The Knights Templar are a romantic and yet very real part of Englands history. Instantly recognizable with their white mantles and red cross they were the most skilled fighting unit in the crusades but what were they doing in Selborne?
The Knights Templar were a religious military order, formed after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099, to give protection to the pilgrims who traveled to the newly conquered holy sites and to protect the sites against attack. The formation of units, controlled by a Preceptor, a commander, spread from Jerusalem across Europe. A preceptory was established close to Selborne in Hampshire.
Although nothing remains of the Knights Templar’s preceptory, it existed just a short way to the East of Selborne at a place called Sotherington. Later, the manor of the ‘Temple of Sotherington’, was just known as Temple. All that remains to keep the name of Sotherington in existence is a farm which sits along Sotherington Lane and in the vicinity the name Temple, appears in Temple Lane and Barns.
The preceptory at Southerington
The Knights Templars had a preceptory at Sotherington and held the manor of Sotherington as early as 1240. In 1240, Henry III granted 6 acres of land from his Manor at Blackmoor to the Knights Templar and in about 1250, Robert de Sanford, master of the order in England, granted all the tenements, lands, and meadows which the Templars had in Selborne by the gift of Almeric de Sacy to the prior and convent of Selborne for £200 ‘to buy other lands in aid of the Holy Land.’
About 1260, the Templars granted the prior and convent ‘a sufficient way for leading cars and carts and driving cattle along the road which leads from Sotherington to Blackmoor.’ Blackmoor is a village lying just to the north of Selborne.
The local power of the Knights Templar
The Knights Templars were obviously an important force in the vicinity and in 1275, the Master of the Templars was said to have withdrawn the suit owed to the hundred court of Selborne for the manor of Sotherington for the past thirty years. Quite what that was about is uncertain but it is also recorded that they had encroached on the king’s land in the forest of Woolmer to the injury of the king, so it seems they had several altercations with their neighbours. The Knights Templar probably occupied the preceptory until the early part of the C14th when the order of Knights Templar was brutally suppressed by the Church in 1312 on grounds of Heresy.
The Priory of St Mary Selborne
Alongside the establishment of the preceptory, the Priory of St Mary was founded at Selborne in 1233, by Bishop Peter de Roches for the Austustinian Canons. He was a former Knight of King John who had become Bishop of Winchester and towards the end of Richard I’s reign, he became Lord Chamberlain.
Bishop Roche initially endowed the priory with lands obtained by gift from James de Acrange, James de Norton , and King Henry III
The Priory was closed in 1486 well before the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.
The Knights Templar headstones in the images can be found inside the parish church of St Marys Selborne