The Templars, Magna Carta and King John

boy wearing crown statue
Magna Carta

Question: What connects “bad” King John, the famous Magna Carta and the Knights Templar? Answer: A lot more than you think!

In 1215, King John was forced into signing the Magna Carta. This document enshrined basic rights and curbed royal power. Strangely, it’s more revered in the US and Australia than it is in the United Kingdom. What is often not appreciated is the role played by the Knights Templar in the run up to King John signing Magna Carta.

King John and the Knights Templar – allies

As I’ve blogged previously, King John was no enemy of the Knights Templar. Quite the contrary. He regarded the Templar preceptories as safe bolt-holes to head for when he was in trouble – which was quite often. This of course contradicts other fictional accounts of the king’s relations with the Templars – in particular the glaringly inaccurate movie Ironclad.

In that film, John and the Templars are at loggerheads. Nothing could have been further from the truth!

John seemed to spend a great deal of time running between the Tower of London and the Templar preceptory in what is now Holborn. That area of London is sometimes referred to as “midtown” – located between the cities of London and Westminster. The Templars were advising John on how to proceed, given he had fallen out with the English barons and the pope.

The pope had even gone as far as to excommunicate John – meaning no English subject really had to obey him. In fact, they almost had a holy duty to overthrow him. This was a time when the papacy was at the height of its power so John had picked the wrong moment in history to irritate the Vatican.

Magna Carta

Luckily for John he had one set of reliable friends: The Templars

In 1213, King John had his excommunication limited in return for a gold Mark – which he borrowed from the Templars. In early 1215, his fraught negotiations with the barons were largely conducted from the Temple in London.

He spent Easter there and then in May, granted the City of London the right to freely elect its own mayor. Unfortunately, any goodwill this may have accrued from the citizenry was cancelled out when the barons seized the city.

READ MORE: Were the Templars the first bankers in world history?

In June, he agreed to sign Magna Carta. Just to look a bit grander for the occasion, he borrowed the imperial regalia of his grandmother the Empress Matilda – which the Templars just happened to have under lock and key in the preceptory.

When the big day came to sign Magna Carta, King John made sure the Templar grand master Brother Aymeric was at his side.

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