Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Knights Templar and Rothley

The Knights Templar, the mysterious religious order of knighthood who flourished in the Middle Ages, have close connections with the village of Rothley in Leicestershire.

Interest in the Knights Templar has grown enormously, with the popularity of Dan Brown’s controversial novel “The Da Vinci Code” and even more so now with the release of the film based on the book.

It has to be pointed out that “The Da Vinci Code” is a work of fiction, and should be seen as such. Nevertheless, it features some ideas which have been around for a long time, and which may or may not have some truth. Many of these ideas were written about in the 1980s in “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”. Some are probably rubbish, and others may have some truth in them.

Originally known as the Poor Knights of Christ, the order was founded in 1118 by the French knight Hugues de Payens, with a remit to protect Christians travelling on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

For nearly two hundred years the Templars prospered, and accumulated great wealth, which caused covetous eyes to look their way.

On Friday 13th October 1307, a day still regarded as carrying the worst possible luck, Philip IV of France, encouraged by the Pope, ordered the arrest of all French Templars on charges of heresy and blasphemy. The leading Templars were put to death.

In England, Edward II issued similar orders, but it is believed that many of the English Templars were forewarned and escaped.

Their lands and fortune were confiscated, and some of this was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller, still known today as the Order of St. John.

In England, the Templars’ main centre was the Temple Church, still standing in the Temple area, now an enclave of the legal profession, off Fleet Street in London. Other churches still standing include the round church at Little Maplestead, near Halstead in Essex, and Duxford Chapel in Cambridgeshire. Cressing Temple, also in Essex, has an astonishing collection of barns.

The Templars had a preceptory (their equivalent of a monastery) at Rothley, and amazingly its chapel is still standing, in the grounds of what is now the Rothley Court Hotel, where the great historian Thomas Babington Macaulay was born.

The land at Rothley was granted to the order in 1203 by John de Harcourt, and Henry III gave them the then Manor House in 1228.

The chapel dates from the mid 13th century, when the Templars came to Rothley. It can be seen from the road that leads from Rothley towards Bradgate Park.

I am usually able to take visitors into the chapel itself when I lead Guided Walks around Rothley. The date for the next one is Wednesday 2nd August at 7pm.

And of course I am very happy to arrange visits or Guided Walks for groups.

Feel free to get in touch, as no doubt many groups will be doing in the wake of the extraordinary film “The Da Vinci Code”.