I’m often asked if I can recommend any books that describe what the Templars were really all about – and I won’t hesitate to point you in the direction of the works of Dr Evelyn Lord…who has very kindly shared some of her insights on the Knights Templar below.
When I began to write Quest for the True Cross – one of the first books I read was The Knights Templar in Britain and it I recommend it to any of you who want to understand the Order of the Temple.
So without any further ado – here is Dr Lord to shine some light on the real Templars:
The medieval Templars were founded to protect pilgrims in the east, and were eventually caught up in the Crusades, although this was not their prime purpose.
In medieval Britain the Templars had no military function. Their importance nationally came from their role as advisers and councillors to the crown, and bankers and holders of safe-deposits to the crown and the nobility. At times they helped to found the first ‘royal’ navy, and acted as tax collectors. The latter helped to make them unpopular.
They had extensive estates in Britain, devoted to agriculture, either arable or pastoral depending on the countryside where they were situated. A percentage of their produce had to be sent east, but as Britain was far removed from the theatre of war, this was usually sent as a percentage of cash profits, although one estate, Rothley in Leicestershire, was supposed to send all their profits east.
There were more Templar estates in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire than other counties, but this was because they were large counties with land to spare. The most important estates after the London Temple were in Hertfordshire and Essex, and the most profitable in Leicestershire.
The Templars were landlords like any other medieval baron; collecting rents from tenants, putting them to work on the Templars’ land, improving and reclaiming land from marsh, fens and waste, and running markets to sell their produce.
After their suppression the Templars’ estates in theory were given to the Knights Hospitallers, but in practice in England many of the descendants of the original donors to the Templars, took these back, and Edward II had already given some of the Temple land to his supporters.
So the Hospitallers in England did not get all the Templar land at the suppression, although they did get the best known Templar site – Cressing Temple.