Page images

for which they were founded. On the sunny plains of Palestine they fought with all that heroic chivalry that has lent such a lustre to their name, and left on many a well-remembered field the mangled remains of hundreds of their brotherhood. At last the end drew near. On the banks of the river Jordan, a river so associated with all that they held most dear, in the year 1179 they met the mighty hosts of Saracens, led by the renowned Saladin in person, and after a terrific and prolonged struggle, the crescent waved victorious over the cross.

On that day the fate of Jerusalem was sealed, although it was not finally taken until 1186. Before its final fall, the venerable Heraclius, patriarch of Jerusalem, came over to England to make one last and vain effort, as it proved, to obtain sufficient help still to preserve the sacred capital of Palestine. He offered the crown of Jerusalem to Henry II. if he would only come over and assist in its defence; but it was not to be; and Heraclius returned in disgust to the Holy Land, in time to share in the feeling of bitter shame and remorse that pervaded the Christian warriors when they had to forsake the land they had so long defended with their blood. Jerusalem had fallen. The Holy Land was trodden under foot by the exultant infidel. The object of their mission was gone, and the order could hardly find a resting-place wherein to rally its broken and decimated band of followers. Yet in this evil hour, on the morrow of their great defeat, when the sun of their glory seemed set for ever, they were more to be envied, far more to be admired, than when in after years their gorgeous palaces and rich domains were to be found scattered in countless numbers throughout every country in Christendom. But we must return for a moment to the history of their order in London. When Heraclius visited England in 1184, the Templars had removed from their old Preceptory in Holborn to their new buildings in Fleet-street, on the site of the present Inner Temple. The venerable archbishop consecrated their new church for them, as well as that belonging to the Hospital of the Knights of St. John at Clerkenwell. The church was dedicated to the blessed Virgin, and built after the model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. As I have already stated, it still remains to remind us of the happiest period in the history of this famous brotherhood.

Around this consecrated building the order raised its new Preceptory, and here they lived for many years according to the strict rule laid down for them by St. Bernard. Before entering the fraternity, each member had to declare that he had already been a knight, that he was neither married nor betrothed, that he had never taken vows in any other order, that he was free from debt, and in sound health. On his admission by the Master of the Temple, each knight made use of the following formula before the assembled brotherhood : “Sir, I am come before God, and before you and the brethren, and pray and beseech you, for the sake of God and our dear Lady, to admit me into your society and the good deeds of the order, as one who will be all his life long the servant and slave of the order.' After this declaration, the Master admonished him as to the life of self-denial and hardship he would have to lead ; upon which the candidate bound himself by the most solemn asseverations to be obedient to the head of the house and chief head at Jerusalem, to observe the customs of the order, to live in chastity, to help with all his powers to conquer the Holy Land, and vowed never to be present when a Christian was unjustly and unlawfully despoiled of his heritage. He was then admitted, and assured of bread and water, and the poor clothing of the order, and labour and toil enow.' The white mantle with the red cross was thrown over him ; he received the kiss of peace from the master and the chaplain, and was furnished with the arms and equipments of the order.

Such was the form of admission for each Knight Templar. Besides the knights, there were other classes attached to the order of an inferior degree ; but although inferior, many illustrious and great men were proud to enter them, and amongst them we find no less a person than Pope Innocent III. For many years after their foundation in England, the members of the order appear to have acted in conformity with the rigorous rules laid down for them; and certainly the punishment inflicted on those of their members who proved refractory was sufficiently severe. They were imprisoned in a small stone chamber built in the thickness of the wall that surrounded the chapel, only four and a half feet in length. Cooped-up in this narrow cell, with hardly food sufficient to support bare existence, they were not denied the consolations of religion. An aperture was made in the wall, through which the unfortunate prisoner could hear the voices of the brotherhood below, as it chanted the daily service in the chapel. Besides the punishment of imprisonment, offenders were publicly scourged on the bare back by the master before the assembled brethren. One Knight Templar, by name Valaincourt, who, having deserted the order, had returned and sought readmission, was condemned to eat for a year on the ground with the dogs, to fast four days in the week on bread and water, and every Sunday to be scourged in the chapel.

Such was the rigorous discipline of the order at the commencement of its career; but prosperity proved a greater enemy to this fraternity than ever adversity had done. Soon after the final fall of Jerusalem, the wealth, influence, and power of the order, as I have already stated, increased, not only in England, but throughout Christendom. At their Preceptory in London, on the spot familiar to every citizen, kings and ambassadors were feasted, parliaments and general councils were held. Besides the large gifts bestowed upon the order, vast treasures were committed to its custody, and it was considered the safest guardian of wealth and property; and not only was property held to be sacred within its precincts, but kings sought and found refuge within its walls. Here King John dwelt in those troublous times when the Barons of Eng. land demanded and obtained the great charter of their freedom. Here Hubert de Burgh deposited his vast riches when imprisoned in the Tower, and the king in vain sought to seize them.

In Henry the Third's reign the Master of the Temple first sat in Parliament; but now, at the zenith of their power, they fell. Pride, the sure forerunner of such falls, and vice, the constant attendant on such pride, overshadowed with their baneful influence the bright prospects of this once noble brotherhood. As Spenser tells us, when alluding to the Temple, in the following lines :

• Those brick towers
The which on Thames broad aged bank doe ride,
Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers,
There whilom wont the Temple Knights to bide,

Till they decay'd through pride.' The envy of princes is not easily overcome ; at least, it was not in old days. The potent monarchs that ruled over the countries of Christendom at the time we are speaking of saw with fear and dismay the increasing power of men who once called themselves the poor fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ.' They found themselves confronted with a power equal to, if not greater than, their own, and a power that seemed ever on the increase. They coveted the broad acres and vast wealth possessed by the order, and inwardly chafed at the immunities they were forced to concede to men who were not over-scrupulous as to the use they made of them. The common people hated the order with a more bitter hatred, engendered by the scorn and contumely with which they were treated by the brotherhood generally, and increased by the vice and depravity of the knights; crimes that remained unpunished and uncondemned. The ground being thus undermined beneath them, it only required a small spark to light the train. But before the fatal day arrived, the Knights Templars, as if determined to end their career in glory, as they had begun it, gave one more proof of their heroic courage by their brilliant defence of Acre. The flickering flame burnt bright and lurid for a moment, and then expired. A few years later, and they had ceased to exist. In 1912, Pope Clement V. and Philip le Bel of France, their two most inveterate enemies, combined together for the total destruction of the brotherhood. In order to give some colour to the persecution they were about to commence, the members of the fraternity were accused of the most infamous crimes. They were charged with worshipping a calf, with spitting on the cross and denying our Lord, and other monstrous accusations were brought against them; some, no doubt, partly true, but the greater part wholly false.

Having thus raised the storm, Clement V. issued a bull ordering an inquiry to be made into the state of the different preceptories throughout Christendom. The result was not for a moment doubtful. The charges were declared proved. The order was abolished; its lands and property were confiscated, and the Knights themselves were condemned to torture, death, or dispersion. The most unheardof cruelties were perpetrated towards them in order to compel them to confess their guilt. Most of their number held out heroically to the last, and suffered martyrdom for the sake of the truth. James de Molic, grandmaster of the order in Paris, having under torture confessed to crimes which he knew were false, when brought to the stake boldly retracted his former confession and asserted the general innocence of the brotherhood. His death was one of refined cruelty, for he was roasted alive by a slow fire. Numbers perished in the flames with the same assertion on their lips. Some of them, before they expired, summoned their chief enemies, Clement V. and Philip the Fair, to appear within a certain time before the divine tribunal; and it is a fact worthy of notice that both princes died about the time prescribed. The fate of the Templars in England was not so bad as it was abroad. Edward II. endeavoured to save them; and though forced by the Pope's bull to act against them, he suffered none of them to be put to death, and assigned some of their property to the Knights of St. John. In Europe, almost all the wealth of the order was seized by the rapacious monarchs who had compassed their destruction.

Such was the end of this famous order of Knights Templars; an end which, though partly brought about by their own pride and criminality, was most unjust and cruel, considering the dauntless heroism they had displayed in defence of Christendom and Christianity.

In their chapel, the only part of the ancient building which still remains, may be seen several old monuments of knights with their legs crossed, the sign that they once belonged to the order. The oldest part of the church was, as I have already stated, built in 1185, the choir was finished in 1240, and restored in 1839. On the stairs leading to the gallery may still be seen the penitential cell in which the knights were confined. The round antechapel, where sleep so many of the brotherhood the sleep of death, in the seventeenth century was desecrated by lawyers using it as a place for receiving their clients, each, as Cunningham says, occupying his own particular post like a merchant upon 'Change. Hence the lines of Hudibras :

Retain all sorts of witnesses
That ply i' the Temple under trees,
Or walk the Round with knights o' th’ Posts
About the cross-legg'd knights their hosts ;
Or wait for customers between
The pillar rows in Lincoln's-inn.'

[ocr errors]

When the Templars fell in 1313, these buildings first passed into the hands of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke ; and after his death the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem came into possession of them, and held them until Henry VIII. thought fit to abolish the order and appropriate the property.

The Knights Hospitallers, soon after they became possessed of the Temple, granted a lease of it to a society of students of the common law, which grant was continued in Henry VIII.'s time. The members of this body separated into two societies, namely, of the Inner and Middle Temple, in Richard II.'s reign. The buildings of the Temple, with the exception of the church, were almost entirely destroyed in 1381, by the insurgents under Wat Tyler, who appear to have been especially incensed against Sir Robert Halles, lord prior of St. John's, Clerkenwell. The gateway that stood on the site of the present Middle-Temple gateway was erected by Sir Amias Powlet on a singular occasion. Sir Amias, in 1501, thought fit to put Cardinal Wolsey, then parson of Lymington, into the stocks. In 1515, being sent for to London by the cardinal on account of that ancient grudge, he was commanded not to leave town until further orders. In consequence he lodged five years in this gateway, which he rebuilt; and to pacify the cardinal he adorned the front with the cardinal's cap, badges, cognisance, and other devices, so low were great men obliged to stoop to that meteor of the times.'

The Temple gardens have an interest of their own, which should not be lost sight of. Here was the spot, according to Shakespeare, in which the Houses of York and Lancaster first assumed their distinctive badges, the white and red roses.

Suffolk. Within the Temple hall we were too loud;
The garden here is more convenient.

Plantagenet. Let him that is a true-born gentleman,
And stands upon the honour of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.

Somerset. Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.

Plantagenet. Hath not thy rose a canker, Somerset?,
Somerset. Hath not thy rose a thorn, Plantagenet? --

This brawl to-day,
Grown to this faction in the Temple gardens,
Shall send, between the red rose and the white,

A thousand souls to death and deadly night.' In James I.'s time both the Middle and Inner Temple were conferred by royal charter on the Benchers, in whose hands they have continued up to the present day.


« PreviousContinue »