The age of the crusades - complex, battle-torn and fiercely pious - encompassed the rise and fall of a singular Order of fighting men, equally devoted to God, war and the defense of Palestine. Here is a meticulously researched and completely absorbing history of that order.
The Knights Templar joined together in 1118, shortly after the first Crusades had swept through the Holy Land and won Jerusalem from Islam. In the strict hierarchy of the feudal world, where every man owed loyalty and allegiance to his overlord, the Templar obeyed no one except the Pope. Acquiring land and castles by gift, conquest and purchase in every part of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, they became a church within the Church, a state within the State. They were bankers, merchants, diplomats and tax gatherers, and though they themselves were poor, the wealth of heir Order was legendary.
Were the Templars, as St. Bernard said, "worthy of all the praise given to men of God," or were they, as Pop Clement V thought, "horrible, wicked and detestable"? Drawing on a rich variety of original source material, Stephen Howarth assesses the faults and fine qualities of the brotherhood, examining the reasons for its initial allure and eventual, ignominious obliteration. Brilliantly elucidating to a wide audience and understanding of the chaotic age that pitched Richard Coeur de Lion against Saladin, and Christian against fellow Christian.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The author has done a remarkable job of further stimulating in this writer a growing passion for the Ancient and noble Military Order known by their shortened name, the Knights Templar. In treating the history of the Order I was thrilled to read of the high minded ideals and great courage shown by such broad and diverse segments of medieval society all of which contributed to the Templar Order. Too often our view of the middle ages is formed in survey courses during undergraduate or even secondary school education and is limited to a picture of serfs, nobility and kings. Here Mr. Howarth gives us sufficient background, aparently drawn from primary sources, to more completely define a picture of European society at the time of the Great Christian Crusades. Although also limiting in that the work stays true to its title and deals mostly with the order of the Templars, it also instructed me in many aspects of 12th century society of which I had previously been unaware. For instance, the dedication of not only the Order but of all transplanted Europeans in The Holy Land following the First Crusade is poignant when considering the motives and driving forces of those who fought constantly in wars and battles not just to 'take the Holy Land' but to save their homes. I have a much clearer picture of the Knights and their role in this fight and in the battle to protect the pilgrim, be he peasant or royalty, from bandits and Saracens. The Order which for almost two hundred years demonstrated high minded idealism, excellence in personal lives and the never ending process of developing fighting skills which could enable them to best accomplish their mission, seems to be the benchmark for so many modern day 'special forces' groups and those of many societies dedicated to a cause greater than themselves as individuals. One has difficulty reading of their training and oaths of loyalty without also thinking of of first hand experience as an officer in the Unites States Marine Corps or any of the other forces in which professionalism, espirit de corps and fealty are traits held in common. Seeing the best of this great order and its devotion is what brings the book to such a devastating conclusion. As any student of history knows, the Templars ended in destruction, not at the hands of overpowering enemies, but from the deceit and treachery of their very sponsors and protectors, the Pope and the King of France. As has been said, there is nothing new under the sun. Certainly in reviewing the character and actions of King Philip 'the fair' we see that his descendants and his culture have retained many of the attributes which brought the Templars, noble of spirit and character, to their treacherous end, the ultimate victims of betrayal. Yet even in that ending is hope taken from the final words of various Templars to their tormentors even while being roasted alive on the fires of their destruction. As the author does confirm, it is impossible for us to ascertain that the curses heaped upon the Pontiff and King Philip were in truth the triggering mechansim for the untimely deaths of those power hungry and duplicitous conspirators, but there is satisfaction in learning of their sudden, untimely and seemingly vindictive deaths and in both cases, within the time prescribed by the cursing brethren. Lastly, and possibly most satisfying to any supporter of the Order was the death of the King's attorney, architect of betrayal, commanded by a dying Knight to appear within forty days before the judge of the Quick and the Dead, and as he did in fact die within thirty three days.
This is not the finest account of the Knights Templar that I have ever read, but it is one that is worth reading.