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What Did a Knight Templar Look Like and Wear ?

What did the original Knights Templar actually look like and what did they wear ?
I suspect most people have a clear idea, bright white mantles emblazoned with large red crosses, shiny armour and elaborately decorated swords and bright silver suits of armour.
It’s a well known clichéd image but far from the historic truth

The key to understanding the Knights Templar and their possessions is their vow of poverty. Once joining the order the new member would be required to hand over all his worldly goods to the order. This would not only include personal items but also land, assets and money.
knight templarTo the left you’ll see a rare 17th century engraving from Monasticon Anglicanum of one of the The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon to give the order its original name.
I suspect this is a little bit nearer the reality than the chivalrous knights of folklore, film and literature.
As no Templar records really survive and they were formed in the early 12th century there isn’t as much to go on as one would expect. To that end I’ve pieced together snippets of recorded historical fact which when pieced together will give an idea of what a Templar Knight would have worn and looked like - equally what he would not have looked like !

The order followed strict religious rules, The Rule of Benedict, and as such conducted their daily lives much as monks would have done, hence being known as Warrior Monks.
The wore a hauberk or chain mail over a leather jerkin and a white vestment which was a symbol of religious purity and the fact they had entered a life of celibacy.
The white was only worn by full knights, their sergeants, squires etc wore black or brown

The Red Cross
It was not until that 1147 Pope Eugenius III officially granted them the right to wear the famous red cross now synonymous with the order.
It was worn on the mantle on the left side above the heart - it was not a huge red cross on the front as so often depicted !

Shields
They would not have had white shields with red crosses on them as shield decorations were expressly forbidden.
Decorated shields, weapons and saddles etc were all the trappings of wealth during that period - consequently the warrior monks would have had nothing ostentatious whatsoever.

Hair and Beards
All knights were strictly obliged to grow beards - no Templar Knight would have been clean shaven.
Hair on the other hand was to be kept short and tidy, possibly even tonsured.

Horses
The well known Templar seal which features 2 knights on one horse is yet another symbol of poverty. I personally think it also has the meaning of brotherhood in adversity as well.
In actual fact each knight Templar was allowed 3 horses and a squire - 3 horses would have been a real expense at the time but as they were used solely for military purposes it was not deemed an extravagance. As previously mentioned though, they could have no gold, silver or ornamental trappings

Literacy
Despite the fact that many of the order came from wealthy aristocratic noble backgrounds the majority were completely illiterate.
This problem highlighted itself during the trials after their suppression by the King of France and the Pope who was being corralled by Philip IV.
It is a matter of court record that many of the brethren declared themselves unable to defend themselves in court due to illiteracy and indeed many had signed confessions that they had been unable to read or understand.
Incidentally, in 2002 a document called The Chinon Parchment was found in the Vatican Archives stating that Pope Clement V exonerated the Order completely finding them innocent of all charges. This document was suppressed and the church went along with Philip IV who was effectively pulling all the strings at the time.

I suspect as the Order became less involved in the Holy Land and more involved in managing their burgeoning empire that for many the pious traditions must surely have lapsed somewhat. Given the huge numbers involved it is surely likely that an element amongst them preferred the trappings and comfort that huge estates and wealth brought to the order. This would primarily have been at the time they all but ceased to be an actual fighting force in practice.
So I think it’s fair to say the Warrior Monk in times of war would have been much as I describe rather than modern convention seems to suggest

Hopefully then that sheds a little light on the historical reality of the Knights Templar, their dress, possessions and way of life.
They did not look like the archetypal Richard the Lionheart or Chivalrous Arthurian knights usually depicted, indeed, ‘King Arthur’s knights’ were ‘around’ some 600 odd years before the Templars even existed.
It is also worth noting the Crusader Knights fighting in the Holy Land were not necessarily Templars.

I hope, if you’ve got this far, you found it of some interest / use and if you have anything you’d like to add, any opinions or questions please do feel free to leave a comment

Honourably Yours
Rod

You may also be interested in previous articles on the Knights Templar Precptory in Grimsby or Temple Bruer

31 Comments

  1. Phildude said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

    A most excellent and informative piece Rod.

    The Poor Knights OF CHRIST and the Temple of Solomon did little, if any fighting, in the holyland
    and were more concerned with digging. Housed as they were by the king of Jerusalem above the
    temple of Solomon, the nine original Knights apparently spent a number of years excavating the site.
    What they discovered and removed to a safe place remains full of controversy. I discovered that those
    original Knights came from what we now call the South of France, were all related and were Jews.
    I now believe that they were the descendants of Jesus and they found proof of this, and many other things
    with which they held power over the catholic church, proving that it was a fraud. History demonstrates what
    happened next for those who wish to enquire and it all makes a lot more sense armed with this knowledge.

    I remain, your faithful heretic.
    Phil

    ps. can someone look into those two templars on one horse. Some depictions have them facing away from
    each other. What does this mean please?

  2. Rod said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

    Phil,
    I’ve no doubt the Templars were there to dig - the idea they we there to protect pilgrims is clearly ridiculous.
    There were only nine of them ! There is also no mention of them doing anything whatsoever for 9 years !
    Why also were these 9 virtual nobodys given such huge and sacred quarters to live in ?

    As you mention some the original Knights came from the Launguedoc region and it later became a stronghold for them. I’ve also picked up on the fact that when the Papal Crusade against the Cathars was launched the Templars were nowhere to be seen - they were the Pope’s top military men . . . that’s very telling.

    There’s a saying: All roads lead to Rome
    I prefer my own version: All roads lead to Rennes le Chateau !

    There’s more to this story than most would believe - though I don’t need to tell you that Phil !
    Best
    Rod
    PS: Here’s the original Templar seal

  3. Me said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Sir;

    I believe that Phil and Rod are not exactly correct. Here is where I disagree:
    1. The order lost TENS of THOUSANDS of members defending the Holy Land, they were involved in many battles and were responsible (along with the Knights of St John) for most of the fortifications throughout the Kingdom.
    2. It was a requirement to be a Christian to be a member. The Knights and Sergeants may have been ethnically (I doubt it) Jewish but certainly not religiously.
    3. There were only 9 original Knights, that is true. However history does not detail their retainers and servants etc. Virtually all Knights at that time had several attendants.

    Thanks!.
    Me
    non nobis Domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam

  4. Rod said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

    Me,
    thanks for the comment and welcome to the site - hope you’ll return.
    Just to take your points (and from my perspective not speaking for Phil)

    1: They did indeed lose huge numbers but this was only a decade or so after they were formed. Their military history is well documented but there is no record of them doing anything initially - the question is what did they do for 9 years in ‘Solomon’s Stables’

    2: I agree that they were indeed Christian, I don’t suggest they weren’t. I believe they followed a slightly different version of Christianity though (John the Baptist rather than Jesus) but that’s a big subject and something for a separate debate :)

    3: The pilgrims amounted to tens of thousands and the country vast - in that initial decade the idea of the Templars providing safe escort for pilgrims, irrespective of squires and sergeants, is simply unrealistic

    Thanks again Me - really appreciate the contribution
    Kind regards
    Rod

  5. Me said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 1:29 am

    On this point I recommend you pick up a copy of: Dungeon, Fire and Sword, subtitled The Knights Templar in the Crusades by John J. Robinson. He speaks on the “9 knights” issue thusly:

    “There is no documentatiob to show that the Templars took in additional members during their first nine years, but there is no documentation that they did not”.

    and “Althought there is no record of the actual numbers, the starting group of nine knights would have meant an establishment of 25 to 30 men, with 40 to 50 horses.”

    We can’t take the texts too literally, remember the knight always had a retainer with him with an extra weapon. The knights didnt cook their own food, and it is likely that they didnt groom their own horses or maintain their residence. In those days, the cost a leige lord paid a knight was huge due (to a large part) to his overhead. The king must have been very happy with these Knights offering to work cheaply. (Although it is likely that the King and probably the patriarch would have helped to support the Knights.)

    A small force would have been hugely effective from the coastal cities to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Most of the problems at that time were from islamic brigands who were totally ill-equipped to deal with heavy calvary in the French style.

    Regards!
    Me

  6. Rod said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 8:18 am

    Hi Me
    thanks for the book recommendation, I don’t have that particular one so I’ll be sure and get a copy.
    Thank again for taking the time to comment Me and I hope you’ll return

    All the best
    Rod

  7. Me said,

    February 2, 2010 @ 12:38 am

    You bet! Good site.

  8. Phildude said,

    February 2, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

    Wow! great!
    I was just about to compose a response to Me when i saw the links and, having had a quick glance,
    have decided to review them completely when i get time so as to understand where you are coming from first.

    regards
    Phil

  9. Phil said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    Hi Rod

    Ive taken the time to review all the information presented in the linked sites.
    It is my opinion that there are too many inconsistencies and political inventions to take it seriously
    and the suggestion that the Order ended in 1317 with the death of its leader can be safely taken
    as nonesense.
    It is interesting to note that ‘Me’ particularly picked on the point that they were Jews, but rather than
    get into that one just now, ive concluded that there are much more important issues to consider.
    The identity of ‘god’ and the identity of Jesus himself.
    The claim that they were ‘christians’ is also misleading based on how we understand the word today.
    They were all engaging in war. Genocide. Killing in the name of god. Killing in the name of ‘christ’.
    Although come to think of it.. thats still what they are doing today. Blair did it. Bush did it. and the rest.
    Its been going on since the israelites were given permission by god to do it in Caanan.

    Find their true identity and I think all other questions will be answered.

    regards
    Phil

    ps.
    I would call the Templars ‘Zionists’ Anyone not familiar with this term can easily look it up!

  10. Rod said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

    Hi Phil,
    there’s a bucket load of individual articles here and I agree with you not the place to go into them - suffice to say the Templars being Christian doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘Pauline’ faith we know today.
    Likewise, they may well have believed in God but not in Jesus (that’s a big subject so I’ll not carry on)
    Best
    Rod

  11. Starfish Prime said,

    March 7, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

    Hello there Rod,

    I was just wondering what your source is for all of the detailed information that you give about what the templars wore and such. I am not challenging your information, I am simply wondering where you might have got it? All I can find online is just websites that say “templars wore a white tunic with a bright red cross on the front” which like you said, isn’t very detailed or accurate. thanks for sharing,

    Starfish Prime

  12. Rod said,

    March 7, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

    Starfish,
    thanks for the comment and welcome to the site. The article is based on n accumulation of knowledge rather than one source.
    The Templar subject splits into two camps I think, the reality and the fluffy shallow or mystery stuff.

    If want serious then I can recommend one book, it’s indepth and is a slight dry read, as scholarly books tend to be, try The New Knighthood by Malcolm Barber.

    It is also possible to infer what some things must have been like. Take “The Rule of St. Benedict” for example - following that rigidly would rule certain things in and out by definition.

    All the best
    Rod

  13. Joshua Israel Gemmell said,

    December 30, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    The Red Cross
    It was not until that 1147 Pope Eugenius III officially granted them the right to wear the famous red cross now synonymous with the order. ~ Rod Collins

    I have a question, before 1147 what color was the cross?

    My family has a Knights Templar cross on its coat of arms, and my family founded the first Freemasons Lodge in the world at Kilwinning. Kilwinning was built in 1040 to store relics that were found by the Knights Templars in 1040 under the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. The real Stone of Destiny belongs to my family, and the one that England now has in Scotland is a fake. The royal family of King David went into exile to Gamala, and Jesus grew up in Gamala. Both Gamala, and Gemmell comes from the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet ‘gimel’ which means camel. My family held on to Templehouse, even after the Knights Templars disbanded into the Freemasons. The real Stone of Destiny was kept in the garden at Templehouse, and Templehouse was considered holy ground, and when the Knights Templar disbanded, they never took anything from my family. Legend calls my family’s Templehouse “Mount Heredom”, and A.J. Morton calls it Dunlop Temple.

    So, given the facts that my family surname of Gemmell means “Ancient” in Scotland, and I am connect to the Holy Grail legends, and the Freemasons, there is no doubt in my mind that Knights Templar existed to protect my family, and when the Pope found out why the real purpose of Knights Templar, the inquisition started to force the Knights Templar to reveal the family of Jesus, but they preferred to burn at the stake than betray my family. So, we had good reasons to establish the first Mother Lodge of Freemasons at Kilwinning to continue the protection that the Knights Templar vowed with their life to protect.

    So, my question is: Why the Gemmell had a small silver Greek cross on their coat of arms? Was it common to use a small silver cross, or was it done with a reason? Was the Gemmell silver cross marking the place where the Stone of Destiny was being kept? There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘red cross’ glorified the death of our Lord Jesus Christ for it is the color of blood, but the silver cross glorified his resurrection, for it was bright and shiny.

    Sorry for all the details, however I have only given a small part. But I seek that you are very knowledgeable, and perhaps you can share with me what you know about the silver cross being used by the Knights Templar.

    - Joshua

  14. Rod said,

    December 30, 2010 @ 9:03 am

    Hi Joshua,
    thanks for the comment and welcome to the site.
    You’ll notice the quote of mine from the article refers to the wearing of the cross and not the colour.
    I’m afraid I’m not aware of any connection at all with a silver cross and the Templars - sorry about that.
    It is of course a generic design and often used when there is no Templar connection. The cross design is, and has been, popular I believe for visual reasons as well - as all sides are equal in length it fits nicely into designs etc - one of the reasons it is so often seen in engravings, one tombstones and heraldic devices etc

    Regards
    Rod

  15. Me said,

    February 16, 2011 @ 1:27 am

    Hello All!

    Phil said: “The claim that they were ‘christians’ is also misleading based on how we understand the word today. They were all engaging in war. Genocide. Killing in the name of god. Killing in the name of ‘christ’.
    Although come to think of it.. thats still what they are doing today. Blair did it. Bush did it. and the rest.
    Its been going on since the israelites were given permission by god to do it in Caanan.”

    I’d be interested to hear you support the term Genocide regarding the poor knights of Chirst (Templars). To me Genocide means: Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. The order never had as a goal to systematically destroy any of those groups. Their job was primarily defensive, they did however participate in some preemptive warfare. The Islamic world has a requirement to force “Submission” on non believers, Christianity calls for turning the other cheek. Additionally the order was extensively villified in it’s time for it’s forward-thinking relationships with other faith groups like the Jewish and moslem peoples.

  16. Nate said,

    February 1, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    So what you are saying is the Templars did not look at all as fancy as they make them out to be? They just had normal armour like chainmail and swords? Also was there only nine of them to begin with and then they grew or did it stay at just nine knights?

  17. Rod said,

    February 1, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    Nate,
    indeed they didn’t look anything like the modern portrayl - that ‘Romanticism’ and there’s a link to that in the original article which expands on the theme.

    They did however grow to be a vast and very powerful worldwide network.
    Regards,
    Rod

  18. Raimonde said,

    April 30, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

    Hello Rod and all contributors to this fantastic site.

    I’m curious as to your notions of the Knights’ religious practice being based more on John the Baptist than Jesus. Can you amplify on this, or point me to where you do so on this site? Many thanks.

    R

  19. Rod said,

    April 30, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    Raimonde,
    it’s a topic worth a website of its own in my opinion. I do believe they were based on John the Baptist, I think they also knew, or indeed had evidence, that Jesus was indeed mortal.
    A lot of things deemed as heretical were only so because one had a accept Jesus died on the cross and rose again - hence making him a God in the eyes of Pagans at the time.

    Interestingly some faiths refer to Jesus as The False God, I don’t believe the meant that to be derogatory when they wrote it many 100s of years ago, it’s worth noting they don’t dispute his existence or what he said largely, just his status as a God, i.e. he rose again and wasn’t mortal - if you accept he was mortal then an awful lot of things make sense.

    There are a lot of good books on the subject, I’d recommend them as the topic goes way beyond simple pages such as this
    Best
    Rod

  20. Tom Dailey said,

    July 18, 2012 @ 12:56 am

    I did not join the order until a scant few years ago. Prior to that, I had occasion to visit Rosslyn with the members of my Lodge from the USA, with the GM of Scotland as our “guide”… for any Freemason or Templar who enters the door of Rosslyn, and doesn’t feel the poweer within, I fear he’s not truly let himself open up. The history comes alive and discussions begin anew, when you confront the chapel-treasure of the Sinclair family. I strongly suspect that their garmentage was indeed, simple. Their lives were difficult, and their diet, quite basic. They embraced their beliefs with fervor, and kept their word - always.

    Tom Dailey
    Emminent Commander
    Georgetown, CO (USA) Commandery 4

    IHSV

  21. Rod said,

    July 18, 2012 @ 6:53 am

    Tom,
    thanks for leaving a comment - very much appreciated.
    Kind regards from England
    Rod

  22. Don said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

    This is one good site! Its nice to see so many diverse options, because that’s how I suspect it really was. King Baldwin disagreed with the Pope on everything, and those two were the closest to being of the same opinion. I have Baldwins in my ancestry and like to think they include the short Baldwin Kingdom of Palestine, but probably not…

  23. Rod said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 7:11 am

    Don,
    thanks for the kind words and welcome to the site
    All the best
    Rod

  24. SPQRLegate said,

    August 20, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

    An interesting read except I believe one area in particular needs more attention. The Knights Templar did in fact wear the Red cross on the left of their everyday mantle. However, where they wore it on their battle dress is up to debate. While some argue that having the cross in the center takes away the significance of having it over the heart others point out that in battle the cross would be covered by the shield hence making it not very practical as an identification tool. The only surviving regulation concerning the Templar cross is one from Pope Gregory the Ninth around 1240. This regulation allows the Knights to replace their cappa with a white surcoat with the order’s symbol on the breast. This does not mention a specific required area for the cross. Perhaps something about the location of the cross on the surcoat was in the lost Templar archives but in its absence perhaps the best source is frescoes. However, even they can determine nothing absolutely as the fresco !
    in the Templar church Cressac-sur-Charante depicts Knights with white surcoats and the cross in various positions, however it is worth mentioning that whether or not these knights are Templar is open to debate as their shields have varying designs which could mean they aren’t Templar, or the knights were allowed to use their own coat of arms, or the knights were depicted with their family arms to identify them in the fresco. Still more frescoes in the church of San Bevignate depict Templars without crosses. My best guess is that depending on who made the surcoats that different Templars in different areas put the cross were they preferred to put it with some putting on the left over the heart and other more practical Templars putting it in the center or the right so it would be more helpful as an identification tool. Either way it is hardly confirmed that they wore it on the left of their battle kit and in the absence of absolute evidence arguments can be made for the cente!
    r position as well and even if evidence were found good arguments coul
    d still be made for various positions of the cross.

  25. Rod said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 6:44 am

    SPQR,
    thanks for the kind words and welcome to the site
    All the best
    Rod

  26. Dr. Howard McNeely DCH said,

    January 29, 2014 @ 8:28 am

    What a wonderful site, it was so refreshing to read the many view points, thank you

  27. Rod said,

    January 29, 2014 @ 8:30 am

    Dr,
    many thanks indeed and welcome to the site
    Regards,
    Rod

  28. j debar said,

    April 12, 2014 @ 7:35 am

    “It’s a well known clichéd image but far from the historic truth”

    Enjoyed this post. You’ve made a rather critical point missed by too many. We impose our current norms onto the distant past. In the case of the Middle Ages — the very distant and somewhat backward past, even if it was only a few hundred years ago.

    The likelyhood of a perfectly and consistently groomed, well equiped, well dressed, well uniformed, large group of disparate individuals is very unlikely. It is entirely likely that they wore different tunics where the crosses might well have been similar, but not identical and not necessarily displayed in the same place. No one was sending off designs to a Chinese factory to be produced ‘en masse’ and manufactured identically.

  29. Rod said,

    April 12, 2014 @ 7:36 am

    JD,
    thanks for the comment, pleased you found it of interest and welcome to the site
    All the best
    Rod

  30. chris tobin said,

    February 4, 2015 @ 8:41 am

    I found this quite interesting, I am sixty seven but all my life I have had a fascination with the “Crusader” era. I have read that they also wore a sheepskin tied around the abdomen which was never removed ( they would not be nice to be near in the heat ) can you shed any light on this. Kind regards

  31. Rod said,

    February 4, 2015 @ 9:07 am

    Chris,
    thanks for the comment and welcome to the site - that’s a new one on me I’m afraid
    All the best
    Rod

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