The mystery of a strange boy and Queen Victoria

Not a Templar theme to this blog post but a reminder to catch me in every episode of the documentary series Private Lives of the Monarchs currently airing on UKTV and Yesterday TV. I’ll be discussing the royal secrets and scandals of monarchs from Louis XIV of France (remember him from the BBC drama Versailles) to mad King George III who lost the American colonies.

Below, I discuss the curious episode of the Boy Jones – a teenager who repeatedly broke into Buckingham Palace in the nineteenth century and on one occasion stole Her Majesty’s underwear! You can catch this episode online at the Yesterday TV website or on TV – Monday and Tuesday evenings in November and December 2017.

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The Knights Templar – guilty or innocent? An argument that has raged for centuries.

templar3Since their downfall, opinions on the guilt of the Knights Templar have been bitterly divided. Right down to our own time, experts have quarrelled over whether the charges against the Order were true or trumped up lies.

So let’s look at what a mixture of historians, lawyers and writers have said about the Templars and decide who is telling the truth.

I’m relying quite heavily on a book for this blog post that I thoroughly recommend – it’s called The Knights Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord. So, as you know, the Knights Templar were rounded up, arrested and tortured by the king of France in 1307. From that moment, people began to take sides.

The legendary poet Dante, author of The Divine Comedy was supportive of the Templars, This might have been shaped by his own hostility to France. The French were backing Dante’s political opponents in Florence so the poet accused the king of just wanting their money by levelling scurrilous accusations.

Over in Spain, a writer called Ramon Llull took the opposite position. He wanted to see the religious military orders united. Immediately before the Templars were arrested, there had been demands from the pope for them to unite with the Knights Hospitaller but they had refused.

Templar artworkThe last Templar grand master Jacques de Molay had given Llull full hospitality when he had stayed in Cyprus on his way to conduct missionary work to the Muslims – an endeavour that would eventually lead to his death. Although the Templar leader had been kind to Llull, he reciprocated by condemning the knights for not merging with other orders.

The sixteenth century saw the great witchcraft mania and the Templars were sucked into this as an example of evildoers who practice the satanic arts. In his book De Occulta Philosophia, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa accused the order of being depraved, in effect accepting the charges made against them during their trial. All the heretical rituals the Templars were said to have practised were assumed to have been fact.

The Protestant Reformation posed a conundrum for the new religion. They hated Catholics. So, were the Templars rebels against the pope or the worst example of corruption in the Catholic church? One seventeenth century Protestant clergyman, Thomas Fuller, decided they were corrupt. But the Royal Society, a bastion of early scientific thought, declared for the Templars.

The eighteenth century saw the rise of the Enlightenment and the Freemasons. The Dupuy brothers took a very anti-Templar line declaring the order had been corrupt for a hundred years before they were put on trial. The Dupuys worked for the French “sun king” Louis XIV so not surprising they were taking a hostile line perhaps. In contrast, the Freemasons embraced the Templars as historical forerunners.

The nineteenth century continued to show that the Knights Templar were as divisive as ever. Access to medieval documents and a spirit of scientific enquiry led some to exonerate the order and put the papacy firmly in the dock. But novelist Walter Scott made the Templars the baddies in his hugely successful historical novel Ivanhoe. Scott drew on a widely held view at the time the order was crushed that they were double dealing between the crusaders and their Saracen rivals.

Down to our own time, nobody can quite seem to make up their mind whether the knights were a force for good or evil. Assassins Creed has the Templars as a centuries old conspiracy to enslave humanity. Dan Brown subscribes to the Priory of Sion theory with the Templars doing their bit to protect the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.

So – over to you. Templars – good or evil – guilty or innocent?

Watch me on “Private Lives of the Monarchs” – discussing royal secrets

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 11.23.06Back in April 2017, I filmed for a new TV series called Private Lives of the Monarchs investigating the salacious royal secrets of various kings and queens.

The first episode airs in the UK on 20 November 2017 and will look at Queen Victoria featuring a private life that will surprise you.

In Australia, where the series has already started to air on SBS, I believe they have kicked off with a very raunchy look at Charles II, known for good reason as The Merry Monarch.

The series is presented by Tracy Borman – a highly respected author, historian and curator of the Royal Palaces. It’s an enjoyable watch – I think – and your feedback on my on screen performances would be hugely appreciated.

Filming for Forbidden History (UKTV) – series five – with Jamie Theakston

This week I found myself at the Gore Hotel in London filming for series five of Forbidden History presented by Jamie Theakston and to be broadcast on UKTV/Yesterday in the Spring of 2018.

There are six episodes and I’ll be in all of them talking about a wide range of topics from who was the real historical Jesus, the man behind James Bond and the treasure looted and stolen by the Nazis. Looks like it’s going to be a great series!

On 20 November 2017, I’ll be appearing in Private Live of the Monarchs, also on UKTV/Yesterday talking about Queen Victoria. I’ll be in every episode of that series as well, presented by Tracy Borman.

Here I am filming at the Gore Hotel for Forbidden History.

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The Templars, hidden treasure and the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Two Bedouins discovered the Dead Sea scrolls

In 1947, two Bedouin shepherds were herding their flock on the rocky and steep slopes near Qumran by the shores of the Dead Sea in modern Israel. The area is pockmarked by caves and a goat disappeared inside one of these black holes. One of the shepherds threw a stone after it to tease the animal out but instead heard a sound like breaking pottery.

The shepherd had made one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. In several large stone jars, hidden away two thousand years ago, were sacred scrolls that included a version of the Old Testament written down a thousand years before the oldest version in existence in 1947.

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Qumran today

A mysterious community had taken root at Qumran building a town on the mountain face with purification baths, a library, aqueduct and houses. It had fled what it saw as the decadence and evil of Jerusalem around 150 BC.

Initially, its hatred was directed at the High Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem and their Greek overlords – the Seleucid Empire. These people, the community believed, were already damned. God had decided who to save and who to throw into hell fire. The community at Qumran didn’t need salvation through church sacraments or goodly deeds in life – they already knew they were part of God’s elect.

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Jerusalem priests – doing well under Roman rule

The Seleucids gave way to the Roman Empire and the priests of the Temple shamefully collaborated with the Romans for their own personal gain, power and prestige. The High Priest and Roman governor worked in hand in glove. Puppet Jewish kings like Herod Antipas were more than happy to be cyphers for Roman imperial rule in return for a glittering lifestyle.

Many Jews yearned for the return to the self-government they briefly enjoyed between the collapse of Seleucid rule and the arrival of the Romans – the period of the Maccabean revolt and the Hasmonean dynasty. And in 66 CE, the Jews rebelled against imperial control in a bloody insurgency that took over five years for the Romans to crush.

Roman vengeance was cruel and without mercy. The Temple in Jerusalem, the very place that Jesus was said to have expelled the money lenders, was ransacked for all its treasures. And then the building was torched and demolished. It would never rise again. The glory of the Jews – the most holy place to them – was reduced to rubble and ashes.

The Romans even celebrated their theft of the Temple treasury on an arch in Rome – the Arch of Titus. You can still see soldiers proudly carting off their booty that some conjecture included the Ark of the Covenant.

Back in Qumran, the community of ascetic Jews that had lived there for over two hundred years would have been very aware of events in the big city. They had been looking forward to an apocalyptic end of days that would end the rule of darkness and bring forth the rule of light. Those who were evil – Romans and Temple priests – would be damned. But the community of Qumran would be saved and resurrected.

copper-scrollFast forward to 1952 and archaeologists were finding more and more scrolls in the caves. They came to believe that the community, realising the Romans and fleeing Jewish refugees were coming in their direction, began to secrete their sacred knowledge into dark and unseen places.

Hastily, they hid their precious scrolls. Possibly, they were also helping to spirit away treasure from the temple in Jerusalem as Roman forces swarmed over it. Could it be that the ascetic community of Qumran helped the priests they hated in Jerusalem to hide the sacred vessels?

In 1952, archaeologists discovered a copper scroll. All the other scrolls had been made of papyrus or animal skin but this scroll was etched into metal. It was clearly intended not to rot or be chewed away by insects. The information on it was vitally important.

The copper scroll detailed the hiding place of a vast treasure in gold and silver. Look under the third step at such-and-such building and you will find a strong box with this amount of talents in gold…the scroll read. One hiding place after another was listed.

Many scholars believed it was referring to treasures taken out of the Temple before the Romans arrived and placed in over sixty locations. This raised the tantalising prospect that all over modern Israel and Jordan are the most spectacular finds waiting to be discovered.

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The Romans celebrated looting the Temple on the Arch of Titus in Rome – you can still see it!

Others argued that the community was leading people of the future on a wild goose chase for objects that did not exist at all. And certainly, treasure hunters have been consistently disappointed ever since. But it’s hard to imagine a community facing the arrival of Roman legions set on decimating them in an act of bloody imperial vengeance would waste their last moments on earth etching a hoax into a copper scroll.

A Templar related theory posits that there was a second copper scroll. This one was hidden under the Temple in Jerusalem for future generations to discover. And, the theory goes, when the Knights Templar began digging under what they believed to be the Temple of Solomon, they discovered this scroll. The wealth they were then able to unearth at multiple locations formed the basis of their fabulous wealth.

For many Israelis today, the thrilling prospect of finding the sacred items of the destroyed Temple would herald the prospect of rebuilding it. However, one can imagine the political storm that would create.

How White Supremacists and Islamists exploit the Middle Ages

IMG_3976I’ve tried to avoid this topic but with comments from white supremacists appearing on social media channels linked to this blog, I need to make my position crystal clear on the relationship between the Knights Templar, white supremacists and Islamist-inspired terrorists.

It’s quite simple. There isn’t one.

That unfortunately hasn’t stopped groups in my native United Kingdom like the English Defence League adopting Templar symbols and mottos as their own. White supremacist marchers who stormed Charlottesville in 2017 employed imagery referencing the Holy Roman Empire and the Templars. The words Deus Vult  and Saracen Go Home were recently sprayed on a mosque in the town of Cumbernauld, Scotland and extreme right groups in northern Europe and the United States can be heard yelling Non Nobis Domine.

Groan.

This might all be ignorable if the consequences weren’t so potentially fatal. On 22 July 2011, Anders Breivik killed eight people in the Norwegian capital by detonating a bomb and then made his way to a summer youth camp where he gunned down 69 teenagers. On YouTube he had posted a rambling manifesto covered in Templar imagery and ranting about the need for a crusade. I blogged at the time that this murderous sociopath had zero in common with the Knights Templar.

Why did I claim that? Here’s some reasons:

  • The Knights Templar were not loners or sociopaths. They were a military order endorsed by kings, princes and popes. The Templars ran agri-businesses (huge farms to finance the crusades), banking operations and were high level political advisers. They were not bedsit bombers or hate filled cranks.
  • Turcopoles were local Middle Eastern warriors who joined the Templars as auxiliaries. They were often Christians whose families had been Christian for longer than many families in Europe.
  • In one recorded incident, the Templars admonished a Christian who was trying to stop a Muslim praying in the Al Aqsa mosque, which was rebranded the Temple of Solomon while Jerusalem was under crusader control.
  • The Templars were respected by their Saracen opponents – not because they were racists but because of their bravery and dedication. First into battle and last to leave.
  • Christians respected Arabic learning. When the Spanish city of Toledo was taken by crusaders after centuries of Muslim control, scholars from all over Europe descended on its libraries like locusts. When the Templars were put on trial, they were accused of having been influenced by and admiring Islam.
  • Muslims and Christian realms were in much closer proximity – literally bumping up against each other. The caliphate in Spain bordered France. In Sicily, the king issued proclamations in Norman French, Greek and Arabic. The crusader states conducted trade and diplomatic relations with their Saracen enemies out of necessity. Templars would have known their Saracen counterparts, probably by name in many instances.
  • There was no concept as we understand it of white supremacy in the Middle Ages. The Templars were certainly a Christian order but Christians could still be found in large numbers in north Africa, the Middle East and the Byzantine empire (modern Turkey and bits of Syria on occasion). Christians were white and brown, to put it crudely. Please show me where a Templar ever talked about whiteness being a defining issue.
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Christian and Muslim play chess in the Middle Ages

Ultimately the Templars were all about keeping the Holy Land Christian and pushing back the caliphate in modern Spain and Portugal. But they saw this as a lofty, spiritual cause – not a thuggish day out to beat up some migrants and asylum seekers.

That is not to deny the existence today of extremist and violent Islamist inspired terrorism. To me, the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda are the mirror image of white supremacism. They preach a murderous form of religious supremacism where their victims are both Muslim (Shia, Sufi, dissenters) and non-Muslim. They frame the past in terms that are also completely ahistorical. Ignoring the complexities of medieval politics, they boil the past down to a binary struggle between the “caliphate” and the Christian “House of War”. This is as false as the perspective of white supremacists.

The caliphates of the past that they imagine were 100% Muslim were nothing of the sort. The Ottoman empire was a patchwork of ethnicities and faiths. In fact, Ottoman Constantinople had a much more diverse population then modern day Istanbul. The Ottomans also stoned less people to death over a four-hundred-year period than ISIS in two years of nightmarish terror in Syria and Iraq.

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An image to excite an Islamist ideologue

Islamists also use medieval analogies to prop up their world view. The 2017 terrorist attack in Barcelona led some blood-soaked supporters of ISIS on social media to invoke the memory of the medieval caliphate that once ruled Spain and Portugal – Al-Andalus. Ignoring the fact that Jews, Christians and Muslim co-existed under that caliphate, they claimed it was only a matter of time before Islamic rule was reinstated.

Let’s be clear on this. Islamism is an ideology developed largely in the 20th century around groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir as well as the puritan Salafi and Wahabbi schools of thought. Contrary to its claims, it is not and never has been mainstream Islam. Fortunately for the Islamists though, white supremacists characterise this ideology as…mainstream Islam – doing it a great favour. Islamist ideology has borrowed heavily from fascist and Leninist methodology and created a totalitarian version of the caliphate that neither Saracens or crusaders would have recognised.

Every so often in the history of Islam currents have emerged that are dubbed, by Muslims, as “Khawarij”. Heretical and violent bigots who believe they have the right to determine who is a good Muslim and who is not – and then to excommunicate (“takfir”) or even execute those who don’t meet their criteria. In the Qur’an, the Prophet Mohammed anticipated these people who would “recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.” He called on other Muslims to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

ISIS and Al Qaeda are Khawarij, twisting Islam to a bloody agenda. And they have a symbiotic, mutually supportive relationship with the white supremacists. Because both Islamists and white supremacists strive for an end of days civilizational clash. They crave the end of compromise, co-existence and moderation yearning instead for what ISIS terms the “extinguishing of the grey zone”.

If we want a world safe for our children – we must reject both ideologies. We can start by disconnecting the Knights Templar and the Saracens from this hateful garbage – both white supremacism and violent Islamism. It’s time for Medieval Studies departments and other experts to stop hiding under stones cowering and come out to refute this distortion of the medieval era. There has been an encouraging start from THESE medieval experts.

The silence of others is literally costing lives.

Your views, as ever, very welcome. But advocacy of racism and/or violence will be taken down.