Book Review: The Templars: History & Myth: From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons – Michael Haag

The Templars
About The Templars: History & Myth: From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons (2009)
The TemplarsThe first history of the legendary knights since the Vatican momentously released the records of their trial and exoneration

Who were the Templars? 

What was the secret of their wealth and power? 

Why did the pope and the king of France act to destroy them?

The Knights Templar were founded on Christmas Day 1119, on the very spot in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified. A religious order of fighting knights, the Templars defended the Holy Land and Christian pilgrims in the decades after the First Crusade. Legendary for their bravery and dedication, the Templars became one of the wealthiest and most powerful bodies of the medieval world–until they were condemned for heresy two centuries after their foundation, when the order was abolished and its leaders were burned at the stake.

In “The Templars,” renowned historian Michael Haag investigates the origins and history, the enduring myths, and the soaring architecture of an enigmatic order long shrouded in mystery and controversy. The hand of the Templars, many believe, can be found in everything from Cathar heresy to Masonic conspiracies, and the Knights Templar still inspire popular culture, from Indiana Jones to Xbox games, to the novels of Dan Brown.

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Review: The Templars: History & Myth: From Solomon’s Temple to the Freemasons

I’m most at home when reading medieval history and having read about the Crusades in the past I was eager to try Michael Haag’s book about the Templars, the order of knights founded to defend the Holy Land after the First Crusade who went from being revered to reviled in Europe in the space of two centuries.

Haag’s book covers an extensive timeline beginning with the earliest references to the Temple of Solomon, its building, destruction, rebuilding and so on until we reach the First Crusade where Jerusalem was captured by the Christians in 1099. Though a foothold was gained in the Holy Land or Outremer, it was a dangerous place for travelling pilgrims who wished to descend on Jerusalem in honour of their faith. In 1119 the Knights Templar were formed to protect travelling pilgrims, beginning as a small group that would escort and protect travellers, but over time growing into a widespread, wealthy and highly respected order. Haag deals with the rise and fall of the Templars and their legacy.

Haag’s book is more a summary of events rather than an in-depth chronicle of the Templars. This is not a criticism, however. Haag has to cover so much history in such a short book that it is admirable he has delivered a text that is less than 400 pages. Each Crusade is probably worth a book of its own, especially the First Crusade and, of course, the Third Crusade involving Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. Though the Templars began as an impoverished order reliant on donations, they soon rose to a position of great power and influence. With the backing of the Pope the Templars were largely untouchable and a sensible way for monarchs in Christendom to please God was in donations to the Templars to help bolster their efforts in the Holy Land.

Not that the Templars were completely restricted to the Holy Land. They received donations in money and land throughout Europe, and provided an early form of banking, storing funds and possessions and maintaining records of deposits for their customers to prove ownership of goods and to retrieve them. As with every rise though, there has to be a fall. The once revered order donning their white mantles with red crosses were soon despised in Europe when the Holy Land was lost at the start of the fourteenth century and within a decade the order had been dissolved and many of its members left at the mercy of vengeful rulers such as King Philip IV of France who played a major role in the end of the Templars.

Haag’s book is a sad account of the Templars who were devoted to their faith and remained loyal and firm in their convictions. As soon as the Holy Land was unsurprisingly lost, Christendom needed a scapegoat and the Templars were the perfect choice. Historical evidence only discovered in the last few years indicates a lot of the persecution of the Templars could have been prevented but sadly it was not to be. The Templars have left a legacy in the form of surviving groups who some argue link back to the holy order of knights but the section covering these conspiracy theories is not as interesting as the history of the order itself.

The Templars is a good account of this holy order of knights who fought to keep Christendom in the Holy Land and to protect the pilgrims that wished to travel to Jerusalem. It’s a sad testament of how a fall follows a rise to power and that no group, no matter how powerful, can ever hope to last forever. History proves that eventually dissent creeps in and after that it’s only a matter of time before change. The Templars knew this all too well.

Verdict: 4/5

(Book source: reviewer’s own copy)

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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    1. I read a lot of history but I always loved the subject at school. Non-fiction books are not for everyone. Sometimes it's nice to just pick up a good fiction novel and escape for a while :)

  1. This really interests me as the view from where I'm sitting at the moment contains a church partly built by the Templars. The village where I live wa founded by the Templars and is full of passageways and, below ground, tunnels.

    Birthday coming up, the book will be on my list!

    1. Thanks for commenting Anji :)

      I hope you enjoy the book. It's a fascinating story but very sad at the same time. The Templars are so revered yet everyone seems to be against them in the end. It's hard to stay in power for a long time!

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