The Knights of the Temple of Solomon were a military and religious order founded in Jerusalem by two French Knights after the First Crusade. Its original purpose was to protect pilgrims from infidel attack as they journeyed to the Holy Land. St Bernard of Clairvaux drew up the order's rules, which included fighting the enemies of God under vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. The Templars had no difficulty in finding recruits. The promise of salvation through a life of action and adventure attracted men who had no aptitude for the monastic life. Wearing their distinctive white tunics with a red cross over their chain mail, the Templars soon became an expert military force and a powerful, wealthy order. Their wealth would be their downfall. When the crusading forces were driven from Palestine, the Templars' main activity became banking, and their enormous landholdings and financial strength aroused hostility and envy. In 1307 Philip IV of France, in dire need of funds, charged the Templars with heresy and immorality. They were arrested, put on trial and confessions were extracted by torture. nWhen the Templars' Grand Master and other leaders of the order retracted their forced confessions and declared their innocence and that of the order, Philip had them burned at the stake. Piers Paul Read tells their story in the context of the Middle Ages, a period of history in which high idealism and religious fervour were mixed with unusual cruelty, greed and ambition. The story of the Templars is exemplary of the extraordinary age through which they lived.
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