The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and their Myth
Dr. Partner’s short book is divided into two equal parts, of which the first is easier to read and review than the second. It begins by surveying the history of the Knights Templar from their foundation in the early twelfth century to their brutal suppression in the early fourteenth. The familiar story is well told, and subjected to much perceptive comment. It reminds us that the author is a distinguished historian whose published works on the late medieval papacy are highly regarded by academic colleagues and by a wider circle of students.
The knights and serving brothers of the Temple, like those of the Hospital, came into being to minister to the needs of pilgrims to the Holy Land: the Hospitallers to tend the sick poor, the Templars to give armed protection to those going up to Jerusalem from the coast. As time passed the two orders came to resemble each other ever more closely. In both, the knights took monastic vows. The Templars were fighting men from the beginning; the Hospitallers, without abandoning their charitable provision for the sick, gradually became so. Both orders developed their military skills and organization to the degree that their knights and sergeants became a substantial, as well as the best trained and disciplined, part of the army of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. There they accepted the custody of castles that secular lords could no longer afford to maintain. Such services in the land in which the human Christ had lived and died attracted the benefactions of the pious in all parts of the Christian West. Both orders therefore became wealthy international organizations. Their lands, and the establishments from which those lands were administered, and their members and servants who were the administrators, could be found in nearly all regions of Europe as well as in the Latin East.
They came to be identified in the public mind with the defense of the Holy Land. Many who wished to give money to provide financial support for the Christian cause in Palestine did so by making their gifts or bequests to the Templars or Hospitallers as the safest means of ensuring that their pious intention would be fulfilled. When Henry II of England taxed the chattels and incomes of his subjects as a means of financing a new crusade, each group of officials that levied the tax in every parish in the land was accompanied by a Templar and Hospitaller. Members of both orders were to be found as trusted agents and men of affairs in papal, royal, and baronial households. In short, Templars were familiar figures in the Latin Christian world throughout much of the twelfth and all of the thirteenth century. Like members of the numerous monastic and mendicant orders, Templars were everywhere recognizable by their distinctive dress, as well as by their churches and their residential and administrative centers.
They had critics and enemies. Like other international religious orders the Templars had been granted by successive popes a large measure…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.