By Leslie Maxwell and Alistair McIntyre

IT seems strange to link those legendary figures from the Crusades, the Knights Templar, with Millig and what is now Helensburgh - but there is a connection.

The same can be said of both Rhu and Glen Fruin, local historian and Helensburgh Heritage Trust director Alistair McIntyre has discovered.

The story of the Crusades has long gripped interest, and a vital part is the role played by the so-called Military Orders, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.

Their original function was the protection and welfare of pilgrims making the hazardous journey to the Holy Land, after the Crusader conquests.

In recent years, the profile of the Knights Templar, and their alleged associations with Scotland, was further raised by Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, “The Da Vinci Code”.

The Knights Templar, originally known as the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, were founded in 1119.

Essentially warrior monks, the personal lives of the Templars were austere, but their skills in commerce and banking, as well as in warfare, helped them to become extremely wealthy.

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A truly cosmopolitan body, their arrival in Scotland has been dated to 1128, during the reign of King David 1st, who is said by English Cistercian monk and writer Ailred of Rievaulx to have kept himself surrounded by Templars.

They had two main bases in Scotland, one at Balantrodoch - now Temple - in Midlothian), and the other at Maryculter in Aberdeenshire. Over 600 other properties all over Scotland were gifted to them by important people.

The first person to bring the name Temple Lands of Millig to public notice was John Guthrie Smith (1834-94), an author and antiquarian.

In his book “Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times”, published posthumously in 1896, he recorded that “Robert Galbraith of Culcreoch, and James Galbraith, younger, were vested in the Temple Lands of Millig, purchased from George Cunningham of Hag, 22 June, 1608.”

Smith’s wife, Anne Penelope Campbell Dennistoun, was a Dennistoun of Colgrain, whose associations with that place go back to the 14th century, and his source for this was the Dennistoun Manuscripts.

An interesting character in his own right, Smith built a grand mansion in the Scots Baronial style next to the historic Mugdock Castle, and he died there in 1894.

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Corroboration that Temple Lands of Millig were on the site of what is now Helensburgh can be obtained from another source, the study “The Knights of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland”, co-edited by Drs Cowan, Mackay and Macquarrie (1983).

Their work includes a listing of known Templar and Hospitaller properties, arranged by county, and under Dumbartonshire, appears the place-name Millig.

The name does not feature anywhere else in the county, and the authors provide several variants in the spelling that they encountered - Moyles, Mulligs and Mullyis.

Other temple names occur in the district. The place-name, Temple of Row (Rhu) appears in a land deed of 1674: “John Smith, indweller at Temple of Row, was witness to a sasine of land called the ferry-land, in the office of the ferry-boat of Connell, in the lands of Ardinconnell, parish of Row.”

Another instance is Temple of Inverlaurin in Glen Fruin, quoted in a land-deed of 1625. One of the variants of this name given by the St John authors is “Hynunlaneran”, from a rental deed of 1539-40.

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Within what was known as the earldom of Lennox, which encompassed the historic Dumbartonshire and an extensive tract of land in west Stirlingshire, there were a multitude of temple place-names.

Many properties in the Lennox came to bear the place-name “spittal”, which usually signifies a link with the Knights Hospitaller.

As to the mechanism through which the Military Orders came into possession of these places, John Guthrie Smith was in no doubt that all of them stemmed from gifts by the earls of Lennox.

Peter McNiven, a leading place-names authority of the present day, considers that they were most likely endowments by either the earls of Lennox or the bishops of Glasgow.

There is a chronic lack of information about the Templars in Scotland - they kept almost no records, and many of the Knights were illiterate.

Robert Ferguson, author of the 2010 book “The Knights Templar and Scotland”, provided estimates of their numbers here. He reckons the number of Templar Knights at any one time was never more than four or five.

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But there were a number of other Templars present, including a handful of chaplains, and between twenty and thirty sergeants, men who had taken Templar vows but who were lower in the hierarchy.

Among other duties, the sergeants were responsible for managing the various properties, basically as estate factors. According to Ferguson, Templar income in Scotland was generated primarily through agriculture and fishing.

Those carrying out these pursuits would have been non-Templar tenants, most likely local people. It is likely that those working the Temple Lands of Millig were engaged not only in farming, but in fishing too. Perhaps they operated a mill.

Each county had a bailli, a sergeant who collected the rents and helped settle minor disputes.

Because of the small numbers of Templars in the country, it seems likely that those employed at places like the Temple Lands of Millig, would have had only periodical contacts with their employers, probably the bailli, or other Templar sergeants.

Templar tenants enjoyed many benefits. Their landlord, effectively an absentee, had none of the capriciousness of some conventional lairds.

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Their families were free to follow whatever occupation they wished; they were exempt from other taxes; and they were not required to sit on juries.

The net Templar income derived from Scotland amounted to some 300 marks - about £200 - at the end of the 12th century, and by the end of the following century the amount had tripled. The money raised was transmitted to Palestine.

The Templars were always considered much more prosperous than the Hospitallers. But this prosperity was to contribute to their downfall.

In 1307 King Philip 4th of France ordered the arrest of the Templars in what is thought to be an asset-grabbing exercise. The King desperately needed money to finance his political ambitions, and the vast wealth of the Templars was too much of a temptation.

The main charges they faced centred on heresy, and the tortures used to extract confessions, and the subsequent executions, were savage. Philip also used his own and papal authority to seek similar action beyond his own kingdom.

In England, the Templars were arrested only after nagging by the Pope. In Scotland, the situation was complicated by the Wars of Independence, started in 1296.

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When arrests were eventually made in Scotland in 1309, two of the four Templar Knights known to have been in the country at that time, fled.

The other two were arrested and interrogated, but no decision was reached, possibly because of the delicate political situation at the time. All known Templar Knights serving in Scotland were English-born, and the interrogators were also English.

The final blow came in 1312, when the Pope suppressed the Templars. Again, there were charges of heresy, some of which were ludicrous. Templar properties were confiscated and made over to the Knights Hospitaller.

The Templars were their perhaps own worst enemy. The St John book states: “Whatever good qualities they may have had, the Templars never endeared themselves to many of their neighbours, in Scotland and elsewhere, and in some cases, the dislike, which ultimately was to contribute to their downfall, appears to have been amply justified.”

Robert Ferguson wrote: “As the Templars’ wealth increased, their early ideals faded away, and were replaced by arrogance, cruelty and greed. It appears that it was this image that ultimately caused the Order to be brought to an end.”

Much of the impressive infrastructure created in Scotland by the Templars continued to function for centuries afterwards. Guthrie Smith noted the holding of a full Temple Court near Buchanan as late as 1461, although in the presence of a Knight Hospitaller rather than a Templar.

There are tales - but no proof - of buried Templar treasure, suggestions that some Templars fled to Scotland, and even a long-standing belief that Knights Templar assisted Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.

To be continued.

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