Piers Paul Read on how the Knights Hospitaller adjusted to the post-Crusades era
The Knights Hospitaller in Great Britain By Michael Hodges, St Omer’s Press, 156pp, £20
After the conquest of Jerusalem by the First Crusade, two military orders were formed to protect the pilgrims – the Templars and the Knights of St John who, having run a hospital in Jerusalem prior to the crusade, became known as the Hospitallers. Disciplined by their oath of obedience, and unafraid of death, the two orders became an indispensable force in further crusades, and the defence of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The orders were paid for by endowments from devout Christians in Europe. “Donations,” we are told by Michael Hodges in the introduction to this detailed survey of the orders’ properties in Britain, “tended to be made by knights who had been on crusade or by those salving their consciences for not going on crusade.”
The orders became rich and, after the fall of Acre and the apparent loss of their raison d’être, attracted the covetous attention of King Philip the Fair of France.
The Hospitallers had wisely withdrawn from Acre to Rhodes (later to Malta), and became a maritime power out of the reach of European monarchs.
The Templars, however, were vulnerable and, in an operation worthy of a modern police state, their leaders in France were arrested, charged with blasphemy, sodomy and treason, tortured to admit their crimes, and a number, including their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake.
The Order of the Temple was dissolved in 1312 and, after a struggle between Pope Clement V and King Philip, most of its assets were re-assigned to the Hospitallers. Transfers of money to Rhodes from Britain continued until the Reformation when another covetous monarch, Henry VIII, seized their assets.
Among the bequests to the military orders were the rights to the tithes and dues from a number of churches. These Michael Hodges has listed and photographed in the gazetteer that makes up the bulk of his book. It is a work of meticulous scholarship that will be an invaluable aid for historians, and fascinate the general reader by revealing the links between the military orders and some of our parish churches.