Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]



PASSING from the Strand, under Temple Bar, on the right hand are the entrances into the Temple. Quitting the noise and bustle of the crowded streets, we suddenly find ourselves wandering among its silent courts, or moralizing in its secluded garden; recalling the days of Chivalry and the Crusades, of Saladin and Coeur de Lion, when the ground on which we stand was peopled with the white robe and the red cross, the romantic garb of the great religious and military Order of the Knights Templars.

Those bricky towers

The which on Thames' broad aged back do ride,

Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers :
There whilom wont the Templar Knights to bide,
"Till they decayed through pride.

SPENCER'S Prothalamion. This famous Order was first established in England by Hugo de Payens, in 1118, shortly after the first Crusaders had rescued the Holy

City from the Infidels. The lives and properties of the numerous pilgrims to the Holy Sepulchre, were at this period constantly exposed to the attacks of the merciless bands of robbers who scoured the plains of Palestine; and it was principally for the purpose of protecting their pious Christian brethren from wrong and robbery on the road, that the Order was originally founded. It soon increased both in numbers and reputation, and in the reign of King Stephen a branch of the Order established itself in England. Their first lodge, called the "Old Temple," was in Holborn, nearly on the site of the present Southampton Buildings. In 1184, they removed to the "New Temple," on the banks of the Thames, where they remained till the suppression of their Order in 1310.

The habits and dress of the Knights Templars were originally as simple as the duties which they were called upon to perform. Their dress was a white robe, to which was afterwards added the famous red cross on the left shoulder. Honoured throughout Christendom for their piety, humility, and heroic actions, they styled themselves the Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ, subsisting entirely on alms, and in their humility deeming one horse sufficient to carry two knights. This striking evidence of their original lowliness they still continued to commemorate on the seal of their Order, even in the days of their proudest magnificence.

The principal duties which were enjoined to the

Knights Templars were chastity, self-denial, and obedience to their Superior. Previous to their admission into the Order, they were required to take a solemn oath that they were neither married nor betrothed; that they were free from debt and of sound constitutions; that they would be strictly obedient to the Master of their lodge, and the Grand Master at Jerusalem; that they would solemnly observe the rules of the Order; that they would lead a life of chastity; that their whole energies should be devoted to the conquest of the Holy Land; and that they would never permit a Christian to be despoiled of his heritage. To kiss a woman,-even though a mother or a sister,-was strictly forbidden.

By degrees, as the fame of these military monks increased, they relaxed the strictness of their original code of regulations. Instead of the single horse which was originally considered sufficient for two knights, each Templar was allowed three, with the addition of an esquire, who was usually a youth of noble birth, only too proud of such distinguished servitude. Moreover, though still required to practise in private their habits of self-denial, and to inure themselves to hardships and danger, they were permitted to wear the most splendid suits of armour; their horses, which were of the purest blood, corresponding with them in the richness of their caparisons.

Before a century and a half had elapsed, the treasures and domains of the Knights Templars

had increased to a regal magnificence. Gold had poured in to them from the superstition of the pious, and the favour of Princes. The numerous powerful nobles, who joined, their Order, threw their wealth into the common stock; and at one time they could boast the possession of no fewer than nine thousand manors. That the moral character of the Knights Templars was in some degree changed by these vast accessions of wealth and power, and that there were individual instances amongst them of arrogance, licentiousness, and broken vows, there can be little question; but that the whole Order had swerved from its ancient character for piety, chastity, and self-denial, and much more that they were guilty of the monstrous crimes with which their enemies charged them, may be safely denied. Their great crime, indeed, was their wealth, which successive sovereigns had regarded with covetous eyes; and to this, far more than to their crimes, we are to attribute the ruin of their Order, and their own memorable and cruel fate.

[ocr errors]

The first formidable blow which was struck at the Knights Templars was by Philip the Fair, King of France, in 1307, only sixteen years after their heroic defence of St. Jean d'Acre. To the cruelties to which these chivalrous warriors were subjected, it would be difficult to find a parallel even in the blood-stained chronicles of France. Philip, having determined to possess himself of their wealth, issued a manifesto, in which,—after

accusing them of the most atrocious offences,--he issued an order for the simultaneous seizure of their persons: at the same time committing them to the tender mercies of an infamous inquisition, which was empowered to put them to the torture in order to extort a confession of their guilt. As many as fifty-four of these heroic men,-preferring the rack and the stake to existence purchased at the expense of their Order,-suffered in the flames at Paris at the same time. Of the one hundred and forty knights, who were first put to the torture, no fewer than thirty-six, asserting their innocence to the last, perished under the agonies of the rack. Some, indeed, while undergoing tortures too terrible for human nature to endure, faintly admitted the guilt of their Order; but, of these, not a few subsequently retracted the confession which pain had wrung from them, and passed forth cheerfully from the dungeon to the flames.

The fate of the Grand Master, James de Molay, the last individual who filled that exalted post, was the most striking. He too, in a moment of weakness, had pleaded guilty to the charges brought against his order and himself, and consequently had been allowed to survive for a time the majority of his gallant companions in arms. His confession, however, availed him nothing, and his fate was delayed merely to allow Philip to produce him as a crowning triumph to his ruthless policy. After a protracted imprisonment, he was led forth from his dungeon to a scaffold which had been erected in



« PreviousContinue »