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One of the things that the Templars are known for aside from their role in the Crusades and protecting pilgrims was their incredible wealth. While some of this wealth came from the grants of land which were given to them by Western Rulers it was the system of banking that the Templars developed which made them incredibly rich and influential. Before the launch of the Second Crusade King Louis VII of France and Pope Eugenius III had met with the Templars in the Paris Temple which was, by this time, serving as the treasury of France. The Templars importance in organising the Crusade was shown by the fact the Pope appointed a Templar to receive the taxes which was to pay for the Crusade.[1] This was the beginning of the involvement of the Templars in the financial affairs of the French state and the event which would eventually lead to their downfall.

At the Council of Troyes in 1139 the Pope granted his official blessing to the Templars as a direct result of this their wealth and influence expanded rapidly. When Hugh de Paynes crossed the English channel in 1128 he was awarded a house at the North end of Chancery Lane in London by King Henry I upon which he built the first Templar Preceptory in England. [2] Similarly in Spain the Templars were granted a huge amount of land. King Alfonso I had conquered vast tracts of land from the Muslims died childless in 1134 whereupon he willed his entire Kingdom to the Templars, the Hospitallars and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[3]

Operating from both Europe and the Middle East the Templars became what could truly be called a multi-national operation. With this in mind and also taking into account the dangers to pilgrims who at the time had to carry large amounts of cash on them the Templars offered a service whereby pilgrims could deposit their cash at a ‘branch’ in France and withdraw it again in the Holy Land.[4] The Templars kept meticulous records giving the details of daily transactions with information consisting of the name of the depositer, the name of the cashier on duty, the date and nature of the transaction, the amount involved and into whose account the payment was to be made.[5] In fact as Louis VII campaigned in the Holy Land the Templars maintained a large treasure fleet off the coast of the Levant from which Louis could withdraw money at need in order to fund his campaign.[6]

Other services that the Templars offered their customers was that of brokers for purchases of land as they did for King Henry III of England in the 1200s with the island of Oleron, north-west of Bordeaux. Henry III paid £200 a year for five years to the Temple in London, then when his men took possession of the island, the Templars made sure that the seller got paid. Also in the 1200’s the Crown Jewels of England were kept at the Temple in London as security on a loan given to Henry III, the Templars were operating as a very high-end pawn broker. [7] Additionally and against the mores of the time the Templars charged fees for currency conversions and on other services. They never stated it openly in documents that they charged interest on loans but in 1274 Edward I of England paid the Templars 27,974 livres tournois with an additional sum of 5333 livres, 6 sous and 8 deniers for ‘administration expenses’[8]

Another less savoury endeavour the Templars took part in was the slave trade. The Templars used their fleet to transport slaves from East to West. The Armenian port of Ayas in Cilicia was the centre for this trade, the Templars transported slaves of Turkish, Greek, Russian and Circassian origin for their houses in Italy and Aragon. The pick of the young strong males from the Russian steppe normally went to Egypt where they would become the elite Mamelukes.[9]

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Rather than being annihilated in battle by their Muslim enemies for their faith it would be their wealth that would bring about their fall at the grasping hands of Philip IV of France in 1307 due to Philip’s constant need for money to finance his wars.[10]

Bibliography/Reference:

[1] Haag, M. The Templars: History and Myth p. 119

[2] Hagg, M. p. 101

[3] Haag, M. p. 105

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38499883 accessed 29th September 2017

[5] Haag, M. p. 141

[6] Haag, M. p. 141

[7] http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38499883 accessed 29th September 2017

[8] Haag, M. p. 142

[9] Haag, M. p. 140

[10] Haag, M. The Tragedy of the Templars: The Rise and Fall of the Crusader States. p. 338

Featured Writer :

Paul Heffernan

I studied English and History in the National University of Ireland, Galway and got my M.A. in Military History and Strategic Studies in N.U.I. Maynooth. I also gained an M.A. in archival studies from U.C.D. and currently work as an archivist.

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