It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the work of the 'Green Scribbler.' I crossed paths with this writer a number of years ago, and found her work to be of the highest quality. She has agreed to contribute to this site from time to time, and can be contacted at
. Her first contribution is an historical account of the Knights Templar. Please enjoy:
"In 1119 the order of The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon was founded. We know its adherents today as the Templars, chivalrous monks identifiable in their long white robes embroidered with a blood red cross. Popularised in such movies as Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, the real story of the Templars is as much about the foundations of modern international banking as it is about their elite fighting prowess protecting Christendom in the Holy Lands and beyond. Ironically, it was their financial prowess which proved their downfall, and not many years of slaughter on the Battlefield.
In the time of the Crusades, the original intention of the order’s foundation was to safeguard pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, and to defend Jerusalem from the Saracens. The Templars were monks, sworn to a vow of poverty, and though the individuals could not receive and use wealth, the order as an institution became wealthy through donations brought to the order as dowries from new members, and through donations from those eager to procure a place in heaven.
Pope Innocent II gave papal sanction to the order in the papal Bull Omne Datum Optimum, which effectively laid the foundations for its increasing power throughout Europe; as a charity, the order was exempt from taxes, including ecclesiastical taxes, and could traverse borders freely, answerable to no civil or regal jurisdiction, but protected by the Pope. This made the amassing of wealth relatively easy for the Templars during a time of racking taxes for the general populaces in many European countries. It also ensured that they had full jurisdiction over their estates and inhabitants.
Donations of land, buildings, crops and animals were manifold and in a relatively short number of years, the Templars had constructed a network of houses, castles, temples and preceptories all throughout Europe as well as the Outremer. They obtained royal permissions to run markets and fairs and earned money from the dues paid as well as boosting agrarian economies. Within 30 years, as trade and travel flourished, the focus of protecting journeying pilgrims had shifted to that of protecting the pilgrims’ property and valuables.
The Templars were trusted and acted as asset managers for goods, wealth and lands belonging to nobles who went travelling. The strong nature of discipline inherent in monastic orders was put to particularly good effect in terms of their daily record-keeping when it came to financial dealings. Upon receipt of deposit, the depositor would receive a letter of credit that stated the name of the depositor, the name of the Templar cashier, the date and nature of the transaction and the amount and account to be credited.
These daily records were transferred to a larger register, and the account holder could use the letter at another Templar location to draw down monies/assets against the original deposit. In fact, statements were issued several times a year! Given that the Templars had major financial houses in London, Paris and Jerusalem, it effectively meant that they could make funds available wherever needed. In addition they made loans, traded, and collected tithes.
They provided mobile financial services as well – floating treasure ships off the coast of wherever knights or nobles happened to be campaigning to provide emergency withdrawal facilities. It wasn’t just all about deposits and withdrawals either – they performed currency conversions and imposed charges for the facility. Their vast fleet of ships servicing practically every major port from West to Eastern Europe facilitated a healthy import/export trade.
Over the next two centuries, the Templars intertwined spiritual power with government power. The French gave over their Treasury to the Paris Temple, however the more prudent English kept their own Treasury as part of the Royal household. Some amongst their members rose to high office or became famous bankers of the times in their own right: Hugh Comte de Champagne and the ministers of finance for James I of Aragon, and Charles I of Naples.
In a curious parallel to the current Irish banking crisis, the Templars were destroyed by an overleveraged creditor. King Philip IV of France had obtained multiple loans to finance wars, dowries, and his general profligacy. On requesting a further loan to finance a war against the English (bear in mind the Templars had a large financial institution in London as well as Paris), the Templars refused and the enraged King manoeuvred politically over the next seven years to exact a terrible retribution on the order’s members and the institution – undoubtedly with his avaricious eye on their vast wealth.
Having embarked on a malign campaign of inquisition and torture within France, Philip finally influenced the new French Pope Clement V to dissolve the order. Whilst the pope directed that the Templar assets be transferred to the Hospitaller order, Philip, amongst other rulers, appropriated the assets for his own use. In 1314, the Templars ceased to exist, yet the foundations for modern international banking remained, and were promulgated by the merchants of the Renaissance."