THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR by Stephen Howarth


Email this review


A brisk narrative history of the Knights Templar and their place in medieval Europe, untroubled by the scholarly disputation that has long surrounded their fate. From 1118 until 1303, when their last stronghold in the Holy Land fell, the Templars were a dominant force not only in the Holy Land but throughout Europe. ""There were many monastic orders which offered salvation through prayer, meditation, or charitable acts,"" Howarth writes; ""but at that time only the Templars promised eternal life through fighting."" With a bastion in the Holy Land, the Templars received massive financial support from extensive tax-free holdings throughout Europe, and were so trusted that they acted as bankers to entire kingdoms. Subject only to the Pope himself, they were both adored and feared--by rulers and people alike. But the envy they aroused, combined with the Templars' utter secrecy in all their activities, ultimately caused their downfall. When the Muslim leaders finally united and drove the Christian kingdoms into the sea, the Templars ""seemed to many people"" to have ""no further reason or right to exist."" (Howarth's account of their situation, country-by-country, and the traces of their existence that remain, is one of the more intriguing aspects of the book.) In 1307 Philip the Fair of Spain arrested all 500 Templars in France in a single night. Mass imprisonment, torture, confessions, and executions followed in short order; and though the Templars' reputation for virtue survived (at least, as Howarth interprets the evidence), the Order itself did not. The Pope (then a puppet of the French king) ordered it dissolved, and the Templars faded into history. Their rivals, the Hospitalers, were to survive 500 years longer, fighting the Muslims and Turks until a later French ruler, Napoleon, did away with them. Howarth's enthusiasm for his subject and the immediacy of his telling should go over well with armchair Crusaders.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum