It’s been a while since I reviewed a book I’ve read about the Middle Ages, so I thought I’d have a look at a book I’ve just finished. The Templars: History and Myth by Michael Haag was published in 2010. The Templars were dissolved at the beginning of the fourteenth century, so I didn’t really read the book with a view to learning anything that I could use in a story. Like almost everyone else, I’m fascinated by the story of the Templars and intrigued by the idea that a group of men held in such esteem across Europe for two centuries could fall so decisively and so suddenly.
The book begins with the building of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem from which the Templars took their name. It covers the early crusades and the creation of the Templars in 1119. After Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099, Christian pilgrims started travelling to worship there. There were many thefts, rapes and murders before the Templars were formed to protect the pilgrims. They were created as an order of monks who were permitted to bear arms against the enemies of the church, and they also supported the Christian states in Outremer (as the region was known) in battles with the Muslims.
After the fall of the last Christian stronghold in Outremer in 1291, there seemed to be little reason for the Templars to continue. By then, however, they had become lenders to many of the kings across Europe. Their wealth brought about their downfall when Philippe IV of France thought it should be moved across Paris from their headquarters to his. The ensuing capture, torture and execution of most of the Templars in France mark the low point of his reign.
Haag sets out the history of the Templars very clearly, although it’s a fairly superficial history. This takes up only two-thirds of the book. The rest covers the mythology that rose up after the Templars were disbanded. Many of them seem to originate in the, surprisingly credulous, nineteenth century. There’s also a bit of a travelogue taking the reader to places where the Templars had bases. The final chapters look at books and films about the Templars, including one of my favourites, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Holy Grail and the Turin Shroud also receive mentions.
The book is easy to read and there are no footnotes to interrupt the flow of the text. Although I prefer my reference books to have footnotes, I wasn’t particularly bothered that they were missing here.
It’s a very sensible book and not as sensational as I was expecting. I’ve read things about the Templars that have more to do with the authors’ imaginations than with any researched facts. As an introduction to the Templars I think it does rather well.
One of the interesting facts in the book is that some of the French Templars who survived got married so I might write a romance about a Templar after all.