Templars in Sweden?

People who read Jan Guillou's books on Arn Magnusson, the imaginary Swedish Knight Templar, often ask if there really have been Knights Templar as far up north as Sweden. It has of course been speculated that the noble man who appears in the relief on Forshems church, and who inspired Guillou, must have been a Knight Templar. Is there reason to believe this?

There are several reasons for a negative answer. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that a Templar Knight, an elite soldier-monk, should in person have taken the land and built a church in Sweden in the 1100s. The man who took the initiative for the building was in all probability a wealthy local landowner and his family, not a warrior monk.

Secondly, there is no written evidence for a single Knight Templar in these northern latitudes, although there is considerable evidence for the second Crusader. There were plenty of Knights Hospitaller in the Nordic countries (for example in Eskilstuna) and during the 13th and 14th century the Teutonic Knights held considerable estates in eastern Sweden. If the Templars were here, one would surely have heard of them too.

A third argument is that actually a Northern European variant of the Knights Templar was founded, the Fraters Militiae Christi (commonly known as "sword brothers" or "sword knights", the name coming from their white robe adorned with red insignia in the shape of a cross and a sword). During the first decades of the 13th century these knights had conquered most of present Latvia and Estonia. Their words were rule and their buildings resembled those of the Templars but instead were derived more directly from the buildings constructed by the fully monastic Cistercian order. If the Knights Templars themselves had been present in the Baltic Sea area, it would have been unnecessary to found the almost identical order of the sword knights.

The closest the Knights Templar are known to have come up to the north in the sense of land ownership or permanent presence, was in Poland. Their influence there was short lived. It was limited to control of lands by the rivers Vistula and Bug in the mid 13th century.

Translated from Swedish and adapted by TN from blog.svd.se. Illustration shows part of the entrance of Forshems kyrka, source

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Anonymous said...

This might be somewhat old an outdated, but because it was my first hit on Google, I feel the need to say that I find the arguments presented here lacking. The Templars as a whole suffer from a dearth of sources, and fewer reliable ones, due to detractors, among other reasons. As for the Templars being redundant because of the sword brothers, this simply does not follow, given the multitude of military orders that proliferated in close contact, not to mention religious orders as a whole. As for the assertion that it wouldn’t make sense for an “elite warrior monk” to be present in Sweden, the Templars were advisors in courts all across Europe, as well as land holders who maintained, built, and supplied local churches, and included co-operator and auxiliary members of all kinds who in many cases would wear the habit of the Templars.

Suffice it to say we don’t have evidence beyond the tympanum mentioned, but it’s going a bit far to say it was /unlikely/ or nonsensical to say they may have had some presence. There are any number of reasons they could have been present for whatever length of time and we simply don’t have the records to show it. Maybe they weren’t there, but I don’t think these reasons are sound. Perhaps future research will provide more compelling evidence.

That said, I had not heard of the “sword brothers” before so will be looking into them, thank you for an interesting article.

Most of what I’ve said can be found in the introduction to Helen J. Nicholson’s “The Knights Templar” from the ARC Humanities Press “Past Imperfect” series. A great source from a series comprised of short compelling summaries of around 100 pages. Highly recommended and Nicholson is the foremost authority on the medieval military orders.

TemplarsNow said...

Thank you for your thorough contribution to our blog. You are quite right, as strong evidence is missing and there are arguments for the Templars not having been present in Sweden in the strong way as in France, proof is also lacking that the were not. So more data and research is needed to be able to reach some firm conclusion. Thanks again.