Cross of the Knights Templar

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The history of the Knights Templar in England began when the French nobleman Hughes de Payens, the founder and Grand Master of the order of the Knights Templar, visited the country in 1118 to raise men and money for the Crusades.


King Henry II (1154–1189) granted the Templars land across England, including some territory by Castle Baynard on the River Fleet, where they built a round church, patterned after the Knights Templar headquarters on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Order was also given the advowson (right of use) of St Clement Danes.

In 1184 the Templars' headquarters was transferred to the New Temple (Temple Church) in London where once again they built a round church, this one patterned after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was consecrated in 1185, and became the location for initiation rituals.[1] In 1200, Pope Innocent III issued a Papal Bull declaring the immunity of persons and goods within the houses of the Knights Templar from local laws. This ensured that the New Temple became a royal treasury as well as the repository for the order's accumulated revenues. These financial resources provided the basis for the development of the Templar's local banking facilities.

King Richard I (1189–1199) confirmed the Templars' land holdings and granted them immunity from all pleas, suits danegeld and from murdrum and latrocinium.

King John (1199–1216) had substantial financial dealings with the Knights Templar. At the time of Runnymede, not only was Aymeric de St Maur present, but King John was also resident at the Temple when the Barons first presented their demands. He awarded them the island of Lundy as well as land at Huntspill, Cameley, Harewood, Radnage and Northampton.

King Henry III (1207–1272) also had substantial dealing with Templars, the king's Wardrobe being located there in 1225. He entrusted Templar knights with military, financial and diplomatic commissions, and even considered being buried in the Temple. He did in fact establish a chantry there in 1231.

The first Templar House in England was in London. Early patrons included Earl Robert de Ferrers, Bernard de Balliol, King Stephen of England and Queen Matilda.

An inventory by Geoffrey Fitz Stephen reveals that by 1185, the Order of the Knights Templar had extensive holdings in London, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Salop, Oxfordshire, Cornwall, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

The involvement of Templars in financial matters is highlighted by Walter of Coventry's story of Gilbert de Ogrestan, the Knight Templar accused of embezzling taxes collected in the Saladin tithe of 1188. He was severely punished by his contemporary Master.

Persecution and dissolution

Templars on Stake

Templars being burned at the stake

King Edward I (1239–1307) had accorded the Knights Templar a slighter role in public affairs, financial issues often being handled by Italian merchants and diplomacy by mendicant orders. Indeed Edward I raided the treasury in 1283.

When Philip IV, King of France suppressed the order in 1307, King Edward II of England at first refused to believe the accusations. But after the intercession of Pope Clement V, King Edward ordered the seizure of members of the order in England on January 8, 1308. Only handfuls of Templars were duly arrested however. Their trial ran from October 22, 1309 until March 18, 1310 in front of Deodatus, Abbot of Lagny and Sicard de Vaur. Most of the Templars acknowledged their belief that the Order's Master could give absolution was heretical, and were then reconciled with the church. However, Willian de la More refused to do so and remained a prisoner in the Tower of London until his death.

In 1312, under further pressure from King Philip IV of France, Pope Clement V officially disbanded the Order at the Council of Vienne. In 1314, the remaining Templar leaders in France were executed, some by being burned at the stake. Clement issued a Papal Bull which granted the lands of the Templars to the Knights Hospitaller, but this was ignored until 1324. Starting in 1347, the priests started letting (renting) part of the Temple to lawyers, from which the evolution of the Inner Temple and Middle Temple as Inns of Court derives.

Templar Survival in England

Between October 13, 1307 and January 8, 1308 the Templars went unmolested in England. During this period many fugitive Templars, seeking to escape torture and execution, fled to apparent safety there. But after repeated pressure from Philip IV and Clement V on Edward II, a few half-hearted arrests were made. During a trial running from October 22, 1309 until March 18, 1310 most of the arrested Templars were forced to acknowledge the belief that the Order's Master could give absolution was heretical, and were officially reconciled with the church, many entering more conventional monastic Orders.

Most Templars in England were never arrested, and the persecution of their leaders was brief. The order was dissolved due to damaged reputation, but given the pope and church's judgement of the order as free from guilt, all members in England were free to find themselves a new place in society. Templar lands and assets were given to the Order of the Hospital of Saint John, a sister military order--though the English crown held onto some assets until 1338. The largest portion of former Templars joined the Hospitallers, while other remaining members joined the Cistercian order, or lived on pension as lay members of society. The loss of the Holy Land as a base for war against the heathen had removed the primary reason for Templar existence, and the dissolved order now faded into history, in England as well as the rest of Europe. No clandestine secret-keeping, hiding, or underground organizations were necessary, though stories from later centuries often make use of the idea of a continuing, secret Templar presence.

The Templars in Hertfordshire

Baldock in Hertfordshire was a town founded by the Knights Templar and between 1199 and 1254 it was their English headquarters. The Hertford Mercury newspaper reported a warren of Templar tunnels beneath the town of Hertford, centering on Hertford Castle, where in 1309 four Templars from Temple Dinsley near Hitchin were imprisoned after their arrest by Edward II, who believed that they were holding a lost treasure.

Royston Cave in Hertfordshire

File:Royston Cave Catherine Christ.jpg

Modern tradition has it that after the persecution began the Templars were forced to meet in caves, tunnels and cellars in Hertfordshire and elsewhere in southeast England. However, the brief and modest persecution in England is unlikely to have necessitated this, as remaining members could, even around 1310, met at the house or room of a friend not under arrest--which would have been most Templars.

But after lying undiscovered for at least 300 years workmen accidentally stumbled upon Royston Cave (August of 1742), hidden under a heavy millstone and a covering of soil. The cave's discovery created much excitement. Today it still awes and inspires visitors who can see carvings depicting, among other images, knights, Saint George and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Before the brief persecution, the Templars, assuming the cave was theirs, had no reason to hide below the ground, and they had wealth and access to stonemasons if they required religious carvings. It is thus suggested by storytellers and a few historians that Royston Cave is evidence 'fugitive' Templars continued to meet and worship in secret after the disbandment.

There have been some highly questionable claims made about Royston Cave and its history, including the suggestion that its Templar builders may, in effect, have been early Freemasons. However, no evidence of this link has been produced at this time.

The Templars in Rochester

Much of Strood, Rochester was a royal manor until Henry II gave it to the Knights Templar around 1159. The Templars had assembled a range of buildings in Strood by 1185, which included a timber hall, barns, kitchens and stables. The stone building, which has survived to the present day, was added around 1240. It consists of a vaulted undercroft supporting a large, undivided first-floor hall, approached by an external staircase. This was probably a part of the range of facilities designed for the temporary accommodation of travelling Templar dignitaries.

Over the years this hall was altered and enlarged as it passed through the hands of a number of owners. Many additions have been lost but two fine, 17th century brick extensions can still be seen today. These and the massive internal chimney were built by the Blake family, perhaps the richest in Strood at that time.

The estate was inevitably sold off bit by bit until the City of Rochester acquired what was left and decided to use the site for industrial development. The debate over the future of the house was interrupted by a gentleman named Mr. Willis (a local councillor) in 1913 just 2 weeks after purchasing an 8.4 acre (3.4 hectare) plot of land directly East across the River Medway for a facility of what was to become known as the Seaplane Works. It was not until 1951 that work began to save the building and preserve it in the condition in which it can be seen today.

The Templars and the Shorts

On 23 September 1941 Shorts Brothers contacted the Ministry of Aircraft Production regarding their seaplane works at Rochester seeking authority to build a new underground works in tunnels excavated under chalk cliffs behind their existing MAP extension factory on the south bank of the River Medway. Space was urgently required for 75 new machine tools as their works were full to capacity. The tunnels were intended to create 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of workshop space at a cost of £20,000 which, it was acknowledged was somewhat higher than a new surface building but stress was lid upon the vulnerability of the Medway estuary.

The project was given the go ahead and the tunnels were excavated consisting of two parallel tunnels, each one hundred metres in length, these were linked by four 75 metre long adits to the cliff face at the rear of the factory. The tunnels were for the most part cut from chalk and brick lined (one of the adits was unlined). There were also two 45 degree ventilation shafts extending to the surface. At the eastern end of the tunnels the company built an extensive network of air raid shelter tunnels again consisting of two parallel drives running parallel with the cliff face, each was three hundred yards in length connected by 14 crosscuts. These were connected to the Shorts Factory tunnels by a single tunnel 400 metres in length and by 9 adits of varying lengths out to the cliff face. There were three vertical ventilation shafts to the surface which were also fitted with ladders for emergency escape.

A brief documentation was recorded stating on the night of the 19th April 1947, six young men contacted the co-workers of the tunnels demanding a site observation. The young men went by the name of "The Poor Travelers", which gave rise to confusion amongst the co-workers as they each swore an oath to "£5,000 to whosoever gave them a tour of the tunnels" Their inquisition was excused as a high interest in the art of stone masonry and would like to see such work in progress. So On the 19th of April, six "poor travelers" had the first tour of the yet unfinished tunnels, from a man known only as Mr Gore, in hope of a neat sum of £30,000. Unfortunately the money was never seen and more so neither was the travelers or Mr Gore.

Templar legacy

Nearly any site in England which uses the name "Temple," can probably be traced to Templar origins.

  • The Temple Church still stands on the site of the old Preceptory in London, and effigies of Crusading Templars can still be seen there today. The land was later rented to lawyers who use it today as Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

Modern Templar organizations in England

Several modern organizations claim links with the medieval Templars. Some, such as the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (SMOTJ), also known as the "Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani" (OSMTH), have attained United Nations NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) status. The SMOTJ admits that their group was founded in 1804, "based on the traditions" of the medieval order, which legacy they use to promote humanitarian causes.[2] However, there is often public confusion about the gap in time between the 1300s dismantling of the medieval Templars, and the 1800s rise of more contemporary organizations.

According to a 2004 article in The Times, one modern group in Hertfordshire (not affiliated to OSMTH) claims that although the medieval order officially ceased to exist in the early 1300s, that the majority of the organization survived underground. The Times article states that the group has written to the Vatican, asking for an official apology for the medieval persecution of the Templars. In Rome in 2004, a Vatican spokesman said that the demand for an apology would be given “serious consideration”. However, Vatican insiders said that Pope John Paul II, 84 at the time, was under pressure from conservative cardinals to “stop saying sorry” for the errors of the past, after a series of papal apologies for the Crusades, the Inquisition, Christian anti-Semitism and the persecution of scientists and “heretics” such as Galileo.[3]

Templar locations in England



Marble effigies of medieval knights in the Temple Church.

  • Garway Church, Herefordshire (Templar church with carvings and part of original round church excavated and fully visible)
  • Rothley Temple Templar Chapel, Rothley Court, Leicestershire, (and Templar window)
  • Shipley Church, Shipley, West Sussex
  • Poling Church, Poling, West Sussex

Place names

Other locations

  • Baldock, Hertfordshire (a town founded by the Templars)
  • Hertford
    • Hertford Castle, Hertford, Hertfordshire (where the famous Temple Dinsley Templars were imprisoned. The King searched in vain for the treasure he believed they had hidden in Hertfordshire.)
    • Hertford Suberranea: the "ancient subterranean tunnel" network beneath Hertford is said to have been used by fugitive Knights Templar long after the disbandment. (Part of the network was shown on the sale documentation of Bailey Hall in 1898, a copy of which can be seen in Hertford Museum.) In 2005 Subterranea Britannica began an investigation of the tunnels and caves but the investigation was aborted after the group received mysterious anonymous threats.
  • South Witham, Lincolnshire. The only full, preserved, knights templar preceptory within the whole of Europe.

Masters of the Temple, London

  • Robert Turvile, 1277 to 1289
  • Guy de Foresta, 1290 to 1294
  • James de Molay, 1297
  • Brian le Jay, 1298
  • William de la More, 1298 to 1307


  1. Lost Worlds: Knights Templar, July 10, 2006, History Channel video documentary
  2. OSMTH website: "The Order of the Temple is a Christian ecumenical organization founded in 1804 by the physician Fabré-Palaprat with the support of Napoleon, and officially recognized in 1853 by Napoleon III. The Order operates on the basis of the traditions of the medieval Knights Templar. It reclaims the spirit of, but does not assert any direct descent from the ancient Order founded by Hugues de Payens in 1118 and dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1312."
  3. "The Last Crusade of the Templars", November 29, 2004, The Times


Further reading

External links

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