The Creation and Demise of the Knights Templar
By Carson Taylor Wheet
Bachelor’s Thesis, University of Arizona, 2009
Abstract: This thesis investigates the Order of the Knights Templar by examining the varied phenomena that led to the formation of the Order in the early twelfth century and its dissolution nearly two hundred years later. Since the demise of the Order has recently received a great deal of attention in both historical scholarship and popular culture, I analyze and critique numerous theories concerning the trial of the Templars and contextualize it by revealing the causes for the Order’s creation. I use an array of primary and secondary sources to explain why each event occurred despite being unpopular with a significant portion of Christian officials. I ultimately contend that most of the aforementioned theories are insufficient to explain the rise and fall of the Order because they fail to grasp the complexity of each event. The Templars’ creation resulted from a lengthy theological justification for a unique form of Christian holy war, papal ambitions, and a palpable ethos of fear and violence within Christendom that was redirected against an external enemy. Their demise stemmed from secular ambitions, relative papal weakness, and a unique blend of social fears, legal standards, and organizational rules that proved extremely deleterious in their trial.
Introduction: Modern scholarship and popular culture have recently taken a significant interest in the demise of the Knights Templar. But an analysis of the Order’s creation is also necessary to contextualize the Templars’ trials as well as the events surrounding the Order’s dissolution. By examining both the creation and demise of the Knights Templar, one can more fully understand the Order and thereby gain the necessary tools to either accept or criticize the numerous theories surrounding one of history’s most mysterious organizations and the source of endless historical debates. The Templars’ unexpected rise to power during the twelfth century was overshadowed by its far more surprising fall at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Both events disrupted the status quo and stunned contemporaries, but each event needs to be understood through an examination of the direct and indirect contributory factors that culminated in each phenomenon. These causal elements must be analyzed with respect to how they related to each other as well as the circumstances of their respective historical settings.
The creation of a military order surprised and offended many medieval contemporaries by overthrowing the traditional dichotomy of knights and monks. Although initially criticized, the Order quickly expanded because certain elements had already combined to pave the way for the Templars’ ascension. During the century preceding the genesis of the Order, Gregorian reform, the development of the peace movement, and a heightened fear of Christendom’s external foes primed Latin Christendom for the creation of a military order that would serve the papacy, protect Christians, and eliminate heretical threats. The Order’s creation capped centuries of theological debate concerning the role of violence within the faith. As the embodiment of Christian militancy, the Order of the Knights Templar became a widely-praised chimera of just war doctrine, holy war ideology, and crusade mentality. The Templars defended Christendom with a brutal fervor that can only be understood within the context of the crusading era. Due in large part to the Order’s successes, reputation, papal favor, and wealth, the Knights Templar became one of the most famous institutions in all of Latin Christendom, which is what makes the Order’s now-infamous downfall so shocking and controversial.