For most of us, our knowledge of the Templars stops and ends either with their pop culture portrayals or courtesy of conspiracy theorists. Whether part of a vast global conspiracy or, more pragmatically, as guardians of the most sacred of Christian relics, the Templars and their myriad holy quests have long been the subject of romanticized notions of faithfulness, loyalty and strict adherence to duty. In The Templars, Dan Jones seeks to look past the centuries of myths and falsehoods surrounding the order and, in returning to the original source material and period accounts, piece together a coherent narrative that foregoes the fantastical in favor of something more secular and human.

Formed originally as an elite band of knights whose sole purpose was to protect Christian pilgrims traveling in the Holy Land in the wake of the First Crusade in 1119, the Templars built their reputation on an ability to ensure not only safe passage, but also their tireless devotion to their faith in the face of the perceived Islamic threat. As is often the case, they managed to hide behind their Christian rhetoric and carry out all manner of heinous acts in the name of their god. With blessings from the Pope and approval from the greater Christian world in general, the Templars were able to quickly rise to prominence and eminence in the ongoing crusades. And while Jones remains rather firmly rooted in the past throughout the narrative, the numerous parallels to current events cannot be overlooked.

In his introductory remarks, Jones makes it clear that, while he’s all for well-researched, scholarly works, The Templars, though definitely operating within a scholarly framework, is designed to be read in much the same manner as the original tales were told. In other words, he retains something of a taut narrative structure that often reads like a well-written bit of historical fiction that just so happens to have its basis in fact. As he follows their rise and tragic fall over the course of several centuries, Jones links the acts of the Templars to the tenor of the times as Christianity continued to spread and wage war on the feared “others” who retained their own system of beliefs in the face of these fanatical holy warriors.

Their final undoing, as Jones points out, was the result of a decades-long power struggle that ultimately saw the Templars falling victim to their own legend at the hands of the King Philip IV of France in 1303. Subsequently faced with allegations of heresy and sexual depravity, the Templars were publicly shamed, stripped of their divinely-sanctioned role within Christianity, tortured, often murdered, and forced to undergo secret proceedings overseen by the Pope. It’s a classic case of once-revered “heroes” and cultural icons being torn down to fit within the larger overarching narrative of those in power to ensure order is maintained in the face of broader political and societal change. In other words, the mission of the Templars no longer fit with the story those in power wished to convey.

As with any examination of history, hindsight proves 20/20. But it should also be noted that history is, time and again, cyclical and that we must be aware of where we’ve been with regard to where we are now in order to see the parallels and their potential outcomes should our current path remain unchanged. Let the Templars serve as a warning to those who fancy themselves untouchable when operating under the guise of religious righteousness as they continue to commit unspeakable atrocities. Even the most honorable of warriors – holy or otherwise – are ultimately subject to basic human fallibility when stripped of the shroud of myth. The Templars does just that, leaving us with a historical portrait that shows just how accurate it is to say that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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