Earlier last year, History Channel green-lit Avengers's Jeremy Renner's production of the period drama series Knightfall. The 10-episode miniseries focuses on the Knights Templars and much of their mysteries and stories — along with great bloody battles fought for the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The premise is grand, especially if one considers the shroud of mystery that has surrounded the Templars and their secretive Order throughout the centuries. The Templars have been closely associated with Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail and even a whole dynasty who supposedly descend from Jesus himself (but that's for another post!).
While we wait for Knightfall to premiere and reveal some of those mysteries, let's have a look at the real history of the Templars, their rise and what prompted the destruction of their powerful monastic Order overnight.
Who Were The Templars?
The Knights Templar — or, if we're going formal, Poor Fellow Soldiers of the Order of Christ and the Temple of Solomon — were a military order which was founded in 1119 by Hugues de Payens, a French knight. The Order was formed as a means to protect the pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land (who often fell victim to robbery and murder on their way to Jerusalem) and it was initially composed of a mere nine knights.
Under the protection of the King of Jerusalem, the Order grew enough to actually earn a place for their headquarters in Jerusalem — more precisely, on the Temple Mount. That's where the 'Temple of Solomon' part of the Templars' name comes from, since it was believed that the Solomon's sacred temple once stood on the Mount.
How Much Influence Did The Templars Have?
Although the Order originally struggled to obtain financial backing, once the Templars fell into the graces of the Church, their financial and political influence grew exponentially. Through noble families willing to aid in the fight for the Holy Land, the Templars acquired land, treasure, influence and manpower to fill their ranks and, through a Papal bull the Templars were exempted from obeying the local laws, being answerable only to the Pope himself.
Templars were officially a military order — with heavily armored knights and even their own fleet of ships — but, without a doubt their most recognizable legacy is in the economic realm. The knights took a poverty vow, but the Order was an extremely rich one and, eventually, began setting the foundations for the modern banking system. At the time, if a wealthy nobleman opted to join the Crusades, he would entrust his possessions to a Templar in his country of origin and, upon safely reaching the Holy Land, he would be able to draw the same amount in equivalent riches from a local Templar through a letter of credit.
What Went Wrong For The Templars?
As a wise uncle once said, "with great power comes great responsibility" and the Templars had, by mid-1200s, a fair amount of power to distress even the mightiest kings in Europe. The Order's military purpose dwindled after the Holy Land was taken by Muslim forces in 1187, which forced the Templars to invest even more on their other areas of interest such as farming, manufacturing, winemaking and, of course, banking.
The Templars were growing in power still — even contemplating the creation of their own monastic state — which certainly didn't sit well with the nobility. It's interesting to note, that the Templars had enough influence to lend money to powerful states and kings, such as France which, in turn, left the royalty at the mercy of the Order.
Friday, October 13th, 1307
There's some serious speculation that it was precisely their power to finance and support entire states that set the Templars on the path to their downfall. King Philip IV of France was one of those who was greatly indebted to the Templars, and so when he was called upon by Pope Clement V to aid in an investigation of heresy against the Templars, Philip supposedly took advantage of his position and decided to rid himself and France of any Templar debts.
In an artfully engineered plan, King Philip IV sent out riders with royal dispensations throughout France to every province that had a Templar House. His plan depended on the utmost secrecy, so he gave clear instructions that the letters should all be opened in the morning of the same day — making sure all the letters reached their destinations before the first was opened. And so, in the morning of October 13, 1307, the letters were opened and Phillip's order, to seize and imprison every Templar under the charge of heresy, was revealed — thus creating the Friday 13th myth.
More on #Knightfall:
How Much Will 'Knightfall' Cover?
Knightfall will focus on the fall of the Templars, their persecution and, ultimately, their burning at the stakes after the Order's forceful dissolution on October 13, 1307. It's centered around Landry (Tom Cullen), a knight who is disheartened by the loss of the Holy Land at the Battle of Hattin in 1187. According to History Channel's official synopsis, Knightfall promises to offer an in-depth look at the Templars beliefs, their code of honor, their enemies and their legacy.
"Knightfall takes you inside the world to find out who these knights were, how they lived, and what they died believing".
Knightfall is set to premiere on the History Channel later this year.