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Sunday, April 11, 2010

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Book Review: “The Templars” by Regine Pernoud, English edition 2009.

One of the great organizations in Western history.

by Ferdinand III





The Knights Templars or 'fighting monks', are routinely portrayed by Hollywood and academia as wild-eyed barbarians, slaughtering and raping in the name of Christ, and despoiling the Holy Land habitats of those peaceful, starry eyed, inquisitive, rational Muslims. Over their two centuries of existence from 1119 to 1307, the Templars helped reclaim the holy-land and Spain; defended the Christian gains in the Levant against impossible odds; protected pilgrims; built some 200 fortifications stretching from Spain to Greece and Syria; developed the modern banking system; and engaged in advanced agricultural development and trading, amongst other activities. Not bad for a bunch of supposedly illiterate ruffians. In fact the various talents displayed by the average Templar knight would put almost all of our modern 'men' to shame. They were in aggregate some of the most highly skilled and disciplined men that the West has ever produced.


The real Knights Templar is ably defended in this book by Ms. Pernoud, who as a French historian, wrote some seminal works in the 1970s on the Middle Ages and the Orders of the Fighting Monks. One would expect that a Francophone drenched in cultural Marxist Franco-statism would immediately engage in the usual litany of a-historical revisionism about the Knights Templars, and the usual neo-Marxian analysis of the Crusades and how the Knights were simply tools of Western colonialism, exploitation and savagery. And how the fanatics for Christ butchered and slaughtered those wonderful, scientifically inclined and sophisticated Muslims. Thankfully all of that nonsense is completely eschewed by Pernoud. She tells the real story of the Templar Knights and what a story it makes.


The laggard and untimely Christian response to 400 years of Muslim jihad, predations, Christian slave trading and bloody war finally found its voice and purpose in the 1095 declaration by Pope Urban II of the Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land. For over 200 years against impossible odds, tiny Christian forces 2000 miles from their heartland, held a sizeable swathe of land in the Levant and Syria, against Muslim armies many times their size. It was an astonishing display of power, wealth, and sophistication. It was clear that the Muslim world as a collective, was poorer, less educated and less industrialized than Christian Europe. We know this from facts; the buildings constructed by Westerners; their armor; the size of their men and horses; their diets; their technology; their literacy; and their various skills which would put any man living today to shame. Simply put, the Christians of the so-called medieval period were anything but medieval.


The Knights Templar was in some ways the epitome of a society formed around faith and reason. The fighting monks of Solomon's Temple were created in 1119 by Hugh of Payns a French noble. Originally there were 12 members whose charter was to protect Christian pilgrims on the main roads between the Levant coast and reconquered Jerusalem. This mandate was clear and pretty narrow. The marauding bands of Arabs and Turks engaged in routine murder and brigandage of Christian pilgrims, who yearly numbered in their thousands. Unarmed Europeans were all too routinely beheaded, tortured and separated from their money. [Just another example of course, of the Islam-is-peace mantra.]


The necessity of the Knights Templar was thus occasioned by Muslim rapacity and violence. This is a fact lost on the really smart people today who assume that the conniving and bloody Christian church set up the organization to inflict massive harm on those wonderful Muslims. The Templars were created to save lives – and many lives were saved by their work guiding pilgrims and fighting off Arab and Turkish bandits. No one knows how many were saved, but the need was great, for the order quickly expanded from its small cadre of 12 to many dozen within a short period of time. By 1138 the Pope and the Church had officially blessed the monkish Knights as a formal organ of the Catholic nation, with its own charter, rights and privileges. Good work does offer its own rewards.


As Pernoud relates, a large part of the Templar's success, as with any organization, was its culture. The Templars were the apotheosis of disciplined moderation and focus and though hierarchical, possessed a decentralized and election based system of governance – all in the name of serving a higher ideal:

“Discipline was strict and entirely military: 'No brother may take a bath, nor be given medical treatment, nor go into town, nor ride a horse, without leave to do so.' [p. 28]

“This strict discipline had led the Templars to be regarded, according to the testimony of a Arab chronicler, as the most prudent warriors in the world.” [p. 67]

The 'Rule' was to serve the Christian church and to lead a celibate, moderate, and frugal life in that cause. “..that you follow those whom God has chosen from among the mass of perdition and whom he has ordained....for the defense of his church.” [p. 30]


As the Templar organization grew in the 12th century, and its reputation as a military and holy order became firmly established, money and land was attracted. Nobles, rich barons, and merchants gave money and title deeds to the Templars for various moral, religious and economic reasons. In place of actually fighting in the Crusades a wealthy patron might simply invest in the Templars allowing the order to hire mercenaries or complete the construction of a fort. In lieu of doing penance on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a benefactor might buy redemption by allotting the Knights some of his land or profits to help prosecute the war against the Saracen.


The Knights eventually built over 9000 sites and 'temples'. In the urban centers the Knights Houses were used as places for the recruitment of men and money. Paris and London were the two most important locations. But most of the 'commanderies' were in the country, and engaged in various forms of agricultural output.

“In the West, the Templars had some 9000 commanderies. Most of these commanderies were groups of agricultural buildings, put up on lands the Templars had received through the generosity of a few lords and that provided their most reliable resources in the form of wheat, wine, oil, or even cattle...” [p. 46]


Here we have a different picture of the Knights as gentlemen farmers, not as horse back riding Crusaders. In fact most of the Templars never fought in the Holy Land. The total organization never numbered more than 10.000 men, with 80% of that total in Europe managing Templar affairs.


As the money flowed in from states and individuals, the Templars developed the world's first international banking system. A system of deposits and certificates of money on account, was created across the various Templar offices ranging from London to Jerusalem. This afforded the possibility of expedient and safe transfers of monies across the Templar domains . One could deposit money in a Templar treasury in London and withdraw it in the Holy Land.

“The Order's financial resources likewise made it possible for it to set up a proper loan fund used by borrowers from every level of society; that was the role they played on a large scale in the Middle East.” [p. 100]


The Templars became Europe's first international bankers. A role that rich Italians would fill in the 13th to 16th centuries – mimicking directly the organization and prowess of the Knights. It was of course this financial power and the vast agricultural lands which would prove the Templars undoing. The organization was simply too rich a target for a secular despotism like the French monarchy to tolerate.


In 1187 at the Battle of Hattin the 800 Knights and some 9000 Christian soldiers were annihilated by the forces of Saladin the much lauded 'sophisticated' Kurdish sultan. This sealed the fate of the Holy Land. Jerusalem quickly fell and the slim Christian forces were pushed back to the Templar and Hospitaller fortresses along the coast. They held on rather amazingly until 1303. Hattin was one of the most important battles in history. The Knights and the Christian forces were caught in the open country, in the middle of summer, with no water or supplies. It was truly bizarre and not an occurrence which makes any sense given the prowess of Christian forces against the overwhelming numbers of Muslim opponents. Pernoud makes the claim – and it is one which is not commonly forwarded – that the Grand Master of the Templars sold out the Christian forces and betrayed his order and the Christian world by leading the Knights and the Christian army to a slaughter:


“..the master of the Temple, Gerard of Ridefort, was responsible for what happened that day at Hattin, and still more inexplicably he was the only one who was spared...It seems beyond doubt that in his case at least an open betrayal on the part of the master of the Order.” [p. 135]


Saladin beheaded 800 Knights some with his own sword. Ridefort's criminality is highly likely given the circumstances of the battle. This pernicous display by the Templar Grand Master might also help explain why, during the 13th century, a public animus against the Order developed in Europe.  Many stories were circulated about the Templars which portrayed them as devious, worshipers of Satan; greedy; corrupt and given to various forms of deviant sexual behaviors.  Ridefort's actions at Hattin might have been the catalyst for this general opprobrium against the fighting monks. 


On the famous Friday October 13, in 1307, Philip the Fair, King of France, who was bankrupted by his wars against the Dutch, attacked and took over all of the Templar assets, commanderies and Temples. The state theft of the Templar assets occurred during this infamous one day, which is now celebrated in Western lore as a day of bad luck or Friday the 13th. Trumped up and extravagant charges were laid against the Order by the French despotic regime. None of them were of course true or even sensible. Philip needed the money and the Knights were a convenient target and the popular will was against them. In 1311 Pope Clement V dissolved the order and in Italy and France the Papacy and the French King divided the spoils. All of the Templars were tortured, and their leadership killed.


Thus ended the life of one of Europe's most important organizations. The value of Pernoud's work is that she debunks the fanciful allegations and claims of esoteric rites and beliefs which played such a prominent and calumnious role in the destruction of the Templars. As Pernoud relates the Templars were skilled at organization, war, finance, charity, and ethics. They were devout Christians who were certain that they were improving the world as God would ordain it. They were in many ways, far ahead of our modern men both in understanding, adroitness and knowledge. Any reading of Templar history would confirm that fact. And they indisputably helped save Western civilization.  It is a pity that a caviling coward and mendacious traitor like Ridefort, was able in one single battle, to undo all of the Templars great efforts and achievements.   

 


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