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For centuries the Knights Templar were one of the wealthiest and most powerful international organisations in Europe. Beginning as a small group of knights that banded together to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to the holy land after the first crusade, they eventually grew into the world’s first multinational corporation. Their services expanded to a wide range of activities, including international banking, with travellers cheques being issued to pilgrims in Europe to be redeemed in Jerusalem – a much safer way to carry money across the long journey. 1
They had also had a large army. At their height, Templar knights were present across Europe, Africa and the Middle-East, and even had their own navy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, they were Europe’s premier financial and military power. However, all of this began to decline at the Horns of Hattin in 1187, when Saladin – the first sultan of Egypt and Syria – annihilated the Templar army and took Jerusalem out of the hands of Christian forces. After that, it was a slow decline. The Knights Templar spent more than a hundred years trying to retake the Holy Land. However, they could not permanently regain it, and with that they started to lose their reason for being in the eyes of many.
Some started to question why this rich organisation was being given so many privileges. Not only did the Templars operate banks, vineyards and other businesses tax-free, they also enjoyed unrestricted mobility of their armies across Christian Princes’ borders. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Knights Templar was even contemplated forming its own monastic state, much like what had been done in Prussia and Rhodes.
Whilst many were unhappy with the knights’ wealth and power, it would take more than petty grumbling for change to happen. A powerful organisation could only be felled by a powerful enemy. And, as bankers of Europe, they had many disgruntled clients who could become such an adversary. King Philip IV of France was heavily indebted to the Templars. King Philip had used large sums of borrowed money to fight the English, and now that he no longer needed the army, he began to scheme a way of getting rid of the Templars. Luckily for him, he was in a particularly fortunate scenario, for the Pope was living with his court in Avignon under his dominion. Not only that, Pope Clement V was his relative. Able to pressure the Pope to act in his favour, Philip engineered the spreading of rumours about the Templars. By the early fourteenth century, it was whispered that the knights committed nefarious and lascivious acts during their ceremonies.
On Friday 13th October 1307, Phillip staged a massive coordinated strike against the Templars. Scores of Templar knights were arrested. On 22nd November, the Pope followed suit and instituted a Papal bull that gave every monarch free reign to arrest the Templars and seize all of their assets. Over the next several years, Templars were burned at the stake for unsubstantiated claims and were eventually entirely dissolved. 2
When their defiant Grand Master Jacques de Molay met the flames in 1314, with his hands tied together in prayer, contemporary records reported his final words as prophecy,
“God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death” 3
A month later, Pope Clement died and by the end of year King Philip of France was also dead.
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