Few military orders throughout history have maintained the same air of secrecy and mystique as the Knights Templar. From their humble origins in the Middle East to their sudden fall in Paris centuries later, their story has captivated generations and inspired books, films, and video games.
Perhaps more tantalizing, however, are the many conflicting theories their legacy has inspired since they vanished from the pages of history.
They were formed in 1120 when it became apparent pilgrims were in danger from marauding bandits and highwaymen on the road to Jerusalem. The founders made it their mission to protect Christians journeying to their holy sites.
They called themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Much of their identity in the early years was defined by their poverty – reflected by their emblem of two men riding one horse – but that did not last for very long.
Ironically, this small and impoverished Order eventually became one of the wealthiest and most powerful political factions in Medieval Europe. Generous benefactors, the backing of the Church and a great deal of shrewd financial investment allowed the Templars to rise to prominence and influence across the continent.
However, King Philip IV of France developed a personal vendetta against the Order and decided to take action against them. In the 1300’s the Monarch successfully cracked down on the Templars, accusing them of heresy and had key figures in the group executed. Officially, their story ended there, with the Order disbanded and the remaining members scattered to the wind.
However, that may not be the case.
There are theories – some more convincing than others – as to the various forms in which the Knights Templar may have continued, and where their influence was strongest years after their apparent downfall in France.
Contemporary accounts gave rise to the theory that a fleet of eighteen ships belonging to the Templars and moored at La Rochelle was used for a daring escape. Certainly, the Order had numerous vessels and many members who were never apprehended by the French authorities. Their fate is still a subject of debate to this day. Jean de Châlon, a brother of the Order, testified that eighteen galleys had set sail under the command of Templar officers, laden with a “whole treasury.”
Subsequently, some historians have cast doubt on the reliability of that testimony. There is no doubt many Templar Knights were able to inexplicably evade capture and flee abroad, some heading north across the sea to Scotland. That theory is in keeping with both the Scottish connection and another even stranger hypothesis.