Venice – evidence of an evil Crusade

One of the worst atrocities committed in the name of religion must surely be the sacking of Constantinople by Christian crusaders in the year 1204. The city of Constantinople had been the capital of the eastern half of the Roman Empire since the emperor Constantine – the first emperor to embrace Christianity. it had been “The City” of the early Middle Ages rivalled by none. Yet by the Fourth Crusade, the eastern Roman Empire – or Byzantine Empire as it’s more commonly called though it was never called that at the time – was in a slow decline. The lands it had once ruled in Egypt and the Levant were now under Muslim control and the Balkans had mostly slipped away. 

Tetrarchs in VeniceBut Constantinople – defended by huge walls – endured. That is until a wily, nonagenarian and blind Doge of Venice called Enrico Dandolo decided that the crusades shouldn’t attack their intended Muslim target but instead divert to Constantinople and sack it. Why? Because the Byzantines had long been the commercial and political rivals of Venice. And the latter was in the ascendancy while the Byzantines were not the force they had once been. So why not kick them while they were down.

And so it came to pass that the city was put under siege and its walls breached. The destruction was on an epic scale and the Venetians stripped the place of all the booty they could carry. That included the four horses you see on top of Saint Mark’s cathedral (well, they’re replicas and the real ones are now under cover). One statue taken back that tourists always seem to miss is a third or fourth century CE depiction of the last pagan Roman emperor Diocletian and his three co-emperors or “tetrarchs”. 

This statue was obviously part of an ancient monument in Constantinople and was just unceremoniously slammed into a corner of Saint Mark’s cathedral where it looks weirdly out of place. But there it is – a piece of crusader/Templar booty.  And most tourists walk past it without blinking.

Tetrarchs in Venice

About these ads

How the Nazis damaged a Templar Knight

In July, I visited the Templar church in London – it still retains its characteristic round building based (very loosely) on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The original round church is connected to a nave that also dates back to the Middle Ages. But unfortunately, the whole building has suffered over the years. Not least at the hands of the Nazis as they blitzed London with bombs in the Second World War.

You’ll recognise the church because it featured in The Da Vinci Code and other great movies and TV programmes. At the centre of the round church, on the ground, are the stone figures of several knights. Miraculously, these had survived in good condition until modern times.  One of the knights was Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville.  He was the first Earl of Essex who made the unwise decision to rebel against King Stephen in the early 12th century. On the run from the king’s forces and branded a bandit, he was shot through with arrows.

His rather messed up corpse was brought to the Templar preceptory in London but the knights were not allowed to bury him. De Mandeville had rebelled against God’s king – he’d also despoiled an abbey during this rebellion to raise funds. That didn’t play well with the church. So De Mandeville’s body, in a lead coffin, was left above ground. Various stories say it hung in an apple tree in the Templar orchard or was chucked in a ditch. Eventually he was buried and his stone image remained in good condition with some other knights until the 1940s. 

The along came the Luftwaffe. In a horrendous night of bombing in 1941, the church took a direct hit and down came the roof on top of the tombs. The damage is still very clear. Some people might think it’s wear due to age, but it’s not. The poor knights lost limbs and noses as the heavy stones and wood from the roof caved in. Here’s some images of Geoffrey de Mandeville before and after the Nazis struck:

Geoffrey de Mandeville

Geoffrey de Mandeville before the Nazis

Geoffrey de Mandeville

Geoffrey de Mandeville after the Nazis

 

Magna Carta – a feminist charter?

There’s been plenty of talk in the UK about the 799th anniversary of Magna Carta this month – with the 800th anniversary looming next year. Politicians have been banging on about the need to use this ancient document to re-instil “British values” in our multicultural land.  The thing is – if any of these parliamentarians actually took the trouble to read the document they claim to know so much about (prime minister David Cameron famously couldn’t translate the latin when asked to do so on the Letterman show), they’d find some very surprising things.

For example (with supporting quotes):

MAGNA CARTA IS FOR FEMINISTS

(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.

FOREIGNERS WITH MONEY CAN COME AND GO AS THEY PLEASE

(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs.

THE WELSH CAN RULE THEMSELVES

(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.

BEING IMPRISONED WITHOUT TRIAL FOR ANY PERIOD IS A NON-STARTER

(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

HS2 WOULD NEVER HAVE GOT BUILT

(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.

UK WOULD EITHER HAVE TO GO METRIC OR IMPERIAL – BUT NOT BOTH AT THE SAME TIME

(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.

PUNISHMENT SHOULD FIT THE CRIME – AND THE OFFENDER

(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

I’m sure these aren’t the British values that prime minister David Cameron intended!

Ten best medieval TV series

Like most of you – I love watching historical TV series.  Even the ones that are a little suspect from a factual point of view.  Some lists of medieval TV series include stuff I wouldn’t regard as being strictly medieval.  Hope I’m a bit more authentic here.  We’ve been spoilt in the recent past so let’s look at what we’ve been offered.

PILLARS OF THE EARTH

Pillars of the Earth brought us a murderous romp from the civil war that engulfed England under the reign of King Stephen. This was the beginning of the Templar era and a very violent time for England, often called the great anarchy. I loved this series – absolutely faultless.

THE DEVIL’S CROWN

This was a BBC series about the Plantagenet kings that never got repeated after a controversial airing in the late 70s. It’s quite violent in parts including a very disturbing castration. The style is a bit dated but to get to grips with English history at the time of the Templars, I can’t recommend this enough.

DA VINCI’S DEMONS

Total nonsense about a young Leonardo da Vinci on a quest to find the “book of leaves”.  From the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. It’s a compelling watch and I look forward to season three in 2015.

GAME OF THRONES

It’s mythical, Tolkein with attitude and full of gory violence – but strangely, it captures the flavour of the Middle Ages quite well.  Full of court intrigue and belief in strange beings that dwell in the forests, what’s not to like as a medievalist?

WORLD WITHOUT END

Like Pillars of the Earth, this comes from the pen of Ken Follett – only now we’ve moved about 150 years ahead. This is the reign of Edward III and again, it’s after another civil war. The last king, Edward II, has been killed….or has he?  Edward II, by the way, was the last king to preside over the Knights Templar before they were crushed.

THE WHITE QUEEN

BBC drama series takes us to the War of the Roses – the bloody end to the Middle Ages in England when the aristocracy tore itself to pieces. This focuses on the strong women who emerged in this conflict.

MERLIN

Merlin had a long grey beard when I was a kid but the BBC re-imagined him as a youth for this very dynamic and rather scary kids series.

THIBAUD

Whassat? I hear you say. This was a 1960s French TV series about a crusader – I just like the theme tune to be honest!

ARABIAN KNIGHTS

This cartoon series was part of the goofy 1960s/70s kids show Banana Splits – it completely conditioned my view of the saracens.

THE TUDORS

I was brought up to believe that the Middle Ages ended at the Battle of Bosworth and you couldn’t really call the Tudors medieval.  But I think that view might be simplistic. The Tudors were as much medieval as modern and so I’ve included the delightful Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives.

Quest For The True Cross – free sample chapter

Quest for the True Cross

The greatest Templar adventure you’ll ever read

I’ve been asked by many of you to provide a free sample chapter from my book Quest For The True Cross – so here is a description of the battle scene as the Templars and crusaders storm the Arab city of Al-Usbunna in what is now modern day Portugal.  Once they take the city, they will re-name it Lisbon, which is the name it retains to this very day.  It’s hard to believe now, but Spain and Portugal were once ruled by Muslims from the year 711 to around 1492.  The Muslim armies took the entire Iberian peninsula in the early 8th century CE but were gradually pushed back from the 11th century onwards.  My book is set during this bloody crusade that saw Templar knights and Muslim armies clash across the peninsula.  The Templars played a key role in the so-called ‘reconquest’ often being granted land in hard to govern areas.

Sample chapter

If you like what you read, download the rest of the book HERE if you are in the UK or HERE if you are in the United States.

Happy reading!