Paperback: 391 pages
Publisher: Phoenix Press (6 Nov 2003)
There's an awful lot of guff around right now, inspired by the De Vinci Code, that purports to address the history of the Templar Order. So it's nice to find, tucked among all the near fictions that attempt to rewrite history on the basis of throwing away all the existing evidence and wishing for something different, an actual solid, sober but eminently readable history of the Templars.
The first point that Read follows is to set the context. And that context is that of the history of Christianity. So the starting point is when the Temple is built. The author shows the political forces that lead from the start of the first millennium through the Islamic invasions and to the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem. The causes of the Crusades comes up, and the founding of the order in 1119. The history of the order is ineradicably entwined with that of the Crusading movement, and he shows how the greed, incompetence and just plain treacherous thuggery of the Outremer Christians eventually led to the loss of the Holy Land, and thus the loss of the great Templar citadels.
And in the end, the corruption of French King Philip IV, who'd already gone after the Lombards and the Jews (Niemoller should have read his history), and the cowardice of the Catholic Church (to whom the order answered), led to their destruction, a mere two centuries after their founding.
There are a number of interesting notes, especially in the What-If line. What if James of Molay, the final Master, hadn't been an old, confused and ill-educated defender of the charges. What if the Templars had actually hired decent lawyers, as the Hospitallers did (the Hospitallers are still around, though little more than a ceremonial organisation, since losing the island of Malta). But mostly, this is a history of the era from 1110 to 1320, which uses the Templars as a light to shine on the high tide of Papal ambitions and its falling back before the rise of the Nation State, at a time when Christianity could itself pursue Holy War as its highest aim.
The real deal - a breath of fresh air amongst all the DVC nonsense.