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Sunday, January 2, 2011

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Michael Haag: 'The Templars' - part 2.

The order brought to life through a realistic assessment.

by Ferdinand III


 



Haag's work is probably the best one volume account of the Templars for the layman. The military order of Templar Knights, one of Europe's most important medieval organizations, is put into historical context, and brought to life by Haag. A first review of Haag's realistic appraisal of the historical nature of political Islam is written here. One cannot appreciate the Templar's service to civilization without first understanding the existential threat that Islam posed [and still poses] to Europe. As Haag writes, Islam was and still a warring jihadic political program:


But Mohammed's most important act during his early years in Medina was to set down the revelation giving permission to his followers to go to war against those identified as their enemies, 'Permission to take up arms is hereby given to those who are attacked, because they have been wronged. God has power to grant them victory:...'”


It is not an exaggeration to state that without the Crusades, and without the Christian bulwark of Byzantium as protection, that Islam might well have conquered larger tracts of Europe during the medieval period. Islamic divisions and Crusading power kept Europe's civilization from the clutches of Arab paganism. Far from being the multi-cult fetish of love and tolerance, Islam was and is a theocracy of power, control and the division of the world into the annointed Muslim class, who would manage and tax the rest:


In fact the earliest date for a written Islamic source is 692: it is the founder's inscription which appears in gold mosaic along the arcade inside the Dome of The Rock. It corresponds to Sura 4:171 in the Koran and is an emphatic warning to the Christians: 'People of the Book, do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about God. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than God's apostle and His Word which he cast to Mary: a spirit from Him.....God is but one God. God forbid that he should have a son!...”


In the real world, the fight to the death between Islam and Europe necessitated military orders along the Templar model. They certainly justified the Crusades. The reason why the Crusades ultimately failed was due to the lack of men, money, and depth of defense given the logistical and distance-based difficulties of transferring expensive European knights to the Holy Land.


Similarly Christians saw the First Crusade as an entirely just war. But however much the First Crusade may have brought about a widespread acceptance of warfare in the name of God, what was new and exceptional was that the need to provide security for pilgrims to Jerusalem gave rise to a body of armed knights who were also monks.”

The Templars were establish after the Easter massacre of 1119, in which 700 unarmed Christians on pilgrimmage to Jerusalem were murdered by marauding Turks. The French knight and baron, Hugh de Payns during the Christmas 1119, along with 6 colleagues, took the order's vows at the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The small group of Templars was charged with defending holy sites and pilgrims in the Holy Land. It was always an expensive operation. Outfitting a knight with the necessary weapons and support was extraordinarily costly:

In fact for every Templar knight there were about nine others serving in support, whether as squires, sergeants or other forms of help. This is not much different from modern warfare.....”

The Crusades were always a money loser. Specie flowed one way – from West to East. This is one reason why they were doomed.

Haag`s account brings the Templar`s to life as men not only of the spiritual and mystical, but also formed in the practical. Most people view the Templars as knights and financiers. This is true of course. But first and foremost the Templars were devout Christians first and very much monkish. Haag estimates that the Templars lost 25.000 men fighting the Muslims over their 200 year existence. Given the size of their estates and holdings, the order probably numbered no more than 10.000 at any one time. The main function of the order was to serve Christ and fight the Muslim menace. The disciplined Templars were feared by their enemies for their piety, courage and devotion. Templar Knights were charged with secular, ecclesiastical and military duties. As well they were the world`s foremost builders and mason. But it is their commitment to Christ which identifies them as men with a higher purpose:

  • 4 am Rise for Matins and horse maintenance

  • 6 am to noon Attend services, train and groom horses

  • Noon Dinner of cooked meats, listen to the Chaplain read from the Bible

  • 3 pm Afternoon service

  • 6 pm Vespers followed by supper

  • 9 pm Night services and reception with water and wine

  • Midnight to 4 am Sleep


Haag relates the above as the usual daily routine for a Templar. Added to this must be time for military training, building, and the hard work of food and living preparations. Many of the Templars were not fighters but administrators, with most on landed European estates and but a handful, never numbering more than a few thousand, fighting in Outremer or the Holy Land.


As Haag relates the Templar organization was given credibility by none other than Bernard of Clairvaux who was the most important Church leader in Europe in the 12th century. Bernard was able to secure Church support, money and more men from his sermons which were panegyrics to the quality of the order's men and mission. Buttressed by church advertising and overt financial aid, Hugh de Payn, and his brother soon established Templar houses across Europe, in particular in London, Scotland and Paris. Bernard a prolific and effective writer, wrote the Templar 'constitution' and a general marketing piece, 'In Praise of the New Knighthood'. It would appeal to the highest born of Europe's families who over the centuries would join the Templars as fighting monks, and dedicate parts of their estates to the Knighthood's finances, making the Templars rich and powerful.


Haag goes through the extant documentation about the Templars early history and concludes that not a lot is known about the first 3 decades of existence. The paucity of information on Templar activity is likely due to the destruction by Muslims, through various attacks, sieges and incursions, of books and written records. Some scraps which do survive are related by Haag including: “Richard of Poitou, a monk of Cluny writing in 1153, that the Franks would long since have lost Jerusalem had it not been for the Templars.” It is undoubtedly true that Outremer would have fallen long before 1291 had the Templars not existed.


The order was also involved in the Crusade in Spain. In 1143 the Templars took over 6 major castles in Aragon, a tenth of royal revenues and a fifth of any lands conquered from Muslims. The Hospitallers followed with a similar pact in 1150. In the 1140s they extended their castle holdings into Portugal and the borderlands with the Muslims. The Templars were extremely prominent in the Christian campaign to oust the Muslim from Spain. Yet their main focus was still in the Holy Land, where unlike in Spain, the lack of availability of Christian troops was pronounced. The Templars were not very successful fighters at first, losing in the siege of Damascus in 1129; being a part of the defeat of the Country of Tripoli in 1137, and worsted in a skirmish at Hebron in 1139. These are at any rate, the only historical records of the Templars in battle that Haag can find in his research.


The growing importance of the Templars is clear from the fact that the 2nd Crusade, during the late 1140s, was planned from the Templar mission in Paris, and that the organization became the revenue depot for the tax collected to fund the Crusade. The second Crusade was destroyed by a Turkish ambush, most likely created by the Byantines, and a failed siege of Damascus. This failure was signal and probably ensured the eventual failure of the entire Outremer operation: “In the West the failure of the crusade came as a shock because it was led by the powerful kings of Germany and France, and had been preached by Bernard of Clairvaux, the greatest spiritual figure of the age......The problem was that the more the Franks of Outremer relied on Western subsidies and military aid, the more critical the West became if things went wrong; the enthusiasm was there, but only for victories that came easily and cheap. From now on, the defence of the Holy Land would depend on its network of castles, largely built and commanded by the knightly orders.”


If the second Crusade had been successful the Franks or Christians would have probably never been ousted from the Holy Land. The inability to set up a defensive system with depth and density, and the lack of military success until the time of Richard the Lionheart at the end of the 12th century, allowed the Muslims to rebuild, and eventually reunite.


Given the lack of manpower, the only way to defend the thin strip of Frankish territory was to build massive defense works. By 1180 the Franks had built over 50 castles in Outremer. Due to money problems the military orders controlled 47 of these by 1166. Kingly and secular finances were too enfeebled to maintain the huge costs of such operations:


It was a vicious circle; insufficient land and manpower making castles a necessity; the cost of knights and castles greater than the productivity of the land could justify.”


The Holy Land was poor compared to Europe. There is no evidence whatsoever that a `migration` of people entered Outremer from Europe. There would be no economic or social reason to go to a frontier state, with limited resources on the frontlines of the Muslim Jihad. Trade between East and West was of course taxed by the Templars but that trade profit was never enough to justify a large and productive population. But this trade did allow the Templars the platform to become the world`s first international bankers: “Disciplined, honest and independent, the Templars were trusted throughout medieval society, and their experience in commerce and finance made them the ideal bankers to Popes and kings.”


The order kept extensive records and accounting and published financial statements. They also charged high interest rates disguised as fees and made profits from currency trading. They were in effect, the precursors to Wall Street or the Rothchilds.


In order to secure their economic primacy the Templars built their own navy and merchant fleet. They also engaged in unsavory practices such as the lucrative trade in white slaves, most of whom were taken from southern Russia, many of them captured and sold by Arabs, Muslims or Turks, or sold by parents in need of money. They were used across the Arab-Muslim world in various capacities and some also found their way into Templar houses as domestic slaves. This is one aspect of Templar history that would have bred little but hatred and calumny during the medieval period.


Haag`s assertion that once Outremer was lost the reason for the Templar order was also forfeited, is certainly true. It opened up the order to the predations of Kings and despots. If the Templars could not secure Jerusalem in the name of the Christian God, there was verily little purpose for the transnational organization in a world of nation states and national prerogatives. Many Europeans blamed the Orders directly for the loss of the Holy Land. The Hospitallers quickly relocated to Cyprus and then Rhodes to reestablish their power and relevance. The Templars never sought out a permanent home and that in part was their undoing.


When Outremer fell in 1291, the Crusading ideal was not however completely dead. In the summer of 1300 probing attacks by the Templars and the King of Cyprus against various Muslim ports were conducted. The intention was another Crusade against Syria, which would link up with the Mongol attacks on the Moslem from the East. Neither the Crusade, nor the Mongol alliance ever materialized. How different history might have been if the West had linked up with the Eastern Mongol pagans and smashed Islam in a pincer movement.


With the Holy Land last, and the movement in disarray, the end of the Templars was just a matter of time. They had too much cash, too many assets and far too many loans still owed by Kings and states. There was no better way to repair state finances than to repudiate legal obligations and seize the order`s wealth. The Kingdom of France, bankrupted by its unsuccessful wars with the English and Dutch saw such an opportunity:


But Philip's most powerful immediate motive was the desire, indeed the need, to get his hands on the wealth of the Templars. He had already stolen from the Italian bankers and the Jews, he had debased the currency, and it was his extractions from the clergy that provoked his first confrontation with Boniface VIII. His wars against England and in Flanders had cost him a great deal of money, and he had inherited a huge debt from his father's wars....the Templars from their banking activities also had liquid wealth which the king could quickly and easily grab. By accusing them of heresy Philip could turn the Templars into reprehensible religious outsiders like the Jews, against whom persecution was readily rationalized.”


Friday October 13th 1307. On that day the Order was condemned its men in France, its largest base of operations and money imprisoned, and all of its assets seized. Within 7 years the entire order was disbanded, with dozens of Templars killed by the French state, including its last Grand Master Jacques de Molay who was burnt at the stake.


Haag`s book not only recounts the history of this most interesting of organizations, but goes through the after-math of its fall, its impact on culture and history. Well organized, realistic, detailed and sourced, this is an invaluable compendium for any who are interested in the Crusades, the knightly orders, or how Western Europe responded to 400 years of Muslim war, Jihad, enslavement and the effacement of Christian civilization.


 


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