The Templars received gifts of estates and money, and the organization soon became one of the most powerful in Europe. By combining monastic privilege with chivalrous adventure, they attracted many nobles. The order, organized under a grand master and general council, had its headquarters at Jerusalem. It was directly responsible only to the pope and thus was free from the control of the secular crusading leaders. As Crusaders the knights were important both in fighting the Muslims (notably at Gaza in 1244 and later at Damietta, during the Fifth Crusade) and in the internal struggles of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (see Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of). Although the Knights of the White Cross (the Hospitalers) were at first probably larger and richer, the Templars, who wore the red cross on a white ground, were greater warriors. In the later crusades the deadly rivalry of the three orders helped weaken the Crusaders' chances of success.
When Jerusalem fell to the Muslims (1187), the Templars operated from Acre; after its fall (1291) the order retreated to Cyprus. By that time the Templars had ceased to be primarily a fighting organization and had become the leading money handlers of Europe. From the beginning the knights aroused opposition because of their special privileges, their freedom from secular control, and their great military and financial strength. As their banking role increased—they served such kings as Henry II of England and Louis IX of France—and their landholdings grew, they aroused the hostility, fear, and jealousy of secular rulers and of the secular clergy as well.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.