Richard III to be buried this week – 500 years after his death

Often viewed as one of the most evil monarchs England every endured – Richard III was immortalised by Skakespeare (100 years after the king’s death) as a wicked hunchback capable of murder and deceit. Richard was notorious for allegedly having his two young nephews confined to the Tower of London and then killed in secret.

He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, bringing to an end the House of York and ushering in the House of Tudor. The whereabouts of his body had been a mystery until it was discovered under a car park in the English city of Leicester. Scientific analysis of the bones confirmed the identity and this week will see his formal burial in Leicester cathedral.

Richard III

Richard III – not all bad according to some

There had been demands for him to be returned to York but he will be interred in Leicester. Should you ever visit that city, I advise you to raise a pint in his memory at a pub named in his honour: The Last Plantagenet.

Now – I have to say that Richard III does not fall within the Templar period, he reigned 150 years after the order was suppressed. But it’s this week’s major medieval event in the UK with media from twenty countries attending. And it seemed wrong not to mention it.

Here’s some memorabilia that I picked up in York from campaigners who – very seriously – are determined to clear his bad name. They think he’s been a victim of Tudor propaganda.

Stealing bits of Roman statues in the Middle Ages

During the Templar period, the patron saint of Venice wasn’t Saint Mark but Saint Theodore of Amasea. He was one of those martyrs during the Roman period. His statue was placed on top of a pillar in what is now Saint Mark’s square but the original medieval statue – now removed to a museum – was actually cobbled together from bits of Roman statuary. This wasn’t an uncommon practice and given that the saint was high up on a pillar, nobody would have noticed the odd artistic arrangement.

saint theodore

That head and that bust and that halo never sat together originally

A loose connection between body parts

A loose connection between body parts

The shield isn't even the same colour as the arm or the torso

The shield isn’t even the same colour as the arm or the torso

Saint Theodore

Got a feeling that dragon was added later

I photo’d this on my trip to Venice last year and found it quite amusing. The torso is clearly a Roman emperor wearing decorative military armour. The head doesn’t fit but is also Roman – possibly the ancient king Mithridates of Pontus. The legs, however, do look medieval. Somehow, the ensemble seems to work.

Venice is full of these slung together bits of Roman artwork put to the service of medieval buildings – Saint Mark’s cathedral is a right hodge podge including items stolen by the crusaders from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

The ill treatment of Jews in medieval Lent

I’ve got a large collection of very old books, which I browse for this blog. And in one 1826 almanack, there’s a few pages about a disturbing custom practised in the Middle Ages: the stoning of Jews. It appears that from the sabbath before Palm Sunday to the last hour of the Tuesday before Easter, “the Christians were accustomed to stone and beat the Jews”. Any Jewish person not wishing to be assaulted, just had to pay whatever monies were demanded.

Jews in Lent

Jews had a rough time during medieval Lent

This looks suspiciously like extortion under a religious guise. This sort of anti-semitism was pretty rife at the time with Jews seen as the Christ-killers as well as disliked for their role as money-lenders – a role that Christians had more or less forced them into, by excluding them from other professions.

In 1262, Londoners broke into many Jewish homes and murdered seven hundred people in cold blood. King Henry III handed over their ruined synagogue in Lothbury (a street that still exists) to the friars of the sackcloth. Another synagogue became the church of St Olave in a street called Old Jewry (which you can still see as well).

The Templars in Lincolnshire

Interesting news article HERE from the Scunthorpe Telegraph about the Templars in Lincolnshire – a county in eastern England. It name checks Bottesford Preceptory, one of several Templar estates in the county. A Preceptory, by the way, was a Templar manor and would include farms, mills, workshops, living quarters, a great hall and a chapel. There was a vast network of Preceptories across Europe stretching from Wales to the Holy Land.

Lincoln cathedral

Lincoln cathedral – well worth a visit by Templar fans!

Templar preceptories in Lincolnshire included Witham and Aslackby as well as Great Limber and Temple Bruer. It must be said that today’s remains give little away – in some cases, there’s nothing left. Temple Bruer, for example, was used for military exercises but you’ll only find a farmyard there now.

If you are planning a visit to Lincolnshire, you do have the splendid medieval cathedral at Lincoln and nearby medieval buildings to sate your interest in this period of history.

If you have any further information about the Knights Templar in Lincolnshire – do share!

The Christmas must read for all Knights Templar!

Quest for the True Cross

The greatest Templar adventure you’ll ever read

Christmas in the year 1144 – the city of Edessa falls to the Seljuk Turks. For weeks, the crusader stronghold has been besieged by Muslim forces and on this most holy day to Christians, it capitulates. On the 26th December, the Turks storm in. This book – Quest for The True Cross – tells how in those turbulent hours, the True Cross is stolen by brigands and sold to the Saracens. Eventually, it’s spirited away to the Muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus (modern Portugal and Spain). Only one man can retrieve that sacred object – the Templar knight, Sir William de Mandeville.

But William has his own problems. Stationed in Jerusalem, the bloodshed and savagery of the crusades has taken a heavy toll on his mind. At night, he’s convinced a demon comes to visit and taunt the young knight for his personal failures and weakness. Back in England, his own family has rebelled against King Stephen and brought great dishonour to the name De Mandeville.

Together with his Syrian servant Pathros and an English peasant boy Nicholas, William journeys to Al-Andalus to retrieve the True Cross. But when he arrives, he discovers the only way to get the cross is to conquer the impregnable city fortress of Al-Usbunna. Somewhere within that Muslim metropolis is the very wood upon which Christ was crucified. A combination of courage and foresight will be needed to get inside the walls of Al-Usbunna and find the True Cross. And in so doing – William will be able to slay his demon.

You can find out what happened by downloading Quest for the True Cross!

Quest For The True Cross available on Amazon – click HERE

Quest For The True Cross available on Nook from Barnes and Noble – click HERE

Quest For The True Cross available on iTunes – click HERE

Quest For The True Cross available on Kobo – click HERE

Ten things you never knew about the Knights Templar

Bit of festive fun – here are ten things you may not have known about the Knights Templar – add your own facts in the comments below:

The Templars allegedly ran a white slave trade

Let’s start with a contentious claim made by Michael Haag in his book The Templars – that the Knights Templar were involved in trading Turkish, Greek, Russian and Circassian slaves brought from the east and set to work in their preceptories in southern Italy and Aragon. The centre of this grim trade was the Mediterranean port of Ayas in the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia. Turkish or Mongol slavers would capture or buy these unfortunate human beings then sell them to the Templars. I’d be very happy to be told that this is complete tripe. But it’s recorded in various sources.

Ten things you never knew about the Knights Templar!

Ten things you never knew about the Knights Templar!

Saladin specifically slaughtered the Templars AFTER the Battle of Hattin

The battle at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 was a disaster for the Knights Templar and the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem – Saladin and his saracen army emerged totally triumphant.  In the aftermath, countless Christian soldiers were sold as slaves – so many that the price went down to 3 dinars each and one was reputedly sold in exchange for a shoe! Initially, the Templars and Hospitallers were also sold off as slaves. But Saladin then decided that he really wanted all the Templars slain – without exception. Those who had bought Templars were compensated with 50 dinars each and the knights were then brought before the Muslim ruler. Conversion or death was the choice. It seems few decided to convert. There are accounts from both sides of what happened next – a grisly mass beheading often carried out by zealous individuals and botched very badly. In revenge, Richard the Lionheart would later execute 3,000 prisoners at Acre in one of the worst war crimes in history.

The Al Aqsa Mosque was the global headquarters of the Knights Templar

Even today, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is fought over – a holy place that inspires bloody hatreds. In the early 12th century, it was firmly under the control of crusader Christians. The Dome of the Rock was renamed the Templum Domini and the Al Aqsa Mosque became the HQ of the Templars – sited on what was believed to be the palace of Solomon. Beneath were Solomon’s stables, or so it was thought, and abundant rumours that hidden somewhere on the site was the Holy Grail….or the Ark of the Covenant. Much of the existing mosque today was of Templar era construction.

Henry III pawned his crown jewels to the Templars

Henry III pawned his crown jewels to the Templars

England’s crown jewels were pawned by King Henry III to the Templars

Facing a rebellion by his barons, King Henry III of England sent the crown jewels to the Temple in Paris for safekeeping and to raise money for his fightback. The previous king, John, had made a series of concessions to the same barons by agreeing to sign the Magna Carta. The Templars were broadly supportive of the kings as both advisers and bankers (and pawnbrokers!).

Templars were not – strictly speaking – priests

While the Knights Templar did take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – they weren’t actually priests as such. Barbara Frale in her book on The Templars points out that the knights were not allowed to administer the sacraments as they weren’t formally ordained. And she argues that priests could not wield a sword in battle. Instead, they had their own Templar chaplains assigned to their houses to say mass. But by 1300, many Templar houses didn’t have chaplains. So their spiritual needs had to be administered by priests from other orders.

One monarch donated his kingdom to the Knights Templar

It wasn’t a popular move but King Alfonso of Aragon donated his kingdom to the Templars at his death. The Templars were very active in the “reconquest” (reconquista) of modern Spain and Portugal from Moorish (Muslim) rule. It’s often forgotten that the Templars were active on many fronts – in the Middle East, eastern Europe and southern Europe. The caliphate ruling the Iberian peninsula was remarkably tolerant and urbanised for the standards of the time with Jews, Christians and Muslims living together. But kings like Alfonso were determined to drive out the caliphs and the Templars assisted in this process. They often took control of dangerous areas in the no-man’s land between Christian and Muslim control. Alfonso rewarded their bravery with a big portion of his kingdom when he died but this was reversed afterwards by the counts of Barcelona.

Offshore banking was invented by the Templars

Most of you will know that the Knights were also bankers. You could deposit wealth in one of their preceptories – say at the Temple in Paris – and with a credit note they would issue, you could make a withdrawal at a preceptory in outremer (Christian controlled territories in the Middle East). This meant not having to haul heavy caskets of bullion around with you. But the Templars went a step further and had treasure ships located offshore from which crusaders could make withdrawals safely.

Charges against the Templar included “adoring a cat”

The framing of the Templars was a shabby episode with popes and kings working together to destroy the Order. Various ridiculous charges were trumped up including inappropriate kissing in various parts of the body, denying Christ, venerating idols, operating to secret codes and…..adoring a cat.

It all went horribly wrong for the Templars at the end

It all went horribly wrong for the Templars at the end

Templars were accused of behaving like Muslims

In the frenzy to blacken the name of the Knights Templar – their critics pointed to the fact that some of them allegedly spoke Arabic (well you would being in the Middle East for a while and wanting to understand your enemy’s documents and messages). They also claimed that the Templars performed rituals medieval Christians falsely attributed to Muslims. According to Helen Nicholson in her book The Knights Templar – this included worshipping idols of Mohammed (sic!!), Apollo and Jupiter. Plus spitting on crucifixes. The church loved to tell stories of Muslim Saracen soldiers urinating on the cross to antagonise crusaders. Of course, Muslims do not revere idols – certainly not of the Prophet – and the accusations against the Templars are just absurd. But it worked at the time!

The Spanish and Portuguese nationalised the Templars

The kings of Spain and Portugal more or less took over the Knights Templar. In Spain, the king took the powers of the Grand Master whereas in Portugal a successor order was created called the Order of Christ. The latter organisation was even based at the old Templar preceptory at Tomar – a stunning church you can still see today.

End of year report to Templar fans!

Non Nobis Domine!

I posted a lot less this year due to having to set up a new business – which took over my life a bit.  However, this turned out to be the best year for views since we kicked off in 2010.  You just keep coming!  There was about 80,158 views and 54,984 individual visitors.  The most popular post for the third year running is: Top Ten Movies about the Middle Ages.  It’s the post that keeps on giving.

Another quite old post was still there in second place: The Knights Templar today – who and where are they?  When I wrote that post, I made a point of contacting many of the Freemason and Catholic organisations that have Knight Templar connections.  If you search, you’ll see that I even interviewed some of those Knight Templars.

You really liked reading about the Winchester Geese – the medieval prostitutes who plied their trade in Southwark and paid taxes to the Bishop of Winchester.  He didn’t seem to ask too many questions about his finances. I was more surprised that a three year old post about telling the time in the medieval period caught your imagination.  In a time without watches and clocks, how did your average serf or knight know what time of the day it was?

In 2015, I will return to this blog with more vigour.  My question to you is – have you read my book?  And if not – why not?  I was thinking of a sequel and might crowdsource ideas from you for the plot and new characters.  Are you up for that?

Quest for the True Cross

The greatest Templar adventure you’ll ever read