Templars, Or Knights Of The Temple (Lat. milltes templi), the most celebrated and powerful of the mediaeval military orders of Christendom. Its origin dates from 11 17, when two French knights, Ungues des Patens and Geoffroi de Saint-Ademar or Saint-Omer, took on themselves the obligation of escorting the pilgrims who continually journeyed between Jerusalem and the river Jordan. They were soon joined by seven other knights, and were permitted by the patriarch of Jerusalem to add to the three usual monastic vows a fourth binding them to defend the holy sepulchre and to protect pilgrims travelling through Palestine. They were generously befriended and encouraged in the beginning by the knights hospitallers of St. John. They were very poor, being called " the poor soldiers of the holy city;" and the two founders in their first excursions rode on one horse, a fact perpetuated on the great seal of the order. Baldwin II., king of Jerusalem, gave them a lodging in his palace near the traditional site of the temple, and the canons of the adjoining church granted them a house for an armory.
Their number was not allowed to increase beyond nine till the council of Troyes, 1127 - 8', which Ungues des Paiens and five of his brethren attended, and which commissioned St. Bernard of Clair-vaux to draw up a rule for them, and devise a habit suitable to their mode of life. This rule, approved by Pope Honorius II. in 1128, is divided into 72 articles, several additions having been made. It bound the knights to be present at the public canonical office, and when absent on military service to recite certain vocal prayers at the stated hours; they were to abstain from flesh meat four days in the week, and to refrain from hunting and hawking; each knight was to have three horses and a squire. Their oath, on making their religious profession, bound them to defend at the peril of their lives the mysteries of the Christian faith, the seven sacraments, the 14 articles of belief, the Apostles' and Athanasian creeds, the Old and New Testaments with the interpretations of the fathers as approved by the church, the unity of the divine nature and the trinity of persons, and the virginity of the mother of Christ both before and after his birth; to perform military service beyond the seas whenever called upon to do so; and never to fly before three infidels, even when alone.
The knights were given a white tunic and mantle to distinguish them from the hospitallers, the squires and servitors wearing black or the colors common to the country; and in 1146 they were permitted to wear a red cross on the left breast, the hospitallers wearing a white cross on their black mantles. Their banner was of white linen striped with black, and was thence called beauseant, the name given at the time to a horse marked with black and white, and heauseant became also the battle cry of the order; the red cross was added in 1166. Their helmet, in token of humility, had no crest, and their beards were uncut. The members were classed into knights, squires, servitors, and later chaplains, who were priests of noble birth. On assuming the habit of the order all were girt with a cincture of linen thread, as a badge of their service. The order was divided into provinces, the provinces into priories or bailiwicks, and these into precep-tories, composed of a single house or several houses in close proximity. Over the whole order presided the master or grand master, having as his lieutenant the grand seneschal, both of whom, as well as the grand marshal, treasurer, etc, were elected by the knights in general chapter.
The provinces were governed by provincial masters, grand priors, or grand preceptors; and the inferior officers were designated respectively as priors or bailiffs and preceptors. The head province and residence of the grand master was Jerusalem, and its chapter in ordinary times was invested with all the powers belonging to the whole order assembled in general chapter. Pope Alexander III. allowed the order to receive priests as chaplains, without binding them by a military vow. They were ex officio secretaries to the local chapters, and were often appointed preceptors, but were not eligible to the higher offices. The order came in course of time to be designated as sovereign, the grand master owing no allegiance to any prince, and being solely dependent on the pope in spirituals. Their houses were privileged, the ordinaries having no jurisdiction over them; their churches and cemeteries were not liable to interdicts; their properties and revenues were exempted from tithes and taxation; and no person who had made profession as a templar could leave the order, unless he entered another of stricter observance. Many persons sought to be affiliated with the templars without being bound by vows, in order to share these manifold exemptions.
There were also ob-lati, who in return for these privileges pledged themselves to maintain the rights of the order, and donati, or children given from infancy to be reared and incorporated therein. - The warm interest taken by St. Bernard in the soldiers of the temple, his enthusiastic advocacy of their cause, the solemn approbation given to it by the council of Troyes and Honorius II., and the heroic services already rendered by its first members to the Christians of Palestine, made them at once favorites with the princes and peoples of Christendom. The little band of nine soon grew into as many thousands. St. Bernard, whom the templars always designated as their "father," addressed them in 1146, at the prayer of Ungues des Paiens, a series of exhortations, in which he defines their duties and the virtues peculiar to their profession. But while detailing their recent services and their extraordinary increase, he mentions a circumstance pointing to an early cause of degeneracy : " that the greater number of the nobles who have joined the soldiers of the temple had been men stained by every species of crime, whose conversion, while ridding Europe of oppressors and scourges, gave defenders to Palestine." In the East, besides the province of Jerusalem, the order possessed those of Tripoli and Antioch; in the West were the provinces of France, Auvergne, Normandy, Aqui-taine, Poitou, Provence, England (including Ireland and Scotland), Germany, Upper and Central Italy, Apulia, Sicily, Portugal, Castile, Leon, and Aragon. The French provinces were by far the most important, and gave to the order the great majority of its members, as well as its wealthiest possessions.
So rapidly had these accumulated throughout Christendom, that Matthew Paris affirms that in the middle of the 13th century they held 9,000 manors. They became more interested in extending and guarding their possessions than in affording protection to pilgrims; and notwithstanding their unquestioned prowess and daring, their frequent feuds with the rival order of the hospitallers, and their open licentiousness and lust of gain, often injured the cause to which they had devoted themselves. They aided or thwarted the plans of campaigns at their pleasure, and frequently stained their knightly name and fame by open treachery, as in the sixth crusade under the emperor Frederick II., the partial failure of which was attributed to the machinations of the templars. During the gradual decline of the Christian kingdom in Palestine they endeavored by separate treaties with the Saracens to secure their own possessions in that country. After having their chief seat successively in Jerusalem (1118-87), Antioch (1187-'91), Acre (1191-1217), and the Pilgrim's Castle near Caesarea (1217 - '91), they were nevertheless compelled at the final extinction of the Latin power in Palestine in 1291 to remove to the island of Cyprus, which they had purchased from Richard I. of England for 35,000 silver marks.
Though driven out of the Holy Land, the organization evinced no signs of decay, and its extensive ramification throughout Europe drew upon it the suspicion and jealousy of princes, whose cupidity was also excited by its immense wealth. Under the influence of these motives, and irritated by his inability to tax the order, Philip the Fair of France determined upon its destruction, and induced Pope Clement V. to have a judicial inquiry instituted into the orthodoxy and morality of the order. Accordingly, in 1306 Jacques de Molay, the grand master of the templars, was enticed to Paris, and on Oct. 13, 1307, all the members of the order in France, including De Molay himself, were taken into custody, and their houses and goods were everywhere seized. The formal charges imputed to them grave heresies and idolatry connected with their secret rites of initiation and internal discipline, and graver violations of morality; but there was no evidence of these beyond their own confessions, wrung from them by torture.
The pope hesitated to promulgate the decree for the extinction of the order; but Philip procured one of his creatures, the archbishop of Sens, whose jurisdiction extended over Paris, to convoke his provincial council in that city on May 10, 1310; and on the 13th of the month, by command of that body, 54 members of the order were burned at the stake in a field behind the abbey of St. Antoine. The example was imitated elsewhere, and on May 2, 1312, Clement on his own responsibility, the general council of Vienne then in session being averse to precipitate measures, issued a bull for the abolition of the templars. In it he expressly declares that he does not pronounce "a definitive judgment" on the guilt of the templars, the charges against them not being proven; but that to prevent the further growth of a monstrous scandal, and for the greater good of Christendom, he suppresses the order, reserving to the holy see a final judgment as well as the disposition of the persons and property of the members. Their movable property was for the most part appropriated by the sovereigns of the countries in which it was deposited; and although their landed possessions were nominally transferred to the hospitallers, the crown as a general thing secured the disposition of them.
The order ceased at once throughout Christendom except in Portugal, where it assumed the name of the knights of Christ, which order still subsists. Finally De Molay, Guy of Auvergne, and other high dignitaries of the order were burned at the stake, March 18,1314.