By Steve Tibble
Scotland played an unrecognised but central part in creating the power template for the Templar order in Britain.
In 1128 King Henry I met with Hugh of Payns, master of a tiny, obscure organisation known as the Templars. The king gave him permission to recruit and preach in England. He handed him letters of safe conduct and recommendation. Armed with this high-level endorsement, Hugh and his party set off. Detailed records of any other donations that Henry made have not survived. But it was in his reign that the Templars began to build a presence in England.
By the time Henry died in 1135, the Templars had a portfolio of properties. They started to explore the ways in which they could best use their local assets and influence to help the cause of the Latin East. The Templars in Britain were headquartered in London, and the other parts of the British Isles were generally subordinate to the order’s operations in England – but the formula for determining how best to operate in conjunction with local royal administrations was first established in Scotland.
The records of the Templars in Scotland are far sparser than those relating to England. The two main sources for the order in Britain are less than helpful. The 1185 ‘Inquest’, or review of assets, does not cover Scotland. Neither do the inventories of 1308. Despite this, however, it is clear that the Templars were quickly able to make very significant inroads into Scottish governmental circles – the example of King David I of Scotland (r. 1124– 53) shows how the order began to influence policy from an early stage.
David had spent many of his formative years in England, before becoming King of Scotland in 1124, at the relatively mature age of forty. Hugh of Payns did a good job of ingratiating himself with the pious David when he came to Scotland in 1128 – the king was fully persuaded of the merits of the new military order. The Cistercian theologian Ailred of Rievaulx was glowing in his account of the visit and the impact it had upon the king. David, he wrote,
trusted himself altogether to the advice of [Templar] monks; and keeping beside him some good brethren, renowned in warfare for the temple of Jerusalem, he made them guardians of his morals by day and night.
This was just the beginning. King David’s confidence in them rested at least in part on loyalty and an alignment of interests – he recognised that their default mode was to support the forces of centralisation. We know, for instance, that Templars in Scotland were habitually appointed to be the king’s almoners (a form of financial officer with special responsibilities for charitable donations) by the late thirteenth century – and this tradition may well have been established by the devout King David.
There were other, even more tangible, signs of support. The king gave the order some of their earliest possessions in Scotland, dating from the time of Hugh’s visit or very soon afterwards – these included their estate at Balantrodoch (now the unimaginatively named ‘Temple’ in Midlothian) and he probably gave them the church of Inchinnan in Renfrewshire.
By the middle of the twelfth century, they had also been given scattered, albeit relatively small, pieces of land across much of Scotland and they owned property in many towns.
King David’s interests went far beyond the easy rhythm of donations and confirmations, however – he was an active supporter of the broader crusading movement. We know that he was in correspondence with Bernard of Clairvaux, the Templars’ famous ideological champion and PR spokesman. Only one letter, dated from 1136, now survives, but there were undoubtedly more.
Bernard was one of the key instigators of the Second Crusade, a counter-offensive launched after the Muslim capture of Edessa in 1144. He and David’s Templar advisers probably helped lobby the king to join the army – and in this they almost succeeded. Ailred of Rievaulx wrote that King David was keen to join the crusade and that:
he would have renounced the Kingdom, laid down the sceptre, and joined the sacred army . . . if he had not been dissuaded by the . . . clamour and outcry of his whole kingdom; he was detained in body, but not in mind or will.
The king had been exiled in England and was heavily influenced by the style of government that he had found there. With the help of his Templar partners he introduced new structures into Scotland, increasing his authority as a ruler. They also helped him bring new, more orthodox practices into the religious hierarchy, simultaneously increasing both his own authority over the church and that of the Templars’ masters, the papacy.
This was a relationship that delivered benefits for both parties. The Templars were comfortable working with kings of Norman heritage in governing their ‘Celtic’ possessions. The order’s military muscle, network of houses and high-level connections in both church and state could be used to mutual benefit – by a king with ambitions to increase his power and control, and by warrior monks seeking to improve the flow of men and money to the Latin East.
The Templars continued to be influential in Scotland long after the death of their first patron. King David was succeeded by his grandson, King Malcolm IV, in 1153 and the new king maintained a close relationship with the order – he confirmed the Templars’ privileges and possessions and probably extended them. Representatives of the military orders appeared, for instance, for the first time as witnesses to Malcolm’s charters.
The British Templars, both in the province itself and in the Holy Land, continued to lobby and cajole. In 1250, for instance, the master of the Templars in Scotland (styled as magistri Templi in Scotia, though he was probably not a Scot himself ), wrote to Matthew Paris, the English chronicler, from the headquarters of the crusading army on campaign in Egypt. In the letter he conveyed news of the disastrous defeat of the armies of the Seventh Crusade at Mansourah in April of that year. Significantly, when reinforcements were dispatched to the Christian army a few months later, they included a detachment of Scottish knights from East Lothian. The Templars’ powers of persuasion had clearly worked.
The Templars kept conveying fresh news of the Holy Land back to Scotland, encouraging as many people as possible to help the crusading cause – either by volunteering in person or by making donations. Amongst the latter were the estates of Maryculter and Temple Liston (in West Lothian), together with a number of churches.
The kings of Scotland had close and co-dependent links with the Templars. But, as in all other parts of the British Isles, we must be careful not to impose our own prejudices onto the true nature of that relationship. The vast majority of donations to the order in Scotland were made to the (largely Anglo-Norman) Templar knights by lords who were similarly of Anglo-Norman culture and descent. This was hardly the kind of ‘nationalistic’ enterprise that Victorian writers romanticised about.
Even the ‘Scottish’ King David was of largely Anglo-Norman background and spent many years in England. His main support and patronage came from England, from the English king, Henry I, particularly in the latter part of his reign. His wife was an Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman too, with the distinctly un-Scottish name of Maud. She was also, incidentally, countess of Huntingdon through her Anglo-Saxon father, Waltheof, earl of Huntingdon.
Similarly, there are no records of any Scottish family names amongst the Templar brothers serving in Scotland. There are a couple of instances of English-based brothers called ‘de Scot’, or ‘Scotho’, in the early fourteenth century, but there is no clear evidence that they were Scottish or had ever served the order in the north. There was a brother named ‘Robert Scot’, for instance, who had joined the order in the East some twenty-six years before he was interrogated as part of the Templar trials. He was later transferred to the West, but he was living in Cambridgeshire when the order was suppressed.
There was also a brother named William of Scotho (or Skothow/Skotho) who seems to have been in the order for over twenty-eight years before it was suppressed. He may, on the face of it, have had Scottish connections. But he too was serving in Cambridgeshire when he was arrested in January 1308. In one manuscript, the name ‘Scotho’, potentially of Scottish origins, was crossed out and changed to ‘Stoke’, a very common English name. Alternatively, it might have been derived from the English word ‘stot’, meaning a steer or, occasionally, a horse. Tellingly, he is described more than once as being one of the Templar brothers ‘of London’.
Although the Templars played a significant role in Scotland, they were, above all, an international order. It is anachronistic (and misleading) to try to place them neatly within our current definitions of nationalism, frontiers and allegiances.
Dr Steve Tibble is a graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge and London University. He is an Honorary Research Associate at Royal Holloway College, University of London. Steve is a leading authority on warfare and violence in the crusading era.
His Templars: The Knights Who Made Britain (Yale) is due out in September 2023, and his two most recent books (‘The Crusader Armies’, Yale 2018, and ‘The Crusader Strategy’, Yale 2020) were received to critical acclaim. The latter was short-listed for the Duke of Wellington’s military history award, 2021.
He is a contributor to ‘The Cambridge History of the Crusades’ and ‘The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades’, both forthcoming in 2023. You can learn more about Steve on his personal website, or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
Barber, M., The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, Cambridge, 1994
Nicholson, N., The Knights Templar on Trial: The Trial of the Knights Templar in the British Isles, 1308– 1311, Stroud, 2009
Tibble, S., Templars – The Knights Who Made Britain, London, 2023