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Although this is a book on secret societies including the Templars, this is NOT a book that is going to go deeply into potential hidden Templar treasure, unknown voyages to unknown continents, or hidden knowledge. The book, originally published in 1837 and therefore obviously not exactly up to date or including the latest in archeological or historical insight, is a straight forward history of the origins, activities, organization, and final demise of three secret societies - the Assassins, the Templars, and the secret tribunals of Westphalia (Vehm-Gericht).
Keightly had very few good sources to draw on at the time of writing, and he made the most of them. He wrote clearly, though in a style that would now perhaps be considered somewhat ponderous, certainly verbose, and a high school kid might find it heavy going. This includes old-style spelling for names and places, which may be confusing for modern readers. The book itself seems to be a reprint; the type has not been reset and there are frequent smudges and ink blots on at least my copy.
That said, there is a good deal of information to ponder. Keightly covered the development not only of the Assassins, but of the various schisms in Islam which led to their formation; their alliances and enemies; the men, capable and less so, that would govern the order; and their eventual destruction. He was not above the occasional editorial comment on Islam, Mohammed, or the like. For example, he suggests that Mohammed was likely a charlatan, feigning his visions and 'commission from God in order to procure a hearing from men' (p. 19). Regarding the Koran, his feelings are, shall we say, mixed; regarding Islam, 'it contained little that was original' (p. 22). In any event, though, he generally stuck closely to his story, a tale of constant strife in the region where few were safe, where Assassins wielded the policy of the knife on behalf of religio-political rulers often more preoccupied with intra-Islamic schism and succession crises than with spreading the faith itself, and who eventually of course died as so many others did by the sword of the Mongols.
Keightly took the Templars largely at face value, as a military order of monks and not as anything much like the pseudo-occult orders now being extensively written about. The classes of men in the society - knights, priests, and associated aides - are broken down, functions and organization explained, and initiations discussed. Their quick rise to both fame and fortune throughout Europe gives cause for both admiration and caution, their very financial success in Europe but failure to keep a toehold in the Holy Land turning the society into something originally not designed. Wealth and power led to corruption and dissipation, though Keightly wrote in defense of their motives and general behavior. The plot and design of Philip le Bel and his pawn Pope Clement to destroy the order is clearly explained, the tortures and confessions and the final dissolution of the order covered in detail. The fate of the order in areas other than France, where it survived or was transformed, is documented. There is no question that Keightly was in complete sympathy with the Templars as an organization.
Finally, the tribunals of Westphalia are dealt with in a relatively short 80 pages. The Vehm-Gerichte began as a reaction to the complete lawlessness of the area after the inability of the various local counts and dukes to impose order in the general collapse of the 12th century, and initially were relatively fair; there were rules of evidence, the possibility of appeal, and systems were in place to assure at least an attempt at justice. The accusations and evidence given were public, the accused had rights including that of confronting his accusers. The Gerichte nominally were flying courts doing the work of the Emperor, though in practice this was not always the case; but numerous Emperors found it expedient to become initiated into the society in order to perhaps better control events, or at least be informed of their 'work.' As the centuries wore on, lesser men, not as well screened for character and motivation, were admitted, and what had been a tribunal lawful burghers were glad to invite to town transformed into a seemingly uncontrollable vigilante force, quick to accuse and hang, ignoring their previous modes of trying to arrive at an honest verdict, hurriedly leaving town with bodies in their wake, working at night and in private. As the German civil structure and government gained some level of control the Holy Vehm slid into obscurity.
Keightly again discussed the size and power of the organization, and its structure, but can reveal little or nothing of the inner workings of the trials, as this was one organization that successfully kept its secrets secret. However, rules, initiations, and the general activities of the Vehm-tribunals are all well covered. It is a society little written about, and therefore all the more interesting.
Keightly's book is not the go-to book for information on these three societies that it might have been in 1837, but it is eminently readable, free from wild conspiratorial conjecture, and does impart a wealth of information on each of its subjects.