The Templars: The Rise And Spectacular Fall Of God’s Holy Warriors, by Dan Jones
As someone who has read several of the author’s books, I was pleased that he explored one of the more striking aspects of history that occurs in his beat of the High Middle Ages, especially as they relate to the Plantagenet dynasty and its cadet houses. And so it is that the author tells a compelling and dark narrative tale of the Templars, commenting on the reasons why they entered into the mythos of literature in a way that other military organizations like the Hospitaliers (themselves involved in a leadership crisis over their independence as a military order not dissimilar from that which destroyed the Templars at present) and Teutonic Knights did not. The author perhaps neglects the literary importance of the Order of Calatrava, though, for where would we be in seeking to point out the possibilities of a constitutional Spanish monarchy without Fuente Ovejuna? Anyway, I digress, because the author wants the reader to see the historical importance of the Templars and how their legitimacy was deeply connected to the Crusades and threatened by its profitable banking operations which made them a target for insolvent rulers like the French king whose hostility destroyed them.
This book of almost 400 pages is divided into four parts with various supplementary material. After a list of maps, author’s note, and introduction that describes the author’s aim of providing a narrative history, the book begins with four chapters that look at the hazy and obscure initial founding of the Templars as an organization of pilgrim knights set up for the defense of other pilgrims in the holy land between 1102 and 1144. After that the author looks at the striking independence of the order and its efforts to deal with the problems of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the period between the fall of Edessa and the catastrophic defeat at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 where much of the order was wiped out. The third part of the book explores the transition of the order from 1189-1260 from a military one alone to one which was capable of helping to promote the crusader ideal through loans made, including that to Louis IX that helped him escape captivity in Egypt. Finally, the author examines the period between 1260 and 1314 where the order came under increasing criticism in the face of the destruction of the final crusader kingdoms on the Asian mainland as well as the hostility of the King of France and the craven surrender of the Templars to his hatred by the cowardly pope. After this the author talks about the aftermath of the fall of the Templars and the legendarium that surrounds them, and provides some appendices that provide a cast of major characters, popes, kings and queens of Jerusalem, and the masters of the order of the Temple.
Overall, this book is a compelling story. One sees a great deal of the tensions that the Templars faced. They were created to serve for the defense of pilgrims but frequently acted independently of secular rulers, which created some consistent tensions between themselves and others who wanted to rule them but were in need of their military expertise and financing at the same time. The order was pledged to poverty but was a wealthy institution whose wealth gave it political influence and made it vulnerable to dissolution and hostility from envious opponents. The order was pledged to celibacy but during its fall was accused of all kinds of sins that would appear as virtues in a Lois McMaster Bujold novel. Ultimately, an order that was pledged to serve as a group of holy knights engaged in the crusades was unable to survive the collapse of the crusader realms. And while that is regrettable, it is hardly surprising. Some institutions are simply unable to change with the times and make the wrong enemies during their time on top.