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For the first time in a generation, here is a new and complete account of one of the strangest phenomena of the Middle Ages: the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ, the Knights of the Temple of Solomon - more popularly known as the Knights Templar.
In their brotherhood - the first of its kind - the Templars united two conflicting medieval ideals, for they were both monks and warriors, committed to God and committed to war. In the strict hierarchy of the feudal world, where every man owed loyalty and allegiance to his overlord, the Templars obeyed no one except the pope.
Acquiring land and castles by gift, conquest and purchase in every part of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, they became a church within the Church, a state within the State. They were bankers, merchants, diplomats and tax-gatherers and, though themselves poor, the wealth of their Order was legendary.
For nearly two hundred years they were the champions of Christendom, leading the Crusades against the Moslem states of the east; yet when the brotherhood was destroyed, in the spring of 1314, its enemies were not Moslems but Christians.
Individually and as a group, the Knights Templar, the flower of Christian chivalry, were accused of heresy, treachery, sodomy, usury, blasphemy and idolatry. Were they, as St Bernard said, 'worthy of all the praise given to men of God' or, as Pope Clement V thought, were they 'horrible, wicked and detestable'?
Charting the rise and fall of the Order, tracing the lives and deaths of its members, examining the motives of its supporters and opponents, Stephen Howarth cuts through myths and legends, and sets out the true historical facts.