Secret Societies of the Middle Ages - Thomas Keightly

B5. Classes of the Templars

The Knights—Their Qualifications—Mode of Reception—Dress and Arms of the Knight—Mode of Burial—The Chaplains—Mode of Reception—Dress—Duties and Privileges—The Serving-Brethren—Mode of Reception—Their Duties—The Affiliated—Causes and Advantages of Affiliation—The Donates and Oblates.

The founders of the order of the Templars were, as we have seen, knights; and they were the first who conceived the novel idea, and happy one, as we may call it in accordance with the sentiments of those times, of uniting in the same person the two characters held in highest estimation—the knight and the monk. The latter added sanctity to the former, the former gave dignity and consideration to the latter, in the eyes of a martial generation. Hence, the Templar naturally regarded himself as the first of men; and the proudest nobles of the Christian world esteemed it an honour to belong to the order. The knights were, therefore, the strength, the flower, the ornament of the society.

The order of the Templars, when it was fully developed, consisted not of degrees, but of distinct and separate classes. These were the knights, the chaplains, and the serving-brethren; to which may be added the affiliated, the donates, and the oblates, or persons attached to the order without taking the vows.

I. The Knights.—Whoever presented himself to be received as a knight of the order must solemnly aver that he was sprung from a knightly family, and that his father was or might have been a knight. He was further to prove, that he was born in lawful wedlock, for, like the church in general, the Templars excluded bastards from their society. In this rule there was prudence, though, possibly, it was merely established in accordance with the ideas of the time; for, had a king of France or an emperor of Germany been able to get his natural child into the order, and should he then have been chosen Master of it, as he probably would, it might have lost its independence, and become the mere tool of the monarch. The candidate was, moreover, to declare that he was free from all previous obligations; that he was neither married nor betrothed; had not made any vows, or received any consecration in another order; and that he was not involved in debt. He had finally to declare himself to be of a sound and healthy constitution, and free from disease. When the order was grown great and powerful, and candidates for admission were numerous and of the highest families, it became the custom to require the payment of a large fee on admission.

It was necessary that the candidate for admission among the knights of the Temple should already be a knight; for as knighthood was a secular honour, the order would have regarded it as derogating from its dignity if any of its members were to receive it. The Hospitallers and Teutonic knights thought differently, and with them the aspirant was knighted on his admission. If the candidate Templar, therefore, had not been knighted, he was obliged to receive knighthood, in the usual manner, from a secular knight, or a bishop, previous to taking his vows.

A noviciate forms an essential and reasonable part of the course of admission into the spiritual orders in general; for it is but right that a person should become, in some measure, acquainted with the rules and duties of a society before he enters it. But, though the original rule of the Templars enjoined a noviciate, it was totally neglected in practice; a matter which was afterwards made one of the charges against the order. Perhaps there was in their case little necessity for this preparatory process; the Templars were so much in the world, and those who joined them had been in general so frequently among them, and were consequently so well acquainted with their mode of life, that they hardly required any such preliminary discipline to familiarize them with their duties. The neglect of the practice at the same time gave the Templars an advantage over the rival orders who enjoined it; for a young nobleman would, in all likelihood, feel most disposed to join the society into which he could be admitted at once; and perhaps no small part of the corruption of the Templars, in which they undoubtedly surpassed their rivals, may be ascribed to the facility which was thus afforded to unworthy persons entering among them.

With respect to the age at which persons were admitted, it is plain, from the previously required reception of knighthood, that it must have been that of adolescence or manhood. All that is said by the statutes is, that no child could be received; and that the parents or relatives of a child destined to be a member of the order, should keep and breed him till he could manfully and with armed hand extirpate the enemies of Christ out of the land. This formed a marked distinction between the Templars and the mere religious orders, who, even at the present day, we believe, admit children, taking the charge of their rearing and education; whereas, children could only be destined to the order of the Temple, and could not be presented for admission, till able to bear arms, that is, usually in the twenty-first year of their age.

The reception of a knight took place in one of the chapels of the order, in presence of the assembled chapter. It was secret, not even the relatives of the candidate being allowed to be present. The ceremony commenced by the Master or prior, who presided, saying, "Beloved brethren, ye see that the majority are agreed to receive this man as a brother. If there be any among you who knows any thing of him, on account of which he cannot lawfully become a brother, let him say it; for it is better that this should be signified beforehand than after he is brought before us."

The aspirant, if no objection was made, was then led into a chamber near the chapter-room; and two or three reputable knights of the oldest in the house were sent to lay before him what it was needful for him to know. They commenced by saying, "Brother, are you desirous of being associated to the order?" If he replied in the affirmative, they stated to him the whole rigour of the order. Should he reply that he was willing to endure everything for God's sake, and to be all his life long the servant and slave of the order, they asked him if he had a wife or was betrothed? if he had made profession or vows in any other order? if he owed to any man in the world more than he could pay? if he was of sound body, and had no secret infirmity, and if he was the servant of any one? Should his answers be in the negative, the brethren went back to the chapter and informed the Master or his representative of the result of the examination. The latter then asked once more, if any one knew any thing to the contrary. If all were silent, he said "Are you willing that he should be brought in in God's name?" The knights then said, "Let him be brought in in God's name." Those who had been already with him then went out again, and asked him if he persisted in his resolution. If he said that he did, they instructed him in what he was to do when suing for admission. They then led him back to the chapter, where, casting himself on his knees, with folded hands, before the receptor, he said, "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." The receptor then replied, "Beloved brother, you are desirous of a great matter, for you see nothing but the outward shell of our order. It is only the outward shell when you see that we have fine horses and rich caparisons, that we eat and drink well, and are splendidly clothed. From this you conclude that you will be well off with us. But you know not the rigorous maxims which are in our interior. For it is a hard matter for you, who are your own master, to become the servant of another. You will hardly be able to perform, in future, what you wish yourself. For when you may wish to be on this side of the sea, you will be sent to the other side; when you will wish to be in Acre, you will be sent to the district of Antioch, to Tripolis, or to Armenia; or you will be sent to Apulia, to Sicily, or to Lombardy, or to Burgundy, France, England, or any other country where we have houses and possessions. When you will wish to sleep you will be ordered to watch; when you will wish to watch, then you will be ordered to go to bed; when you will wish to eat, then you will be ordered to do something else. And as both we and you might suffer great inconvenience from what you have, mayhap, concealed from us, look here on the holy Evangelists and the word of God, and answer the truth to the questions which we shall put to you; for if you lie you will be perjured, and may be expelled the order, from which God keep you!"

He was now asked over again, by the receptor, the same questions as before; and, moreover, if he had made any simoniacal contract with a Templar or any other for admission. If his answers proved satisfactory, the receptor proceeded, "Beloved brother, take good care that you have spoken the truth to us; for should you have spoken false in any one point, you might be put out of the order, from which God keep you! Now, beloved brother, attend strictly to what we shall say unto you. Do you promise to God, and our dear Lady Mary, to be, all your life long, obedient to the Master of the Temple, and to the prior who shall be set over you?"

"Yea, Sir, with the help of God!"

"Do you promise to God, and our dear Lady Mary, to live chaste of your body all your life long?"

"Yea, Sir, with the help of God!"

"Do you promise to God, and our dear Lady Mary, to observe, all your life long, the laudable manners and customs of our order, both those which are already in use, and those which the Master and knights may add?"

"Yea, Sir, with the help of God!"

"Do you promise to God, and our dear Lady Mary, that you will, with the strength and powers which God has bestowed on you, help, as long as you live, to conquer the Holy Land of Jerusalem; and that you will, with all your strength, aid to keep and guard that which the Christians possess?"

"Yea, Sir, with the help of God!"

"Do you promise to God, and our dear Lady Mary, never to hold this order for stronger or weaker, for better or worse, than with permission of the Master, or of the chapter which has the authority?"

"Yea, Sir, with the help of God!"

"Do you finally promise to God, and our dear Lady Mary, never to be present when a Christian is unjustly and unlawfully despoiled of his heritage, and that you will never, by counsel or by act, take part therein?"

"Yea, Sir, with the help of God!"

"In the name, then, of God, and our dear Lady Mary, and in the name of St. Peter of Rome, and of our father the pope, and in the name of all the brethren of the Temple, we receive to all the good works of the order which have been performed from the beginning, and shall be performed to the end, you, your father, your mother, and all of your family whom you will let have share therein. In like manner do you receive us to all the good works which you have performed and shall perform. We assure you of bread and water, and the poor clothing of the order, and labour and toil enow."

The Master then took the distinguishing habit of the order, namely, the white mantle with the red cross, and putting it about the neck of the candidate, clasped it firmly. The chaplain then repeated the 132d psalm, Ecce quam bonum, and the prayer of the Holy Ghost, Deus qui corda fidelium, and each brother repeated a Pater noster. The Master and the chaplain then kissed him on the mouth; and he sat down before the Master, who delivered to him a discourse, of which the following is the substance.

He was not to strike or wound any Christian; not to swear; not to receive any service or attendance from a woman without the permission of his superiors; not on any account to kiss a woman, even if she was his mother or his sister; to hold no child at the baptismal font, or be a god-father; to abuse no man or call him foul names; but to be always courteous and polite. He was to sleep in a linen shirt, drawers, and hose, and girded with a small girdle. He was to attend divine service punctually, and at table he was to commence and conclude with prayer; during the meal he was to preserve silence. When the Master died, he was, be he where he might, to repeat 200 Pater nosters for the repose of his soul.

Each knight was supplied with clothes, arms, and equipments, out of the funds of the order. His dress was a long white tunic, nearly resembling that of priests in shape, with a red cross on the back and front of it; his girdle was under this, over his linen shirt. Over all he wore his white mantle with its red cross of four arms (the under one being the longest, so that it resembled that on which the Saviour suffered) on the left breast. His head was covered by a cap or a hood attached to his mantle. His arms were shield, sword, lance, and mace; and, owing to the heat of the East, and the necessity of activity in combats with the Turks and Saracens, his arms and equipments in general were lighter than those used by the secular knights. He was allowed three horses and an esquire, who was either a serving-brother of the order or some layman who was hired for the purpose. At times this office was performed by youths of noble birth, whom their parents and relatives gladly placed in the service of distinguished knights of the Temple, that they might have an opportunity of acquiring the knightly virtues; and these often became afterwards members of the order.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly


When a knight had become, from age or wounds, incapable of service, he took up his abode in one of the temple-houses, where he lived in ease, and was treated with the utmost respect and consideration. These emeriti knights are frequently mentioned under the name of Prodomes (Good men); they were present at all deliberations of importance; and their experience and knowledge of the rules of the order were highly prized and attended to.

When the Templar died, he was placed in a coffin in his habit, and with his legs crossed, and thus buried. Masses were said for his soul; his arms and clothes were partly given back to the marshal or draper of the order—partly distributed among the poor.

II. The Chaplains.—The order of the Templars, being purely military in its commencement, consisted then solely of laymen. That of the Hospital, on the contrary, on account of its office of attending the sick, had, necessarily, priests in it from its origin. This advantage of the latter society excited the jealousy of the Templars, and they were urgent with the popes to be allowed a similar privilege. But the pontiffs were loth to give offence to the oriental prelates, already displeased at the exemption from their control granted in this case to the Hospitallers; and it was not till the year 1162, that is, four years after the founding of the order, when their great favourer, Alexander III., occupied the papal throne, that the Templars attained their object.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly


The bull, Omne Datum Optimum, issued on this occasion, gave permission to the Templars to receive into their houses spiritual persons, in all countries, who were not bound by previous vows. If they were clergy of the vicinity, they were to ask them of the bishop; and if he refused his consent, they were empowered, by the bull, to receive them without it. The clergy of the Temple were to perform a noviciate of a year—a practice which, as in the case of the knights, was dispensed with in the days of the power and corruption of the order. The reception of the clergy was the same as that of the knights, with the omission of such questions as did not apply to them. They were only required to take the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The ritual of their reception was in Latin, and was almost precisely the same with that of the Benedictines. Like that of the knights, their reception was secret. When the psalms had been sung the Master put on the recipient the dress of the order and the girdle, and, if he was a priest, the cap called baret.

[Illustration] from Secret Societies of the Middle Ages by Thomas Keightly


The habit of the chaplains of the order was a white close-fitting tunic, with a red cross on the left breast. Though, according to the statutes, they were to have the best clothes in the order, they were not permitted to assume the white mantle as long as they were mere priests. But should one of them, as was not unfrequently the case, arrive at the episcopal dignity, he was, if desirous of it, cheerfully granted that privilege. It was a further distinction between the knights and the chaplains, that the former wore their beards, while the latter were close-shaven. The chaplains were also to wear gloves, out of respect to the body of the Lord.

All who had received the first tonsure were eligible to the office of chaplain to the order. When those who were only sub-deacons and deacons were to be raised to the rank of priests, the Master or his deputy sent them with letters dimissory to a bishop of the vicinity, who was bound to confer the required order.

The clergy were, like all other members of the order, bound to obey the Master and the chapter. The Master and the chief officers of the order had always chaplains in their train to celebrate mass and other religious offices, as also to act as secretaries, the knights being in general as illiterate as their secular brethren. It was by this last office that the chaplains acquired their chief influence in the society; mind and superior knowledge vindicating, as they always do, their natural rights. For though it was specially provided that the clergy should take no share in the government of the society without being invited thereto by their superiors, the opinion of the secretary was naturally taken in general, and if he was a man of sense and talent, it was most commonly followed].

The duties of the clergy of the order were nearly the same as those of monks in general. They performed all religious offices, and officiated at all the ceremonies of the order, such as the admission of members, the installation of a Master, etc. Their privileges were very unimportant; they had merely the best clothes, sat next the Master in the chapter and in the refectory, and were first served at table; when they committed any offence, they were also more lightly punished than others. They could, however, if it so pleased the heads of the order, arrive at high rank in it; and we find that they were not unfrequently among the preceptors. The attorney-general of the order at Rome, who was always a person of considerable importance, was most probably a priest of the order; at least we know that Peter de Bononia, the last of them, was such.

It is worthy of notice, that even in the most flourishing period of the order it never had a sufficient number of chaplains, and was always obliged to have recourse to the ministry of secular priests. The causes of this were probably the circumstance of the order having attained its full form and consistency long before the clergy formed a part of it, and they consequently had not an opportunity of arranging it so as to give themselves their due share of power and importance. It must have been galling to the pride of those who were used to rule, obeying only their spiritual superiors, to find themselves subject to the command of mere laymen, as they esteemed the knights of the order. Further, though they shared in the good things of the order and enjoyed the advantage of the consideration in which it stood, yet they had no dignities to look forward to; whereas an entrance into a Benedictine order held out to the ambitious a prospect of rich priories, abbacies, and bishoprics, and, at the least, a voice in the chapter. It may well be supposed that the pride of the knights of the Temple refused to admit into their society such persons as those who afterwards joined the mendicant orders—peasants and others who preferred a life of ease and idleness to the labours of the plough and the workshop. The number consequently of those who presented themselves for admission was small. But the knights felt no disadvantage thereby; enow of secular priests were to be had, who were willing to have the master of the Temple as their ordinary, and to share in the good things of the order, and as neither party was bound to the other, they could easily part if they disagreed.

III. The Serving-brethren. The order, consisting at first of only knights and men of noble birth, had no serving-brethren in it. The knights probably found esquires for a limited time among those who fought under their banner and received their pay. The Hospitallers seem to have set the example of introducing into the order the class of serving-brethren, which is not to be found with the Templars till some time after the council of Troyes. The advantage of this alteration was very apparent. Hitherto only knights and nobles were interested in the fate of the society to which their relatives belonged; the regards of burghers and traders would now be obtained by the formation of this class, to admission into which their sons and brothers were eligible. They felt themselves honoured by their relatives coming into contact with knights, and were therefore liberal in the admission-fee and in other contributions to the quetes of the order.

We should be wrong in supposing the serving-brethren to have been all persons of mean birth. The high consideration in which the order stood induced many men of wealth, talent, and valour, but who were not of noble birth, to join it. We thus find among the serving-brethren William of Arteblay, almoner to the king of France; Radulf de Gisi, collector of the taxes in Champagne; John de Folkay, an eminent lawyer. Bartholomew Bartholet gave property to the amount of 1,000 livres Tournois to be admitted; William of Liege gave 200 livres Tournois a year. The serving-brother, indeed, could never arrive at the dignity of knight (for which he was disqualified by birth), and consequently never exercise any of the higher offices of the order, but in other respects he enjoyed the same advantages and privileges as the knights and priests.

The reception of the serving-brethren was the same as that of the two higher classes, the necessary difference being made in the questions which were asked. As the order would receive no slave into their body, the candidate was required to aver that he was a free-born man: he was moreover obliged to declare that he was not a knight. This last condition may cause surprise, but it was probably justified by experience, as it is not unlikely that evil may have been felt or apprehended from men of noble birth, out of humility, or by way of atoning for the sins of their youth, or from some other of the causes which might operate on the minds of superstitious men, or even from poverty, if, as is likely, the admission-fee was lower for a serving-brother than for a knight, concealing their birth, and entering the order as serving-brethren. As the more disagreeable duties of the order probably fell to their share, the general duties and obligations were laid before them in stronger and more explicit terms than were thought necessary in the case of knights and priests.

In the times of the poverty of the order, the clothing of the serving-brethren was the cast-off garments of the knights. But this custom did not long continue, and as some abuses arose from all the members of the order being clad in white, the serving-brethren were appointed to wear black or brown kirtles, with the red cross upon them, to indicate that they belonged to the order. In battle, their arms were nearly the same as those of the knights, but of a lighter kind, as they had frequently to jump down from their horses, and fight on foot. A serving-brother was allowed but one horse by the order, but the Master was empowered to lend him another if he thought it expedient, which horse was to be afterwards returned.

The serving-brethren were originally all of one kind; they fought in the field; they performed the menial offices in the houses of the order; but, in after-times, we find them divided into two classes—the brethren-in-arms (Freres servons des armes), and the handicraft-brethren (Freres servons des mestiers). These last, who were the least esteemed of the two, dwelt in the houses and on the lands of the order, exercising their various trades, or looking after the property of the society. We read in the statutes of the smiths and bakers of the order, and we hear of preceptors (as was the phrase) of the mares, cows, swine, etc. of the order. These handicraft-brethren practised the usual religious duties of the order, and were even allowed to be present at chapters. The farrier, who was also armourer, enjoyed a much higher degree of consideration than the other handicraft-brethren, for this profession was highly prized by the martial generation of the middle ages.

The other class were more highly regarded. The knights associated with them on a footing of equality. They ate in the same refectory with the knights and priests, although at separate tables, and with always one dish less than the higher classes. They were, however, strictly subordinate to the knights; the master and all the great officers of the order had each several serving-brethren to attend him, and each knight had some of the serving-brethren among his esquires. The statutes provided carefully against their being tyrannized over or otherwise ill-treated by the knights.

The statutes make a distinction between the serving-brethren who were armed with iron and those who were not. The former were the proper light-horse of the order; they were chiefly intended to support the knights in the action, and were usually placed in the second rank. The place of the unarmed was with the baggage; and as they were exposed to little danger, they wore only linen corslets. The others were enjoined to fight, without flinching, as long as a Christian banner flew on the field: it was matter of praise to these last if they managed to come safe out of the fight. When the troops of the Temple were on their march, the esquires rode before the knights with their baggage. When the knights were going to action, one esquire rode before each with his lance, another behind with his war-horse.

There were various offices in the society, hereafter to be noticed, which were appropriated to the serving-brethren, or to which they were eligible.

The knights, the chaplains, and the serving-brethren, were the proper members of the order, and it is to them alone that the name Templars applies. But both the Templars and the Hospitallers devised a mode of attaching secular persons to their interest, and of deriving advantages from their connexion with them, in which they were afterwards imitated by the mendicant orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans; the Jesuits also, who were always so keen at discerning what might be for the advantage of their society, adopted it; and it is, we believe, still practised in Catholic countries. This system is styled affiliation.

The affiliated were persons of various ranks in society, and of both sexes, who, without giving up their secular mode of life, or wearing any peculiar habit, joined the order, with a view to the advantages, both spiritual and temporal, which they expected to derive from it. These advantages will appear to have been very considerable when we recollect that all who joined the order were admitted to a share in the merits of its good works, which were what those times esteemed of the highest order. Nothing could have more contributed to the extent of affiliation than the exemption which the Templars enjoyed from the effects of interdict. At a time when it was in the power of every bishop to lay entire towns under this formidable sentence it must have been highly consolatory to pious or superstitious minds to belong to a society who disregarded this spiritual thunder, and who could afford them an opportunity of at least occasionally hearing mass and receiving the sacraments, and secured them, if they should die while the interdict continued, the advantage of Christian burial. In those days also, when club-law prevailed so universally, and a man's safety depended not so much on his innocence or the justice of his cause as on the strength of his party, it was a matter of no small consequence to belong to so powerful a body as the Templars, and it must have been highly gratifying to both the secular and spiritual pride of a lawyer or a burgher to be a member of the same body with the high-born soldier-monks of the Temple.

These important advantages were not conceded by the Templars without equivalent considerations. This ambitious and covetous order required that he who sought the honor of affiliation with them should, besides taking the three vows, pledge himself to lead a reputable life, to further the interests of the order to the best of his power, and leave it the entire of his property at his death. If he was married, and died before his wife, he might leave her a competent provision for life; but from the day of his admission into the order he was to abstain from her bed, though he might continue to reside in the same house with her; for were he to have children, he might provide for them to the disadvantage of the order, or on his death they might give trouble to it by claiming his property. For a similar reason the affiliated were forbidden to be sponsors, lest they might covertly or openly give some of their property to their godchildren. They were not even permitted to give offerings to the clergy. If they dared to violate these injunctions, a severe punishment—in general, confinement for life—awaited them.

All orders of men were ambitious of a union with this honourable and powerful society. We find among the affiliated both sovereign princes and dignified prelates: even the great Pope Innocent III., in one of his bulls, declares himself to stand in this relation to the order. Many of the knights who dwelt with the Templars, and fought under their banner, were also affiliated, and the history of the order more than once makes mention of the sisters—that is, women who were affiliated to it, for there were no nuns of the Temple similar to those of the order of Malta in later times.

In less intimate connexion with the order than the affiliated stood those who were styled Donates and Oblates. These were persons who, as their titles denote, were given or presented to the order. They were either children whom their parents or relations destined to the service of the order when they should have attained a sufficient age, or they were full-grown persons who pledged themselves to serve the order as long as they lived without reward, purely out of reverence to it, and with a view to enjoying its protection, and sharing in its good works. Persons of all ranks, princes and priests, as well as others, were to be found among the oblates of the Temple.