The Temple: General Introduction

Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Walter Thornbury, 'The Temple: General Introduction', in Old and New London: Volume 1, (London, 1878) pp. 147-149. British History Online [accessed 18 May 2024].

Walter Thornbury. "The Temple: General Introduction", in Old and New London: Volume 1, (London, 1878) 147-149. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2024,

Thornbury, Walter. "The Temple: General Introduction", Old and New London: Volume 1, (London, 1878). 147-149. British History Online. Web. 18 May 2024,

In this section



Origin of the Order of Templars—First Home of the Order—Removal to the Banks of the Thames—Rules of the Order—The Templars at the Crusades, and their Deeds of Valour—Decay and Corruption of the Order—Charges brought against the Knights—Abolition of the Order.

The Order of Knights Templars, established by Baldwin, King of Jerusalem, in 1118, to protect Christian pilgrims on their road to Jerusalem, first found a home in England in 1128 (Henry I.), when Hugh de Payens, the first Master of the Order, visited our shores to obtain succours and subsidies against the Infidel.

The proud, and at first zealous, brotherhood originally settled on the south side of Holborn, without the Bars. Indeed, about a century and a half ago, part of a round chapel, built of Caen stone, was found under the foundation of some old houses at the Holborn end of Southampton Buildings. In time, however, the Order amassed riches, and, growing ambitious, purchased a large space of ground extending from Fleet Street to the river, and from Whitefriars to Essex House in the Strand. The new Temple was a vast monastery, fitted for the residence of the prior, his chaplain, serving brethren and knights; and it boasted a council-chamber, a refectory, a barrack, a church, a range of cloisters, and a river terrace for religious meditation, military exercise, and the training of chargers. In 1185 Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had come to England with the Masters of the Temple and the Hospital to procure help from Henry II. against the victorious Saladin, consecrated the beautiful river-side church, which the proud Order had dedicated to the Virgin Lady Mary. The late Master of the Temple had only recently died in a dungeon at Damascus, and the new Master of the Hospital, after the great defeat of the Christians at Jacob's Ford, on the Jordan, had swam the river covered with wounds, and escaped to the Castle of Beaufort.

The singular rules of the "Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and of the Temple of Solomon," were revised by the first Abbot of Clairvaux, St. Bernard himself. Extremely austere and earnest, they were divided into seventy-two heads, and enjoined severe and constant devotional exercises, self-mortification, fasting, prayer, and regular attendance at matins, vespers, and all the services of the Church. Dining in one common refectory, the Templars were to make known wants that could not be expressed by signs, in a gentle, soft, and private way. Two and two were in general to live together, so that one might watch the other. After departing from the supper hall to bed it was not permitted them to speak again in public, except upon urgent necessity, and then only in an undertone. All scurrility, jests, and idle words were to be avoided; and after any foolish saying, the repetition of the Lord's Prayer was enjoined. All professed knights were to wear white garments, both in summer and winter, as emblems of chastity. The esquires and retainers were required to wear black or, in provinces where that coloured cloth could not be procured, brown. No gold or silver was to be used in bridles, breastplates, or spears, and if ever that furniture was given them in charity, it was to be discoloured to prevent an appearance of superiority or arrogance. No brother was to receive or despatch letters without the leave of the master or procurator, who might read them if he chose. No gift was to be accepted by a Templar till permission was first obtained from the Master. No knight should talk to any brother of his previous frolics and irregularities in the world. No brother, in pursuit of worldly delight, was to hawk, to shoot in the woods with long or cross-bow, to halloo to dogs, or to spur a horse after game. There might be married brothers, but they were to leave part of their goods to the chapter, and not to wear the white habit. Widows were not to dwell in the preceptories. When travelling, Templars were to lodge only with men of the best repute, and to keep a light burning all night "lest the dark enemy, from whom God preserve us, should find some opportunity." Unrepentant brothers were to be cast out. Last of all, every Templar was to shun "feminine kisses," whether from widow, virgin, mother, sister, aunt, or any other woman.

During six of the seven Crusades (1096–1272), during which the Christians of Europe endeavoured, with tremendous yet fitful energy, to wrest the birthplace of Christianity from the equally fanatic Moslems, the Knights Templars fought bravely among the foremost. Whether by the side of Godfrey of Bouillon, Louis VII., Philip V., Richard Cœur de Lion, Louis IX., or Prince Edward, the stern, sunburnt men in the white mantles were ever foremost in the shock of spears. Under many a clump of palm trees, in many a scorched desert track, by many a hill fortress, smitten with sabre or pierced with arrow, the holy brotherhood dug the graves of their slain companions.

A few of the deeds, which must have been so often talked of upon the Temple terrace and in the Temple cloister, must be narrated, to show that, however mistaken was the ideal of the Crusaders, these monkish warriors fought their best to turn it into a reality. In 1146 the whole brotherhood joined the second Crusade, and protected the rear of the Christian army in its toilsome march through Asia Minor. In 1151, the Order saved Jerusalem, and drove back the Infidels with terrible slaughter. Two years later the Master of the Temple was slain, with many of the white mantles, in fiercely essaying to storm the walls of Ascalon. Three years after this 300 Templars were slain in a Moslem ambuscade, near Tiberias, and 87 were taken prisoners. We next find the Templars repelling the redoubtable Saladin from Gaza; and in a great battle near Ascalon, in 1177, the Master of the Temple and ten knights broke through the Mameluke Guards, and all but captured Saladin in his tent. The Templars certainly had their share of Infidel blows, for, in 1178, the whole Order was nearly slain in a battle with Saladin; and in another fierce conflict, only the Grand Master and two knights escaped; while again at Tiberias, in 1187, they received a cruel repulse, and were all but totally destroyed.

In 1187, when Saladin took Jerusalem, he next besieged the great Templar stronghold of Tyre; and soon after a body of the knights, sent from London, attacked Saladin's camp in vain, and the Grand Master and nearly half of the Order perished. In the subsequent siege of Acre the Crusaders lost nearly 100,000 men in nine pitched battles. In 1191, however, Acre was taken, and the Kings of France and England, and the Masters of the Temple and the Hospital, gave the throne of the Latin kingdom to Guy de Lusignan. When Richard Cœur de Lion had cruelly put to death 2,000 Moslem prisoners, we find the Templars interposing to prevent Richard and the English fighting against the Austrian allies; and soon after the Templars bought Cyprus of Richard for 300,000 livres of gold. In the advance to Jerusalem the Templars led the van of Richard's army. When the attack on Jerusalem was suspended, the Templars followed Richard to Ascalon, and soon afterwards gave Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, on condition of his surrendering the Latin crown. When Richard abandoned the Crusade, after his treaty with Saladin, it was the Templars who gave him a galley and the disguise of a Templar's white robe to secure his safe passage to an Adriatic port. Upon Richard's departure they erected many fortresses in Palestine, especially one on Mount Carmel, which they named Pilgrim's Castle.

The fourth Crusade was looked on unfavourably by the brotherhood, who now wished to remain at peace with the Infidel, but they nevertheless soon warmed to the fighting, and we find a band of the white mantles defeated and slain at Jaffa. With a second division of Crusaders the Templars quarrelled, and were then deserted by them. Soon after the Templars and Hospitallers, now grown corrupt and rich, quarrelled about lands and fortresses; but they were still favoured by the Pope, and helped to maintain the Latin throne. In 1209 they were strong enough to resist the interdict of Pope Innocent; and in the Crusade of 1217 they invaded Egypt, and took Damietta by assault, but, at the same time, to the indignation of England, wrote home urgently for more money. An attack on Cairo proving disastrous, they concluded a truce with the Sultan in 1221. In the Crusade of the Emperor Frederick the Templars refused to join an excommunicated man. In 1240, the Templars wrested Jerusalem from the Sultan of Damascus, but, in 1243, were ousted by the Sultan of Egypt and the Sultan of Damascus, and were almost exterminated in a two days' battle; and, in 1250, they were again defeated at Mansourah. When King Louis was taken prisoner, the Infidels demanded the surrender of all the Templar fortresses in Palestine, but eventually accepted Damietta alone and a ransom, which Louis exacted from the Templars. In 1257 the Moguls and Tartars took Jerusalem, and almost annihilated the Order, whose instant submission they required. In 1268 Pope Urban excommunicated the Marshal of the Order, but the Templars nevertheless held by their comrade, and Bendocdar, the Mameluke, took all the castles belonging to the Templars in Armenia, and also stormed Antioch, which had been a Christian city 170 years.

After Prince Edward's Crusade the Templars were close pressed. In 1291, Aschraf Khalil besieged the two Orders and 12,000 Christians in Acre for six terrible weeks. The town was stormed, and all the Christian prisoners, who flew to the Infidel camp, were ruthlessly beheaded. A few of the Templars flew to the Convent of the Temple, and there perished; the Grand Master had already fallen; a handful of the knights only escaping to Cyprus.

The persecution of the now corrupt and useless Order commenced sixteen years afterwards. In 1306, both in London and Paris, terrible murmurs arose at their infidelity and their vices. At the Church of St. Martin's, Ludgate, where the English Templars were accused, the following charges were brought against them:—

1. That at their first reception into the Order, they were admonished by those who had received them within the bosom of the fraternity to deny Christ, the crucifixion, the blessed Virgin, and all the saints. 5. That the receivers instructed those that were received that Christ was not the true God. 7. That they said Christ had not suffered for the redemption of mankind, nor been crucified but for His own sins. 9. That they made those they received into the Order spit upon the cross. 10. That they caused the cross itself to be trampled under foot. 11. That the brethren themselves did sometimes trample on the same cross. 14. That they worshipped a cat, which was placed in the midst of the congregation. 16. That they did not believe the sacrament of the altar, nor the other sacraments of the Church. 24. That they believed that the Grand Master of the Order could absolve them from their sins. 25. That the visitor could do so. 26. That the preceptors, of whom many were laymen, could do it. 36. That the receptions of the brethren were made clandestinely. 37. That none were present but the brothers of the said Order. 38. That for this reason there has for a long time been a vehement suspicion against them. 46. That the brothers themselves had idols in every province, viz., heads, some of which had three faces, and some one, and some a man's skull. 47. That they adored that idol, or those idols, especially in their great chapters and assemblies. 48. That they worshipped them. 49. As their God. 50. As their saviour. 51. That some of them did so. 52. That the greater part did. 53. They said those heads could save them. 54. That they could produce riches. 55. That they had given to the Order all its wealth. 56. That they caused the earth to bring forth seed. 57. That they made the trees to flourish. 58. That they bound or touched the heads of the said idols with cords, wherewith they bound themselves about their shirts, or next their skins. 59. That at their reception, the aforesaid little cords, or others of the same length, were delivered to each of the brothers. 61. That it was enjoined them to gird themselves with the said little cords, as before mentioned, and continually to wear them. 62. That the brethren of the Order were generally received in that manner. 63. That they did these things out of devotion. 64. That they did them everywhere. 65. That the greater part did. 66. That those who refused the things above mentioned at their reception, or to observe them afterwards, were killed or cast into prison.

The Order was proud and arrogant, and had many enemies. The Order was rich, and spoil would reward its persecutors. The charges against the knights were eagerly believed; many of the Templars were burned at the stake in Paris, and many more in various parts of France. In England their punishment seems to have been less severe. The Order was formally abolished by Pope Clement V., in the year 1312.