The history of the Knights Templar in London, and the legacy they’ve left behind.
London, as any frequent reader of this site will know, has some seriously cool history, history that stretches back millennia.
One slice of that history we find fascinating is the presence of The Knights Templar in our fair city. The religious order played a crucial role in the politics of the Middle Ages and has, thanks to The Da Vinci Code and Assassin’s Creed, gone on to lodge itself firmly in the contemporary imagination.
Who were these finely armoured fellows, what did they do here, and what of their legacy remains? Let’s find out.
Who Were the Knights Templar
The Knights Templar were a fascinating bunch of folks from the Middle Ages who were involved in some pretty dastardly things but had some pretty armour, a very humorous logo, and were just basically cool as hell – a phrase they probably wouldn’t have liked attributed to them.
That’s because the KT were linked inextricably to the Crusades. They were, essentially, Catholic warriors that crusaded for God though as you’re about to find out, we’re sure they had some other motives too.
The Order began in Jerusalem in AD 1118 or 19, no one’s sure. Their purpose was to protect European pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.
The knights that joined would take a vow of poverty but the organisation grew incredibly rich, partly through banking. They set up a system where pilgrims could deposit money in banks at the start of their route and withdraw it at locations along the way.
To protect this fiscal power, the Templars became a military power too, using both to finance Crusades and wage war in the name of God. One of their centres of power was right here in London. You can still see some of their legacy.
The History of The Knights Templar in London
The Knights Templar arrived in London in 1148 and set up their headquarters in Holborn. Templars had been coming and going from this city Since nobleman Hughes de Payens arrived in 1128 to recruit men for his crusade, but the Holborn headquarters was the first instance of them becoming an established power in London.
Before long the Templars outgrew their Holborn digs and shifted down the road a touch to what is now Temple. Yep, the place still bears their name. They used the new area to practise military drills, to build more spacious accommodation and one of the most historic buildings in London – Temple Church.
The church is a big deal. We absolutely love it (it might be our favourite religious building in London). The round design was based on the Dome of the Rock at Temple Mount in Jerusalem – the place that gives the Templars their name – it’s all one long chain of temple-based nomenclature.
The church would become a place for the Templars to store their riches, and would even be the location for the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 with several important KT figures present on the side of the Barons.
As mentioned above, The Knights Templar became extremely good at making money – perhaps a little too good. They became so rich from their crusades and financial schemes that they became embroiled in the affairs of not just kings, but popes.
It was this entanglement with Europe’s rulers that would be their downfall. King Philip IV of France had racked up such a debt with the Knights that he began to scheme ways of wriggling out of paying.
In 1307 he declared that ‘God is not pleased’ with the Templars ordered them rounded up across Europe and charged them with false accusations of blasphemy. The persecutions eventually reached London where The Knights Templar were rounded up and sentenced to death in many a gruesome mediaeval fashion.
The area of Temple was handed off to the Knights Hospilitar who eventually began to lease it to lawyers, which is why it is now one of London’s Inns of Court.
The Knights Templar in London: Practical Information
- There’s not much of the Templar’s history left to see in London – they were here nearly 1000 years ago. There is, of course, Temple Church and it is well worth a look. Should you want to discover a few of the spots that feature in Knights Templar-related movies, check out this walking tour.
- Temple Church is open 10am – 4pm Monday – Friday.