The United, Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta in England and Wales.
Knights Templar
Provincial Priory of Sussex

Papers of Interest

Two knights on one horse

The Truth and Myths of the Knights Templar

Many words have been written about the original Order of warrior-monks that became known as the Knights Templar. Much can be read about the Order's creation, its success and demise, and its connection with the Masonic Order that we are present at this evening. A great deal of what has been written is unfortunately mere speculation, if not pure fiction; however there is enough evidence available to have enabled us to build a convincing history of the Knights Templar. My intention this evening is not to analyze too deeply the reality of the story but to briefly separate what is known and what is conjecture.

The best accounts of the origin of the Order come from three historians who wrote within 50 – 75 years of the event. Two of these accounts report that two decades after the end of the First Crusade, in either 1118 or 1119, a group of nine French Knights, led by Hugues (Hugh) de Payan took vows of obedience to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Warmund of Picquiny, resolving to live in holy poverty and chastity and promising to devote themselves to the care and protection of Christian pilgrims traveling through the Holy Land. Although Jerusalem itself was in Christian hands, many Muslims still lived within the city walls and the surrounding areas, and pilgrims to Jerusalem were often robbed and killed en route.

The third historian however, wrote that 50-year old Hughes de Payan, who had been fighting in Jerusalem for a number of years, along with a group of thirty Knights, sought to renounce warfare and take Holy Orders. It was King Baldwin II, who had just succeeded his father (or cousin) as King of Jerusalem on April 2nd 1118, who persuaded them that they could better serve Christianity by using their military expertise to protect pilgrims.

However the idea for the Order transpired, all three historians are in agreement that King Baldwin awarded the band of Knights somewhat dilapidated lodgings in the al-Aqsa Mosque near the Dome of the Rock, which was the original site of the Temple of Solomon. So was born the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ, who, because of the location of their lodgings, became better known as the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, and eventually more simply as the Knights Templar.

It has been speculated that the protection of pilgrims offered by the Knights was merely a front to cover up work that they did in searching for some form of treasure within the Temple, though there is very little evidence to support this theory. In 1860 the British Army Engineers mapped out the city of Jerusalem to Ordnance Survey standards during which they excavated beneath Temple Mount and found tunnels, some as deep as 80', in which they found and recorded Templar artifacts. Does this evidence alone prove that the original Templars searched for and found some sort of mysterious treasure? Obviously not!

On a side note: relating to another Order dear to our hearts. The Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, which became better known as the Knights of Malta, had been established almost 40 yrs earlier, in 1080, to provide medical care and shelter for pilgrims and had received papal recognition in 1113. Both orders existing in close proximity to each other had obvious influences on the other as shown in the way that they both developed into similar military-religious Orders.

In the first few years of their existence the band of Temple Knights did live an austere life, wearing secular robes which were donated to them. The seal of the Order of two Knights on a single horse is emblematic of that vow of poverty. However, their fortunes soon took a turn for the better, at least the fortunes of the Order as a whole rather than the individual Knights who were still sworn to poverty. One of the original Knights, who later became a Grand Master, was Andre de Montbard. A nephew of de Montbard was Bernard (later Saint Bernard) of Clairveaux, the Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey in Clairveaux, France. In 1126 de Montbard and another Knight traveled to Europe with two requests of Bernard, 1) to assist with getting papal approval for the Order, and 2) to craft a monastic Rule for the Order to guide Templar conduct. Bernard proved sympathetic and wrote a letter of support to Hugh de Payans entitled “De laude novae militae” ('In praise of the new knighthood'). In 1128 he convened the Council of Troyes, located in Troyes 90 miles south of Paris and also the home of the Court of Hugh I, the Count of Champagne, of whom Hugh de Payan had once been a vassal. The Council was attended by numerous archbishops, bishops and abbots, and a representative of Pope Honorius II. A Rule was written for the Order and the Pope officially recognized them and awarded them their own distinct dress, a plain white robe. A red cross was added to the robe almost 20 years later in 1147. Documents exist to verify these details.

With the support of the Pope the Templars began to flourish at an impressive pace. Membership of the Order grew and was organized according to the Rule to include not only Knights, but also Sergeants and Associates. The Order became known for its military prowess and they developed a reputation as fierce fighters, even though the records show that they actually lost more battles than they won.

In a relatively short space of time the Order also became very wealthy due to two reasons, one was the substantial donations made to it by wealthy European benefactors, in terms of money, land and property which was either used to set up a network of Temples across Europe and the Middle East or leased out to create rental income.

The other reason for their financial success was the commercial activities, such as mills, wine production, trade, shipping etc. that the Order became involved in. The Templars proved to be very adept at commerce and are known for having established the practice of international banking. Instead of travelers to the Holy Land having to carry large amounts of cash with them, they would deposit their valuables with a Temple in Europe and be issued with a 'Note' which could then be redeemed in Jerusalem. This was the forerunner to our modern day system of drawing a 'cheque' against an account. The combination of financial skill and military prowess provided by the Templars became so influential that they began issuing and administering loans to many of the Royal families of Europe and in 1204 the English Crown Jewels were actually deposited at the London Temple for safe keeping. Again, these details are well documented.

During the almost two hundred years following its formation the Order continued to gain favour with the continuous lines of Popes and European Monarchs by providing both military and financial support for the seven subsequent Crusades and other military campaigns. There is much historical evidence to testify to the Templars successful growth and their participation in the Crusades. The Crusades however met with varying degrees of success and failure, culminating in 1291, at the end of the Eighth Crusade, when all Christians were finally expelled from the Holy Land. The Templars under the Grand Master at that time, Theobald Gaudin, took refuge in Cyprus. Two years later, on the death of Gaudin, Jacques de Molay was elected the twenty-third and what was to prove to be the final Grand Master. De Molay was reported to be a rigid, bombastic and outspoken character, which would prove to be his and the Order's downfall.

Although having benefitted from the support of a succession of Popes and Kings, in recent decades the Templars had made a significant number of enemies and faced a growing feeling of resentment towards the privileges they enjoyed. In fact, over 40 yrs earlier, in 1248, King Louis IX of France had advanced the idea of unifying all the military Orders in order to dilute the influence of the Templars. In 1288 Nicholas IV became Pope and he also pushed the idea of uniting the Orders. However, he died in 1292, to be succeeded by Pope Boniface VIII.

The most powerful King in Europe at that time was King Philip IV of France. He was young, ambitious and ruthless. He was also struggling with a huge debt burden created as a result of a number of wars he and his father before him had entered into in order to gain the powerful position he now held. Much of that debt was owed to the Templars. He was so broke that he found it necessary to levy taxes on the Church, which brought him into opposition with Pope Boniface. When Boniface retaliated, by excommunicating Philip in 1303 and threatening to place the whole of France under papal control, Philip sent his 'first lawyer', Guillaume de Nogaret, to arrest and imprison Boniface. De Nogeret was expert at discrediting opponents with accusations of heresy and sexual perversion. He had made these accusations against the Bishop of Parmier in 1301 and did the same to Pope Boniface in 1303. Although released three days after being arrested, eighty-six year old Boniface died within a month and was succeeded by Pope Benedict XI, who lifted Philip's excommunication. Benedict only lasted 8 months himself however before being succeeded by Pope Clement V. Clement was sickly, weak-willed and greedy, and became a tool in King Philip of France's hands. Of the 24 Cardinals he appointed during his papacy, 23 were French. He even moved the Church's headquarters from Rome to Avignon in Southern France. Again, these events are well documented.

In 1306, prior to a visit of the Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, King Philip informed Pope Clement that he had received reliable information that the Templars engaged in heresy and immoral behaviour, - claims which echoed de Nogeret's earlier accusations against Pope Boniface and others. Philip demanded that Pope Clement investigate the matter. The primary evidence for what Philip claimed came from the testimony of a disaffected Templar, Esquin de Floyran. De Floyran later received land from Philip for his testimony and also payment from other monarchs who benefitted from the Templar downfall. His credibility therefore is very questionable and the common belief is that it was the Templar wealth and the debt Philip owed to them which was at the root of his accusations more than any genuine concern for Templar heresy.

At the meeting in 1306, Pope Clement informed de Molay of the claims, to which de Molay reacted angrily and denied the accusations. De Molay also argued against the unification of the military Orders. Clement simply hoped that the matter would go away but things were made more serious for the Templars when De Molay later demanded a full papal inquiry to clear the Order of the accusations. Although Clement tried to stall on the issue he was forced, in 1307, to inform King Philip of his intention to conduct an inquiry. Philip responded by ordering a mandate that all Templars in France should be arrested at dawn on Friday, 13th October 1307 – the origin of the Friday the Thirteenth superstition. All but 20 of the almost five thousand Templars in France were jailed with amazing efficiency. As this event took place during the period of the Inquisition, torture was commonly used and included, according to a letter written by Jacques de Molay himself in January 1308, having the skin torn off his back, belly and thighs. Under that sort of treatment 25 Templars died and de Molay and others 'confessed' to 87 various heretical and immoral acts including denying Christ, spitting on the cross, kissing each other on the buttocks, sodomy and worshiping an idol in the form of a hideous bearded human head. In reality, the only head found in any Temple in France at that time was the skull of a devotee of Saint Ursula, the patron saint of virgins.

King Philip went further and on 16th October appealed to other European monarchs to arrest Templars in their jurisdictions, but was rebuffed by most, who either did not believe his claims or simply disliked him anyway. Templars in those countries, with the support of their monarchs, looked to Pope Clement for protection, but after wavering a little Clement issued the papal bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae on 22nd November 1307 which required the Kings of England, Ireland, Castile, Aragon, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Cyprus to arrest all Templars within their borders and sequester their property, in the name of the Pope. As this was an instruction coming from the Church itself, it placed greater pressure on those monarchs to comply.

Proceedings lasted another seven years and are well documented as they moved backwards and forwards between Pope Clements hesitancy and King Philip's determination, and included Templar confessions that were made and then recanted. During these years, the Templar wealth was systematically looted while the Templars outside of France gradually disappeared from sight or joined other Orders. On 16th October 1311 Pope Clement convened the Council of Vienne during which the abolition of the Templars was supposed to be announced. But it was not until 22nd March 1312 that he presented his papal bull 'Vox in excelso', dissolving the Knights Templar, to a secretly convened consistory of the Council and not until 3rd April 1312 did he read it publicly. The final act for the Templars took place on 18th March 1314 when Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney, the Preceptor of Normandy, were burned at the stake for having retracted their latest confessions.

Legend has it that as he burned de Molay cursed both Pope Clement and King Philip and charged that within a year they would both meet him before God to answer for their crimes. Indeed, Clement succumbed to illness a month later, on 20th April, and Philip died after being thrown from his horse on 29th November. The only chronicle available from the death of de Molay and de Charney recounts that “They were seen to be so prepared to sustain the fire with an easy mind and will that they brought with them much admiration and surprise for the constancy of their death and final denial”. No mention of any curse, which suggests that rather than de Molay's curse being responsible for the timing of their deaths, it is the timing of their deaths that was responsible for the curse.

Now, my Brother Knights, if the death of its Grand Master in 1314 is recognized as the day that the Order of Knights Templar ceased to exist, then what are we doing sitting around in this Preceptory this evening dressed as we are?

Well, the earliest references to masonic Knight Templar activity are found in Ireland from the 1760's. The earliest records in England come from Portsmouth in 1777, where rituals appear to have been worked under Royal Arch warrants. It was not until 1791 that a Grand Conclave was founded and Thomas Dunckerley was installed as Grand Master. As we all know, the Order is now administered by Great Priory which operates out of Mark Mason's Hall in London. There was therefore, a period of over 450 years between the end of the military Order of Knights Templar and the earliest records of our masonic version. What happened in those intervening years is the subject of much speculation. Great Priory specifically states that despite the name of our modern day Order – THE UNITED RELIGIOUS, MILITARY AND MASONIC ORDERS OF THE TEMPLE AND ST. JOHN OF JERUSALEM, PALESTINE, RHODES AND MALTA - no claim is made to any historical or ritual connection with the old military Orders of the same names.

However, it has been hypothesized that following Pope Clements bull, the surviving Templars went into hiding in order to protect themselves from the reach of the Church, but continued the pursuit of their practices, which eventually developed into what we now know as Freemasonry. There is some evidence to support this theory.

Only three months after Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake, Robert the Bruce and his army of approximately 6,000 faced an English force of 20,000, led by King Edward II, at Bannockburn in Scotland. Evidence exists that Templars made up part of the Bruce's army and helped it to defeat Edward's force against the odds. One report of the battle claims that it was the Templars who made the difference, entering the battle later and whose well-known pennants (flags) and tabards (battle clothes) struck fear into the English. Interestingly, one of the oldest masonic Orders, the Royal Order of Scotland, contains a degree that is based on the Battle of Bannockburn.

It is also noteworthy that King Edward had been quick to accede to and profit from, the wishes of Pope Clement to arrest Templars and as a result there was probably no love within the surviving Templars for him or his son. On the other hand Robert the Bruce had welcomed the Templars military skills, but, it is conjectured that in order to not be seen to be ignoring Clements papal bull, he encouraged them to go 'underground'.

Present at Bannockburn, on the Scots side, were many prestigious Scottish Knights who are known to have had strong connections with the Templars, including members of the St. Clair (Sinclair) and the Seton families. It is recorded that a colleague of Hugh de Payans during the First Crusade in Jerusalem was a fellow Frenchman, Henri St. Clair, who was a relative of the Scottish St. Clairs. On one of his early fundraising trips to Europe in 1126, de Payans actually visited the home of the St. Clairs in Roslin, just outside Edinburgh, where he was given land to build the first Templar Preceptory outside the Holy Land. The Temple was eventually built at Balantrodoch, just a few miles from Roslin, and a number of generations of the Setons presided over it as Preceptor. Interestingly, the village of Balantrodoch still exists today but its name has been changed to 'Temple', but I know from personal investigation I did last year that unfortunately there are no remains of the original Temple building there.

Other evidence of the St. Clair family involvement with the Templars is found in William St. Clair, who fought at Bannockburn and was the last Grand Master of the Scottish Knights Templar. In the mid-1400's, his descendent, Sir William St. Clair, built the enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel in the village of Roslin. Another very interesting link is that in 1736, yet another William Sinclair (different spelling) of Roslin was made First Masonic Grand Master of Scotland.

In March 1737, Andrew Michael Ramsey, presented to the Grand Lodge of France a paper which has become known as the Ramsey Oration. Ramsey was a Scot who had been Initiated into Freemasonry on 16th March 1729, at age 48 years and moved to France the following year where he became Orator of the Louis L'Argent Lodge in Paris during the early years of French Freemasonry. In his Oration Ramsey specifically linked the growing masonic fraternity to the medieval military Orders.

It has even been hypothesized that the Sinclair family are direct descendents of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, and that this was the mystical secret uncovered by the original band of Templars in the Temple ruins. This story arose from the 1982 book 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' which was picked up and popularized by Dan Brown in his novel 'The Da Vinci Code'. This story, while titillating, frankly has little evidence to support it and relies on a great deal of conjecture.

More interestingly is a Lecture entitled, 'The Origins of Freemasonry' which was given to the 5th International Conference of Great Priories in Stirling, Scotland, on 25 August 2000 by Dr Robert Lomas of the University of Bradford. In his lecture Dr Lomas argues strongly that freemasonry, in the form that we know it, actually started with the building of Rosslyn Chapel. He cites the identical layout of the Chapel and the Third Temple in Jerusalem, built by Herod. He also takes a systematic look at some of the carved symbols in the Chapel and constructs a link between the original Knights Templar and modern freemasonry.

My Brother Knights, although we cannot say for certain at this stage in history what the origins are for this Order that we sit in this evening, it is fun to speculate. My hope is that as technology advances we will be able to uncover more evidence as to what the true story is. In the mean time, let us be content to continue to enjoy the brotherhood and fraternal love that epitomizes our meetings.

The Siege of Rhodes, 1522.

This little talk is a supplement to part of the Address just given - an added interest item. A little extra history concerning a significant event in the Order's annals.

Firstly, as we all know, our Masonic Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta has no historic link with the knights of old, there is no linear descent. Our ties are purely symbolic. Nevertheless, I am sure that those who formulated our Order's ritual - and, indeed, we ourselves, are suitably impressed and inspired by the virtues, good works, valour and the Christian Faith of those Knights of the olden days.

In the historic military order which had existed for a very long time - and our Masonic ritual gives a potted summary of events - there are bound to have been some epic chapters, milestones of their history, events of a heroic nature.

Now if we look at the two standards in the East of the Chapter House - that on the left the Standard of St. John, and that on the right of Malta - we see they both have the initials FERT. Now, whoever designed these standards considered these letters representative of something significant. They are, in effect, a permanent memorial to that "something". As you will recall from the ritual, we accept them "as standing for 'Fortitudine Ejus Rhodium Tenuit' meaning 'with courage he held Rhodes', and refer to the valour of the last Grand Master, de L'Isle Adam who held Rhodes for many years until basely betrayed by one of his own Knights". Yes, to the valour of de L'Isle Adam, and, by implication, to the men under his command - and this was at the great siege of Rhodes of 1522 when the island was "besieged by the Turks under the Emperor Soleyman the First" - Suliman the Magnificent, the Great Turk, the Scourge of Heaven!

Now lets go back a bit - the island of Rhodes is about 11 miles from the Turkish shore . In early times it was connected with the Byzantine Empire - by the fourteenth century, however, that empire was in a steady state of decay - and in 1310 (the island) "became the property of the forces of the Order". The Byzantine Empire collapsed in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Empire was in the ascendant, a rising super power. And it wanted to secure dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean, the only obstacle was Christendom's outpost in Rhodes - the Knights of St. John.

For many years Rhodes was under increasing threat of Turkish invasion. A major attempt to capture the island was made in 1480, but failed. It was only a matter of time before the Turks would come again. A formidable system of defences was constructed. The port city was protected by two and, in some places three, rings of stone walls and several large bastions. (As we learn from the ritual "the remains of the fortifications erected in Rhodes by the Knights still bear testimony to their architectural talent and their engineering ability".

Things came to a head in 1522, when the Ottoman Emperor Suliman attacked with such force as he hoped would secure the island once and for all for his empire.

In command on Rhodes was de L'Isle Adam - Philippe Villiers de L'Isle Adam: the 44th Grand Master of the Order, b. 1464. He had been elected to that Office only the previous year - it is relevant to mention there were three candidates at that election: de L'Isle Adam, Grand Prior of France - Andrea d'Amaral, Grand Prior of Castile and Grand Chancellor, and the Grand Prior of England. For various reasons d'Amaral, who was said to be an arrogant man, bore a grudge against De L'Isle Adam, and seriously thought that he should have been the new Grand Master instead. This was not to bode well for the future.

De L'Isle Adam had under his command very approximately 7,000 fighting men (statistics in those days were not very precise), of whom about 600 were members of the Order.

Suliman had amassed a fleet of 400 ships and a huge army of around 100,000 men (some say 200,000!), and these began to cross over from the mainland towards the end of June, 1522.

He did not have an easy task before him. It would take a long time to breach those thick walls; it would be a campaign of attrition. Rhodes harbour was blockaded, an intensive artillery bombardment began, and regular raids were made against the various defences. In an attempt to undermine the fortifications tunnelling and mining operations were commenced. These began to have their effect. Breaches were made, and several massive attacks were made; the Turks, however, who, in spite of overwhelming numbers, were driven back for the time being. Often, where the fighting was thickest, de L'Isle Adam was to be found under the Banner of the Cross leading the defenders from the front. He was a very brave man, and leader of men.

As the months passed morale began to fall on both sides. Suliman, having lost many thousands on the battlefield and from disease, was beginning to wonder if he could ever take the city and island. And the number of Christian defenders was continually dwindling to be almost insufficient effectively to defend the walls for much longer. And there was no prospect of reinforcements. Pleas for help from Europe had fallen on deaf ears. And other problems were to trouble the defenders.

There were spies in both camps. There was certainly more than one in Rhodes city. A man called Blaise Diaz, a servant of Andrea d'Amaral, the man who had a grudge against the Grand Master, was seen on several occasions at unsocial hours going to the ramparts, and firing arrows with messages towards the Turks. Diaz was arrested, and interrogated under duress - on the rack. He soon confessed that it was his master who ordered him to send the messages. D'Amaral was then arrested, and was also interrogated under duress - severely, but confessed nothing (there is no doubting his courage). It seems surprising that a Knight who had served the Order for more than 40 years - since the days of the defence of Rhodes in 1480 - should now betray it to the Turks. But the evidence seemed stacked against him, and both he and Diaz were executed. Even now there is some question his guilt. Inevitably, that such a senior Knight could be executed for treason did not help the Order's morale.

Suliman persevered with the siege, and it was only a matter of time before the city should fall.

Many of the Knights were willing to fight to the end like their valiant forebears in the Holy Land, but another factor to consider was the civilian population. Suliman had said if he took the place by storm he would put the entire population to the sword, or sell it into slavery. For the Knights it would have been a glorious defeat, and also most certainly the end of the Order.

De L'Isle Adam was able negotiate a conditional surrender with Suliman whereby the rights of the civilian population should be respected, and the surviving Knights (and any civilians who wished to do so) could leave, and, indeed, the surviving garrison "was permitted to depart with all the honours of war". Rhodes - the Order's home for over 200 years - was lost. The siege had ended in defeat. But the defence had been long and heroic, a tiny force had held at bay a huge well provided army for six months. The courage of the defenders under the inspiring leadership and valour of de L'Isle Adam deserve to have a permanent memorial on the two standards in the East of the Chapter House. (As a comment, our ritual tells us de L'Isle Adam was the last Grand Master "who held Rhodes for many years …". He was elected Grand Master in 1521; and departed the island on 1st January, 1523. Thus he was there in that office for less than two years.)

And in postscript, we know that after the evacuation the Knights "found refuge in the island of Candia (Crete) and elsewhere" - with de L'Isle Adam still as their leader. In fact, they had a somewhat nomadic existence for several years. Their future was uncertain. The Order needed to rebuild and recruit, and find a new home, not an easy task. Even in the 16th century, the idea of crusading warrior monks dreaming of the Holy Places, or even just a return to Rhodes, was becoming archaic. Certainly some of the western Christian states were establishing profitable trading ties with the Ottoman Empire, and they were not going to put them at risk.

However, the Order held together under the determined leadership of de L'Isle Adam, and as we read in the ritual "in 1530, the Emperor Charles V (of the Holy Roman Empire) ceded the Island of Malta to the Order". De L'Isle Adam died in 1534.

The Island of Rhodes remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912 when it was captured by the Italians during the Italo-Turkish War.

So when you see the letters FERT on the two Standards, I hope they will now have a greater significance for you.


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