The Knights Templar versus the medieval chroniclers

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Medieval chroniclers rarely had anything good to say about the Knights Templar. They were greedy, lying, scheming, heretical and treacherous individuals in league with the enemy. And from the Templars themselves – silence. Their records were destroyed at the end of the crusades. And so their voices go unheard.

All we have are the often bitchy accounts of monks and bishops who dipped their quills in ink only to stab the Templars in print. If the Templars won a battle – they were arrogant and reckless. If they lost a battle – they were cowards and pathetic.

These chroniclers kicked off the parallel history of the Knights Templar. That is a semi-factual or even downright fictitious telling of the Templar story. Some of the vitriol is so strong, you’re left wondering whether it’s true or just very crude propaganda.

Medieval chroniclers dish the dirt on the Knights Templar

These chroniclers were the medieval equivalent of our social media influencers today. And some of the stuff they put down on parchment would easily qualify as click bait in our time. Racy allegations and nudge-nudge wink-wink comments about the knights. And this negative commentary was far from harmless. I think it’s fair to say that over a two-hundred year period it helped to cement the case for the prosecution when it came to taking the Templars down.

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At the very beginning – when the Templars were founded – the knights found support from Bernard of Clairvaux, the most important cleric of the day. Popes showered the Templars with privileges and exemptions from both the control of princes and bishops. But there’s nothing like success to breed envy and hatred.

It only took a few setbacks in the Holy Land for the quills to come out. Both William of Tyre and Walter Map – leading chroniclers of the time – accused the Templars of being way too fanatical. And linked to that were accusations of corruption. The only reason they wanted war to continue in the Middle East was because they were making too much money to want it to stop.

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Medieval chroniclers claim the Knights Templar were saboteurs

One of the most sensational claims made was that the Templars had deliberately scuppered negotiations between the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem and the Shiite Muslim Assassins. The reason was that the latter were paying the Templars tribute to leave them alone. And the knights had no interest in a peace treaty being signed. So, it was alleged, they killed an envoy of the Assassins to mess things up.

Another chronicler, Matthew Paris, said that the orders were always fighting each other. They were like rival military gangs marking their territory. And of course as large money-making machines, they had no interest in collaborating against the common enemy. It didn’t help that when Pope Clement V asked the Hospitallers and Templars to merge – the latter told him where to go.

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