Note: Stephen Dafoe is a contributor to this site, but this review was conducted independently. In fact, the author of this review has no personal relationship with Bro. Dafoe. Therefore, this critique is that of an unbiased reader.
Stephen Dafoe has two recent releases on the Knights Templar: Nobly Born and The Compasses and the Cross. The former was released in 2007, the latter in 2008. Nobly Born is a book which gives an unromantic account of the medieval order of the Knights Templar. It is a book based strictly on documented historical evidence and serves to debunk many of the myths surrounding that order.
The author of this review admittedly has very little prior knowledge of the Knights Templar, beyond the documentaries shown about the order on the History Channel which appear to encourage the viewer to create suspicions about the secret nature of the Templars. Therefore, it was great to discover that Nobly Born is written in a way so that the Templar novice can truly grasp the history of the order. The book gives an excellent brief history of the crusades and explains the society in which the Templars existed. Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is the look into the lives of the Templars, which was more monastic that chivalric. Many common myths which have surfaced concerning the Templars are specifically rebutted with historical evidence. If you currently believe that the Templars discovered some great treasure beneath King Solomon’s Temple and escaped with the goods to Scotland or the New World, this book is a panacea for your ailment.
The Compasses and the Cross gives a detailed history of the modern day fraternal order of the Knights Templar. This book discusses many of the works of invented history which have misled many Masons to believe that the modern day organization somehow is the descendant of the Templars of old. However, like in Nobly Born, Dafoe refutes these claims with historical evidence. A large amount of the book is a summary of the information found in Nobly Bor
n. It serves as a great refresher on medieval Templar history, but if you read the books back to back (like the author of this review) it can seem repetitive. Nevertheless, this account of Templar history is absolutely necessary for the reader who is unfamiliar with the order’s story. The Compasses and the Cross also gives a detailed account of the reception of new Knights in the medieval order to show the separation of modern day ceremonies from the rituals of the original Templars. The best quality of The Compasses and the Cross is that it devotes a chapter to the fraternity of the Knights Templar in Britain, the United States, and Canada. This focus on the fraternity’s history in each of these countries shows how each locale developed its particular flavor.
My only complaint with these two works is their format. The books are large (10×8 in) which makes them inconvenient for packing them in a bag to read on the airplane or a park bench while on break. However, these books are illustrated histories and the photos and art work provided in them are needed. The illustrations play an important part in visualizing the regalia and equipment of both the medieval and modern day Templars and the books without them would doubtlessly be less informative. The size of the books is the unfortunate form of their function.
I highly recommend both of these works to any Mason who is interested in the Templars of old and their connection with Freemasonry or the modern day Templars and the history of that fraternal organization. They will provide the reader with an excellent education on both subjects. You can find ways to purchase these books on Stephen Dafoe’s website.