The Knights Templar: New Discoveries and Story Seeds

When I was in high school, I voraciously studied the Knights Templar. They were basically paladins, and paladins were my second favorite D&D class (after Ranger).

During that study, I discovered the horrible fall of the Knights Templar: that they were allegedly not all that pious and honorable. The crimes and blasphemous activities they supposedly took part in tarnished their “cool factor” for me back then. So when Assassin’s Creed came out, I had no trouble buying into the idea that the Templars were some terrible villains.

Enter Time Magazine

I posted an idea on Google+ last month regarding secret societies as a source for paranormal fiction. The premise was that each society in the story would have command of a different type of magic, and the “secret” that they kept was the knowledge of that specific brand of sorcery.

Naturally, if I’m going to begin a work on secret societies, I’m going to try and get reacquainted with them. It was fortuitous, then, that the bookstore had a new magazine out on their shelves.

The first article in the magazine is on the Knights Templar, and since they were already a society I was considering for my story, it was a great place to start.

But then I was blown away by what I found. Apparently, there has been some new discoveries regarding the Knights Templar since I was in high school: that they were possibly framed for their terrible deeds by the pope, who was under the political control of King Philip IV.

According to Time, an Italian scholar by the name of Barbara Frale found a document known as the Parchment of Chinon in 2001 that had been misfiled in the Vatican Secret Archives. “The document indicates that Pope  Clement V secretly absolved the Templars of the false charges against them but was forced by Philip and popular frenzy to disband the order in 1312…”

If the Parchment of Chinon is real (and not some rip off of a Dan Brown novel), then this makes the story of the Templars fall remarkably similar to the rise and fall of the Jedi Order.

Here’s how Time depicts the Templar’s rise and downfall:

1095: In the aftermath of the successful First Crusade, pilgrims began streaming across Europe into the Middle East.

1118: The Knights Templar are founded by a group of nine French knights to protect European pilgrims from brigands and angry locals as they journeyed to the Holy Land.

1187: The Templars win a great victory over Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard (1117), but that is only a setback for Saladin, who manages to take Jerusalem back from the Europeans.

1314: After a series of failed Crusades, the Templars were driven from their fortresses in the Middle East and King Philip IV ordered a mass arrest of Templars, torturing their leaders into false confessions of blasphemy.

2007: After seven centuries of believing that the Templars were blasphemous, evil men, the Vatican released the Parchment of Chinon, which records the Templars’ trials and appears to absolve them of many of their alleged transgressions.

Using this in Fiction

My story is to be set in the modern day, where the Templars use water as their foci for divination and purification spells. For my history of them, they used this divination in the 11th and 12th century to know when and where pilgrims would need their help. The fact that they always arrived on time and with sufficient numbers drove their reputation to the heights that they were. Some believed it was God telling them where to go,  and maybe it was…only the first nine Templars know where they learned their spells, and even they may not know the source of their spells’ power.

When they were betrayed by Philip (whom I’m thinking deserves a villainous legacy in modern times), a large part of their number fled the public eye. They were Templars in legacy only, but they carried on the good fight. Seven centuries later, they are still fighting the good fight, but their immortal enemies (there’s clearly an Assassin’s Creed thing going on here) have perpetuated the damage to the Templars’ reputation that keeps them underground.

But they aren’t the only two societies around with magical secrets. The Time article talks about how the Freemasons think they can trace their origins back to the builders of Solomon’s Temple, where the Templars resided while in Jerusalem. I say why not…but not the original builders (not for my fiction). The Freemasons likely trace back to masons who reinforced the temple for the Templars’ military needs.

There’s a certain symmetry to having all the secret societies in the first season of my series tracing their roots back to the Crusades.

2 comments On The Knights Templar: New Discoveries and Story Seeds

  • In France, as far as I can remember, it is pretty much common knowledge that the Knight Templars were framed by Philip IV, who wanted their immense wealth to replenish the finances, and probably feared their power as well. Of course, historians will tell you that the actual reasons are much more complex.
    In fact, checking the Wikipedia page, I find sources dating as far back as 1980, implying that it was already common knowledge at the very least among historians at that point, way before the Chinon parchment was found. And as far as I can tell, finding it was mostly a confirmation for historians that the Knignt Templars had been absolved by the Church (acknowledging that they were innocent), more than any surprise.
    So finding that this wasn’t already long-standing common knowledge elsewhere is a surprise to me.

    And it is the inspiration for The Accursed Kings, a big historical novel series from 1955: as he is to be burned at the stake, the Grand Master of the Order curses those who falsely condemned him (namely, Philip IV and the Pope), calling for God to punish them to the thirteenth generation. The Pope dies a month later and Philip IV within the year, while things will start to be very bad for his dynasty.
    Interestingly, this is a historical fiction, not a fantasy one, despite this framing. Jacques de Molay did utter the curse, according to witnesses of the event. Both the Pope and Philip le Bel did die, and things did go to hell from this point on, with the Hundred Years war not so far away.
    So for use in fiction, it’s hard to top a freaking Divine curse impacting entire nations for centuries to come.

    • That is interesting. I know Americans overall are very self-absorbed when it comes to history. In my state, there were two history classes: World History, that covered the big stuff from before Christ, and U.S. History. And that was it.

      I studied the Templars on my own, though only a few sources. They may have been biased, or I may remember them incorrectly, but I came away with the idea the Templars were evil terrorists using a good start and the name of God as justifications for their atrocities.

      Where the Parchment of Chinon is important to me is the church having actually absolved them of their crimes, but still caving in. It shows just how much sway Philip had over the church as a political pawn.

      For my fiction, the Templars are a subplot, really. The supernatural peacekeepers (Jedi-like) serving the “supernatural empire” kind of thing.

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