Knights Templar in Yorkshire

Knights Templar in Yorkshire

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Knights Templar in Yorkshire by Diane Holloway, Trish Colton, Dr. Evelyn Lord

Where can you see an effigy of a Templar? What prompted King John to hand England over to an Italian? Who worked for the Templars in Yorkshire? The Knights Templar in Yorkshire answers all these questions and many more. This new book explores what medieval life was like during the Templars' stay in Yorkshire. Not only was it the biggest county in Britain, but in Templar terms it was also the richest. They owned more land, property and people in Yorkshire than in any other county in England. This fascinating volume takes the reader on an intimate tour of the ten major Templar sites established in Yorkshire, and reveals what life was like for their inhabitants - how the land war farmed, what the population ate, how they were taxed and local legends. Illustrated with an intriguing collection of photographs and specially commissioned maps, this book is sure to appeal to anyone interested in medieval history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752473604
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 10/24/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
File size: 6 MB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Knights Templar in Yorkshire

By Diane Holloway, Trish Colton

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 Diane Holloway and Trish Colton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-7360-4



'The purpose of all war is peace'

Saint Augustine

'The Order of the Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem' was the full title of the enigma that became known simply as the Knights Templar. The first group of nine knights was offered part of the sacred Temple on the Mount to set up their quarters. This was a generous gesture on the part of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, since it was within the walls of his own palace. The title 'Templar' was simply derived from the fact that their quarters were situated within the Temple at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In time, the Knights Templar became superb builders, their castles and preceptories extended throughout the Holy Land. They had a hand in the rise of Gothic cathedrals in France and the round church became their trademark. The Order had knowledge of sacred geometry and intricate symbolism. The Templars touched almost every part of life: they were astute bankers, scribes, diplomats, administrators, negotiators, ship owners, war commanders, agricultural specialists; the list is endless. The legacy they left infiltrates all walks of our working life today. For instance, the credit card in its simplest form came about because the Templars introduced a promissory note, safeguarding huge sums of money both for pilgrims and kings.

The organisation of the Order followed a rigid formation, with the Grand Master at the head of the Order and regional Masters in various European countries; then the preceptor at the preceptories and their staff, which usually included chaplains and sergeants. In Yorkshire, all the preceptories came under the direction of York, though clearly the individual preceptors had a great deal of autonomy. A preceptory was a cross between a monastery and a manor. The Templars saw their main function as fulfilling their duty to God and spent time at prayer, just as any other religious order would have done. But they were also, essentially, lords of the manor and had to run that side of things effectively too. In order to run an efficient administration, they often employed people to carry out everyday functions for them.

Creation of the Knights Templar

There were three main Military Orders to begin with, each springing from passive origins. The Knights Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights founded hospitals in the Middle East for pilgrims travelling from Europe to the holy city of Jerusalem. Until roughly the end of the eleventh century, the prevailing Muslims were happy to allow Christians to travel through the Middle East without duress to visit their holy place. However, in about 1095, Muslims from Turkey overran the Holy Land and from then pilgrims were no longer able to have safe passage. Many pilgrims were killed by the Muslims in their effort to visit Jerusalem. One very gruesome episode occurred at Eastertide in 1119 when a large number of pilgrims rested at an oasis and were set upon and killed by Muslim soldiers – not many lived to tell the tale. Now the journeys were not only arduous, but very dangerous as well. It was this event that led to the concept of the Knights Templar Order with their pledge to give safe passage to pilgrims. Hospitals became much in demand. In 1113, the Hospital of St John was recognised through a papal bull issued by Pope Paschal II to tend to the sick and weary pilgrim travellers.

In around 1127, the German hospital of St Mary in Jerusalem was founded and with it the embryonic beginning of the Teutonic Knights. Interestingly, in 1143, Pope Celestine II ordered the Knights Hospitallers to take over the management of the German hospital in Jerusalem, although he specified that it should maintain German roots and German speaking Brothers as German pilgrims did not speak French or understand Latin very well. After the loss of Jerusalem in 1187, another German hospital was founded around 1190 during the siege of Acre. This was the foundation of the Teutonic Order proper with Pope Celestine III recognising it in 1192 by granting the friars Augustine Rule.

The Templar Knights began in earnest with nine knights around 1119 in Jerusalem with a petition to King Baldwin of Jerusalem to offer protection to pilgrim travellers. The petition was granted and given the king's blessing; thus the potential for the Order had begun. In truth, the exact beginning of the possibilities for such an order took place much earlier in France; the origins of the idea of the Templar Knights can be traced back to about 1099.

There are a number of valid claims for this earlier date. The Knights Templar were the creative proposal of St Bernard of Clairvaux. He had the initiative and vision of combining a fighting force with spiritual devotion, thereby melding spiritual ethics and monastic principles into a disciplined army to establish a religious fighting force. Thus he created an order which had the seal of approval from Christ to fight for Christendom. This followed on from an edict by the charismatic Pope Urban II urging a crusade against the infidels on 'Christian' soil. At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Robert the Monk recorded Pope Urban's speech. Part of it demonstrates the emotive language used to persuade men to take arms, a translation reads:

... that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race wholly alienated from God ... violently invaded the lands of those Christians. But if you are hindered by love of children, parents, or of a wife, remember what the Lord says in the Gospel, 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me'

Another of those present at the Council of Clermont, Fulcher of Chartres, reported this part of Urban's speech:

Let those who have formerly been accustomed to contend wickedly in private warfare against the faithful fight against the infidel, and bring to a victorious end the war which ought already to have been begun. Let those who have hitherto been robbers now become soldiers. Let those who have formerly contended against their brothers and relatives now fight against the barbarians as they ought. Let those who have formerly been mercenaries at low wages now gain eternal rewards. Let those who have been exhausting themselves to the detriment both of body and soul now strive for a twofold reward.

From this, it is easy to imagine the pressure brought to bear on men from all levels of society. Emotional blackmail was frequently used and as time went on, ever more calculated and cunning rhetoric was used to extort men to swell the ranks of the crusaders. Priests were the primary recruiters, resorting to parading celebrity knights and the singing of patriotic Christian hymns while encouraging men to join the Holy War. Thomas Aquinus trumpeted the justification of the crusades, declaring that performance equalled penance. In those days it was truly believed that people could be threatened by Divine judgement if they did not join a crusade. They believed they were engaged in acts of self-sanctification by joining them. It was stressed that they carried Christ's cloth on their shoulder and that they had Divine approval.

Apart from knights drawn from the upper echelons of society, lower ranks could become sergeants. Whether working in the stables or on the training field, all had hope of eternal redemption by joining the crusades and travelling to the Holy Land.

There were, however, pacifists and pessimists even in those days. There were also those who couldn't see the practicalities of a crusade and felt that war was not the way forward. Others were more concerned about the taxes which would have to be levied to pay for it all.

St Bernard was not only to bring his idea of a holy fighting force to fruition in the shape of the Knights Templar, but he also helped elevate their status to hitherto unprecedented heights. They became answerable only to the Pope above their sovereign king. They were the vassals of the Pope, carrying out many delicate negotiations, standing in his stead and gaining many privileges, much to the chagrin of various kings and chancellors.

Activities of the Order

Though the Knights Templar are commonly termed 'warrior monks', they were not a monastic order in the true sense. They did not live in a closed house, they did not have prayer times across twenty-four hours and their sole purpose was not the salvation of the soul of others, nor did they have an abbot at their head.

What they did do was take a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience. They assumed a rigorous lifestyle, giving up temptations of the flesh and giving personal property and wealth to the Knights Templar Order. They followed a conscientious order of prayer throughout the day beginning at 4 a.m. with Matins through to Vespers at 6 p.m. Compline would be said some time after the evening meal. Their food, though plain, was filling, with three meals a day.

Originally, the Order followed the Rule of St Augustine but this changed around 1130 through the authority of Bernard of Clairvaux. He was a Cistercian, and the Cistercians had formed from the Benedictines. There are marked resemblances between the two monastic orders. The rules were strict and retribution was exacted when rules were broken. Severe penalties included the confiscation of the mantle they wore under their cloaks, prison, or even expulsion from the Order.

The movement came to England and Scotland in the year 1128 when Hugues de Payens crossed the Channel, having solicited permission from Henry I to call men to arms to take the vows. This would lead to the formation of English and Scottish arms of the Order. De Payens also required financial assistance. It would be fair to say that he found England the more successful in swelling the ranks and coffers for the crusades' cause. By this time, the French Knights Templar had been actively supporting Alfonso I, King of Aragon (also known as the 'Battler') for some time. Alfonso won his greatest victories when he expelled the Moors from Zaragoza in 1118; he died during the siege of Fraga in 1134.

The first Temple round church was built about this time in Holborn, London, and the movement spread into Yorkshire roughly fourteen years later, with the first preceptory being founded somewhere between 1142 and 1185, probably at Cowton in North Yorkshire.

London became the administrative centre, but it was Yorkshire that possessed the broadest swath of English property. The London Temple focused on financial aims, while the Yorkshire preceptories were fixed on agricultural activities. The English arm of the Knights Templar gathered wealth for the Order through agricultural and financial industry and labour. It seems that the English Templar Order spent less time fighting in the East than their European counterparts, but raised riches in capital wealth for the Order as a whole.

Though the knights were from the cream of society, they wore plain unadorned garments; a white mantle with a red shoulder cross and a cloak also with a red shoulder cross. The Knights Templar became the cream of the fighting militia for Christ and the faith with a discipline second to none. They even earned the respect of the Saracens, the sworn enemies of Christians.

Pope Callistus II issued a bull in 1122 whereby the Templars became a 'lay religious community' and in time they were able to ordain their own priests, build their own churches and even have a hand in designing some of Europe's greatest cathedrals.

Despite the motivation behind the Knights Templar inception – to provide safe passage for travellers, particularly pilgrims journeying through the Holy Land – it was not the main reason for their continued existence. As a disciplined fighting force, their military might overtook their original protective origins. The Templar Knights were to become efficient and fearsome soldiers, landowners with vast amounts of property, practiced farmers, skilled sailors, learned men and eventually, accomplished bankers. This last endeavour was largely to bring about their downfall.

Many legends have sprung up around the Knights Templar, and as Karen Ralls writes in her foreword to the book The Templar Papers by Oddvar Olsen: 'even during the time of the Knights Templar 1119–1312 "history" and "myths" were already entwined.'



(near Northallerton, c. 1142)

Around AD 80, the Romans built a road, known as Dere Street. It was 180 miles long and stretched from York to the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Parts of it still exist, with both the A1(M) and the A68 overlaying it in places. The Templars would have found it just as useful as the Romans did all those centuries before and for the same reason: it gave them easy access to their possessions in Scotland. This probably explains why, in 1142, they built a preceptory near Dere Street in the vicinity of the village of East Cowton.

This area now consists of quiet, winding country lanes, high hedges and mile upon mile of arable farmland. In the far distance, hills can be seen where the remains of the distant Penhill Preceptory chapel lie quietly among the grazing cows. There's nothing which can be seen of the modern East Cowton's Templar preceptory now; in fact, nobody is quite sure exactly where it stood. However, an association remains with the name of Temple House Farm near the village itself. The name 'Cowton' is Anglo-Saxon in origin and dairy farms in the area still reflect that early meaning of 'cow farm'. Nearby North Cowton goes a step further, with several houses having 'byre', meaning cowshed, in their names.

The preceptory

Founded in 1142, Temple Cowton was probably the first preceptory to be established in Yorkshire and was certainly very important to the Order. This is underlined by the fact that at the time of their suppression, when all the Order's possessions were being scrutinised, a chest was found at Temple Cowton which contained all the charters which related to their estates in Yorkshire; documents concerning their various estates in the rest of England and Scotland were also discovered. It seems that these chests, along with one found at Faxfleet, disappeared on their way from Yorkshire to London at the time of the Order's suppression.

The preceptory's importance is further demonstrated by the fact that Edward I stayed there in 1300 on one of his many journeys to Scotland. William Wallace had started a rebellion in Scotland in 1297 and was a thorn in the English king's side until his capture on 5 August 1305. Temple Cowton proved a useful staging post at which to leave provisions for Edward's frequent sorties north of the border.

Temple Cowton, like Penhill, benefited from the generosity of a benefactor, Roger de Mowbray, who, around 1142, granted them timber from his forests at Nidderdale, Masham and Malzeard. By the time of the Order's suppression in 1308, it is reported that the buildings included a hall, chamber, chapel, kitchen, brewhouse and smithy. Sadly, none of them remain to be seen.

Battle of the Standard

Four years before any of this was built, the Battle of the Standard (also known as the Battle of Northallerton), was fought nearby, just two miles north of Northallerton near the village of Brompton. Although this battle is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Cowton Moor, we know from a contemporary account that it actually took place some eight miles from there. The confusion may have arisen due to additions made to a contemporary text a considerable time after it had been written.

The Battle of the Standard was so called because some members of the English Army had brought a frame along with them, in the middle of which they stood a very tall ship's mast which they called the Standard. It had nothing at all to do with flags, although the banners of St Wilfred and St John were displayed at the battle.

While on the subject of banners, Edward I paid one of the monks from Beverley 8 pennies a day for carrying his banner of St John while he was with the King's Army. He was also paid a penny a day to take it back to the monastery.

The background to the Battle of the Standard is that in July 1138, King David I of Scotland made his third incursion into England that year. He came on the pretext of acting in the interests of his niece, Matilda, who was contesting the right to the English throne with King Stephen. It is thought that his real intention was to take possession of Northumberland. Whichever it was, David chose his moment carefully, taking advantage of the fact that Stephen was down near Bristol trying to deal with his barons' revolt.

Archbishop Thurston of York, the King's Lieutenant in the north, successfully raised an army and presented the mission of repelling the Scots as akin to a Holy Crusade. His army marched from York to Thirsk from where two barons went on to negotiate with David, but were unsuccessful. The Scottish Army crossed into Yorkshire on 21 August and began ravaging the county. The English moved to intercept them.

It is directly due to Archbishop Thurston's successful recruitment drive that we know so much about the Battle of the Standard. Because there was such an important person within the Church involved, contemporary ecclesiastical chroniclers fell over themselves to record events.


Excerpted from The Knights Templar in Yorkshire by Diane Holloway, Trish Colton. Copyright © 2012 Diane Holloway and Trish Colton. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Foreword by Dr Evelyn Lord,
1 A Brief History of Templar Origins,
2 Temple Cowton (near Northallerton, c. 1142),
3 Penhill (near Leyburn, c. 1142),
4 Temple Hirst (near Selby, c. 1152),
5 Temple Newsam (near Leeds, c. 1154),
6 Foulbridge (near Malton, c. 1177),
7 Faxfleet (near Hull, c. 1185),
8 Westerdale (near Whitby, c. 1203),
9 Ribston with Wetherby (near and in Wetherby, c. 1217),
10 Whitley (near Knottingly, c. 1248),
11 Copmanthorpe (near York, c. 1258),
12 The End of an Era,
Appendix I: Famous Popes, Kings & People,
Appendix II: Templar & Medieval Miscellany,

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