By Matthew Hughes
Proceedings of The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) 2011, Ithaca College, New York, March 31 – April 2, 2011
Abstract: The history of the Knights Templar is steeped in intrigue and enigma. Historians have long examined the meteoric rise and fall of this elite religio-military order that combined the two ostensibly contradictory lifestyles of prayerful monasticism and military knighthood. While much attention is paid to the greed of the Capetian kings in their eagerness to claim Templar resources and to the charges laid against the Templars of heretical depravity, a lacuna in the historiographical record exists concerning the role of newer military orders and confraternities in the ultimate extinction of the Templars. The proposed presentation is a study of diminished reputation, but also an examination of competitive encroachment by alternative institutions into the organizational niche created by the Templars. My research, based on primary as well as trusted secondary sources, includes methodologies from organization theory and historical studies of reputation, in order to illustrate how both the Templars’ failures and their successes contributed to the diminution of their opportunities for long term survival. The undoing of the Templars was in part a result of their own over-reaching, but it also came because they opened up an organizational arena that other military orders and confraternities came to fill. In taking up the new cognitive and regulative space opened up by the Templars, the new orders eventually squeezed the old out.
Introduction: The demise of the powerful international military order known as the Knights Templar (more properly, the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici), has for generations served as a wellspring for conspiracy theorists, and for writers and readers who find nourishment in myth and legend. The sudden and efficient extinguishing of the order at the hands of King Phillip IV of France in 1307 has perpetuated grandiose myths of secret societies, conspiracy theories, and fantastical make-believe that often buries bits of fact under layers of misleading conjecture. Nonetheless, scholars and academics, seeking to discern fact from fiction, have carefully studied the role of the French monarchy in the Templars’ dissolution. Scholars have examined the actions of the Capetian king, especially his financial interests, how his actions brought Templar leaders to trial and death at the stake, and how the pressure he placed on Clement V forced the papacy to disband the order in 1312. As it works backwards from the events of the order’s dissolution to its beginnings, this scholarship has identified growth and change in the Templar organization over time, but has not brought us much closer to understanding why and how the Templars fell. In this paper I aim to examine the question of the competitive conditions that increasingly came to burden the order. In the end, it seems to me, that the role of competition among religious orders weakened the position of this elite organization such that it became susceptible to attack.
It is my assertion that viewing the Templar organization in the context of the group of organizations of which it was a part, first as the leader of its organizational niche and then as that niche’s insecure scapegoat, offers insight into its ultimate demise and aids in explaining away some of the more preposterous conspiracy theories. The point is this: the Templars created an important and powerful vehicle (the first of its kind) for the sanctified and charitable defense of the Christian crusading endeavor. Within a few decades, other orders began to exploit the niche created by the Templars as they established their own footing and occupied greater space thereby diluting the Templars’ influence within their operational arena.