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Medieval Historical Backgrounds
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Templars and Hospitallers
In another entry I described the Teutonic Knights, one of the three most famous orders of fighting monks in the middle ages. The other two, the Templars and Hospitallers, are better known.
The order of the Knights of the Temple was founded around 1119 in the Holy Land, with the goal of protecting pilgrims. The order quickly spread, and by the middle of the twelfth century it was involved not only in reinforcing the military campaigns in the Holy Land, but also in military actions in Europe. During the crusades, the Templars' organization and courage made them formidable foes.
Over the next century and a half, the order grew wealthy and powerful. It had temples throughout Europe that served much as banks do today. Money could be left with them for safekeeping, and they also provided courier services for the transportation of money and valuables. They lent money to many of the kings of Europe.
With the fall of Acre in 1291, all of the military orders became vulnerable, since their primary function, the Christian liberation of the Holy Land, had been rendered obsolete. The Templars attracted the attention of the French king, Philip IV, who most historians believe wanted their wealth. He arrested all of the Templars living in Paris, the administrative center of the order, in October of 1307. Under torture, the grand master Jacques de Molay and his circle confessed to heresy. With this evidence in hand, Philip continued his attack, ordering the closing of Templar monasteries. Pope Clement at first tried to protect the order, but in 1312 he issued a bull that ordered its dissolution. Jacques de Molay and the other leaders were to be imprisoned for life, but when they recanted their confessions they were burned to death in 1314.
The Hospitallers were given the Templars property. However, some of the property found its way into private hands, including those of Philip IV. Templars were assigned to other monastic orders. None of the charges against them, which came to include heresy, witchcraft, and sodomy, among other crimes, was ever proven. In England, Edward I was so unimpressed by the evidence that he insisted that each Templar be given a trial, at which none were convicted. Edward also was slow to confiscate their property. The situation was even more peculiar in Scotland. Because of the war with England, the bull ordering the dissolution of the order was never officially promulgated.
The primary benefactors of the Templars' fall was the Order of St. John, commonly known as the Hospitallers. It was founded before the first crusade, and protected a hospice for pilgrims within the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. It soon became a powerful military order in the Holy Land, although it had members and hospices throughout Europe as well.
After 1291, the order moved to the island of Rhodes, and then, in 1530, to the island of Malta. At that point they became known as the Knights of Malta. They were settled there by the Spanish emperor, and they owed fealty to the king of Sicily, to whom they paid a yearly tribute of one maltese falcon. From there their naval forces policed the Mediterranean. In 1798, however, they surrendered to Napoleon, and ceased to exist as a military force. The order today has an administrative center in Rome, and confines itself to charitable work.
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