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The Knights-Templars are surrounded by the halo of romance and the glamour of chivalry. Their rapid rise from a small and insignificant beginning to great wealth and power, their brilliant military career with its heroic deeds of daring, and their fall at last amid persecution into dishonoured oblivion such a tragedy, enacted on the stage of the Christian world in the Middle Ages, rivets attention, and calls forth sympathy. It possesses all the fascination of the enigmatical and mysterious. For, when all has been said, the fall of the Templars retains elements of doubt and difficulty, which make the solution of the problem presented by it perplexing in no ordinary degree.
At present, we are concerned only with the later years of the Templars' history, and as to those years, one only requires to get, so to speak, into intimate relations with the Knights, in order to discover that their right to be regarded with veneration and respect is questionable. Overbearing carriage and want
of tact (1) had caused the contemporary judgment of their conduct to be unfavourable, and this even in an age which was certainly not unduly sensitive. Pride, as is well known, was attributed to them by King Richard in the twelfth century, and at the end of the thirteenth an additional hundred years of wealth and warfare had not weakened their besetting sin. After the fall of Acre there was no military outlet for their energies, which were, thereafter, used in doubtful, and often mischievous directions. «He must needs go that the devil drives» and
the pace is seldom regulated by prudence. The Templars hurried towards their doom, their powers of resistance to their enemies weakened by internal dissensions, and their fame darkened by deeds of violence and greed. Avarice, and disregard of truth and justice, where the aggrandisement of their
Order was concerned, were features of the history of their latter years.
It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that heresy was not one of their sins. Their faults really lay in the region of conduct, not of belief. (1) They were not theologians, but warriors. They made enemies not only by reason of their deeds of violence and injustice, but also through blunders in policy and bearing, displaying gross want of wisdom.
This estimate receives remarkable corroboration from a minute narrative of certain doings in Midlothian at the end of the thirteenth century, preserved in a Charter of date 1354. The deed containing this record was first mentioned by Dr. John Stewart in his Report to the Historical Manuscripts Commission
on the writs of Mr. Dundas of Arniston. It is now preserved in the General Register House, Edinburgh. (2)
Although referred to on more than one occasion, it has not hitherto been printed in full. (3) It is so extraordinary as to raise doubts at first sight as to its being a faithful narrative, but consideration of all the details leaves little room for hesitancy in accepting the substantial accuracy of the facts set forth.
The first part of the story is largely concerned with events in Scotland shortly before, and at the time of, the battle of Falkirk, and it is to be noted that in King Edward's host there was a large body of Welsh mercenaries (4) a subject which does not appear to have received from Scottish historians the attention it deserves. The difficulty the King had in raising troops for his wars in Flanders and Scotland both in the
same year is well known. He would not have trusted to these Cymric clansmen, we may be sure, could he have done otherwise. He had no alternative, however, as the usual feudal sources were exhausted.
According to the Chronicler the Welsh failed him:
«The Walsch folk that tide did nouther ille no gode,
Thei held tham all biside, upon a hille thei stode.
Ther thei stode that while, tille the bataile was don;
Was never withouten gile Walsh man no Breton.
For thei ever in weir, men so of tham told,
Whilk was best banere, with that side for to hold.
Saynt Bede sais it for lore, and I say it in ryme,
Walsh man salle never more luf Inglis man no tyme.» (1)