According to the history books, the Knights Templar were a Christian religious, military society established in 1118 by nine knights inspired by the vocation of protecting Christian pilgrims travelling the notoriously dangerous roads leading to and from the Holy Land. Led by a French nobleman, Hugues de Payens, this humble group of committed Christians were welcomed to Jerusalem by King Baldwin II and accommodated in the palace of the king, situated on the alleged site of the former Temple of Solomon. In the early years the order led a relatively quiet existence. However, this began to change after their mission received official sanction at the Council of Troyes in 1129. Although the members were individually poor, and the new order itself survived on the alms and generosity of Baldwin, over the coming decades their influence expanded following official endorsement by Pope Innocent II. Among their privileges, the church excused them from paying taxes while also permitting them to receive their own tithes on properties they owned and keeping spoils of war from battles against the Moslems. Despite the order’s humble beginning, these privileges, supplemented by regular donations from grateful pilgrims and wealthy Christian noblemen who endorsed the order, resulted in the Templars becoming increasingly prosperous. While the Templar Rule forbade them from using the wealth for personal gain, the order strengthened its position by using the new fortune to build several fortifications throughout Europe and the Holy Land. In later years the Templars used their wealth to build their own churches, castles, vineyards, farms et cetera throughout Europe. Eventually, they began to loan money to the monarchs of Europe, earning extra cash from charging deposit fees.
As their influence increased, the Templars grew in number. Dedicated Christians, initially only those of noble birth and unmarried, were granted permission to join and willingly consent to uphold vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty while remaining wholly devoted to the Christian cause. In time, Christians of lower status were also permitted to join. In keeping with their vows of poverty, recruits were required to sign over their lands and possessions to the order, further adding to the Templar’s overall assets.
The Templar influence in the Holy Land reached its height in the 1170s. However, this declined significantly after defeat in the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187. Despite the subsequent loss of Jerusalem, the order maintained a presence in the Holy Land until the city of Acre was taken in 1291, the last major incident of the Crusades.
At the height of their power, the Templars owned vast swathes of property across Europe and were collectively wealthier than any European monarch. Their military strength, estimated at 20,000 throughout Europe at its peak, all of whom were ardently committed to the Christian cause and highly trained in the arts of war, was unrivalled by any other army at that time. Their tradition never to leave a battlefield until outnumbered three to one developed their reputation as being feared by their enemies. Their contributions to banking and unique architecture has had a lasting effect on European culture and, despite their controversial demise, the Templars remain famed for the piety and discipline they displayed throughout their 200-year history.