Rothley Temple and the Chapel of the Knights Templar
A view from the Rothley Brook
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?
Rothley Temple front entrance. March 2002
This Inn Sign for the Rothley Court Hotel was removed in 2004 for a more 'modern' deign. Photo taken 2003
A portrait of William Wilberforce MP by George Richmond 1831. In the Palace of Westminster Collection
Exterior of the Chapel. March 2002
View from the front entrance of The Temple. March 2002
Exterior of Chapel. March 2002
The entrance to the Chapel
Inside the entrance crypt you are being watched. April 2013
An Order was started after the first Crusade in 1118 by nine French Knights called 'The Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ'. They were given quarters in part of the Al Aqsa Mosque on the old Jewish Temple Mound, which saw the phrase 'Of The Temple' added to their name. The long name proved a mouthful, which led to the Order becoming known as 'The Templars'. The members retained their warrior Knight status whilst adopting traditional monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Their poverty is shown on their seals by two Knights riding on one horse.
The aim of the Knights was to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and to be the garrison army of the four new Christian Kingdoms established after the first Crusade. 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. Landowners across Europe endowed the Order with land and incomes and they became known for their wealth, not poverty. The Templars became the 'Thomas Cook' of their day, taking care of the travel and banking arrangements of the compelling urge of many Christians to touch the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem during their lifetime.
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.
In 1231AD England's King, Henry III, was anxious about what would happen to his body on his death. The London Templars, who already held some of the King's Treasury as bankers, agreed to take care of this delicate matter. In return, the King granted his own Manor & Soke of Rothley to the Templars. As the Order had done in other places, the Templars established a Preceptory at Rothley to control their interests as Lords of the Manor. The buildings at Rothley comprised a Hall as the living quarters (now the Hotel Dining Room and Templar Suite above), and an adjoining Chapel for their devotions. Above the link between the two was a small tower, now taken down.
Rodney Offley's impression of the Templar Preceptory and Chapel after 1231
The recently rescued cross-legged Templar.
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.
The Rothley Heritage Trust launched an appeal in 2011 to provide a proper display casket for this special discovery. The £2,000 cost was duly raised, and the installation was created by the museum consultancy, Vertigo. The story of the project can be followed via the link in the next paragraph.
For details of the unveiling of the Templar Effigy please click on the following link:
During the later part of the 13th century the muslim armies in Palestine gradually took back the territory of the four Christian Kingdoms. The final showdown came at Acre in 1291, when the muslim armies stormed the massive citadel. The remaining Knights Templar were expelled, escaping to the island of Cyprus. The Templars now had no role, and yet they were a highly disciplined and well endowed organisation whose only allegiance was to the Pope. They were seen by the King of France as a threat to his kingdom.
In 1307 Philip 1V of France, in defieance of the then Pope issued orders for the arrest of all the Templars in France and, in 1308, Edward ll arrested all the English Templars. The Templars were tried on the most dubious of charges and the leader James Molay with many of his fellow Knights was burnt at the stake. The Pope became involved, and entirely abolished the Order, transferring their possessions to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Hospitallers. This 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 run by a Hospitaller-appointed Bailff.
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 visit the Chapel of the Knights Templar adjoining the Rothley Court Hotel, Westfield Lane, Rothley, Leics. Please ask at the Reception.
VIEWS OF THE CHAPEL OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
A view toward the East Window. The cross-legged Templar is on the left under a shroud with a red cross.
Looking toward the rear of the Chapel. The entrance is on the left hand side at the rear. The Reading Desk under the window is believed to be Jacobean
One of the painted tapestries on the rear wall.
'GOD WILL RAISE ME UP A CHAMPION.'
One of the two painted tapestries on the rear wall.
The font is probably 17th century but no exact date is known. It was removed from a farmhouse where it was being used as a trough for the pump. It was returned to the Chapel after its 1895 restoration
THE ROOF TIMBERS
The Chapel roof timbers
The roof timbers date from the 15th century and possibly contain some dating back to the 13th century. The roof is divided into 4 bays and the earlier roof would have had a much steeper pitch.
THE CROSSED-LEGGED TEMPLAR
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 Rothley Archaeological Warden, 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 with a crossed leg. It was indeed part of our Crossed-legged Templar and other major 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 the Cross-legged Templar now lies. It is hoped that it will soon be 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
The Crossed-leg Templar has indeed been preserved in a case so please click on the following link to find out more:
Plaque in crypt entrance.
When a notable person died their armour would be displayed on their tomb or hung on the Church walls but when this was no longer done his Coat of Arms with those of his widow were painted on canvas, framed and hung on point.
There are three Hatchments hung in the Chapel:
Thomas Babington who died in 1837 on the black background survived by his wife Jean Macaulay who died in 1845 shown by the white background. They are both buried in the East End of the Chapel.
Thomas Babington (Father of Thomas who died in 1837) who died in 1776 on the black background survived by Lydia Cardale who died in 1791 on the white background. They are both buried in the East End of the Chapel.
Motto: MORS JANUA VITA
Sir James Parker who died in 1852 on the black background survived by his wife Mary Babington (daughter of Thomas Babington) who died in 1858 on the white background. Sir James Parker purchased Rothley Temple from Thomas Babington in 1845.
The Hatchments are in need of restoration and in 2013 they are being assessed for damage and the cost of repair.
The Hatchments being assessed for damage. April 2013
This is a beautiful and rare feature.
This Heraldic Shield is imposed on a marble disc and is said to have been part of a Jacobean Tomb, possibly in Rothley Church. The Arms of the Babingtons are shown.
When the Chapel was restored in 1895 a wall was removed which exposed Elizabethan writings, which are badly defaced.
THE HISTORY OF THE GARDENS OF ROTHLEY TEMPLE
Detail from an old map showing the dates of tree planting. Who is the seated figure with pen and paper?
The Leicestershire and Rutland Gardens Trust records the history of old gardens in both counties and with the aid of old maps and records the grounds of Rothley Temple were researched in 2011 and the results published in 2012.
To learn about the Garden History of Rothley Temple please click on the following link:
With thanks to Sue Blaxland of the Leicestershire and Rutland Gardens Trust for permission to link to her report.
Source of information The History of Rothley, The Preceptory, by T.H. Fosbrooke FSA. The copy that was used belonged to Catherine Broadhurst.