The Templars (a book review)

 

The Templars

The Hospitallers are cool too.

Ah, the Templars. So much mystery, so much legend, so many trashy adventure novels written about them. And I mean trashy in a good way, because I bought those adventure novels. God help me, I bought them.

But who were the Templars really? There are actually a lot books written about them, so which one should you read? I found several too academic. I don’t want to go back to school. I want to learn, but in an entertaining way. That’s why I can highly recommend Dan Jones’s recent book The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors.

I really enjoyed The Plantagenets, also by Dan Jones, which is what led me to this book. Some of The Plantagenets takes place during the period that the Templar order was active in the Holy Land and Europe, so a couple of happy tie-ins happen, such as when Richard the Lionheart goes on crusade. If you liked The Plantagenets, I suspect you’ll enjoy The Templars.

In The Templars, the author approaches the subject matter in the same way as The Plantagenets. He tries to form a cohesive narrative, taking the reader from the founding of the order, shortly after the first crusade, all the way to its eventual destruction after the Holy Land is lost. This worked incredibly well in The Plantagenets, mostly because each section was devoted to a specific ruler, which let the author take the reader on a journey with each one. The Templars is more complicated because, while there are specific people to latch onto, it is more directly tied in to the events of the crusades and not individual Templars. Even in non-fiction, it can be difficult to read about real events without human characters to see those events through. I’m guessing that there isn’t enough detailed information available about the early Templars simply because they were one of many orders at the time. Dan Jones handles it as best as he can, giving color to as many important characters as possible.

Because of this, I found one particular section stood out above the rest, the story of Salah al-Din (Saladin) and the fall of Jerusalem. This part of the narrative worked because of these larger-than-life people on both sides of the conflict. The author makes no judgments about either side in the unending battle for Holy Land, but simply presents events as they were. Saladin is probably the most well-known figure, while on the Templar side you get to know the master of the order at the time, Gerard of Ridefort. Gerard, while not Saladin’s direct opposite (that would be Guy of Lusignan, among others), had a hand in events leading up to the siege of Jerusalem. The Templars gained a lot of political power at this point, so they wielded a larger influence on people and events. Gerard is a fascinating character.

(Interestingly, the Ridley Scott movie The Kingdom of Heaven covers a portion of this same time period. Perhaps the screenwriter realized it how much political intrigue and drama existed at that moment and went for it. If you’ve never seen the movie, I recommend it, if only to help visualize the era and events.)

The events leading up the dissolution of the order get equal treatment, as there are three-dimensional central figures and a lot of information to help shape the events. It illustrates how terrible humans can be when money and power are at stake, or when ideology is put to the test by self-righteous people who wield power. Sorry, I try not to make political rants, but the persecution of the Templars is absolutely fascinating. I think it will give you an emotional reaction one way or the other.

The Templars covers a deep subject, one that no author could hope to cover in one book and make that book manageable. I think Dan Jones does an excellent job. He brings not only the order to life, but the crusades themselves and how one influenced the other, creating a history worth studying and understanding.

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