Templar attitudes towards women


Templar attitudes towards women

By Helen Nicholson

Medieval History, Vol. 1 Part 3 (1991)


Abstract: The rule of the order of the Temple took a traditional monastic attitude towards women, being strongly anti-feminine in tone, and seeing women as contaminating the brothers. However, the evidence discussed in this article suggests that the brothers had a more secular attitude to women. They were prepared to give way to pressure from their lay patrons and to admit women to full membership of the order, even, in one case, to accept responsibility for a nunnery. The evidence also indicates that, like knights of the world, they were inclined to romanticize women, and they seem to have preferred the cults of female saints to male. They were, however, as was normal in their society and class, too ready sexually to exploit ordinary women. This was apparently accepted by outsiders, for whereas the Templars were criticized for pride and greed, they were not accused of lack of chastity. Until the accusations brought against the order in 1307, the brothers also escaped the accusations of homosexuality hinted against more traditional monastic orders by secular clergy such as John of Salisbury and Walter Map.

In her article on monasticism in the April issue of Medieval History, Janet Burton drew attention to medieval male monastic hostility towards women: both women in general and women in religious orders. She noted that women were considered innately wicked and responsible both for the initial Fall of Man and for the fall from grace of many men since. Therefore, many male religious writers of the twelfth century believed that they should not be allowed into religious orders. This was the official viewpoint. But how far was it enforced at the local level, in individual houses and among individuals?

While researching into attitudes towards the military religious orders during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, I came across many examples of this kind of antifeminism recorded at the highest official level in the rules of the orders. However, I also came across rather different attitudes at the local level and among individuals. We should also note that this antifeminism only extended to ordinary women, sinners. Holy women, notably the Mother of God, were revered and held in all the love and esteem which the orders’ official line denied to ordinary women. This paper is a summary of my discoveries to date regarding one particular military order, the order of the Temple, which was perhaps the greatest bastion of male exclusivity in the religious life. The evidence is sparse, but this is always the case with the Templars, as much material was lost after the destruction of the order in 1314.

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