Knights of Christ
by Régine Pernoud
Ignatius Press, 2009, 157pp, $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-58617-302-9. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Régine Pernoud is a French specialist in mediaeval history. As such she is exasperated at the treatment of the Knights Templar in much popular writing.
She endeavours to put the record straight in this short but highly readable book. There is a risk in this type of treatment that the historian goes to the other extreme, writing hagiography about her subject.
Pernoud mostly avoids this extreme.
Over the years, from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, the portrayal of the Templars has been false, distorted, and even absurd with these novelists and so-called historians portraying the Knights Templar as avaricious, power-hungry villains.
Accordingly, Pernoud asks who were these mediaeval monastic knights whose exploits were the stuff of legend even in their own times? Were they corrupted by their conquests, which, indeed, led to both power and wealth to the extent that they became the envy of kings, especially in France, their heartland?
Pernoud is confident that the truth is readily accessible in archives and libraries with the facts available to any honest, hard-working historian. And her book is sane, balanced, level-headed and trustworthy.
The author focuses on four important areas in the history of their crusaders:
• Who were they and what is the basic history?
• Their achievements and their fall.
• The Trial of the Templar leaders.
• The popular charges against the Templars of sodomy and devil worship.
The Templars were a monastic religious order of knights crusaders whose role was to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. They were highly disciplined, effective soldiers and, were among Europe's first international bankers.
Why did they fall? Their wealth and power did excite envy among others and they were suppressed by King Philip the Fair, an unlovely opportunist who was after the Templars' property.
Pernoud goes into great detail over the arrest, trial and execution of many of the Templars. Their trials were a cynical farce, all of the evidence being acquired by torture.
No one could claim that all the Templars were model religious men for they had that mix of saints and sinners which any organisation has over the years. But as a religious order they were more sinned against than sinning.
This is an accessible and inexpensive book which should find a useful place in any Catholic library, including secondary school libraries.