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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Helen Nicholson

Knight Templar, 1120-1312

Illustrated by Wayne Reynolds. Oxford: Osprey, 2004. (Warrior Series, 91). 64pp $17.95. ISBN 1-84176-670-4.

Helen Nicholson’s Knight Templar, 1120-1312 is a very useful addition to Osprey’s illustrated “Warrior” series of accessible short texts on medieval military history, After a brief introduction describing the  Order of the Temple in the wake of the First Crusade, its organizational structure and role as the first of the military religious orders established to defend Christendom, and their dissolution after King Philip IV’s accusations of heresy, she provides a chronology which charts the development and eventual downfall of the Templars. She then describes the admission process the Order’s membership -- which included knights, sergeants (who supported the knights in battle), priests, the small communities of sisters under the Order’s supervision, as well as the various associate and temporary members of the Order -- with their Rule “depict[ing] the Order as a re-creation of knighthood, in which knights served God rather than their own interests.” (17) This is reinforced by the visual imagery of the Order: the Order’s seal depicting two knights on a single horse and the dome of the church of the Holy Sepulchre; the circular churches -- reminiscent of the Holy Sepulchre -- that in the popular conception of the present day were the mark of the Templars, even though other military orders, pilgrims, and crusaders also built circular churches as a symbol of the Holy Sepulchre; and the Order’s distinctive habit. Nicholson uses contemporary illustrations of the medieval Templars, the Order’s statutes, and reconstructions by her illustrator, Wayne Reynolds, to address the appearance and equipment of the Templars.  Her penultimate section deals with the Templars military campaigns in the Holy Land and provides a useful brief history of the more significant Templar campaigns during the Crusades, while her short final section gives a brief survey of former Templar sites in both Europe and the middle east and mentions present-day organizations describing themselves as Templars today, be they re-enactment, charitable, or religious.  Nicholson concludes with a glossary of key terms, a brief but comprehensive bibliography which includes not just the expected secondary studies on the Crusades but also the major translated and untranslated primary sources and detailed commentaries on the 8 pages of colored plates.

What is surprising, though, is the lack of attention paid to the trial of the Templars and the downfall of the Order, ending with the martyrdom of the Order’s Grand Master Jacques de Molay, which greatly contributed to the Templar’s popular mystique.  Knight Templar, 1120-1312 is a very useful introduction for the general reader to the most celebrated medieval military order, made even more useful given the popular attention given to and misconceptions about Templars by The DaVinci Code and other works of that ilk.

J.M.B. Porter

Butler University, Indianapolis <jporter1@butler.edu>

Page Added: July 2007