Crusade of Fire Mystical Tales of the Knights Templar, by Kurtz, Katherine
- ISBN: 9780446610902 | 0446610909
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 12/1/2002
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Other than King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, perhaps no other chivalric body in the world has inspired more intense or more long-lasting fascination than the Poor Fellow Soldiers of the Temple of Christ of Jerusalem, better known as the Knights Templar. Since this is the third anthology in this series about the Knights, any detailed account of their real-world history might rightly be regarded as unnecessary padding, but a brief summary is certainly in order for the benefit of readers as yet unacquainted with the Order.
They arose in the early twelfth century, in the immediate aftermath of the First Crusade and the formation of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem-warrior monks, melding the hitherto disparate concepts of chivalry and monasticism. Within less than twenty years, they would become the most formidable and feared fighting machine in all of Christendom. While their initial purpose was to protect the pilgrim roads of the Holy Land, now that travel was again possible in the land where Jesus once walked, they soon began to function as a crack military force for protection of the Holy Land itself-in effect, a private army answerable only to the pope-and a financial institution that would serve as banker for most of Europe and its crowned heads. In this latter function, they developed fiscal practices still in use today.
The success of the Templars rightly earned them a reputation for ferocity in battle and solidity in finance, but they also accrued an aura of mystery and even notoriety that has persisted to this day, underscored by the dramatic circumstances surrounding the Order's eventual demise. Even those who have never heard of the Knights Templar will be aware of the popular superstition that any Friday the Thirteenth is a probable occasion of bad luck-a combination long linked as ill-fated because of Christ's crucifixion on a Friday, after being betrayed for thirty pieces of silver by Judas Iscariot, the thirteenth disciple. The association was only reinforced when, on such a day in October of 1307, nearly all the Templars in France were simultaneously arrested and thrown into imprisonment.
Many were tortured horribly to extract confessions of an incredible variety of offenses including blasphemy, heresy, idolatry, and homosexuality. Apart from a few isolated instances of the latter, inevitable in any all-male organization, it is highly unlikely that any of the charges were true. Nonetheless, more than a hundred of the Knights perished at the stake before the Order was finally suppressed in 1312, and many had died as a result of their torture.
The manner of their ending, and persistent traditions of some kind of Templar survival, have fueled endless speculation about their actual influence, the true extent of their wealth and activities, their ultimate fate, and a thriving cottage industry that perpetuates even more speculation. Interested readers will find a bibliography of some of these titles at the back of this volume, along with those of more conventional histories.
The stories in this collection, while mostly set within the historical timeframe of the Order's existence, explore these persistent assertions that the Knights were far more than warriors and monks and bankers and counselors to royalty; that there was some mysterious and even mystical aspect to their existence and function that sometimes enabled them to operate outside and beyond the norm. And though their "official" status as a religious order spans less than two hundred years, put to an end by royal betrayal and lurid accusations, with the Order suspended by papal decree and its grand master burned at the stake, rumors of the Order's survival were rife even at the time. Though it seems likely that the Order's demise had more to do with jealousy and royal greed than from any real failing-other than naïveté, that the pope would protect them from their detractors-the fact remains that the Order kept its internal workings secret, and prospered with astonishing speed, and accrued enormous wealth and influence for which it was not answerable to anyone save the pope.
Just how this came to pass, we probably will never know for certain. Historical records of the Order are sketchy and often contradictory, but we can piece together many plausible speculations. Certain it is that in the first several decades following the First Crusade, just at the beginning of the twelfth century, the very notion of an order of warrior-monks was only just beginning to take shape in the mind of a French crusader knight called Hugues de Payens, a vassal of the Count of Champagne and kin to the counts of Troyes.
We don't know a great deal about Hugues. He would have been a young man in his early twenties when he took the Cross and left on crusade-probably a widower, certainly with a son left behind in France. He probably had come in the army of Geoffrey de Bouillon in 1096 and, like many of his crusading partners, stayed on in the Holy Land when Jerusalem was taken by the crusader army and Geoffrey was elected its king-though Geoffrey had declined to wear a crown in the Holy City, taking instead the more pious title of Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre: king in all but name, if for barely a year. It was a nicety quickly set aside by his successor, his brother Baldwin, who had no such scruples. Baldwin, in turn, was to reign in oriental splendor for nearly twenty years, during which he attempted to consolidate and stabilize the four crusader states making up the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
To put this into perspective, we should consider the size of the Latin Kingdom, and the size of the Western population attempting to make it their own, and the fact that most crusaders, if they survived battle and the desert heat, went home to Europe upon finishing their campaigns. At its height, the area in question was roughly the size of the State of Maryland-perhaps 11,000 square miles, laid out roughly in a T-shape, with the stem stretched along the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Jerusalem and its environs lay at the bottom of the stem, with the Principality of Antioch immediately above it and the Counties of Tripoli and Edessa forming the crossbar.
Muslim emirates surrounded each of these states on all landward sides, and the countryside was populated with bands of desert marauders who preyed upon travelers. Outside the Christian-occupied cities, Muslim troops might move freely-often within bowshot of the Western-held cities, whose inhabitants were able to do nothing about it. Had the emirates been able to unite under a single leader, as even the great Saladin could not accomplish, it is unlikely that a Latin Kingdom could have been formed at all, much less survived for as long as it did. At the height of the Latin Kingdom's power, the resident European population of the area probably never exceeded 20,000, with each state possessed of no more than 1,000 secular knights and barons, perhaps 5,000 serjeants, who were the fully armed infantry, and perhaps 1,000 clergymen. Over the next two centuries, Europe would continue to send periodic crusader armies to the defense of the Holy Land, until it became all too clear that the Latin Kingdom could not be held.
This, then, was the environment in which Hugues de Payens found himself, though history tells us nothing specific about his activities during this period. Some accounts suggest that he made several trips back and forth to France, but most agree in stating that, at the time he founded the Order, he had been in the Levant for twenty-two years. Knowing that he had left behind a son in France, we can speculate that at least a part of his original motivation in taking the Cross may have been the seductive possibility of winning lands and even a title in the Holy Land, if the crusade was successful. If so, however, that was an ambition that would come to have no meaning, once his son grew to manhood and took holy orders, thereby binding himself to the Church rather than carrying on the de Payens name and lineage. By 1128, when Hugues achieved papal recognition for the Order, the heir of his body had become Abbot of Saint Columb's at Sens, and was beyond the need of any secular inheritance.
Meanwhile, during those years between arriving in the Holy Land and conceiving of the institution that would leave an indelible mark on history, Hugues' life probably would have been little different from any other knight who had chosen to stay on after the end of the First Crusade. Despite the hardships of desert warfare, there would have been a certain satisfaction and even a heady excitement to being part of a victorious army, especially as a member of the knightly class. As the colonization of the new Latin Kingdom got underway, the very nature of the land to be governed would have required constant military activity to retain the precarious toe-hold the Westerners had established in the midst of their Muslim enemies.
It is more than likely that this would have been the principal occupation of Hugues and his crusading partners, some of whom undoubtedly became co-founders of the Order with him. In the beginning, as their function shifted from active warfare to peacekeeping, perhaps they even enjoyed the opportunity to be a law unto themselves-young men searching for adventure-despite the hardships of life in the desert.
Only vaguely and as a matter of passing note would Hugues and his companions have become aware of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, established in the previous century and perhaps officially founded in 1113, when the Hospital received a charter as a religious order dedicated to nursing sick and injured pilgrims. As yet, however, the Order of St. John had not taken on any military function to reduce the numbers of pilgrims who needed such assistance. That was still to come, following the example to be set by a military order still to be born.
The hard fact was that outside the cities that marked the hearts of the four crusader states-Jerusalem, Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli-the Holy Land still was not safe for pilgrims, though that had been the ostensible reason for the First Crusade. The two-day journey between the port of Joppa and the Holy City was particularly dangerous, for bandits and brigands made their camps in the caves along the way, whence they sallied forth to prey on pilgrims bound for the holy places.
The danger had been underscored just before Easter of 1119, when travelers on a Lenten pilgrimage to the River Jordan were set upon by Muslim raiders from Ascalon and Tyre. Unarmed and weakened from fasting, three hundred had been slain outright, and another sixty taken prisoner. This incident or one like it may be have been what finally focused the energies of Hugues de Payens and the companions who founded the Order of the Temple. Perhaps it happened something like this.
Excerpted from Crusade of Fire by Katherine Kurtz Copyright © 2002 by Katherine Kurtz
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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