When it comes to the story of the Knights Templar, new historical drama Knightfall is skipping over the beginning and middle, and taking us straight to the end. As the title suggests, the series depicts the fall of the order – a turn of events that took the world (well, Europe and the Middle East) by surprise in 1307. But before we get ahead ourselves, let’s explore the backstory of Knightfall’s main characters.
Who were the Knights Templar?
According to historian Dan Jones, “Today you’d say they were a cross between a private military contractor, the navy SEALS, a global bank and a religious cult.” In the Middle Ages, the organisation arose as a result of the danger facing pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem, which had been wrestled from Muslim control during the Crusades. In 1119, a patrol was organised by French knight Hugh of Payns to escort pilgrims as they visited the city’s holy sites. Over time, the small band grew to become one of the most powerful and wealthy organisations in Europe.
What did they do?
The Knights Templar, who got their name from the fact that they lived in a temple (formerly the al-Aqsa Mosque) in Jerusalem, were warmly welcomed as bodyguards for Christian pilgrims. Before long, support from Christian monarchs and the pope resulted in the order expanding their remit significantly. By the 1140s, the knights were fighting in Crusader armies and stationed in castles in war-torn regions. They were elite troops renowned – and feared by opponents – for their ability in battle.
Did they do anything besides fight?
Yes, the knights lived according to strict guidelines, and swore oaths of chastity, poverty and obedience. The slightest deviation from the rules resulted in severe punishment. As an organisation, however, they accumulated massive wealth and property holdings across Europe. Their tax exempt status and generous donations given to them helped on that front. The Knights Templar also developed into a private bank, looking after fortunes for the wealthy, collecting taxes and loaning money.
Why is the world still obsessed with them?
Countless myths and legends have surrounded the Knights Templar for centuries, and, more recently, they’ve cropped up in everything from best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code to video game Assassin’s Creed. Back in the day, they were apparently the keepers of the Holy Grail, although that story seems to be just as much a work of fiction. And depending on how much of a conspiracy theorist you are, you might even think the order still exists today, lurking in the shadows and controlling the world.
So what did happen to them?
Spoiler alert! The organisation was abolished in 1307 – on Friday the 13th of October. Yep, that’s where we get that from. The knights were imprisoned and executed on the orders of French king Philip IV and Pope Clement V. Starting in France and then spreading across Europe wherever the Templars were based, the order was disbanded and its members tortured until they gave false confessions of committing horrible crimes.
Where does Knightfall pick up the story?
In 1291, during the siege of Acre, a battle which the Christian forces lost, resulting in them being ousted from Jerusalem. We then skip ahead 15 years to Paris, where a group of knights are searching for purpose now they can no longer look after pilgrims in the Holy Land. It’s not long before destiny comes knocking.
Knightfall premieres Thursday 1 February at 8.30pm on SBS and continues Thursdays at 9.30pm.
A preview of episode 1 of Knightfall is streaming now at SBS On Demand. All episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand.