The warrior-priests of the Knights Templar are probably one of the greatest mysteries of medieval times. Nearly everything about them, from their inception to end, is shrouded in a veil of uncertainty.
The first mystery is their origins. According to most histories, they were formed by a group of nine knights in 1118 after the end of the First Crusade resulted in the capture of Jerusalem. Their first leader was Hugues de Payen, a nobleman from Champagne, France. But why were they formed? One rumor is that they started as treasure hunters during the First Crusade. After Jerusalem fell, they excavated Solomon's temple, and the order was formed to protect it.
That is only one version of their origins. Another rumor is that the Templars were actually formed as the military arm of the Prieure De Sion, a very secretive groups of monks that at various times (all after the Templars) was said to include people such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton. According to this theory, the knights were formed in 1118 after the Prieure de Sion cut them loose.
Well, one way or another, they were formed. By 1130, over 300 knights were part of the order. Over the years, until 1302, the Templars became known as fierce warriors, genius tacticians, and incredible engineers. They participated in every crusade, and even fought against Genghis Khan's troops (and lost miserably). Even though their battle record wasn't perfect, and even though they commited horrible acts just like the others in the crusades, they gained the reputation of the "best of the best" of the European knights, and were respected by the people, the nobles, and even the Pope.
For a while anyway.
King Philip IV of France became jealous of the Templars, he felt they had too much power. So, conspiring with the Pope, the Templars were accused of worshipping the head of a demon in their temples. Since outsiders were not allowed to view Templar ceremonies, the public never really knew the truth. It has been a subject of debate over the years whether the accusations were true or simply an excuse to do away with the Templars.
Whether it was true or not, Friday the 13th, August 1306, an arrest edict was issued against the templars, and some of them were rounded up. In 1310, 54 Templars were burnt at the stake. At this, all those who were not in captivity fled. An interesting note: when the master of the Templars came to be burnt, he called for their accuser, Pope Clement V to be judged before God. Within a month, he died.
In 1312 the Templars were formally abolished, and their possessions were given to the Knights Hospitaller.
Their story doesn't end there, however. Many of the order fled to Scotland and survived. Records have been found to show that they probably survived until at least the 1800s, and perhaps even later (perhaps even still). During this time they were completely an underground organization, to keep from being hunted.
One rumor of their activities after their flight from mainland Europe is the discovery of the Americas. It is said that they landed in what is now Canada many years before Columbus's voyage. The most interesting rumor is that they were behind the Oak Island Water Pit. It makes sense, given their reputation as brilliant engineers. So, if they were behind the Water Pit, what is buried at the bottom?
Why, the Holy Grail, of course.
(Researched from a variety of web sites. Do a search on Yahoo! for a list of sources.)
Best Templar web site (and most used when writing this): http://www.web-site.co.uk/knights_templar/