vows of a monk. It became the world's most effective fighting force and first multinational conglomerate.
The Order was formed as a result of the First Crusade that ended in 1099 with the capture of Palestine (known to Europeans as 'Outremer', the land beyond the sea) and the city of Jerusalem. With the capture of Jerusalem came a flood of pilgrims from Europe to visit the Holy Land. There were an immense number of pilgrims and their need for protection was the catalyst for the formation of the Knights Templar.
The Templars' primary founder, Hughes de Payens, was a knight who came from the village of Payens in the province of Champagne on the left bank of the River Seine in northern France. He was a vassal of, and owed his allegiance to, Hugh, the Count de Champagne. The Templars originally consisted of nine knights: Hughes de Payens, Godfroi de St Omer, Roral, Gundemar, Godfrey Bisol, Payens de Montidier, Archambaud de St Aman, Andrew de Monthar and the Count of Provence. The number of knights remained essentially the same for nine years. The only known change was the addition of Hugh, Count de Champagne, in 1226. He was a powerful noble who brought a great deal of credibility to the early Templars. The Templars' purpose was to assist and protect the pilgrims as they traveled from Mediterranean ports, usually Jaffa or Tyre, to Jerusalem, and from there to the other holy places in Palestine. This need existed because the Christians held the cities and holy places, but could not control the routes in between. As a result, the routes were constantly under threat by marauders, thieves and the people who had been dispossessed of their homes as a result of the First Crusade.
Housing for the original knights was unusual. Initially they had none. But at Hughes de Payens' request, Baldwin I of Jerusalem permitted the Templars to live in a wing of his palace over the catacombs of the former Temple of Solomon. It is not known how the original nine Templars, who lived in poverty and relied on handouts for food and clothing, were able to protect travelers and stay alive in Outremer for nine years. First, disease was a significant problem for Europeans who traveled to Palestine. Then there is the question of how only nine knights could protect thousands of pilgrims and themselves, and stay alive against the Arabs who continued to fight as bands of mounted armed outlaws.
It is believed by many that the Templars' primary purpose during the first nine years was excavation in the catacombs beneath the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. What was found is a matter of great discussion, debate and dispute. There are various suppositions. They range from the Holy Grail, to the Ark of the Covenant, to an immense amount of precious metals and jewels, to the scrolls of Jesus' brother James the Just, to evidence of a marriage between Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, to nothing at all. Some of the theories do appear to have a historical basis. Early in Templar history (apparently within the first nine years), Hughes de Payens is said to have written that 'although Christendom seemed to have forgotten them [the Templars], God had not, and the fact that their work was in secret would win them a greater reward from God.' But there is no evidence that indicates why the Templars' work was in secret, or what their work was.
The evidence that does exist simply confirms that the Templars explored the catacombs under the Temple of Solomon. In the latter part of the nineteenth century Lieutenant Charles Warren of the Royal Engineers was part of a team that conducted an excavation of the catacombs. Among a number of discoveries, Lieutenant Warren found a variety of Templar artifacts, including a spur, the remains of a lance, a small Templar cross and the major part of a Templar sword. These artifacts are now in Scotland and are part of a private collection owned by Robert Brydon, a Templar historian and archivist.
Much has been written about the Templars' battles, their victories, and defeats. Likewise, much was also written about their downfall, the charges that were ultimately brought against the Templars in 1307, and their trials for heresy. But little has been written about just who they were, how they lived, their organization, or whether they continued to exist in Scotland after they were officially suppressed and disbanded in 1312 by Pope Clement V. The Templars lived a life that conditioned them to be organized and devout. Their duties involved not only fighting in battles, but living an austere life that focused on the preservation of their Order, their traditions and their property.
To understand the Templars one must first look at what knights generally were, and what they were not. In the Middle Ages, knights were not looked upon favorably. As succinctly put by Peter Partner in The Knights Templar and their Myth:
Far from idealizing chivalry, religious leaders usually represented knightly life as lawless, licentious, and bloody. The Clergy were absolutely forbidden to shed blood, and to combine the life of an active soldier, killing and plundering like any other soldier, with the life of a monk, was to go against a fundamental principle.
But this description did not apply to the Templars. The Templars' mentor, Abbot Bernard de Clairvaux, who ultimately became Saint Bernard, and who is depicted in a fifteenth-century painting shown in Figure 1, was strident in his belief in the Templars, and was eloquent in his expression. This is illustrated in his essay 'In Praise of the New Knighthood', which he wrote in the early 1130s to Hughes de Payens. In modern terminology, it was a masterful sales tool for recruiting knights, and soliciting support and gifts. The following quotes are examples:
The new order of knights is one that is unknown by the ages. They fight two wars, one against adversaries of flesh and blood, and another against a spiritual army of wickedness in the heavens.
Truly, his is a fearless knight and completely secure. While his body is properly armed for these circumstances, his soul is also clothed with the armour of faith. On all sides surely his is well armed; he fears neither demons nor men. Truly does he not fear death, but instead he longs for death. Why should he have a fear for life or for death, when in Christ is to live, and to die is to gain? He stands faithfully and with confidence in the service of Christ; he greatly desires for release and to be with Christ, the latter certainly a more gracious thing.
Even more amazing is that they can be gentle like a lamb, or ferocious like a lion. I do not know whether I should address them as monks or as knights, perhaps they should be recognised as both. But as monks they have gentleness, and as knights military fortitude.
As the Order evolved, the Templars were ultimately governed by a detailed set of regulations, appropriately named the 'Rule'. What caused the Rule to be written is a matter of dispute. According to Malcolm Barber, the guiding hand was Saint Bernard, but the actual wording of the Rule was a 'fairly exhaustive process of committee discussion'. This view is disputed by Lynn Picket and Clive Prince who contend that 'Bernard actually wrote the Templars' Rule – which was based on that of the Cistercians ...'
Regardless of how the Rule was written, it absolutely controlled the life of a Templar Knight, whether he was fighting in the east or involved in commerce in the west. Under the Rule, a Templar's lifestyle was beyond austere. He lived as a monk who cropped his hair, let his beard grow and, to avoid temptations of the flesh and to be ready when needed, he always slept clothed. The Templar Knight ate meat only three times a week. He spent a great deal of his time in silence. There was no gossip or small talk. The knight lived in a dormitory-like building and was allowed no privacy. He could not use or own locks. If he received a letter it had to be read to him out loud in the presence of the Master or possibly a chaplain.
While the Templars did not have the powers and sanctity of the priesthood, each day when he was not in battle, which was most of the time, he performed the six liturgical prayers. This occurred every day of a knight's life. The normal Templar's day began early at 4 a.m. with the day's first liturgical prayer, Matins. The Templar brothers would recite thirteen Paternosters (Lord's Prayers) and prayers to Our Lady. They would then tend to their horses and equipment. This was followed by Prime at 6 a.m. which included more prayers and Mass. Then at 11.30 came Sext and the reciting of additional Paternosters and prayers to Our Lady.
After Sext came the afternoon meal, which was eaten in silence. At 2.30 came Nones and more prayers. Then Vespers at 6 p.m. was followed by the evening meal. The sixth and final liturgical prayer was sung at Compline, after which the Templar Knight would attend to his horses and then retire.
In between the times for prayer and meals, the primary tasks for the Templar Knight in Outremer were tending to his horses and arms, and keeping ready for battle. Each knight also worked in the fields and filled in where needed with other simple tasks. The Templars were not permitted to, and never did, remain idle. This routine was followed day in and day out. It did not vary. It applied to all Templars, including knights and sergeants, and all those who abandoned secular life and chose the communal life of the Templars. Once one became accustomed to the routine it became part of the Templar's life, whether he be a knight, sergeant, chaplain or a committed menial worker. The routine was followed in Outremer and in all parts of Europe and the British Isles. The level of commitment is demonstrated by the amount of torture that the French king had to exert, or threaten, before he could begin to extract confessions after the knights' arrests.
On the battlefield the Knights Templar were not only superlative horsemen who constantly trained to perfect tight formations, but were fearless, and dedicated to victory over the Saracens. To this end, they were not permitted to retreat unless the odds against them were at least three to one. In some cases the Templars did not retreat until their forces were outnumbered six to one. Even then, they could not leave the field unless ordered to do so. Surrender was useless because the Templars could not use their funds for ransom. As a result, Templars taken in battle were either traded or, more often, summarily executed. After 1229, when the Templars became an organized fighting force, with up to four horses per knight, a squire and excellent armament, the average lifespan of a Templar Knight who chose to remain in Outremer was about five years.
Even before the adoption of the Rule, each Templar Knight took vows of absolute poverty, chastity and obedience before Warmund of Picquigny, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Surprisingly, only two of the three vows were incorporated into the Rule. Poverty was assumed. The applicable Rules and practices were severe:
Chastity was a very important vow. In the charges brought by King Philip IV of France, sexual deviancy was almost a theme. Yet the writers and commentators are uniform in their opinion that there was little if any lewd or untoward conduct among the Templars. What faults there were lay in the areas of secrecy and avarice which is discussed in later chapters. Chastity was codified in the Rule, article 71, which states:
We believe it to be a dangerous thing for any religious to look too much upon the face of woman. For this reason none of you may presume to kiss a woman, be it widow, young girl, mother, sister, aunt or any other; and henceforth the Knighthood of Jesus Christ should avoid at all cost the embraces of women, by which men have perished many times, so that they may remain eternally before the face of God with a pure conscience and sure life.
Obedience was absolute. It was codified in the Rule at article 39, which states that:
For nothing is dearer to Jesus Christ than obedience. For as soon as something is commanded by the Master or by him to whom the master has given the authority, it should be done without delay as though Christ himself had commanded it.
While there is no specific article in the Rule which commands poverty, the specifics of how a Templar Knight lived left no alternative. Poverty is recognized in the Rule at article 58, which deals with tithes which could be received on behalf of the Order. It states:
You now have abandoned the pleasant riches of this world, we believe you to have willingly subjected yourselves to poverty; therefore we are resolved that you who live the communal life may receive tithes.
Even though the Templar brothers in Scotland were involved only in real estate, commerce and money markets, the Templar Knights lived by the Rule and it was strictly enforced.
THE TEMPLAR HIERARCHY
Every large organization has its bureaucracy. This was as true in the Middle Ages as it is today and the Order was no exception. The Templars not only had a bureaucratic hierarchy, it had specific job descriptions. These primarily evolved between 1129–1160 when the Templars established what today would be called an organization chart or its organizational 'hierarchy'. The hierarchy demonstrates that some things never change. Not even in 800 years. The Templars' organization chart looks just like many seen today.
The Templars' organizational hierarchy was used, to some extent, in Scotland. Some of the offices were the same, others were unique to Scotland. But an understanding of how the Templar organization worked in general, provides a basis for understanding how it was adjusted to accommodate the conditions in Scotland.
The organizational hierarchy was logically codified in the portion of the Rule known as the Hierarchical Statutes. Each of the offices is described separately and listed in sequence, the higher offices first.
Grand Master: The Master of the Temple of Jerusalem was the ultimate leader of the Knights Templar. Although his powers were extensive and his authority in battle absolute, the Rule expressly required that the major internal decisions had to be approved by a Council of Knights, of which the Master was a member, with one vote.
Seneschal: The Seneschal was second in command to the Grand Master and had the Grand Master's full authority in his absence. As the Grand Master's 'right-hand man' he carried the beauseant or piebald, the Templars' black and white banner with the white above and the black below.
Marshal: The Marshal was third in command. He was in charge of all arms and animals used in battle. He was also responsible for the distribution of gifts, alms and booty. In the absence of the Master and the Seneschal, the Marshal was the supreme military commander.
Commander (Grand Marshal/Prior) of the Kingdom of Jerusalem/Grand Treasurer: He was the commander for the province of Jerusalem and was the treasurer for the entire Order.
Commander (Master) of the City of Jerusalem: He ran the city and continued the original task of the Knights Templar: protecting pilgrims en route to Jerusalem. There was a Master for each country who ruled over the commanderies and preceptories in each respective country, such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and England. The Templars in Scotland were ruled by the Commander or Preceptor at Balantrodoch who reported to the Master in London.
Excerpted from The Knights Templar and Scotland by Robert Ferguson. Copyright © 2011 Robert Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1 The Knights Templar of Jerusalem,
2 Balantrodoch: The Life of the Templars,
3 Templar Life, Rights and Privileges,
4 The Excommunication of Robert the Bruce,
5 The Templars' Arrests,
6 The Templars' Flight to Scotland,
7 Scotland's Templar Inquisition,
8 The Knights Templar and the Battle of Bannockburn,
9 Rosslyn Chapel: A Templar Legacy?,
10 The Templars after Bannockburn,
11 The Modern Scottish Knights Templar,
Appendix: Could there have been Templars at Bannockburn?,
About the Author,