It goes without saying that much of what has been written about the Templars is pure poppy-cock. The Templars have been linked with the Grail legend and Dan Brown's book The DaVinci Code didn't help clarify the mystery surrounding the Templars, and, in fact his novel Angels and Demons probably muddied the waters even more. There are some wonderful works providing valid insight into this historically famous (some would say infamous) band of brother knights, and Barbara Frale's The Templars: The Secret History Revealed has to go to the head of a very short list.
Frale, a Vatican Secret Archives historian has access to a document trove virtually unlike any other in the world. She is a specialist on the Templars and is recognized as a specialist on the crusades and the papacy.
Frale gives us an almost intimate introduction into the beginnings of the Templars. During the Middle ages the Holy Land had become the destination of many pilgrims from Europe. Jerusalem Christians had marked virtually all of the significant sites important to the faith. However, in the seventh century Jerusalem had been overrun by Muslim raiders and would remain in Muslim hands for quite sometime. Initially, the Muslim rulers were relatively tolerant of the Christian citizens of the area as well as the pilgrims. However, in time the pilgrims became easy pickings for raiders and this, in time became the basis of the early Crusades.
After a time, Jerusalem is re-captured from the Muslims and becomes a Christian kingdom. However, Christian pilgrims are still harassed by Muslim bandits. Herein lies the beginning of the Templars. Initially established by Hugh de Payens to protect pilgrims from harassment, sanctioned by Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, the Templars would eventually become a military arm of the Pope, and responsible only to the pope. The order was exempt from taxes, and were not beholding to any secular authority. In many ways, the Templars became a multinational corporation and terribly wealthy in the process. Frale is a master of her topic. Her love of her specialty is clearly obvious from the first page. Best of all, Barbara Frale has discovered new evidence in the case of the Templars; The Chinon Parchment, missing almost since it was written has now seen the light of day thanks to her hard work.
The Templars: The Secret History Revealed is not a long book. At a mere 232 pages (and that includes the Bibliographic Note section and the Index) The Templars will not take a great deal of time to read. However, don't let that mislead you. This is a scholarly work. As Umberto Eco states in the foreword, "There are numerous books on the Templars. The only problem is that in 90 percent of the cases they are pure fantasy. No other subject has ever inspired more hacks from more countries throughout time than the Templars." He goes on " Barbara Frale's stunning discovery of the long-lost Chinon Parchment in the Vatican Secret Archives allows us to see in a new light the church's role in the process against the Templars."
If I had to mention a weakness in The Templars it would have to be the complete lack of maps. Certainly, any work of history that is important is deserving of illustrations that relate to the topography of the area being studied. This is still a five star read, however. As I read the book, I kept a good atlas at my side.
The Templars: The Secret History Revealed is a must read for anyone with a more than passing interest in this historical era.
I highly recommend.