A unique glimpse of the everyday life of the Knights Templar

everyday lifeProfessor Helen Nicholson is a globally recognised expert on the Knights Templar. I’m very honoured to be sharing a platform with her at the Bradford Literature Festival on 30 June, 2018 discussing all things Templar related.

Ahead of that, I want to bring to your attention Helen’s most recent book that reveals the daily life of the Knights Templar – with fascinating insights. The book is called The Everyday Life of the Templars and I heartily recommend it.

What did the Knights Templar eat and drink? What was their daily routine? If you could be transported back to a Templar preceptory (one of their rural estates), what would you have seen going on?

Well, to give you a flavour of the answers to those questions to be found in her book, I’ve just interviewed Helen and here – exclusively for my users – she gives some glimpses of the secretive life of the Knights Templar. To find out even more, you’ll of course have to get a copy of her compelling read from Amazon and other online retailers.

So, here is Professor Nicholson in conversation with me:

What motivated you to write a book about the everyday life of the Templars?

I have been researching the surviving inventories and records of the Templar estates in Britain and Ireland from the period from the Templars’ arrest early in 1308 until the point when the estates were handed over to the Hospitallers. The inventories from Ireland and the sole inventory from Wales were published many years ago but the records from England remain unpublished. There is an enormous amount of information about the crops being grown on the Templars’ estates, the livestock being raised, the people employed there, manufacture of cheese, butter, cider, wine, which brothers were living in each Templar house and the other people who lived there. So the records give an insight into life in these Templar properties early in the fourteenth century. Other scholars have studied similar records from the Templar properties in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. So I thought it would be interesting to draw this material together to give wide picture of how the Templars and their tenants and workers would have lived.

Where did you find most of the source material, given the Templars didn’t write much about themselves?

When the Templars were arrested, full inventories were made of their properties. Their properties were administered by royal or church officials, until the pope decided the fate of the Order. Many of these records survive: from England & Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula. They give a snapshot of what was in the Templars’ properties on the day the Templars were arrested, and an ongoing picture of day-to-day activity over the next few years. Many records were not retained, or have been mislaid or destroyed, but enough survives to give an overall picture.

If we had visited a preceptory in the 13th century – what activity would we have seen going on?

There would not have been many Templars living in each house; most preceptories/commanderies in England were home to only four brothers or fewer, and many were leased out to tenants and had no Templars in residence. The rural commanderies/preceptories were like manor houses, running the estate farm. The farm workers would have been busy maintaining the fields and crops, taking care of the livestock and doing maintenance around the estate. The cook would be making potage (a type of oat porridge) for the workers’ daily meal. There might be a clerk attached to the commandery who kept the day-to-day records. There would have been household servants looking after the house. Any Templars in residence would have administered the estate, holding the manor court, ensuring rent was paid, farm work was done, workers were hired and paid as necessary. There would also be non-Templars living in the house: some of them were former Templar employees who now received a pension, while others had made a donation to the Templars in return for food and lodging for the rest of their lives. In addition, the Templars had wide networks of supporters who could come into their houses to make donations or transact other business. Some Templar houses had valuable religious relics which pilgrims would come to see. Travellers would come to find lodging, and Templar houses made regular weekly donations of food to the poor. So Templar houses would have been busy places.

Was the day punctuated by prayer?

The Templars’ regulations expected the Templars to follow the normal monastic pattern of prayers at fixed times during the day. The Templars should go into the chapel for these services, but as not every house had a chapel in actual fact they might have to say their prayers as they went about their work (as the regulations allowed them to do if they were on a military campaign). Most Templar houses with a chapel did not have a Templar priest, but employed a secular priest or a friar as priest in their chapel.

How effective were the Templars as farmers (compared to the monasteries for example) and did they engage in any other kind of business?

So far as the records show, the Templars were effective farmers who made careful judgements on the most effective way of working their land for good long-term returns. Apparently they were more generous employers than the Benedictine monks. Their livestock produced meat and other products such as wool and hides, which they could use or sell. They manufactured some food products (cheese, butter, cider, wine) and sold some of this produce as well as consuming it within the estate. The records from after the Templars’ arrests also show that some people owed money to the Templars — not large amounts — so, like other religious orders, they did make loans, but this was not a major business for most Templar houses.

What role did women play on Templar estates and were they allowed to be members of the order?

The estate records show that women were employed as cooks and to do the laundry. They were also employed on farm work: for example, picking grapes, milking the sheep, helping with the harvest. In addition, the estate records from the Templars’ commandery at Payns in Champagne refer to a Templar Sister (her name isn’t recorded; she’s simply refered to at ‘the sister’) and her female servant, Hersant. So, yes: women could be members of the order and women could live in the Templars’ houses.

Did all this activity in the preceptories across Europe really fund the military ventures of the Templars?

Yes — that was the purpose of the Templar properties in Europe! But clearly a lot of money would have been needed to maintain the Templars’ estates, invest in property, pay their workers and carry on the charitable work they did in Europe, so not all the income from their estates would have gone to the East.

How did it all end? What happened to the property owned by the Templars after 1307?

At the Council of Vienne in spring 1312, Pope Clement V gave the Templars’ former property to the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers were able to claim some of the properties, but some properties were taken back by the families of the original donors, some were kept by the kings who had arrested the Templars, some property was given to other religious orders, and in Spain and Portugal much of the property was used to found new military-religious orders.

If you enjoyed this interview and you’re in the United Kingdom on 30 June, 2018 – try and join us in Bradford, Yorkshire for what will promise to be a hugely fascinating discussion. Click HERE for tickets.

 

Where is Medieval World in the Netflix series Westworld?

Screen-Shot-2016-10-24-at-11.38.22-AM
Guest gets run through by host in Medievalworld

Like most carbon based life forms, I’m enjoying the HBO series Westworld with its horrific clash between human “guests” and android “hosts”. As you should know, the series is based on a 1973 movie of the same name written and directed by the novelist Michael Crichton.

But there’s been a key difference so far in the modern series – it’s been focussed on the Wild West – the theme park known as Westworld. In the 1973 movie, we were immediately introduced to three theme parks at Delos: Westworld was the American Wild West, Romanworld was the last days of Pompeii and Medievalworld was set in a violent European Middle Ages.

Westworld
More than the Wild West in the 1973 movie

As this is a Templar blog – I have to pose the question: where has Medievalworld gone? In the 1973 movie, it took second billing to Westworld with one of the guests run through by a host with a battle sword. The scene is chilling as the guest, an overweight executive, begins to realise that his duel with the medieval lord is for real. He treated it as a joke at the outset.

Three years after Westworld was released, a poorly received sequel called Futureworld was brought out. Though the film wasn’t well received, it has elements that have made their way into the TV series – for example, the collecting of data from guests to create new hosts has been taken and developed in a modern, digital context. Interestingly, Futureworld dumped Westworld but kept Medievalworld.

My suggestion to the makers of the TV series – though I suspect I’m too late to get this included – would be to create Templarworld. Could you imagine it? A secretive order of warrior knights pitted against the Saracens and betrayed by their own side – what a storyline!

 

 

 

Templar hero: Gualdim Pais

We think of the Crusades as a series of battles between Christianity and Islam that took place in the Middle East. But in fact, the Crusades were fought in many places including modern Spain and Portugal.

When the Knights Templar were founded in 1119, the Iberian peninsula was divided between an Islamic caliphate in the south and several Christian kingdoms in the north. Separating these two very different and warring realms was a buffer zone that swapped hands over and over.

Between the rivers Mondego and Tagus in Portugal lay lands referred to in the medieval period as ‘nullis diocesis’ – territory with no bishop or patriarch. Church and state had no firm hold over these lands. Instead, crusaders and Moors (the Muslim armies) fought each other bitterly gained and losing the advantage.

It fell to the Knights Templar to try and hold the line. The king of Portugal gave the Templars control over nullis diocesis hoping their combination of religious zeal and military courage would be enough to push back the Moorish invaders.

The knights built a string of castles to defend their position. One such was the fortress at Tomar, which you can still see today. It’s famous for an octagonal church that lies within it referred to as the ‘charola’ – allegedly modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

D._Gualdim_Pais,_Mestre_dos_Templários_-_História_de_Portugal,_popular_e_ilustradaThe Portuguese Templars at Tomar elected a grand master for their new nation and the most famous of these was a formidable character called Gualdim Pais. You can still see a statue of him in the town square. He holds a kite shield and resembles a Norman knight of that period.

He had served in the Holy Land and been present at the Siege of Ascalon in 1153 – when Fatimid Egypt had been soundly defeated. Back in his native country, he fought yet another crusade. The difference being that this war, by and large, was moving in favour of the Christian side. Bit by bit, the Islamic caliphate of Al-Andalus, that had ruled much of Spain and Portugal for four hundred years, was gradually being driven back.

However, in 1190, Gualdim faced a dire threat he might never have anticipated. A vast army from Morocco surged through southern Portugal and arrived at the mighty stone walls of Tomar. So bitter was the hand to hand combat that a door into the city is still called the Gate of Blood. The ground was crimson as both sides thrust and cut at each other.

Five years later, Gualdim died and was buried in the church of Santa Maria Olival, which you can visit today.

 

 

So – where was Jesus really crucified? An Easter mystery!

Back in 2012, I visited the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem – a real hotch-potch of a church on different levels and sprawling over a large area. Within its ancient walls dating back to the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine is the reputed site of the crucifixion.

But not everybody agrees.

DSCF0400
The crypt of the Holy Sepulchre

Every year, thousands of pilgrims trudge up the Via Dolorosa – as I did – following the last footsteps of Jesus to his place of death. The cobbled road is punctuated with all those familiar sites – such as the point at which he fell and where his face was wiped.

And it all ends up in the Holy Sepulchre. Within the church you can venerate the spot at which the cross was erected and also the tomb of Jesus.

It’s all rather convenient, a sceptic might think. What a happy accident to have both these sacred places under one roof. And the discovery of the location of the crucifixion and the tomb were made by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, on a state visit to Jerusalem in the fourth century AD. In fact, Helena just found one miraculous biblical item after another during her stay.

But there are problems. Was the crucifixion really carried out within the city walls? Wouldn’t it have been more likely for grim executions to be conducted outside the gates, by the local rubbish tip for example, away from the houses of local citizens? You have to consider that the bodies were normally left to rot and be picked at by animals for days afterwards. Did people really want to see that outside of their window?

Tomb
The  Garden Tomb – the real site of Jesus’ burial?

Also, where is the skull-shaped hill of Golgotha?

This question led some Christians in the nineteenth century, mainly Protestants, to pick a spot for the crucifixion outside the city walls near a tall mound that does appear to have a skull-like appearance. It’s just north of the Damascus gate. They also alighted on an old tomb nearby as the final resting place of the Messiah – the so-called Garden Tomb.

Now, some critics have argued that this theory has more to do with Protestants having no control over any part of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Even today, that church is divided between the Roman Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Armenian and Greek orthodox churches. They occasionally fight each other in turf wars over who controls which bit of the church – and they’re certainly not letting the Protestants get a look in.

All I can say is that while I adore the Holy Sepulchre, it’s not a convincing site for the crucifixion. However, the Knights Templar thought it was and their churches all over Europe replicated the circular design of the Holy Sepulchre. I’m sure many of you will feel that the symbolic significance is more important than the reality. But some of you may not. So what is the truth?

When you approach the site of the crucifixion at the Holy Sepulchre, there can sometimes be scenes of deep religious ecstasy. You may think I was a bit naughty doing this but on my old iPhone (so apologies for the grainy quality), I filmed some Russian nuns showing their devotion in 2012 before the place where Jesus was executed by the Romans.

Templar hero: Gerard de Ridefort

Ridefort
Templar hothead De Ridefort – as depicted in the movie Arn

Any of you who watched the Swedish Templar movie Arn will know all about Gerard de Ridefort – or at least be familiar with the name.

Gerard was a Grand Master of the Templars who was either a crazed, over-zealous hothead leading the crusader project in the Holy Land to bloody defeat or a brave knight undermined by intrigue within the Christian court of Jerusalem. All depending who you want to believe.

It was nearly a hundred years since Jerusalem had been taken from Muslim control to be ruled by a succession of Christian crusader rulers. Their Kingdom of Jerusalem was one of several states carved out by the crusaders in the Levant (modern Lebanon, Syria and Israel basically).

The first half of the twelfth century had been all about expansion, pushing back Muslim opponents who were divided among themselves. But a leader had emerged on the Muslim side bringing both a new unity and a strength of purpose. His name was Saladin. Pragmatic genius or proto-jihadi? Historians differ in their view of the man.

He was the formidable enemy that Gerard had to face in the 1180s as Grand Master. The crusaders had managed to survive thus far through a combination of military organisation but also a degree of diplomacy and finding ways to co-exist with notionally hostile neighbours. But Saladin, having united Syria and Egypt, was in no mood to continue with crusaders sitting on his doorstep. They were going to be driven into the sea – back to the lands from whence they had come.

The Templars had emerged as the elite fighting force in the vanguard of the Christian Middle East. But Gerard had to contend with some very poisonous politics in Jerusalem. On one side of the scheming was Raymond of Tripoli, a local Christian magnate. Gerard is said to have hated him for very personal reasons.

Gerard had arrived in the Holy Land as just an ordinary knight – not a Knight Templar. He had hoped to marry a very eligible heiress called Lucia of Botrun, a daughter of one of Raymond’s vassals.

Raymond had agreed to this match but was then offered Lucia’s weight in gold if he would hand her over to a very wealthy Italian merchant. Well, Raymond wasn’t going to turn that offer down. So, Lucia was given to the merchant and Gerard had to remain a very disgruntled bachelor.

It almost looks like Gerard joined the Templars in a fit of pique. But he took to his new role. Rapidly, he rose to be Seneschal and was then elected Grand Master. His ascension to the top job came as Saladin massed his armies on the crusader borders while Christian kings in Europe had too much trouble at home to spare more resources for the war against Islam in the east.

And then the leper king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, died. He was succeeded by the seven year old son of his sister Sybilla – not exactly what the crusaders needed at that moment. Here was a child monarch, crowned as Baldwin V, who couldn’t even raise a sword let alone make any strategic decisions. And over his head, two men – Raymond of Tripoli and Guy de Lusignan – battled for real control.

Gerard backed Guy, the husband of Sybilla. And his support for Guy became even more essential when the child king suddenly died aged only eight. Gerard and Guy raced to crown Sybilla queen before Raymond could intervene. In an almost comical twist, the three keys to the chest containing the crown jewels of Jerusalem were held by the patriarch of the city, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.

The master of the Hospitallers, Roger de Moulins, didn’t want to hand over his key but a bit of roughing up by Gerard and others convinced him to play along with the plan. Though he did petulantly throw his key out of the window, which probably earned him another punch in the face. Sybilla was duly crowned and although she had promised to divorce Guy, as a condition of becoming queen, she then stuck a crown on his head too – and dared anybody to dissent. Gerard looked on approvingly.

Down the road in his castle, Raymond was horrified. So full of anger that he made a truce with Saladin. Worse, he then gave permission for one of Saladin’s commanders to march his forces through territory under Raymond’s control, right past the biblical town of Nazareth.

Gerard got wind off this while on his way to Raymond to negotiate peace terms between him and Sybilla. In truth, Gerard would rather have been heading towards Raymond to cut his head off and stick it on a pole. But he was under orders to patch things up between the rival factions. Instead, he ran into a seven thousand strong Muslim army.

Hattin
Disaster at Cresson

The Templar grand master was accompanied by the leader of the Hospitallers – he of the key thrown out of the window.  Together they were followed by about 140 knights dedicated to fighting for Christ.

So, let’s so the maths. 140 as a percentage of 7,000. My calculator says that’s fifty Muslims on Saladin’s side to every one crusader knight. Everybody agreed it was probably a good idea to retreat – except Gerard. He demanded they honour the Templar code and charge towards the opposing force.

They did and were cut down in a bloody massacre. Gerard narrowly escaped. Roger de Moulins wasn’t so lucky. This was seen by some chroniclers as typical of Gerard’s emotional approach to decision making. Whereas previous Templar masters had been cool and calculating, Gerard de Ridefort just ploughed in and hoped God was smiling on his endeavour. Evidently not at Cresson.

That engagement would be a rehearsal for the even bigger catastrophe at Hattin, which I’ve blogged about before and I’m returning to very shortly – so keep following!

Gerard would be taken prisoner by Saladin after the massive crusader defeat at Hattin but then negotiated his own release – showing he could do diplomacy when he had to. However, he was captured again by Saladin after the siege of Acre and this time, his head was struck off his shoulders.

 

 

 

 

Templar hero: André de Montbard

Right at the beginning of the Templar story, nine knights gathered to found a new order of warriors who would take monastic vows. One of them was a man called André de Montbard. So, what do we know about him?

montbardWell, he was the uncle of a very influential religious figure called Bernard of Clairvaux – later to be made a saint. Bernard was a really unusual individual. He was constantly plagued by illness including what appear to have been severe migraine attacks and high blood pressure. But far from adopting a healthy regime, Bernard tortured his own body with punishing routines of fasting, sleep deprivation and intense prayer. The sort of thing that impressed people in the Middle Ages!

Bernard had joined an order of monks called the Cistercians who wanted to bring back some discipline and modesty to medieval monasticism. He hated twiddly ornamentation in churches and illuminated bibles and believed monks should eat very plain food. So not much fun to be holed up in a monastery with Bernard – unless you shared his point of view.

Crucially, he also believed that killing in the name of Christ was OK. You weren’t committing homicide – killing a human in other words – you were killing evil. And that was just fine. So when Bernard got a visit from his uncle André de Montbard in 1126, who wanted to tell him all about the new order of Templars, it was a marvellous meeting of minds. Bernard didn’t need much convincing to swing his support behind his uncle’s friends.

Uncle and nephew wrote to each other over the years exchanging very touching thoughts. Uncle André was busy with the Second Crusade in the Holy Land while Bernard made rousing speeches to huge throngs of peasants urging them to go and fight. The future saint also found time to write the rule book for the Templars and promote the order to the pope as a jolly good idea.

Towards the end of his life, a chronically sick Bernard begged André to come and see him again. Though he also acknowledged that the crusades were in trouble and needed André’s undivided attention:

…I wish even more strongly to see you. I find the same wish in your letters, but also your fears for the land that Our Lord honoured with His presence and consecrated with His blood…

Bernard began to realise he might never see his uncle again and their conversations would have to continue beyond the grave.

But let us mount above the sun, and may our conversation continue in the heavens. There, my Andre, will be the fruits of your labours, and there your reward…

The two never met again. André de Montbard had his work cut out as Muslim armies put huge pressure on the Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. This took its toll on the Templar Grand Masters. Everard des Barres, third master of the Templars, resigned and went to join Bernard as a monk in his abbey.

Des Barres had already been absent from the Holy Land for a while and this clearly annoyed André de Montbard. He was effectively his second in command as Seneschal and wrote a rather testy letter to his boss asking him to come back and show some leadership:

Never has your presence been more necessary to your brothers. And however Providence may dispose of us, do not hesitate to start your journey back.

But Des Barres decided he’d had his fill of dangerous battles in far off lands. Instead, he tonsured his head, put on a plain monks’ habit and went off to pray with Bernard for the rest of his life. The Templars then elected Bernard de Tremelay as Grand Master number four.

But De Tremelay was killed during the siege of Ascalon – controlled by Egyptian forces. A breach in the wall of the city was created and Bernard unwisely rushed in with a band of Templars. This act reflected the first in/last out mentality of the Knights Templar – depicted as courage by their supporters and vainglorious rashness by their detractors. All of these Templars were cut to pieces and their bodies displayed, hanging headless from the walls.

André found himself elected the fifth Grand Master. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy his time in that position. Less than three years later he passed away in Jerusalem – the last of the original nine knights who had founded the Knights Templar.

 

Templar hero: Hugh de Payens

Baldwin and Hugh de Payens
King Baldwin and Hugh de Payens

Transport yourself back nine hundred years to what is now Israel…

The city of Jerusalem was like a magnet to Christians at that time. It was the ultimate pilgrimage. If you were a devout Christian in England, France or any other kingdom of the time, you would have yearned to make that long journey to the Holy Land and see for yourself where Christ was born, preached, died and rose again.

It was a dangerous trip. And it took many months. There was a strong likelihood you would never return home again. Add to that the uncomfortable fact that Jerusalem was no longer under Christian control. In 1118, when the Templars appeared, the city had been in Muslim hands for 450 years.

Now that hadn’t been an insurmountable problem. Pilgrims were still able to get to Jerusalem and the sacred sites were normally protected. But there had been outbreaks of hostility towards the Christians and the roads into the city were plagued by bandits, thieves and murderers. As you completed your long trek, you might have trudged past the skeletons of those killed for their money and belongings.

Horror stories like these were used to raise a crusader army in Europe to take Jerusalem back from Muslim control. There had also been desperate pleas from the Christian emperor in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) whose Greek speaking empire was being eaten away by Seljuk Turkish invaders. The pope and many priests, most notably Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, told their congregations to take up the sword and wield it in the name of their faith.

In 1099, the first crusade seized Jerusalem in an orgy of bloodshed. A few years later, a band of nine knights emerged with a novel proposition. They went to the king of Jerusalem – now a Christian – and submitted an idea for a new religious order. It would protect the pilgrimage routes and see off the bandits. And it would be based in what these knights believed to have been the Temple of Solomon in biblical times – a building that is now the Al Aqsa mosque.

Their leader was Hugh de Payens. Like Saint Bernard and many of the early Templars, he came from the Champagne region of France, near the important market town of Troyes. Exact details of how he came to create the Knights Templar and become its first Grand Master are very scant. Hugh probably joined the first crusade and when his liege lord, the Count of Champagne, returned to France – he stayed behind.

How did he come up with the idea for the Templars? Why was King Baldwin of Jerusalem so cooperative? What compelled Hugh to insist the order had to be based in the Temple of Solomon, from which it took its name? We don’t know for certain. But in a very short period, Hugh had established the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon – or Templars for short.

He went on a kind of fund raising and brand visibility tour of Europe. In 1128, he even made his way to London and then up north to Edinburgh setting up Templar houses. These were economic engines to create the riches to fund the order’s crusading activity. Donations started to flood in from the aristocracy proving that Hugh de Payens and his fellow knights had really tapped into the prevailing zeitgeist.

In 1129, he went before Pope Honorius at the Council of Troyes. Doing a double act with Saint Bernard, they sold the notion of the Templars to a very receptive church audience. He assured them that his knights lived according to monastic vows. They prayed regularly. They took no wives. They lives modestly. Pope Honorius was convinced and the Templars would enjoy papal protection for nearly two centuries until their downfall.

For twenty  years, Hugh tirelessly built the Knights Templar until his death in the Holy Land in 1136. Then the order was led by its second Grand Master Robert de Craon. Its richest and most glorious days were still ahead of it. But Hugh must be credited with developing the concept of an order of monastic knights and turning into into a bright and shining reality.

Discovering the treasure of the Knights Templar – “Buried” on the History channel

Get read to find out where the treasure of the Knights Templar is buried – when the History channel airs Buried on 31 January, 2018. And guess who appears as an expert when they arrive in Portugal? Yes – me!

I’ll be seen clambering around tunnels in Tomar, once the nerve centre of Templar operations in Portugal. This is where the knights fought off repeated invasions of the Iberian peninsula from Muslim forces in the south. It’s also where the Templars transformed into the Order of Christ after they were banned in 1307.

Buried is accompanying the History channel drama series Knightfall – which you will know all about if you follow this blog! So….look out for me on screen soon!

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 10.22.06

Knights Templar – A Secret History: Interview with the author Graeme Davis

davisI recently mentioned a great book on the Knights Templar by Graeme Davis that explores the many stories and myths that surround this intrepid order of warrior monks.

Graeme got in touch and I leapt at the opportunity to review his book and connect with the man himself. 

On your behalf, I posed some searching questions and I think you’ll find this a fascinating read. Share your thoughts and views as ever. But without further do – let’s go meet Graeme Davis!

You have a fascination for myth and folklore – where did this come from? And tell us how it’s influenced both your books and work on games.

It started very young. At the age of six or seven, I saw Jason and the Argonauts on my parent’s black-and-white TV, and was fascinated by Ray Harryhausen‘s monsters. A week or two later, the traveling bookmobile brought a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey to my little school, and I was hooked. That Christmas, I asked a rather nonplussed department-store Santa for a book on Greek mythology. For the rest of my childhood, I read Greek and Norse myths, the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, and anything else I could get my hands on.
About a decade later I discovered Dungeons & Dragonsand was immediately attracted to its use of creatures and concepts from mythology. I spent hours in the local library ploughing through a multi-volume set of English and Scottish folklore by county – initially to find new monsters for my games, but more and more I became intrigued by the stories themselves and the recurring motifs that seem to be independent of race and culture.

You wrote a compelling book on the Knights Templar – what interests you about the Templars? Why do you think they generate so much interest?

holyI first became aware of Templar conspiracy theories when I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a college student. I was studying archaeology and learning about the Middle Ages at the same time, and my penchant for myth and folklore had begun to develop into an interest in historical fantasy. The Templars of legend defied the worst that the Catholic Church and the crowned heads of Europe could throw at them, and are still active today, and that is a powerful narrative. Their secrets and their powers are just defined enough to make them intriguing without exposing them to detailed analysis, which ensure that they will always be intriguing.

In the book, you claim the revelations came from a certain Dr Emile Fouchet – am I correct in assuming that he may be an imaginary character? Where did you get the idea of Fouchet from?

Fouchet is completely fictional. My intention was to assemble all the Templar legends and conspiracy theories that I could find and weave them into a single narrative, but that required a framing device. By creating Fouchet and his research, I had a unifying fiction and a single voice for all the speculation that was needed to hold everything together.

The Templars have generated as much fiction as fact – do you think it matters if the boundaries are blurred or do you feel it might be even be impossible to wholly separate fact and fiction?

I think it has been impossible to separate Templar fact from Templar fiction since 1139, if not before. The events surrounding the Order’s dissolution added to the fiction, and with the rise of Templar imagery in Freemasonry that started in the 18th century, the legend grew and grew.

The Templars were accused of some pretty racy stuff back in 1307 – do you believe any of the charges were true?

Most of the charges were pretty standard for a group accused of heresy. Sodomy was a normal part of the package – we  get our word “bugger” from the name of the Bulgarian Bogomils who were accused of heresy in the 10th century. More serious, in many ways, were the charges of secret adherence to Islam, including the Baphomet-Mahomet connection remarked on by many historians. The practicalities of life in the Crusader States – and later, in the shrinking Christian foothold in the eastern Mediterranean – required those on the ground to make certain compromises for the sake of survival, and to the “armchair quarterbacks” who were safely at home in Christendom, this must have looked a lot like defection to the Islamic cause. The accounts of contemporary Arab historians show that the Templars were regarded as anything but allies.
The other charges were partly reiterations of these two – “every imaginable crime and vice,” “defy the authority of the Church,” and so on – and are too vague to shed any light. The story of trampling and spitting on the cross, one of the best-known to modern readers, emerged from questioning under torture, and was not among the formal charges.

What about the stories of treasure found under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem – are you sceptical?

I see this story as a continuation of a legend that goes back to Roman times and before. The Temple was said to contain a secret chamber into which a mechanism could lower the Ark of the Covenant for safe-keeping if Jerusalem were attacked; certainly, the Ark was not among the treasures looted from the Holy of Holies by Roman troops in AD 70. It is easy to see how rumours of a secret chamber could grow into a story of hidden treasure, especially taking into account the Islamic view of Solomon as a powerful sorcerer in addition to a wise king.

You mention in the book the possibility that the Templars got to America. Do you think there’s any likelihood that could have happened and why would they have gone there?

The story of the lost Templar fleet implies that a great Templar treasure went somewhere, and it has not been found in Europe. Scotland, its most likely destination, has yielded nothing, and the next stop is Scandinavia, where the Templar captains could very well have learned of the old Viking sea-routes to Iceland and Greenland, possibly from former Templars who had sought refuge among the Teutonic orders. While it was in decline, the Norse Greenland colony did not die out for another century, and the routes would still have been known in 1308. From there, following clues in the Icelandic sagas, it would be possible to follow Lief Eriksson’s original route and find North America. Did the Templars do so? There is no conclusive evidence, and for all we know the lost fleet – if it truly existed – might just as well have gone into the Mediterranean.

Assassin’s Creed and other works have popularised the idea of a centuries old battle between Templars and the church/Inquisition – why does this idea clearly have so much appeal?

They are perfect for historical fantasy: a secretive organisation with mysterious powers, untold wealth and influence, and a shadowy agenda which can be fitted to almost any storyline for a book, movie, or game. The idea of a secret war that lays behind the events of history as we know it is endlessly intriguing, and whether the Templars are cast as vicious power-seekers or tenacious underdogs, their historical reality and centuries-long pedigree makes them an ideal secret society to use.

Are you planning any further writing or games based on the Templars?

Not at this time, although Templar history and Medieval history in general have informed a lot of my fantasy writing down the years, and this will no doubt continue to be the case.

Here is a list of other publications by Graeme Davis that feature the Templars:

Colonial Gothic Organizations Book 1: The Templars
A sourcebook on the Templars for Rogue Games’ tabletop roleplaying game set in America’s early history.
GURPS Crusades
A mostly-historical sourcebook on the Crusades, including the role of the Templars and the Hospitallers.
“The Knights Templar,” Pyramid #3/86, December 2015
Different versions of the Knights Templar, defined for the GURPS tabletop roleplaying game.
“Templars: The Fighting Priests,” Pyramid #3/19, May 2010.
A discussion of the Templars and Templar-like organizations in fantasy games.
You can join Graeme Davis on his blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/) where he has posted some of the reviews of the book: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/knights-templar-a-secret-history/
For those who don’t like Amazon, the book can be ordered directly from Osprey Publishing’s web site at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey/knights-templar
The rest of the Dark Osprey line can be seen at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey
Last October, Graeme published a curated anthology of early American horror stories set in and around the Colonial era. Not related to the Templars as such but great stuff! It is available via most online booksellers and direct from the publisher at http://pegasusbooks.com/books/colonial-horrors-9781681775296-hardcover

How would a Knight Templar celebrate Christmas?

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 12.32.14
A Victorian take on the medieval Christmas

Christmas. What’s not to like? The decorations, pudding, cake, fir tree decked with lights, Santa Claus and his little elves.

Now imagine a Christmas without any of these things. Then you’re getting closer to Yuletide at the time of the Knights Templar!

So – key points for celebrating Christmas medieval style:

  • Advent is not about calendars popping open a day at a time with a chocolate sweet behind each little door. No – Advent is about fasting before Christmas. Oh yes – no goodies and plenty of hunger pangs. You’re preparing yourself for Christ’s arrival on earth so no binge eating and lots of prayer.
  • Christmas in pagan Roman times was the festival of Saturnalia where slaves and masters swapped roles for a day. This tradition mutated under Christianity into a curious practice where boys were made bishops for a day. The boy-bishops would deliver silly sermons – in one recorded instance saying that all school teachers should be hanged!
  • Deck your cottage or halls with holly and ivy but you won’t find a single Christmas tree in medieval Europe. And certainly not one covered in lights with a fairy on top.
  • No turkey on the table because these birds only arrived in Europe after Christopher Columbus discovered America. So, you had goose, beef, lamb and….the king might have enjoyed a peacock (Richard II of England certainly did). An aristocratic feast would most likely have featured a boar’s head as the centrepiece.
  • Thanks to the crusades, spices from the Middle East began to appear on medieval tables. We’re used to cinnamon flavouring but this was a newcomer. Ditto marzipan – another import from the exotic lands where the Knights Templar were doing battle.
  • Mince pies were made with mince – and flavoured with the aforementioned spices from the East.
  • Spices also featured in a drink called Wassail – drunk from a huge wassailing bowl. The bowl might be taken door to door for villagers to have a glug. Wassail was a very spicy form of cider that would have appeared like stewed apple. Should you wish to make some – HERE is a recipe.  The word Wassail comes from the Saxon/Old English for “good health” – in case you were wondering.
  • Christmas was first recorded as a word around 1038 and meant a religious mass to celebrate the birth of Christ. That meant going to church. It was obligatory. But singing carols was regarded as a bit of a nuisance by the church authorities – too much rowdiness it seems.

Carols were sung by singers standing in a circle. And they’re quite different to the jolly tunes we’re familiar with. Here’s a group re-enacting what they probably sounded like.