Were the Knights Templar gay?

Knights Templar Knight

Templars burned at the stake.
Templars burned at the stake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a long time, the subject of homosexuality in the Middle Ages was avoided at all costs or some scholars even appearing to suggest that it didn’t exist.  It clearly did and one only has to read the fulminating tracts from people like Peter Damian who, a thousand years ago, had a long and very specific rant against gays in the clergy and society generally.

“Who will make a mistress of a cleric or a woman of a man.”  This was one example of his less than PC view of same sex relations.  His Book of Gomorrah makes it very clear that in the early medieval period, gay sex was a big ‘problem’ for the church among its members.  “For God’s sake, why do you damnable sodomites pursue the heights of ecclesiastical dignity with such fiery ambition?”

Let’s be clear in light of recent events in the Catholic church that we are not discussing child abuse here but men having sex with men.   However, in the medieval church the terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘pederasty’ were used to cover any number of sex acts that contravened scripture.  Since the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, the classical love of the physical form and a relative openness about sexuality had given way to a disgust at the human form and its functions, now seen as a earthly ball and chain around the spirit which was striving to break free and join the Godhead.  Sex was therefore a pernicious distraction from the spiritual and the only reason for doing it was to make children.

The Middle Ages is full of clerics almost seeming to claw at their own bodies in horror.  So any idea that sex was being indulged in for pleasure – and worse, between members of the same sex (where procreation was clearly not intended) – came in for maximum disapproval.  Not that there was a clear concept of homosexuality in the Middle Ages but let’s just say – it was going on!  Gay people were not invented in the 1960s.

There were poems from the Arabic, Jewish and Christian worlds describing men kissing each other and in medieval towns, it may have been possible to achieve the required level of anonymity to avoid the pressure to get married and to have homosexual relationships.  Yishaq ben Mar-Saul was an Islamic poet writing about gay relationships in the eleventh century.

Clearly the church would have opposed this form of sex and with the Templars, we have descriptions of their kissing being not only on the lips but at the base of the spine and bottom.  These accusations were intended to evoke revulsion amongst those who heard them.

But there were bishops who wrote about mutual masturbation and fellatio with remarkable candor.  Ivo of Chartres is one example.  Baudri of Bourgueil  wrote about his admiration of pretty young men with not much left to the imagination.  And these clerics even seemed to have swapped notes among each other.  This rather knocks on the head the daft idea that there were long periods of history where homosexuality ‘died out’.   Not being detectable is different from not happening.

From Roman times, being the passive male was frowned on in many parts of Europe though being an actively sexual male – with men or women – was tolerable.  The active/passive distinction seems to have been more important than the gay/straight distinction of our time.  In knightly circles in the Middle Ages – and our Templars were knights as well as monks – gay sex is certainly alluded to and in the person of Richard the Lionheart, the chroniclers were in no doubt that he preferred sex with men to women.  Richard was of course a contemporary of the Templars and a great supporter.

So were the Templars gay?  Well, in the oppressed climate of the time, men who liked having sex with men would have sought an underground scene of some description where like minded chaps could meet and so on….   Was there a particular reason why gays might have gravitated towards the Templars?  Only if one accepts that the Order was more inclined to sodomy than other monastic orders – and for that, you have to take what was alleged in the trial of Templar leaders in 1308 at face value.

15 thoughts on “Were the Knights Templar gay?

  1. Gerald says:

    These were real warriors were they not? Are the Marines gay because the have colorful uniforms and marines live together? The answer is no. There are gays in the Marine Corps just as there must have been gay Templars. That doesn’t make the entire institution gay. King Philip of France wanted to discredit all the Templars so he charged them with spitting on the cross, worshiping Satan and being gay. Kings played dirty in those days and the Templars were in a weakened position.

    • I can’t speak for the Marines! :) But the Templars were accused of sodomy in the trial of their leaders in 1307. It was a way of denigrating them – a well worn medieval tactic to destroy anybody’s reputation. But I’ve been accused of failing to celebrate their alleged homosexuality and criticised for daring to suggest… Seems the issue is as controversial as ever.

  2. Angel of the Lord says:

    Vengence is mine sayeth the Lord….. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah…….

  3. Guy Lavoie says:

    I’m absolutely not offended by that question. I think the purpose of it is just titillate the eventual readers…
    Why not just say that there were quite probably gays among them…and good for them anyway !
    Sire Guy

  4. Chef Emil says:

    I must say that your blog is most interesting and and so glad you stopped by my blog so that I found you! I have been reading and reading! My favorite comment of yours is ………..”a coward is a coward no matter who he screws”…………..well said

  5. rwlovett says:

    This is highly insulting….

  6. Roy Cam says:

    The Church is “Mother Church” and is a replacement for the older Mother Goddess cults that sustained ancient Rome. The homosexual man seems/is more drawn to the support of woman as a kind of castrate, i.e., fashion designer, chef, head of protocol, etc.

    The attraction to this service is deeper than its superficial aspect is what I am saying.

    I will try to blog this and leave you a link.

    Are you familiar with the teachings of Gurdjieff, as chronicled in Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous? Dante expert who was my ESL student told me that Dante used a teaching taken back to Italy from Holy Land by Templars (perhaps) and that Dante feared being labeled a heretic for this….

    Worship of the Feminine aspect of the Divine would be more acceptable to a feminine-possessed (anima-possessed Jung’s term) group than to orthodox patriarchal mind.

    Anyway, appreciate your site. I will get back to you about all of this.

  7. Roy Cam says:

    “For God’s sake, why do you damnable sodomites pursue the heights of ecclesiastical dignity with such fiery ambition?”

    That is the question that needs answering, not that “sodomites” are necessarily bound for hell, but rather that if homosexuality was often times the product of a particular set of complexes, would those complexes, those heightened values, be responsible for the drive to rule the Church?

    How has this impacted the values of the Church, its culture, its view of sin?

    This is an uncomfortable question for all involved…

    • For a gay man in the Middle Ages, the church would have removed the social pressure to marry and procreate, put him in an all-male environment and without being too facetious, lots of pretty costumes and colorful ritual – it’s always amused me that a religion as homophobic as the Catholic church has to be the campest institution on the planet.

      • Fabiole says:

        The Templers were Warrior Monks. Could a GAy man fight as well as a straight Warrior? I say NO. Thre Templers were destroyed because they became very wealthy and the King of France needed their money. It’s the same old story. A Gay man during those day would have been Dog Meat.

      • Fabiole – There’s a long history of homosexual behaviour among warriors – the Samurai, the Greeks, the Romans and medieval knights. And needless to say the US military has plenty of gay and lesbian officers. On British TV about three years ago, there was a very interesting TV programme on Remembrance Day (when we remember our war dead) about gays in the military in World War Two and plenty of straight service men and women talked about colleagues they knew were gay. So I think it’s really nothing new. Alexander the Great had male and female lovers. Julius Caesar was mocked for his relationship with the King of Bythinia. Richard the Lionheart was widely regarded as homosexual in his own lifetime. Didn’t prevent them from being warriors.

        The point is that these societies didn’t think about man on man sex as we do. To the Greeks and Romans – the upper classes were effectively bisexual. In the Middle Ages, man on man sex was outlawed but we know plenty of ‘bonding’ went on among knights and priests. Even among the Saracens – where it was even written about in poetry. I don’t think weakness in warfare relates to sexual orientation – a coward is a coward no matter who he screws.

      • bookemstevo says:

        I find that highly amusing too. Also i find it of note that the church persecuted gays but also offered a refuge of a sort in the role of clergy.

  8. Norm says:

    You wrote very nicely around the question, as most authors do, without answering yes of no. I gather the answer is yes, the Templars were gay. Add to your facts that the knights were discouraged from marriage because of their dedication and wandering about and the truth strongly emerges that they were, indeed gay. This fact certainly contributed to the prejudice against them added to the suspicion of their enormous wealth. In passing, read the history of the templars in America

    • Hi Norm – I hope I didn’t skirt round the question. The point is our primary sources from the time are the Rule of the Order written in the main by Bernard of Clairvaux and the trial documents nearly two hundred years later which can’t be read at face value – they were an attempt to smear the Order. Rather like the way ‘sodomy’ has been used in Africa and most shamefully in Malaysia to discredit political rivals, the same can be said for the Templar trial. The accusation was intended to damage the Order ahead of shutting it down, executing its leaders and seizing its assets.

      So I’ve stated that in the post but then argued, I hope convincingly, that of course gay sex has existed throughout history but from Constantine’s adoption of Christianity to the modern era, gay sex was condemned in Judaeo-Christian countries. Clearly gay men sought eachother out – scholars think towns and cities, where you could be more anonymous that in a gossipy village, were places to go for same sex interest. The monastic orders, which were heaving at this time, must have been another. It just stands to reason.

      You say the Templars were discouraged from marriage. Well, they were monks. This is often forgotten. Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote their Rule, was a strict Cistercian and the Templars were in effect the military wing of the Cistercians. They prayed several times a day and lived as monks. They could leave the Order and marry and they could enter the Order having married before but while a Templar, you are right – no wife.

      Interestingly, it’s not true that there were no Templar women. There was a Templar convent in Germany that I know of and women who were prayerful or donated large sums to the Order did live within preceptories. But obviously, Templars were not to have carnal relations with any of these women.

      It’s really hard to make the bald statement – the Templars were all gay. And I’d have no problem saying it. I think it’s truer to say that homosexuality was probably very common throughout the medieval monastic orders. We do have writings from the time that confirm that. Peter Damian fulminated against it. The Templars were singled out publicly at their trial but in reality, were they more or less gay than any other monastic order? Truthfully, I suspect not.

      Remember as well – ‘gay’ sex has always been there. But gay consciousness or identity was not the same in the Middle Ages as it is today. The Romans thought the active/passive dichotomy was far more important than straight/gay – which they never refer to directly. Men were called ‘effeminate’ in the Roman world for having too much sex with men AND women – Mark Anthony for example.

      In short – and sorry if you think I’m copping out here – but I don’t think there’s such a clear cut answer. “The Templars were a gay organisation” – I’d rather say, gay sex was prevalent in all monastic orders but with the Templars it was used as a propaganda weapon against them.

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