Political Masterclass: Death of the Templars, VI
Although it’s not part of the narrative of the Templar’s downfall, it’s worth pointing out that Philip IV wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. Part of the reason for his enormous debt was the amount of money he had been forced to spend fighting the English at the turn of the century. He was only fighting the English because, as part of his plans of centralization, he tried to use a diplomatic incident and the complex legalities of the feudal system to wrest control of the duchy of Aquitaine from the King of England. Not only did he fail, but the peace agreement he eventually agreed to would be a direct cause of the Hundred Years’ War three decades later, much to the dismay of his descendants.
Now then, some reading material. Unfortunately, a lot of the exposure the Templars get in popular media is of the “world-controlling conspiracy” variety, but there are some good texts out there. Evelyn Lord’s The Templar’s Curse is the most comprehensive and straightforward one available; it’s also quite modern, having been published in 2008.
Knighthoods of Christ: Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar, as edited by Norman Housley, is rather more dense, being intended for an academic audience, but if you can stomach the dryness of its content it has some excellent passages regarding James Molay, the last Master of the Temple. Philip IV, incidentally, had Molay burned to death at the stake, as he refused to confess to the wild accusations the King had levelled at him. I’m beginning to think “the Fair” was a title given to Philip ironically by his enemies.
There are also a number of translated primary sources available for those who prefer their history direct from the ones that witnessed it. The Crusades: A Reader, edited by S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt, is a tome thick with documents dating back to the Crusades, and has many passages detailing the military accomplishments of the Knights Templar. The Chronicle of the Third Crusade: The Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, translated by Helen J. Nicholson, consists of the records kept by the monks who accompanied the Third Crusade, providing a sort of real-time narration of events – with suitable monastic embellishment, of course. Finally, there is Bernard of Clairvaux’s In Praise of the New Knighthood. I mentioned this one earlier; it’s the pamphlet Bernard wrote to drum up support for the Knights Templar when the order was still new on the scene and in need of both recruits and financial support. Personally, I used the translation provided by M. Conrad Greenia.
The full list of my sources is, of course, available in the usual place.