Dr J. Michael Jefferson explains how his new survey of major Templar landholdings offers fresh insights into key questions about their history.
The Knights Templar were an order of military monks founded in Jerusalem at the end of the second decade of the twelfth century to ensure the safety of pilgrims travelling to Holy sites. The Order was arrested in France on Friday 13 October 1307 accused of a litany of heinous crimes, the English Templars were subsequently arrested on 10 January 1308. What happened during the career of the Order is the stuff of legend and has attracted the attention of both medieval scholars and mythologists.
Much serious scholarship has been devoted to the part played by the Templars and their brother order, the Hospitallers, during the crusades to the Holy Land. To sustain the Military Orders in the Holy Land required income from their estates in Europe. Three primary sources, the Inquest of 1185, of Templar property, the Report to Philip de Thame of 1338, of Hospitaller property, the Valor Ecclesiasticus,of 1535, of ecclesiastical property, including that of the Hospitallers are available in published Latin transcriptions. The same is not true of the accounts of the Templar estates in England from 10 January 1308 until 1313. The need to transcribe the palaeography and translate the often abbreviated medieval Latin may explain why this crucial source has been, until recently, so little used. The accounts represent a body of data which gives a unique insight into the extent and organisation of the Templars’ Lincolnshire estates from the moment of their arrest until after the suppression of the Order in 1312. The historical significance of the accounts is twofold. Firstly, existing published work on medieval agriculture concentrates on secular and monastic manors, but studies of Templar agriculture are largely absent. The accounts provide the means to rectify the situation. Secondly, when added to the more readily accessible primary sources they allow the fate of the Templar estates in Lincolnshire to be traced until the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I. During that time there was the convoluted and incomplete transfer of the Templar lands to the Hospitallers following the papal bull Ad Providam in1312. The Report of 1338 gives some indication of what had and what had not been transferred to the Hospitallers from the former Templar estates. With the suppression of the Hospitallers in 1540 during the English Reformation, their lands, of which the Templar properties formed part, were in the hands of Henry VIII to be disposed of as he saw fit. Following the deaths of Henry VIII and his strongly Protestant son, Edward VI, Mary I, a devout Catholic ascended the throne. Mary attempted to re-establish Catholicism as the faith of the realm and in so doing re-founded the Hospitallers as the Order of St John of Clerkenwell. Further, she returned to them their lands as listed in the letter patent of 2 April 1557. Mary died on 17 November 1558 leaving her work unfinished. Under Elizabeth I the Order of St John ceased to exist in England and Hospitaller lands fell into secular hands. The Templar lands provide a thread which can be followed through the rich tapestry of tumultuous history for a period of 380 years.
This guest post was written by J. Michael Jefferson who gained his PhD from the University of Nottingham.