The Progressive Orders: The Knights Templar

In the next of our features on the progressive orders operating within the Province, we have a Q&A with the Provincial Vice-Chancellor of the Provincial Priory of Hertfordshire, E Kt Alastair White, who introduces the Knights Templar:

What is the Knights Templar about?

The title ‘KT’ can be said to be a very short abbreviation of what must be one of the longest titles in existence for a Masonic order; the full title being ‘The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta in England and Wales and Provinces Overseas.’ There are four key words that I would like to highlight in that title, as they provide an insight into what we are all about:

  1. United: The Order actually consists of two separate orders, founded on the medieval orders of the same name – the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta. These are united under the direction of one Grand Master. Each order has its own distinct ceremonies and regalia.
  2. Religious: All candidates for installation must profess the Trinitarian Christian faith.

Whilst claiming no direct descent from the original medieval Knights Templar, modern Masonic association with these defenders of the Christian Holy Places can be found in the very visual Ceremony of Installation as a Knight of the Order. The Candidate takes the part of a Pilgrim who, by symbolically embarking on a Crusade and undergoing various trials, is eventually elevated to the honour of Knighthood and is then entitled to wear the full and impressive regalia of a Knight Templar.

  1. Military: As one would perhaps expect of an order based upon military foundations, sword and other drill are an integral part of the many ceremonial aspects of the Degree.
  2. Masonic: The Order is administered from Mark Masons’ Hall; although there is no requirement to be a Mark Master Mason in order to join. There are 30 provinces in England and Wales, and we are fortunate in Hertfordshire that our boundaries correspond with those of the Craft Province, which makes administration a lot easier.

The original Knights Templar was founded to protect pilgrims heading for Jerusalem and the Christian Holy places. On Christmas Day 1119, Hugh de Payns and eight other Knights took monastic vows; styling themselves The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ. They were quartered near the remains of the Temple of Solomon, of which only the Western Wall now remains. From these humble beginnings, the Order grew exponentially into a formidable, international organisation, with special rights and privileges being granted by Popes and Kings.

The Templar’s were unusual in that they were brothers of a religious order and also soldiers. They united the knightly and religious roles that were at the very heart of medieval society in the early 12th Century. They played a key part in many battles of the Crusades and built numerous fortifications, many of which can still be seen today; yet they also devised financial innovations that could be considered the basis of modern banking (eg the cheque). Eventually, their fame spread throughout the then-known world, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Interest in the Knights Templar has probably never been higher – a simple Google search for ‘Knights Templar’ alone returns 17,700,000 hits. All sorts of speculation and theory about the circumstances of their spectacular rise to, and fall from, power continue to abound.

What is certainly true is that the rise and fall of the Templars exactly corresponded to the two centuries of the crusading venture in the East which began with the first crusade. In 1291, when the Mamelukes drove the last Frankish settlers out of the Holy Land, the Templars lost the main purpose of their existence and soon fell victim to the rapacious greed and tyrannical ambitions of King Philip IV (‘Le Bel’) of France.

The earliest reference to modern Masonic Knight Templar activity in England can be found in the minutes of the Chapter of Friendship (Royal Arch) in Portsmouth, dated 1778, where it was worked as an Appendant Degree. In 1791 a Grand Conclave was formed comprising seven ‘Encampments’ with Thomas Dunckerley as Grand Master. By 1873 ‘Grand Conclave’ was known as ‘Great Priory’ and ‘Encampments’ as ‘Preceptories’.

The Province of Hertfordshire first came into existence in 1840 with the formation of Watford Encampment, under the guidance of William Stuart Senior, who subsequently ruled the Province as Provincial Grand Commander.

Watford Encampment later became known first as Stuart Encampment and, ultimately, Stuart Preceptory No 28. Following the formation of the Preceptory of St Alban No 266 in 1930 and Temple Chelsin Preceptory No 269 in 1931, the Province was reconstituted in 1933 and has continued in that form ever since.

What are the qualifications for joining the Order?

Prospective candidates wishing to be installed as a Knight must be a Master Mason, a Royal Arch Mason and also profess the Christian Trinity.

Membership of the Order is a prerequisite for joining the Holy Royal Arch Knights Templar Priests and Order of Holy Wisdom (‘KTP’) and the Scottish Rectified Rite – Knights Beneficent of the Holy City (‘KBHC’ or ‘CBCS’).

What is the difference between the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta?

The historic ‘Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem’ (Knights Hospitaller) were founded in Jerusalem during the first Crusade, about the year 1099, by the association of many pious Knights with the Brothers of St John’s Hospital, which had been founded earlier that same century, for the relief of pilgrims travelling to worship at the Holy Sepulchre.

In Masonic terms, the Malta Degree is conferred on Candidates who have already been Installed as Knights Templar. Each Preceptory of Knights Templar in the Province has a Priory of Knights of Malta attached to it; several of whom work the degree of Installation as a Knight of Malta. It is usual practice for the Eminent Preceptor of a Preceptory to also act as the Eminent Prior of the Priory.

Whilst the Malta regalia and ceremony are very different from that of the Knights Templar, it is not a separate sovereign body; rather a progressive degree within the Order of the Knights Templar.

The ceremony is based on the movement of the Knights Hospitaller from their inception in Jerusalem to their settling on the Island of Malta in 1522 (having travelled via Palestine and Rhodes), where they would remain in control for some 270 years.

The Masonic ceremony of Installation of a Knight of Malta is a very colourful one which includes moments of drama and historic background. The rank structure within the Degree is similar to that of the Knights Templar with a few slight differences. The Officers’ titles are very different and unique to the Degree.

The primary beneficiary of charitable donations from the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta is the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group, who conduct life changing ophthalmic surgery and procedures in the Holy Land for those who would otherwise have no chance of receiving it. Great Priory are currently running the ‘20 for 2020’ appeal, whereby it is hoped that every member will be able to make an individual donation of £20 to support this ongoing and vitally important work. Further details can be found on the KT section of the Mark Masons’ Hall website.

What are the rough costs of regalia and annual subscriptions?

Whilst there are numerous online retailers selling KT regalia packages, I would strongly recommend contacting our Provincial Warden of Regalia, VE Kt Mike Beaty, first as he can supply quality new and pre-owned regalia at very competitive prices. All proceeds from the sale of pre-owned regalia are used to support the Province.

A full set of KT regalia purchased through VE Kt Beaty will cost around £285. A full set of Malta regalia costs £147.50, as there is no need to purchase additional gloves, sword, belt and belt frog, which can be used with either set of regalia. Whilst the wearing of Malta regalia is encouraged, it is only a prerequisite for active Provincial Officers and members of the Provincial Bodyguard.

Most Preceptories meet three times a year. Annual subscriptions vary between Preceptory, as some include dining and others don’t, but are generally between £75-£90, excluding dining.

How many Preceptories are there in the Province?

There are sixteen Preceptories that meet at Masonic centres all across the Province of Hertfordshire. Thirteen of these are open to general membership.

  • Stuart No 28 – Watford
  • Melita No 37 – Cheshunt
  • Preceptory of St Alban No 266 – St Albans
  • Temple Chelsin No 269 – Hertingfordbury
  • St John the Evangelist No 281 – Southgate
  • Temple Dinsley No 283 – Letchworth
  • John F Cleeves No 315 – Cheshunt
  • Joseph Moffett No 383 – Watford
  • Charles Herbert Perram No 409 – Radlett 1
  • Royston No 416 – Royston
  • Hatfield No 424 – Radlett
  • Macleod No 463 – Radlett 2
  • The Harold Devereux Still No 543 – Radlett
  • Standon Priory No 581 – Sawbridgeworth
  • Crossed Swords No 618 – Hertingfordbury 3
  • Jacques de Molay No 670 – Cheshunt
  1. Provincial Executive Preceptory
  2. Installed Preceptors’ Preceptory
  3. Provincial Bodyguard Preceptory

The oldest Preceptory in the Province, Melita, celebrated its bicentenary in 2015; having been brought to England from Malta – but that’s a longer story for another day.

Why do you enjoy the Order so much?

My membership of the Order enables me to combine my enthusiasm for Freemasonry with my long-held interest in the history of the medieval Knights Templar; the legends of whom continue to fascinate people all over the world hundreds of years after their demise.

The KT and Malta ceremonies are highly interactive and visual, yet, at the same time, they both stimulate personal reflection. This, combined with the military character of the floorwork and the unique and spectacular regalia, make for very enjoyable meetings. Whilst our membership of 300 Knights across the Province mean that, in numerical terms, the Order is quite large, we still manage to maintain a sense of close-knit camaraderie amongst our members and visiting other Preceptories is very much encouraged.

As the Provincial Vice-Chancellor, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to accompany the Provincial Prior and Sub-Prior in visiting other Provinces for their Annual Provincial Meetings. This provides an ideal forum in which to exchange ideas and best practice with my opposite numbers from around the country.

Other than the usual meetings, what does the Province normally do throughout the year?

In addition to supporting its preceptories with official visits, the Province organises a number of well-supported events throughout the year. These include:

  • St George’s Day Dinner, held at Bushey Police Sports Club in April
  • Annual Service of Praise, held at Waltham Abbey in May
  • Annual Meeting of Provincial Priory, held at Bushey Police Sports Club in June
  • Biennial Away Weekend – open to family and friends

Additionally, a Preceptory of Improvement is held under the leadership of the Provincial Marshal on the first Sunday of every month (except January, May, July and August) at Radlett. As well as offering a chance to practice and learn more about the ritual, this provides an excellent opportunity to meet other members of the Order from across the Province.

What is the Provincial Bodyguard?

The Provincial Prior’s Bodyguard is a team of Knights who provide a ceremonial escort for the Provincial Prior at Provincial functions, including the Annual Provincial Meeting and official visits to Preceptories around the Province. The drill involved in this includes using their swords to provide an impressive ‘Arch of Steel’, under which the Provincial Prior will enter and later retire, so a high standard of personal discipline and bearing is required.

Led by a Commander, a Deputy Commander and a Registrar, the Bodyguard number around 15 Knights; selected from across the Province. A member can only remain on the Bodyguard until he has received his first Provincial Honours (usually at the Provincial Meeting following him completing his year in the Chair), after which he must retire. This ensures that the opportunity of serving on the Bodyguard is made available to all suitably qualified candidates.

Membership of the Provincial Bodyguard entitles the Knight to join Crossed Swords Preceptory No 618; membership of which is restricted to past and present members. Every November, Crossed Swords Preceptory undertakes the ceremony of Installation as a Knight of Malta on behalf of the Province, for the benefit of Knights belonging to Preceptories who do not work the degree.

Throughout your time in the Order, what do you think has been the most significant moment for you?

In 2016, I was very fortunate to be appointed to the active Great Priory Rank of Deputy Great Sword Bearer. At the Great Priory meeting held in May 2017, the Great Sword Bearer was unavailable for duty. This meant that I was given the great honour of carrying the sword and escorting the Most Eminent and Supreme Grand Master, Timothy John Lewis GCT into the Great Priory meeting at which he would then proceed to install his successor, the current Most Eminent and Supreme Grand Master, Paul Raymond Clement GCT.

How can I find out more about the Knights Templar?

Our Provincial website can be found at www.ktherts.com and is full of useful information and contact details for the Preceptory Registrars.

Alternatively, you can contact me via e-mail at v-chan@ktherts.com for more information.