On Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar newly minted “Knights Templar historian” Scott Wolter described what he asserted were the initiation rites of the Knights Templar, which involved arches and keystones and were quite clearly a description derived from the initiation into the Masonic Knights Templar, a modern organization that is as much a continuation of the medieval order as Civil War reenactors are a continuation of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. (I think, from my limited knowledge of Masonic initiation, that he was actually describing a Royal Arch Mason initiation, or something similar.) There is nothing to do with arches and keystones in medieval initiation to knighthood—laboring was the antithesis of chivalry—but it did make me a bit curious about what we know of Templar initiations. In researching it, I learned why fringe theorists don’t direct us to the primary sources on this issue.
By all accounts, medieval and modern, these were very secret affairs. Documents produced by the Catholic Church, including the Chinon parchment and Clement V’s 1309 papal bull against the Templars, alleged that the initiation ceremony involved worshiping an idol, spitting on a crucifix, denying the divinity of Christ, and performing oral sex on one another. No one believes these claims, extracted under torture, bear any resemblance to reality, though conspiracy theorists will pick and choose parts of them to believe as necessary for their conspiracies. Instead, there is only one lengthy description of a Templar initiation that might be reasonably suspected to be true.
It is well known that the Templars had outposts in Great Britain, and within the Priory of England, there was a group in Northern Britain under Preceptor Walter de Clifton, one of only two Templars to be questioned before the tribunal convened in late 1309 by the papal legate John de Soleure (or Solerio) and Bishop William of St. Andrews at the Abbey of Holyrood. Contrary to conspiracy theorists’ claims that the Templars had gathered in Scotland to become Freemasons, de Clifton made quite clear that this was not the case. He gave an account of initiation rites and the subsequent end of the order in England and Scotland, which contradict the allegations made by modern Templar theorists.
The following is a more or less correct, but somewhat abbreviated, translation of a portion of the original 1310 Acta Contra Templarios manuscript, as printed in David Wilkins’s Consilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae (vol. 2, pp. 380-381.). The document was produced by the Catholic Church at Canterbury under the authority of the pope and the king of England to document actions taken to implement the papal bull. The translation was made by barrister and author Charles G. Addison in his History of the Knights Templar (1842), and I have read it against the Latin to determine that it’s good enough for our purposes that I’m not going to spend the day re-translating it:
On the 17th of November, Brother Walter de Clifton being examined in the parish church of the Holy Cross at Edinburgh, before the bishop of St. Andrews and John de Solerio, the pope’s chaplain, states that the brethren of the order of the Temple in the kingdom of Scotland received their orders, rules, and observances from the Master of the Temple in England, and that the Master in England received the rules and observances of the order from the Grand Master and the chief convent in the East; that the Grand Master or his deputy was in the habit of visiting the order in England and elsewhere; of summoning chapters, and making regulations for the conduct of the brethren and the administration of their property. Being asked as to the mode of his reception, he states that when William de la More, the Master, held his chapter at the preceptory of Temple Bruere in the county of Lincoln, he sought of the assembled brethren the habit and the fellowship of the order; that they told him that he little knew what it was he asked, in seeking to be admitted to their fellowship; that it would be a very hard matter for him, who was then his own master, to become the servant of another, and to have no will of his own; but notwithstanding their representations of the rigour of their rules and observances, he still continued earnestly to seek their habit and fellowship. He states that they then led him to the chamber of the Master, where they held their chapter, and that there, on his bended knees, and with his hands clasped, he again prayed for the habit and the fellowship of the Temple; that the Master and the brethren then required him to answer questions to the following effect:—Whether he had a dispute with any man, or owed any debts? whether he was betrothed to any woman? and whether he had any secret infirmity of body? or knew of anything to prevent him from remaining within the bosom of the fraternity? And having answered all those questions satisfactorily, the Master then asked of the surrounding brethren, “Do ye give your consent to the reception of brother Walter?” who unanimously answered that they did; and the Master and the brethren then standing up, received him the said Walter in this manner. On his bended knees, and with his hands joined, he solemnly promised that he would be the perpetual servant of the Master, and of the order, and of the brethren, for the purpose of defending the Holy Land. Having done this, the Master took out of the hands of a brother chaplain of the order the book of the holy gospels, upon which was depicted a cross, and laying his hands upon the book and upon the cross, he swore to God and the blessed Virgin Mary to be for ever thereafter chaste, obedient, and to live without property. And then the Master gave to him the white mantle, and placed the coif on his head, and admitted him to the kiss on the mouth, after which he made him sit down on the ground, and admonished him to the following effect: that from thenceforth he was to sleep in his shirt, drawers, and stockings, girded with a small cord over his shirt; that he was never to tarry in a house where there was a woman in the family way; never to be present at a marriage, nor at the purification of women; and likewise instructed and informed him upon several other particulars. Being asked where he had passed his time since his reception, he replied that he had dwelt three years at the preceptory of Blancradok in Scotland; three years at Temple Newsom in England; one year at the Temple at London, and three years at Aslakeby. Being asked concerning the other brothers in Scotland, he stated that John de Hueflete was Preceptor of Blancradok, the chief house of the order in that country, and that he and the other brethren, having heard of the arrest of the Templars, threw off their habits and fled, and that he had not since heard aught concerning them.
Note carefully those final lines: The head of the Templars in Northern Britain said that the knights in the adjacent territory had fled away from Scotland and could not be found. Now, granted, he could be lying. But on what grounds can Templar conspiracy theorists declare this testimony a lie, but accept the testimony under torture of Jean de Châlons that the French Templars fled by ship, testimony embedded in a web of demonstrable lies?
So, here we have the testimony of an actual Templar that the initiation rites were neither blasphemous nor Masonic, and that the Templars fled from Scotland as surely as they fled from France or anywhere else—which is to say, they likely melted back into the population. Indeed, British and Scottish authorities found many in peasant garb hiding from authorities, which contradicts the notion that there was a Templar paradise in Caledonia.
Strictly speaking, this does not preclude them from hiding underground and practicing Freemasonry, but it is a pretty good indication that the narrative of the Templars fleeing France and holing up in Scotland to escape Catholic persecution doesn’t hold water. By the way, another falsehood ought to be mentioned here. Masonic conspiracy theorists (and some Freemasons) argue that the Templars fled to Scotland because it was beyond papal authority due to being excommunicated from the Catholic Church. While the king, Robert the Bruce, had been excommunicated in 1306, Scotland itself remained part of the Catholic Church, and Church officials implemented papal decrees, even if the king didn’t offer secular help. The pope placed the entire country under interdict from 1317 to 1328, but this is after our period. Indeed, the Scots seized the Templar lands as surely as any other monarchy, and arrested Templar knights just like any other kingdom, even if they were less gung-ho about torture. The Scots gave the Templar lands to the Knights of St. John, which held them down to 1563, when Queen Mary turned them into the Barony of Torphichen under the last head of the Knights of St. John in Scotland, James Sandlands, Lord St. John.
Bonus fact: The Knights of St. John—better known as the Hospitallers—are the original group that the Scottish Freemason Andrew Michael Ramsay identified as the ancestors of the Freemasons in his influential pseudo-historical propagandistic Discourse pronounced at the reception of Freemasons by Monsieur de Ramsay, Grand Orator of the Order (1737). It is because of the role that the Hospitallers played in succeeding the Templars that Ramsay’s pseudo-historical fantasy of a Crusader origin for the Masons was retrofitted to the Templars instead of the Hospitallers, particularly when Ramsay’s efforts to have the Catholic Church give its blessing to Masonry were met with an interdiction, thus helping Masons identify more strongly with an order that had been similarly condemned by the Church.
Double bonus: While I linked to an e-text of Addison’s book for easier reading, I discovered that the edition I consulted on Google Books had been scanned from the collection of the Imperial and Royal Palace Library of Austria-Hungary (now the Austrian National Library). I am very interested in Habsburg history, but I had never seen a book that had been in the official imperial collection. It had been rebound in fine leather and embossed front and back with a gold double-headed eagle. The cover page was stamped with the library’s official seal. I found that more interesting than any of the Templar nonsense I was researching.
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