The Knights Templar had one of the most recognisable brands in the Middle Ages. Who didn’t know those white mantles with red crosses and what they represented? There were strict rules about how a Templar presented himself on the battlefield and one important element was the cloak.
The Templar cloak
So what did a Templar wear over his armour? Let’s look at a Templar on horseback and work out what he’s got on.
OK – we see the white mantle that distinguished Templar knights on the battlefield. Templar serjeants wore black mantles which were confusingly similar to the black mantles of the Knights Hospitaller – well, I think they were, you tell me different.
Papal permission to wear the white cloak
From the papal Council of Troyes in 1129, the Templars were permitted to wear the white mantle but the red cross with equally sized arms was not added for nearly another twenty years. This was a decision made by pope Eugenius III in 1147 at the height of the second crusade and after intense lobbying by the Templar’s great champion Bernard of Clairvaux.
The white mantle is clearly a sign of purity while the cross is said to have been a symbol of martyrdom and as I’ve said before the Templars had a relish for the concept of martyrdom that we’d associate in our own time with Islamic fundamentalists. They venerated saints that had suffered gruesome martyrdom.
The cloak was a sacred Templar statement
When in battle, the knights Templar – easily identifiable in their mantles – were often the last to leave the battlefield when other, secular knights, might have fled. Their mantles were not just items of clothing but religious habits, monastic garb.
As such, they had to be looked after and tended respectfully and the Rule was clear that they couldn’t just be casually hung up at night. It was an absolute condition of being a monastic knight in the Templar order that their mantle was worn during the many prayers they were obligated to make during the day.
Templars also could have a cope – a hooded cloak that could be tied and fastened round the neck. Copes, mantles, cloaks were not allowed to have any ornamentation and the sort of fur lining worn by aristocrats was completely forbidden by the Rule.