Medieval chroniclers loved to stick the boot into the Knights Templar. William of Tyre, John of Salisbury and Walter Map could barely bring themselves to write something nice about the knights. The Templars were getting a bad press almost from day one. The question is – why?
The Knights Templar wrote nothing about themselves. They did have supporters in the saintly shape of Bernard of Clairvaux who penned very flattering words about them. But most of the accounts from medieval chroniclers are pretty terrible. They really didn’t like the knights at all.
Templars – heroes or villains?
We’re used to the idea of the Knights Templar being either vilified or heroised since their destruction in 1307 – but what’s more intriguing is the way that people wrote about the Templars while they were still up and running….and crusading.
Because the views of the Templars from contemporary sources are often pretty damning. William of Tyre, for example, seems to have dipped his pen in bile and poison before scribbling anything down about the Templars.
His account has often been taken as gospel and quoted by Muslim authors writing about the wicked knights. But these days, historians realise that some of these chroniclers had wider and deeper agendas. They were serving those who had an interest in undermining the Templars for a variety of reasons.
Medieval chroniclers – their main accusations!
So what accusations and insults were hurled by the Templars’ critics? It tended to go along these lines:
- They are in league with the Muslim enemy and not serving Christ at all
- The Templars are only interested in money and are greedy and self-serving
- They are not brave in battle but reckless and put other lives in danger
- The Templar rituals include abominable acts such as spitting on crucifixes
These chroniclers undoubtedly made it much easier for King Philip of France and Pope Clement to destroy the Templars in 1307. A long legacy of brickbats being thrown at the warrior knights fostered the impression that there had always been something rotten about the order from the outset.
As early as 1170, the aforementioned William of Tyre, after describing how the Templars came into being, asserted that they had abandoned their early humility and gorged themselves with riches. Why, they had even ditched their commitment to obey the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had helped them in the early days, swearing loyalty to the Pope in Rome alone. Such ingratitude!
They have also taken away tithes and first fruits from God’s churches, have disturbed their possessions, and have made themselves exceedingly troublesome.
Another chronicler, Matthew Paris, expressed a common gripe among the mainstream clergy: as the Templars were getting so many donations, where was it all going? He wrote that the order “swallow down such great revenues as if they sink them into the gulf of the abyss”.