An English king, the Knights Templar and a pawnbroker

Imagine a King of England taking his crown down to the pawnbrokers to see how much he could get for it. But that’s exactly what Henry III did and the pawnbrokers were none other than the Knights Templar.

Henry was fighting his own barons – much as his father King John had. You’ll remember John as the monarch forced to sign Magna Carta. Henry’s popularity had collapsed because his various attempts to regain his lost territory in France had failed. That had cost a pretty penny but when his own barons in England rebelled, the king’s debts skyrocketed.

Henry turns to the nearest pawnbrokers – the Knights Templar

Henry was struggling to keep his throne and save his own life. And according to one account, he asked the Knights Templar in Paris to keep hold of his crown and other jewels. These priceless items then reappeared a few years later, presumably once he’d paid off the debt. The Templars essentially behaved like pawnbrokers, giving Henry some ready cash in return for state regalia.

There’s some confusion over which crown Henry might have pawned to the Templars. Because his father John had lost one set of crown jewels at the end of his reign. They were swallowed up accidentally into a marsh while John was fleeing a French army.

Knights Templar as pawnbrokers

The Paris Temple was the mother of all preceptories with its high walls and vast amounts of bullion contained within.  Crowned heads, popes and princes borrowed thousands of ‘livres’ from Paris making it a source of envy and hatred among the Templar’s enemies and creditors.

For Henry, it was a financial lifeline. The Templars had always run a kind of early banking system. The nobility and clergy could deposit their wealth in return for a kind of cheque. Henry just one step further and stuck his crown in the vault.

2 Comments on “An English king, the Knights Templar and a pawnbroker

  1. Hello: I saw this on Twitter and as the de Montforts are related to me (my branch and theirs share a descent from a Thurstan de Bastemburgh; we came to England in 1066; out lines re-intergrated through marriage when Simon came to England), have an interest in this period.

    John kept his treasures partly with the Templars and when the French arrived (the Dauphin, not the king), we have records of his withdrawing them from all the various places they’d been kept and having them sent to him at Corfe castle, where he was at the time. One of the ways we can verify that John lost in the Wash the three sets of coronation regalia in his possession is that when Henry was enthroned king, it was with a circlet, rather than crown. He therefore probably did not have much to hock.

    This dynasty seems to have taken a practical view of their possessions and were, as you say, quite innovative in the manner they raised money. John, at the time he lost his treasures, was on the east coast because as London was closed to him, was using the Hanseatic ports to bring in mercenaries from Germany via Antwerp, as well as collect taxes from the trade of these ports (salt was a major export from the east coast salt pans).

    With the family heirlooms lost by John, I doubt Henry had much personal commitment to the few baubles he’d managed to collect.

    • Very grateful for your contribution here. The point about John losing the Crown Jewels in the Wash is of course very pertinent and that Henry’s regalia would have been much diminished. Worth adding that our image of the ‘Crown Jewels’ is linked to the regalia that emerged in the Restoration after Cromwell and the Victorian period. The collection has probably never been grander than it is today!

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