There is a vast amount of documentation about the Manor and Soke of Rothley and what follows is a fragment of history to show how Rothley Temple, or Rothley Preceptory, and its Chapel, all now part of the Rothley Court Hotel, features in our village history. Who were the Knights Templar and what is their connection with the St. John Ambulance Brigade that we know today?
An Order was started during the first Crusade in 1118 by nine French Knights called ‘Poor Knights’ as they depended on alms due to their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Their poverty is shown on their seals by two Knights riding one horse.
The aim of the Knights was to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and wage war against infidels in defence of the Cross. The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin ll, gave them the use of part of his palace and the abbot in the nearby convent gave them a piece of land near the gate of the Temple of Jerusalem and, from this, the Knights took the name of Templars. They wore a white mantle, with a red cross added in 1166. Their patroness was the Virgin Mary and the Head of their Order was termed the Grand Master.
The Templars soon became famous for their feats and the sons of the nobility joined their ranks. This gave them land and riches and they became known for their wealth, not poverty.
They first came to England around 1140 and established themselves in Holborn , London, at Old Temple. In 1185 they moved to Fleet Street where you can still visit the Temple Church, which survived the Great Fire of London, and Middle Temple Hall of the Inns of Court.
The Templars erected buildings known as preceptories on some of their estates and in 1231 one was built in Rothley when King Henry lll granted them the Manor and Soke of Rothley in that year. We still have a portion of their domestic buildings and Chapel as part of the Rothley Court Hotel in Westfield Lane. Henry lll thought highly of the Order of Templars and entrusted his body to them on his death although he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Mr Nicholls, the County Historian, found this incomplete effigy in Rothley Churchyard in 1790 after it had been removed from inside the Church, which usually happens when space is needed for another monument. He arranged for this important piece of history to be replaced in the Church but it was not re-sited until 1829. However, when the Church was restored in 1876, it was again removed and placed in the crypt of the Chapel of the Knights Templars. (The crypt is the entrance hall to the Chapel, not an underground crypt.)
History repeated itself in 2004 when Brian Verity, the Archaeological Warden for Rothley, read the account of the effigy and decided to track it down. The moss-covered pieces were lying outside the Chapel as rockery stones and Brian spotted what appeared to be a flattish piece of stone with a crossed leg. It was indeed part of our Cross-legged Templar and other important pieces were then found nearby.
With the permission of the new manager of the Rothley Court Hotel the pieces were removed to Brian’s garage for cleaning and then restored to the Chapel where it now lies. It is hoped that it will soon be safely resting on a specially constructed plinth under the East Window. The leaden tablet affixed to the wall of the crypt details the return of the effigy to the Church in 1829.
When you are a wealthy Order it brings enemies and in 1307 Philip 1V of France issued orders for the arrest of all the Templars in France and, in 1308, Edward ll arrested all the English Templars. Proceedings were taken against the Templars and in 1312 the Pope entirely abolished the Order and transferred their possessions to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Hospitallers. The Order was not originally military as it was established in Italy by Amalfi merchants to give hospitality to pilgrims and their badge was a white cross worn on a black robe. Their kindness to the sick and wounded of the first Crusade made them very popular and they were endowed with estates. They were called the Knights of the Hospital, Hospitallers, or Knights of St. John from their patron saint. The Hospitallers had been established in England in 1100 and their Grand Commander in England took the possessions of the Templars in Rothley in 1313.
In 1351 the manorial rights of Old Dalby, Rothley and Heather were formed into a Commandery under a Commander, or Preceptor, who lived in Old Dalby and the Rothley Temple land was rented out for farming.
After expulsion from Palestine in 1291 the Knights of St. John retired to Cyprus. In 1309 they conquered the island of Rhodes but were driven out in 1522. They were then allowed to have their base in Malta and were commonly called the Knights of Malta instead of the Knights of Rhodes. They were driven out of Malta in 1798 by Napoleon and their Order was divided up into different nationalities, each called a Tongue. In 1814 at a meeting in Paris the dormant English Tongue was revived to continue as a voluntary institution. Their Charter had been re-granted by Mary Tudor in 1557 and never revoked and, in 1878, Queen Victoria granted a fresh Charter reviving the medieval Corporation of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England. Today we know it as the St. John Ambulance Brigade.
The Knights of St. John held the Manor and Soke of Rothley from 1313 to 1540 when their possessions passed to the Crown. Humphrey Babington became the lessee in 1540 and his son, Thomas Babington, took over the remaining part of the lease on his father’s death in 1544. From 1565 to 1845 the Babington family were the Lords of the manor and Soke of Rothley and during this time the buildings were converted from the Temple, or Preceptory, to domestic use. How fortunate that the Babingtons retained the Chapel of the Knights Templar which we can see today although from old drawings we can trace some alterations.
Visitors are welcome to the Chapel of the Knights Templars adjoining the Rothley Court Hotel, Westfield Lane, Rothley, Leics. Please ask at the Reception.