Over the next century or so, the Knights Templar grew in numbers, military strength, wealth, power, privilege and fame. They established bases throughout Europe and their duties grew from the protection of pious men coming to the Holy Land to defending the Crusader states of Jerusalem, Antioch and Edessa. They fought skilfully and bravely in the Crusades, they built castles and monasteries, they garrisoned strategically important towns and they devised an ingenious form of banking we take for granted today.
Since so many pilgrims were being attacked for what they were carrying, the Templars created a system whereby the travellers could place their assets under management while they were away, presumably for protection and presumably for a fee. The Templars also created a system of credit where the travellers could deposit their wealth – cash, jewels and other treasures – with a local preceptory and they’d receive a letter of credit stating the value of what they left and when they got to the Holy Land, they could ‘withdraw’ funds to an equal value.
The Templars established a staggering portfolio of wealth, land, status and responsibility through donations from individuals and states. The ruling elite of Spain, France and England gave the order lordships, estates, castles and tracts of land throughout western Europe. They became bankers and accountants to nations and kings and they had the military power to transport bullion and treasures to and from the Holy Land.
The Knights Templar were bankers to Europe’s royalty and rich beyond belief; they were a virtually unstoppable fighting force the likes of which the world had never before seen; they understood the intricacies and complexities of medieval geopolitics; they were devoutly religious; they owned vast amounts of land and property all over the western world. They were seemingly unstoppable. So what could possibly go wrong?