Knights Templar Code of Conduct: Living the Chivalric Life

Knights Templar Code of Conduct: Living the Chivalric Life

The Knights Templar, perhaps the most iconic order of medieval Christian knighthood, is shrouded in mystery, legend, and intrigue. As brave warriors and devout monks, the Templars not only participated in the Crusades but also developed a unique lifestyle that blended monastic devotion with the rigor of the battlefield. At the heart of this lifestyle was the Templar Code of Conduct. In this article, we’ll delve into the code’s tenets, ethos, and its enduring legacy in the annals of chivalry.

Historical Overview: Birth of a Sacred Brotherhood

Formed in 1119, the Templars were initially a small group of knights who vowed to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Over time, they grew in number and influence. Recognized by the Catholic Church in 1129, the Order soon adopted a strict set of rules, primarily derived from the “Latin Rule” or the “Rule of the Temple,” which laid the foundation for the Templar Code of Conduct.

Hierarchical Structure of the Knights Templar

The Knights Templar, with their melding of military and monastic lifestyles, established a unique hierarchical structure that facilitated both their spiritual pursuits and martial endeavors. This structure ensured the order’s operations ran smoothly across vast territories and during various missions.

At the pinnacle of the Templar hierarchy stood the Grand Master. Elected for life by the Order’s leading members, the Grand Master was the ultimate authority overseeing spiritual and temporal matters, from deciding military strategies to resolving internal disputes. He was the embodiment of Templar ideals, providing direction and ensuring adherence to the Latin Rule.

Directly beneath the Grand Master were the Seneschals and Marshals. While the Seneschal acted as the Grand Master’s deputy and was in charge during his absence, the Marshal took care of the Templar’s military assets, leading troops in battle and managing the order’s vast armament.

Further down, the Commanders managed individual Templar estates and were responsible for their region’s financial matters. They supervised the collection of revenues and ensured the maintenance of local Templar properties.

The Knights, recognized by their iconic white mantles with red crosses, were both the order’s primary fighting force and its spiritual core. They underwent rigorous training and strict religious observance.

Lastly, the Sergeants, often distinguished by their black or brown mantles, played versatile roles, from administrative tasks to serving as light cavalry in battles.

This structured hierarchy was pivotal in maintaining the order, discipline, and efficiency for which the Templars were renowned, allowing them to thrive for nearly two centuries.

Who Wrote Latin Rule? 

The “Latin Rule,” also known as the “Rule of the Temple,” is a foundational document outlining the regulations and codes of conduct for the Knights Templar. The question of its authorship is intertwined with the early history of this iconic medieval order.

The Latin Rule was primarily based on the “Rule of Saint Benedict,” a guideline for monastic life, but adapted for the Templars’ unique dual role as both monks and warriors. The actual writing of the Rule is attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, a highly influential Cistercian monk of the 12th century. Known for his piety, eloquence, and close ties with the Templars, Bernard played a significant role in legitimizing and promoting the Templar Order. His treatise, “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” extolled the virtues of the Templars, painting them as models of Christian knighthood.

However, while Bernard may have provided the foundational ideology and spiritual direction for the Latin Rule, the detailed provisions and statutes were likely a collaborative effort, considering the practical needs and experiences of the Templar knights on the ground. After its initial draft, the Rule was presented at the Council of Troyes in 1129, where it received official papal endorsement.

In essence, while Bernard of Clairvaux played a pivotal role in shaping the Latin Rule, it was, in reality, a collective endeavor, reflecting both spiritual ideals and the daily realities faced by the Knights Templar.

Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience

The Templars were not just soldiers; they were also monks. Hence, they adopted the three primary monastic vows:

  • Poverty: Templars were not to own personal property. All assets and gains were owned collectively by the Order. This vow ensured that individual greed or desire for wealth did not compromise the mission.
  • Chastity: Templars were expected to remain celibate. This was seen as a way to maintain their focus on the spiritual realm and avoid distractions.
  • Obedience: Every Templar was to obey the decisions and commands of his superiors. This vow ensured unity and swift execution of plans without disputes.

The Warrior’s Ethos

While the Templars embraced monastic values, they were also fierce warriors. This duality created a unique warrior’s ethos:

  • Bravery and Skill: A Templar was trained to be a competent fighter, skilled in tactics and weapon handling. They were expected to show courage in the face of danger and were often at the forefront of battles.
  • Defend the Weak: In line with the chivalric ideal, Templars were bound to protect the innocent, especially women, children, and pilgrims. After all, their primary purpose was safeguarding pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Dress and Appearance

The Templars were easily distinguishable by their iconic white mantles adorned with a red cross. This uniformity in dress was more than just symbolic:

  • Simplicity: In keeping with their vow of poverty, the Templar’s clothing was simple, unadorned, and practical.
  • Identity: The red cross on the white mantle symbolized martyrdom and sacrifice, signifying their willingness to lay down their lives for their faith.

Daily Life and Discipline

A strict daily routine, shaped by both monastic and military necessities, was crucial for the Templars:

  • Prayers: Templars began and ended their day with prayers. Even amidst the clamor of war, they took time out for spiritual reflections.
  • Training: When not in combat, the Templars underwent rigorous training to hone their martial skills.
  • Communal Living: Templars lived, ate, and prayed together. This fostered a sense of brotherhood and mutual trust.

Financial Practices

The Knights Templar, beyond their martial and religious reputation, were financial pioneers of the medieval world. Their vast economic influence was built on religious donations, strategic acquisitions, and innovative banking techniques, eventually making them one of the wealthiest organizations of the Middle Ages.

From their inception, the Templars received generous donations from nobles and monarchs, which included vast tracts of land, farms, and vineyards across Europe and the Middle East. These assets were not just symbols of wealth but generated consistent revenues, further amplifying the Order’s financial might.

Moreover, the Templars’ role in the Crusades necessitated the development of an early form of banking. Pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land entrusted their wealth to the Templars in exchange for letters of credit. Upon reaching their destination, these pilgrims could redeem their credit for cash. This system reduced the risk of theft during perilous journeys and established the Templars as trustworthy financial intermediaries.

Furthermore, the Templar’s financial acumen extended to loans. Their vast reserves allowed them to lend to individuals, including monarchs. Notably, several European kings became heavily indebted to the Order, a factor that eventually played a role in the Templars’ downfall.

Yet, their success in finance was not without criticism. Their vast wealth and power, combined with their exemption from many taxes due to their religious status, often made them subjects of envy, mistrust, and political machinations, which would have profound consequences for their future.

Interaction with Outsiders

Despite their monastic nature, Templars often interacted with non-members:

  • Trust and Trade: The Templars developed a vast economic network. They owned lands, engaged in trade, and even developed an early form of banking. But in all these interactions, they were expected to be fair, trustworthy, and uphold the values of the Order.
  • Discreetness: The Templars were also known to be discreet, rarely discussing the internal matters of the Order with outsiders.

Penance and Punishments

The Knights Templar, as an amalgamation of militaristic discipline and monastic devotion, held their members to a high moral and ethical standard. The Latin Rule, their guiding document, outlined strict codes of conduct, and deviations from this path necessitated a system of penance and punishment.

Penance in the Templar Order often bore a resemblance to practices within monastic communities. If a knight violated the codes, he might be required to recite prayers, fast, or engage in acts of contrition like prolonged kneeling or even physical flagellation. These acts of penance aimed to instill humility, offer atonement and bring the errant member back to the righteous path.

Yet, more severe breaches of the code warranted harsher consequences. Betrayal, desertion during battle, or the disclosure of the Order’s confidential matters were viewed gravely. Knights found guilty of such transgressions could face corporal punishments, lengthy incarcerations, or even expulsion from the Order — a dire penalty that meant not only the loss of brotherhood but also the spiritual protection the Order promised.

Interestingly, these punitive measures weren’t merely about retribution. The Templars believed in the redemption and reformation of the individual. As such, the aim was to correct the wayward knight, ensuring he comprehended the gravity of his actions and returned to the Order’s guiding principles.

Through this balance of penance and punishment, the Templars ensured their members maintained the unwavering discipline and devotion essential for the Order’s sanctity and success.

Dissolution and Aftermath of the Knights Templar

The twilight of the Knights Templar began in the early 14th century, leading to an abrupt and controversial end to nearly two centuries of religious devotion and military service. The Order’s downfall was orchestrated primarily by King Philip IV of France, who, burdened by debts to the Templars and desiring their vast wealth, leveled various charges against them. These allegations ranged from heresy, blasphemy, and idol worship to immoral practices and financial corruption.

On Friday, October 13, 1307, in a coordinated effort, numerous Templars, including their Grand Master Jacques de Molay, were arrested across France. This date would later give rise to the superstition of “unlucky Friday the 13th.” Following years of imprisonment, torture, and rigged trials, many Templars were executed, and their assets were seized.

In 1312, under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V formally disbanded the Order through the papal bull “Vox in excelso.” By 1314, de Molay, after enduring years of imprisonment, was burned at the stake, asserting the Order’s innocence with his final breath.

The aftermath saw the absorption of Templar assets by other orders, notably the Knights Hospitaller. Still, the Templars’ abrupt end left an indelible mark on history, sowing seeds of conspiracy theories, legends, and questions that continue to captivate imaginations to this day.

Legacy of the Code

The Knights Templar may have been disbanded in the 14th century, but their legacy endures:

  • Inspiration for Other Orders: Later knightly orders, such as the Teutonic Knights and the Knights of Malta, borrowed elements from the Templar Code of Conduct.
  • Cultural Impact: Today, the Templars are the subjects of numerous books, movies, and conspiracy theories. While some portrayals are more fiction than fact, they underline the enduring allure of the Templar ideals. 


The Knights Templar Code of Conduct was a perfect amalgamation of monastic devotion and martial rigor. This code, founded on principles of piety, bravery, and discipline, served as a guiding light for the Templars and set them apart from other knightly orders. In understanding this code, we gain insight not just into the Templars themselves but also into the broader ideals of medieval chivalry that continue to captivate our imagination today.