The Knights Templar were formed at the end of the First Crusade to protect Christian pilgrims on route to the Holy Land.
The head of the Templar Knights was the Grand Master, based in Jerusalem. Each country also had its own Master and then there was a Grand Preceptors who would control the order’s estates in the county.
From humble beginnings the order went on to have the backing of the Holy See and European monarchies. They became very rich and powerful.
This, along with the secrecy of their initiation rites, attracted the anger of Philip IV of France and the order was charged with heresy and immorality in 1307.
After a royal inquest, where torture was freely employed, they were found guilty. Their wealth was confiscated and the order disbanded. The Grand Master and many of his followers were burned at the stake.
In England the Templars (including Geoffrey de Arches, the last preceptor of Temple Newsam) were absolved of their sins and sent to abbeys to do penance. Kirkstall Abbey was one of the places that received disgraced Templars.
Each of the Templars’ estates centred around a preceptory – a combination of a monastery and farmstead. The knights who came there would learn to fight and to pray.
There were several preceptories in Yorkshire including Temple Newsam, Wetherby, Ribston near Knaresborough and Temple Hirst near Selby.
The manor of Newsam (which means ‘new houses’) was granted to the Knights Templar in around 1155. The ‘Temple’ was added to the name in honour of the Templars. From the original documents we can see that land at Newsam, Skelton, Colton and Whitkirk was given to the Knights by Henry DeLacy “for the salvation of my soul”.
The Templar farmstead was located about half a mile to the south of the present Temple Newsam House, close to the river Aire.
An excavation of the site was carried out by West Yorkshire Archaeological Service in 1991 and found out about the way of life at Temple Newsam in the 12th century.
The dig revealed a huge barn, over 45m long, which may well have been one of the largest of its kind in England in its time. After the harvest, corn would have been stacked and threshed in the barn.
There were also a number of other buildings including a possible granary and the outlines of several pits that may have contained barrels for use in tanning leather.
When the Knights Templar were disbanded Temple Newsam was handed back to the crown. Agents of Edward II made an inventory of the estate at around this time in 1311. From this we can see that there were no treasures mentioned on the inventory, mostly basic and practical items.
The real wealth of Temple Newsam lay in the farm and its produce. In 1311 the estate had over 1000 sheep as well as cattle and pigs. The granary contained wheat, peas and oats.
Despite the romantic stories and mysteries associated with the Templar Knights, the preceptory at Temple Newsam was very much a working farm, with any profits used to fund the crusades overseas.