The Knights Templar: Fathers of Modern Banking
By Jefferson P Webb
While the Knights Templar are famed for their courage and valor in combat against Islam in the Crusades, these famed and even legendary knights are responsible for more than just the protection of pilgrims to the holy land, or for facing off with Saladin’s forces from Syria. While there are many books and articles composed and published about the Templar Knights, some of which are quite fantastical to the point of science fiction, there are certain contributions that these knights made that have positively influenced western civilization to modern times that need due attention.
“The Order of the Temple was founded as the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ by a French nobleman named Hugues de Payen in 1119 in Jerusalem. Hugues de Payen led the original order of nine knights by the names of Godfrey of Saint-Omer from Picardy, Payen de Montdidier, Andre de Montbard, Archombaud de St. Aignon, Geoffrey Bisol, Roland, Gondemar, and yet a ninth knight whose name is not known. All of these knights took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Order was founded to protect pilgrims from robbers and bandits who attacked, robbed, and often murdered pilgrims to the Holy Land.”1 The pilgrims, “came in their droves, unaware of the dangers that lay ahead – the roads around Jerusalem were notorious for the bands of robbers that haunted them, preying on the travelers to the Holy Places. Sometimes these robbers were Saracens; sometimes they were lapsed crusaders. To counter this threat, Hugues de Payen gathered together a group of nine knights to protect the pilgrims.”2 “Together these nine knights took on the roll as protectors of the pilgrims in 1119, but the order was not officially established until 1129. “The Knights of the Temple of Solomon of Jerusalem ( Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ) were established as a religious Order of the Latin Church in 1129, when they were officially accepted at the Council of Troyes in Champagne. They were granted Rule which urged all secular knights to hasten to associate themselves with those ‘who God has chosen from the mass of perdition.’”3
Clearly the Templars filled the role of protectors of Christian traveler and did indeed begin to draw the attraction of secular knights as well as noblemen to their ranks for service to the Church in the Holy Lands and in Europe as well. While the Templars did see combat actions in the Middle East as line fighters for Christian armies, flying their black and white battle flag called a Beauseant and shouting their
battle cry, “In Hoc Signo Vinces!” meaning, “In this sign conquer,” in reference to a vision in a dream by Emperor Constantine prior to the Battle of Melvian Bridge, there were many Templars who never saw combat. They filled entirely different roles within the Order. One of those many roles was the role of banking.
Many of the Templar knights were used to record and safeguard the items and monies placed within their care within the walls of their monasteries and banks/keeps. In fact, there were many more brother knights that oversaw the recording of transactions of loans, ceded estates and lands, and other financial matters for the Order than their were brother knights serving in combat functions for the Church. Simply put, there were more of these famed “warrior monks” that actually filled the function of “banker monks.” “The great majority were administrators of the more than 9,000 manors that had been given to the Order by pious benefactors.”4
Much of the wealth that the Order accumulated came from knights and noblemen donations of lands,monies, and other forms of wealth when they joined the Knights Templar for service to the Church. In spite of the fact that the monks themselves took vows of poverty among other vows, the Order itself became extremely wealthy in assets. They became so wealthy that they maintained their own fleets for the
transportation of soldiers,pilgrims,goods and valuables,and many other items bound for the Middle East and other areas. The earliest record of the Templars’ wealth beginning to blossom was recorded as taking place even before the Order was established officially with the Church. “It appears to have begun with a meeting of Hugues de Payen and Fulk V, Count of Anjou, while Fulk was on his pilgrimage in 1120 to Outremer. After this meeting, Fulk committed to the Order an annual income of 30 livres angevines. Fulk was also able to inspire other French noblemen to make pledges to Hugues de Payen’s Templars as well. The Order’s economical means began to build, and as its wealth grew so too did its influence on the European and Middle Eastern stages.”5
The Knights Templar had become one of the richest entities in the world over just a few years, and with well established banks within their monasteries, and arguably the best security in the world for those assets, the brother knights found themselves serving in yet another capacity. Nobles and Royals alike began to entrust the brother knights with securing their valuables within the safety of the Monastery walls under the guard of the Templar Knights. What took place was the establishment of the safe deposit box. A person turned in their valuables to the monastery for safe keeping and was then able to retrieve them at their pleasure, just as is the case today with a safe deposit box at your local bank. An example of
such a transaction along with the language of the documentation and agreement of the withdrawal transaction is found in a quotation from a primary source document. It was a transaction to retrieve jewels by the James I, King of Aragon from the Temple of Mozon.
“Be it known to all that we, James, by the grace of God King of Aragon,
Majorca, and Valencia, Count of Barcelona and Urgel and Lord of
Montpellier and we, Yolanda, Queen, Countess, and Lady of the said
places, acknowledge that we have received and possess all and every
jewel that we had deposited and put in the safe keeping in the house
of the Temple of Monzon. Wherefore we declare the houses of the
Temple and all brothers freed from all chains from us and ours
concerning all the said jewels. Henceforth neither we nor ours can
make further demands for any or all the said jewels. Henceforth
neither we nor ours can make further demands for any or all of the
said jewels nor incriminate, attack, or even harass the brothers of
any house nor any possessions of the Temple in respect to said
jewels. Given at Catatayud, ten days before the kalends of March,
1240. Sign of James, by the grace of God, King of Arogon, Majorca,
and Valencia, Count of Barcelona, and Urgel, and Lord of
Evidenced in that primary source is a prime example of the types of items the brother knights were intrusted with protecting,but also brings to light insight into the language used in such legal documentation of the transactions. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the language of the document and transaction is not unlike that which we see today in such agreements. Without question the Knights Templar were well trusted by the upper crust of European aristocracy and indeed can be credited with the establishment, officially, of the modern safety deposit system.
It is not surprising given the Templar wealth that they too were sought for loans. Here too another function of modern banking was well established with the Templar. It is safe to say that they are not the first to issue loans, but what the Templars did do was issues loans on a much larger, and much better documented scale than most other organizations during their period or since. One such example can be seen here of such a loan made by Robert II, Count of Artois, who was count from 1250-1302, and was the first cousin of the King of France, Philip III.
“I, Robert, Count of Artios, declare to all who peruse this present
document, that I owe the monk Brother John of Tour, Treasurer of the
house of the Knights Templar in Paris, 1,578 livres parisis in
respect of a legal loan in cash the said treasury made me for the
furtherance of my affairs, of which we have full satisfaction,
renouncing the receipt of non-cash property and moneys not yet
received. In satisfaction and full payment of this said loan to the
said treasurer, free of debts and having full legal rights, I assign
specifically and in the name of a special attribution, and herewith
ascribe to said treasurer, all and every one of my rents, proceeds
and income from my castllary and townships of Domfront – en –
Passais, and all their apprentices, i.e. reeveship, woods, waters,
pannage, ovens, mills, pastures, hay, hens, capons, wheat and
whatever else exists, pertaining to me in any matter in those said
places…they shall be had, received, and enjoyed by the said
treasurer or his representative annually from now on without break,
in full, without any loss or opposition, quit and free, in payment
and discharge to said debt, until by the continuous payment of the
rents, proceeds, and income, full and complete satisfaction for the
whole of the said debt shall have been made to the said treasurer.”7
Again we see a magnificent example of the language used in the transaction,but too this shows us the enormity of the loan transaction itself and the level of wealth involved. The Knights Templar were involved in some of the largest loans of their time and even made loans to royal houses to finance the endeavors of nations. With
such as trustworthy reputation established, the Templars also began to be used for transferring monies from one place to another. In doing this, the Templars issued a note to a person for the amount deposited in one place that was good for the person to collect such amount from the Templars in another place or region. The Templars
were effectively issuing travelers checks to people upon deposit of monies. This was of great benefit to people traveling abroad and specifically to the Holy Lands were bandits and robbers made their livelihoods.
While the Templars are well-known for bravery in combat, here it is clearly shown that their function and influence was on a much broader scale than what they are generally given credit for. Nevertheless, their wealth would end up being one of the prime reasons for their demise as France’s King Philip found himself and his country in serious economic peril. Furthermore, King Philip influences Pope Clement V to dissolve the Order in accusations of heretical behavior to claim their assets for France and for redistribution to other monastic knightly orders, in particular the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights Templar were effectively dissolved in 1314 by Clement V and their wealth taken from the Order. But, their contributions to the modern system of banking is profound in spite of the fact that it is predominantly overlooked. It is true that the Knights Templar were heroes of the Crusades, and can be looked upon in many ways as inspirational examples of courage and bravery, and dedication to the Christian Faith under extremely difficult circumstances. But there should be much more attention paid than there is to their influence on the modern system of banking. The Knights Templar set the bar for the use of safety deposit boxes, loans of great magnitude and travelers checks and bank notes and the efficiency with which these things were accomplished.
1.Webb, Jefferson P. The Order of the Temple:Influences on Modern Banking. Waco,TX:Webb Publishing. 2009.1
2.Martin, Sean. The Knights Templars. NY: Thundermouth Press. 2004.1
3.Barber, Malcolm and Bate, Keith. The Templars: Selected Sources. NY: Manchester. 2002.1
4.Read, Pier. The Templars. NY: Saint Martins. 1999. 181
5.Webb, Jefferson. The Order. 3
6.Barber and Bate: The Templars:Selected Sources. 208
7.Barber and Bate. 209
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