In 19th century America – and in Britain – a movement arose to ban alcohol spearheaded by temperance societies – some of whom termed themselves Knight Templar. They adopted the name of the medieval brotherhood of knights out of a belief that our valiant warriors didn’t partake of liquor. One writer opined that the Templars drank only “sour milk” and never touched the booze.
The International Order of Good Templars (IOGT) was one such organisation and it sprang out of something called the Washingtonian Movement. In the year 1840, six self-declared drunkards decided to have their last swig and then committed themselves to being teetotal forever. The methodology was similar to Alcoholics Anonymous with group sessions of boozehounds promising never to touch a drop again – and sharing their lamentable experiences.
The movement split over a variety of issues including prohibition. Because that meant not engaging alcoholics on a voluntary basis but getting law makers to enforce a ban on liquor. Some Washingtonians thought that was OK – foreshadowing the 20th century introduction of prohibition. But others preferred an approach that didn’t involve coercion.
DISCOVER: Where are the Knights Templar today?
More Templars organise to oppose liquor
As the Washington Movement was destroyed by its own internal arguments, other groups arose including those who believed they were walking in the footsteps of the Knights Templar. In 1842, The Order of the Sons of Temperance came into being and then in 1851, the Order of Good Templars arose in Utica, New York state. This grew rapidly and extended abroad allowing the organisation to rebrand itself the International Order of Good Templars (IOGT).
The IOGT had a fascinating history. For example, from 1876 to 1887 there was a great deal of rancour over the question of admitting African Americans into the IOGT. The Missouri section of the IOGT removed a Lodge from the organisation for admitting black members. British lodges to their credit demanded full equality but this was defeated.
Prohibition in the 1920s harmed the organisation in two ways. It lost members when people thought – oh well, we’ve won so we can rip up our membership cards. And then it saw a further decline in support when Prohibition was overturned. The policy had proven to be counterproductive and left the IOGT looking rather foolish in retrospect.
Templars continue their global fight against liquor
Other Templar anti-drinking bodies include the Templars of Honor and Temperance founded in 1845 in the US. This organisation is still going in the Nordic countries where it’s known as Tempel Riddare Orden. There’s also the Royal Templars of Temperance (try saying that after a pint of beer!), founded in 1870 in Buffalo, New York state (what is it with New York state and not drinking?).
Many of my Irish relatives emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century – particularly to Pennsylvania and West Virginia to work in the mining industry. One cousin set up a grocery store in Philadelphia to service the Irish communities. Through Ancestry.com – I found out that he and his wife were convicted under the city’s liquor laws presumably for selling hooch under the counter.
He did several months of hard labour and she was sent for a period to the workhouse. He’s pictured below with this children – two of them holding what I hope are bottles of lemonade 🙂
Now all of this talk of teetotalism among Templars is a bit curious because we know that the Knights Templar had vineyards. And they drank diluted wine and most likely ale with their meals – as everybody did in the Middle Ages including children.
Water was just too dangerous in some locations. Not that people had the foggiest idea about the science behind polluted water but I guess they learned from bitter experience (on the toilet) that fermented drinks were safer.
So this 19th century movement of abstemious Knights Templar is yet another fascinating re-invention of the Templar brand to fit current concerns. As opposed to reflecting medieval reality.
It’s one of those stories that turns the Crusades on its head. A commander in the Knights Templar and a Muslim ruler with a fearsome reputation for defeating crusaders become best buddies. Well, blood brothers to be exact. How could this happen? Well it did – so let’s go back 350 years to unravel the mystery…
In the 1270s, the Templar commander in Sidon, Matthew Sauvage (also spelt Sarmage), and the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Sultan Baybars, became blood brothers. What this means is that a leading Knight Templar in the Holy Land and the top Muslim ruler agreed to treat each other as if they were true, familial brothers. And to seal this fraternal deal – they mixed each other’s blood.
The event was recorded by an Italian notary, Antonio Sici di Vercelli who was offering his legal services at the time to the Templars. He wrote that Commander Sauvage was “the brother of the Sultan of Babylon (Roman name for Cairo) who was then reigning, because each had drunk from the blood of the other in turns, wherefore they were called brothers”.
This was eyebrow raising stuff.
It revealed a close personal relationship between a Templar and the most powerful Muslim ruler in the region. And Baybars was an extraordinarily powerful figure. A highly effective warrior ranking alongside Saladin in terms of the threat posed to the Knights Templar.
A hundred years earlier, Saladin had ripped through crusader territory and retaken Jerusalem. In the late 13th century, Baybars was inflicting repeated defeats on the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. And not only was he hammering the crusaders, but Baybars also managed to make mincemeat of the Mongols at a huge bust up of a battle fought in Galilee.
FIND OUT MORE: Templars take on Mongol armies!
So for Matthew Sauvage to declare Baybars as his blood brother seems wildly inappropriate. Add to this that Baybars was a Muslim ruler of slave descent. The Arab rulers of Egypt had brought in Turkic and other ethnic minorities as mercenary soldiers to defend their realms from the crusaders. These so-called ‘Mamluks’ became steadily more powerful until eventually they seized control in 1250.
Baybars wasn’t ethnically Arab therefore. He was born on what would become the Russian steppe, north of the Crimea. Unlike the Egyptians and Syrians he ruled – Baybars was tall, blue-eyed, fair-skinned and broad-faced. As a military operator, he was utterly ruthless towards the crusaders. Before becoming sultan, he had inflicted a shameful and avoidable defeat on the Templars and forces of the French king Louis IX at the Battle of Al Mansourah.
Strange choice for a blood brother. But this sort of close bonding seems to have happened before. There are other accounts of crusaders and senior Muslim figures becoming blood brothers. Saladin is said to have been the blood brother of Count Raymond III of Tripoli as well as the Byzantine emperor, Isaac II Angelus.
How might Matthew Sauvage have met Baybars? Well, the Templars sometimes hosted Muslim dignitaries at their preceptories. That might surprise you. But the knights were as capable of engaging in a bit of diplomacy as much as warfare. It’s very possible that Sauvage encountered Baybars as a guest of the Templars.
DISCOVER: Richard the Lionheart – war criminal?
There is another theory that Sauvage was taken prisoner in a skirmish between crusaders and some Turkish fighters. The non-Templars were released for a ransom but the Templars had to wait to be rescued by none other than…Baybars. This meant that Sauvage owed a debt of gratitude to the Mamluk sultan cemented by a blood brotherhood pact.
And how does this story end? Not very well to be honest. Because decades later the Knights Templar were destroyed in 1307 and many knights put on trial for their life. And who should pop up as a witness for the prosecution but an ageing Italian notary called Antonio Sici di Vercelli. He recounted this blood brotherhood pact as evidence of Templar duplicity and double dealing with the Saracen enemy.
No doubt this damning testimony helped a few knights on their way to the execution pyre.
Your humble scribe – Tony McMahon – may be familiar to you on various TV documentaries on History, Discovery, Smithsonian and other channels. I’m now registered with the Past Preservers agency if you want to feature me in any future TV series.
As you know, over the last two years I’ve been very busy. Whether it’s been investigating rumoured Templar activity in Scotland with Rob Riggle and Scott Wolter or searching for the Ark of the Covenant down here in London or visiting the exact spot in Paris where the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay was publicly executed.
And you can now find me as well on the IMDb website, which is a directory of film and TV talent. But I won’t be neglecting my blogs – which are the backbone of my work. So expect a lot more output in the next few months investigating the Knights Templar – both the history and the mystery.
DISCOVER: Tony McMahon on History’s Buried series
Do please keep suggesting ideas for future posts. I get lots of useful messages from blog fans and it boosts my morale as well. Coming out of Covid, I can’t wait to get back visiting Templar sites around the world and putting some more great images up for you to enjoy.
FIND OUT MORE: Tony McMahon appearing on Travel’s America Unearthed
In the next few months, look out for me in the current series of Strange Evidence and a new series on the Ark of the Covenant.
King Louis IX of France is one of the few monarchs in history to have been declared a saint by the church. Instead of staying at home and ruling his kingdom, Louis went off on crusade in the Middle East. An intensely pious man, sometimes referred to as a “monk king”, he spent years tramping around Egypt in particular with a large army. While on crusade, he famously managed to get his hands on the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion – which he brought back to his capital, Paris.
You can still see where Louis kept the Crown of Thorns, a chapel he had purpose built with floor to ceiling stained glass windows. The so-called Sainte-Chapelle (pictured below from my 2019 visit) – or holy chapel – was completed by the year 1248. Louis spent eye watering sums buying the Crown of Thorns and building the chapel. His kingdom also had to pay a massive ransom to free Louis after he was captured by the Egyptians.
To any sober analysis, this saintly king’s crusading could be viewed as a very expensive waste of time. But we have to think in a totally different way. We’re in the Middle Ages now! The holy war that Louis took to the east was seen as a glorious and sacred endeavour. King Louis was held up as the model prince of his time – just, fair, prayerful and brave.
Jerusalem was already lost to the Saracens. So, Louis took his crusade to the Ayyubid empire, centred on modern Egypt. He also made stops in the fortress citadels of Jaffa, Acre and Caesarea – in modern Israel – still held by the crusaders with a strong Templar presence. In order to try and half the further advance of the enemy, Louis reached out to the Mongol forces that had overrun much of the region and even menaced Europe. But this attempt to create a crusader-Mongol alliance against Islam came to nothing.
It’s normally claimed King Louis IX died of dysentery while on crusade. But analysis of his viscera (intestines and other body parts buried separately) in the recent past suggest he may have had malaria or plague. But analysis of his jawbone – which is held at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris – indicates scurvy. The 2019 theory One theory publicised in 2019 was that Louis succumbed to scurvy due to a chronic lack of vitamins because he wouldn’t eat the local food in Egypt. However, references at the time to “flows of belly” do point strongly to the unfortunate side-effects of dysentery.
King Louis IX was made a saint in 1297, a quarter of a century after his death. Pope Boniface VIII made Louis a saint and it’s widely regarded he did so under pressure from King Philip the Fair of France, the grandson of the saint king.
Yes – Templar watchers – the same King Philip who would round up, imprison and execute the Knights Templar. And this is the same Pope Boniface beaten up by agents of King Philip led by the infamous William de Nogaret – adviser to the king and the man who drafted the Templar arrest warrants.
FIND OUT MORE: The real Pope Boniface VIII
However, while agreeing to make Louis IX a saint – Pope Boniface outlined the reasons in a veiled attack on his grandson, King Philip. Up until then, Louis was seen as a man who had rejected kingship to be a holy crusader. But Boniface now spun that story to say Louis had in fact been the perfect king – brackets, unlike his wicked grandson.
Hear the word ‘crusade’ and you think of Templars fighting Saracens in the Holy Land. Maybe a scene from the movie Kingdom of Heaven comes to mind. But at the start of the 13th century there were multiple crusades raging across Europe. And the Popes in Rome had intriguing ways of getting people to go and fight in them.
The Iberian Crusade against the Moors
Going from west to east, we start with possibly the longest lasting of the crusades. What is now Spain and Portugal – the Iberian Peninsula – was torn apart by a 700-year struggle for control between Christian crusader kingdoms and a Muslim caliphate to the south.
Between the years 711AD and 1492 – Muslim armies first surged across Spain and into France before being pushed back very slowly over seven centuries. At times, the Popes put the Iberian crusade on a par with the Holy Land. Especially as the crusaders enjoyed consistent success in Iberia while the Holy Land saw frequent setbacks. Though the Holy Land always remained the most important given the burning desire to control all the biblical sites such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
FIND OUT MORE: Muslim Spain in the Middle Ages
The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars
Heading north east to the south of France and we meet the so-called Albigensian Crusade. This was a bitter and bloody conflict between the Roman Catholic church and a Christian heresy often referred to as ‘Cathar’. In the year 1208, Pope Innocent III – often regarded as the most powerful pope ever – gave the green light to a crusade against the Cathars.
So desperate was Pope Innocent to get crusaders to destroy the Cathars that he offered to wipe their sins entirely in return for just forty days military service in France. This meant that after death they would sail through purgatory to their heavenly reward. Heresy was regarded by the church as a horrific existential threat that destabilised the natural order of things – as well as threatening their earthly power.
FIND OUT MORE: Templar links to the Cathars
The Teutonic Knights crusade in the Baltics
Then zooming northwards, we find the Teutonic Knights in battle with the last pagans in Europe. Unless you come from that part of Europe, this has to be the least remembered crusades. But it took well into the fourteenth century for paganism to be completely wiped out by the knights.
The Fourth Crusade attacks Constantinople
Going south we arrive at the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, disgracefully ransacked and burned by crusaders during the Fourth Crusade of the year 1204. This was an unwarranted attack by Catholic knights from across Europe against a city where the eastern orthodox variant of Christianity prevailed.
Officially the papacy was scandalised by what the crusaders did. The blame was firmly placed on the Doge of Venice – Enrico Dandalo. He had financed the Fourth Crusade and wanted his money back. He also was keen on knocking out the Byzantines who had once been trading and maritime rivals but were in terminal decline. Looting Constantinople achieved those cynical aims.
DISCOVER: Islamic history and influence in Europe
And the Holy Land…
And finally – the Holy Land. The Crusade you all know. From the end of the 11th century and the seizure of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, there were two centuries of one crusade after another. This activity is roughly encompassed by the lifespan of the Knights Templar (1118 to 1307). Their demise coincided with crusaders being forced off the mainland and on to the island of Cyprus.
I get asked this question so many times. What was the difference between the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller? Truthfully, there wasn’t a huge difference between the two other than their uniform, origin and areas of Europe where they were strongest. However, both orders were definitely rivals and when the Knights Templar were crushed after 1307, the Knights Hospitaller were only too happy to gobble up their assets.
FIND OUT MORE: The Knights Hospitaller in north London
The Hospitaller and Templar orders were two of several military orders that were established during the Crusades. But not all of them were focussed on the Holy Land. Some concentrated their efforts on fighting in modern Spain and Portugal while others were taking on Europe’s last pagans in the Baltic states.
Other medieval military orders included:
There are other military orders which I’m happy to answer any questions about. But these are the main ones listed above. And below is the latest edition of Templar Knight TV explaining the difference between the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. Watch and give me your feedback!
After the Knights Templar and the crusaders lost control of Jerusalem to Saladin and his Saracen armies, they shifted their base of operations in the Holy Land to the city of Acre. Now I’ve been to Acre (Akko as it’s now called in Hebrew) and yet still didn’t appreciate its massive importance and sheer wealth.
This wasn’t some sleepy backwater. In many ways, Acre was more important than Jerusalem. It was a playground for the medieval super rich. Had a great port. Busy markets. And a surprising degree of trade and contact between Christians and Muslims. Acre was a sinful, thriving, cosmopolitan fleshpot on the Mediterranean.
The latest edition of History Today carries an eye opening article on just how amazing Acre was. This wasn’t just a Templar fortress with some knights milling around waiting for the enemy to turn up. It was almost like Las Vegas, London and Cairo rolled into one. It was deemed to be so licentious that a church official called Jacques de Vitry was sent by the Pope to become the city’s bishop (and later cardinal) and sort out the dubious morals of the place.
He was appalled by Acre. Describing it in apocalyptic terms as “like a monster or a beast, having nine heads each fighting the other’. Every vice was present. Prostitution was rampant plus black magic and murder. Worse, in his view, the Christian community in this crusader city had gone very native. They spoke Arabic, wore beards and veiled their wives.
Templar Acre was truly cosmopolitan
What poor old Jacques was finding difficult to handle was the blend of different types of Christianity in the east. In western Europe, there was just the Roman Catholic church headed by the Pope. But in the east, there were Christian churches that went right back to the decades after Christ’s death headed by patriarchs in Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch. They were Armenians and Syrians with their own rites and interpretations of scripture totally at odds with Rome.
It’s often been conjectured by the conspiracy theory end of Templar thought to what degree the knights were influenced by these heretical forms of Christianity. The kinds of strange looking Christian that shocked and horrified Jacques De Vitry. Because not only eastern Christians but Muslim traders all mixed together in the markets. The crusades going on outside the walls had no bearing on this at all. Life, love, making money and having fun continued while holy war was being waged down the road.
An Arab traveller, Ibn Jubayr, was astonished by what he saw in the year 1184:
The soldiers engage themselves in their war, while the people are at peace and the world goes to him who conquers.
The impression I got from the History Today article was that it almost didn’t matter that Jerusalem had fallen. Because Acre was the bustling and super-wealthy hub of the whole region. It rivalled Constantinople for the amount of money pouring through its ports and warehouses. It was dotted with the mansions of the crusader super-wealthy. And most shocking – right under the noses of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller – commerce with neighbouring Muslims boomed.
Contrary to what you might imagine happened in that era, Christian merchants would even pop over to Muslim-controlled Damascus to shop for ivory from India, musk from Tibet and….I kid you not…rhubarb from China. And this is the most incredible revelation for me. The crusaders even bought their own weapons from Muslim traders in Damascus. In the same way that modern wars often involve arms trading on the black market between people you might assume should be enemies.
Templar and Hospitaller rivalry in Acre
Both the Knights Templar and Hospitaller built impressive fortresses and a network of tunnels underneath the city. Decades before Acre eventually fell to Muslim control, the rival Christian military orders fought each other when Venetian and Genoese merchants clashed over trading rights. This grubby episode wrecked a large part of the city.
FIND OUT MORE: The Siege of Acre
The Knights Templar had their own commercial interests that included refining sugar – a luxury product right down to modern times. And they conducted their trade with a coinage minted in the city that mimicked the Saracen coinage. This horrified the pope who demanded they remove the Arabic script on their coins – which they didn’t.
Watch the latest edition of Templar Knight TV to find out whether Jacques de Molay really was the Last Knight Templar. Most historians would assert that he was the final Grand Master in a line stretching back two centuries. But others have argued that De Molay appointed a successor and there has been an unbroken line to the present day.
The idea that the last Knight Templar grand master secretly appointed a successor before he was burned at the stake in the year 1314 emerged in the 18th century. In 1804, a French doctor called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat even publicly declared that he was the latest in a long line of grand masters going back to Jacques de Molay.
DISCOVER: Where was Jacques de Molay executed?
Palaprat produced a charter dating back to the 14th century with an unbroken line of 22 grand masters leading down to himself. Of course, this was greeted with some scepticism at the time and ever since.
However, Templar organisations sprang up accepting the veracity of the charter and vowing to continue the Templar order. Some of these bodies still exist today – but unfortunately are sometimes in conflict with each other.
The charter is referred to as the “Larmenius Charter”, the name of the Templar Grand Master allegedly appointed by De Molay. Larmenius was said to be the preceptor of Cyprus and he was succeeded by a Templar knight from Alexandria in modern day Egypt. If this is true, then De Molay was not the last Knight Templar though the order went underground for five hundred years after this death.
Watch the video to find out more!
Join me on Episode 4 of Templar Knight TV to investigate the Enduring Mystery of the Holy Grail. What exactly was this sacred object – a cup, a stone from Lucifer’s crown or the bloodline of Jesus Christ? I take a good look at the competing theories.
Those of you who watched the drama series Knightfall, will be familiar with the Templar Grail quest. Some scoff at the idea saying there’s no evidence the knights were after the cup that held the blood of Jesus after his crucifixion. Others claim the Templars were specifically created to find and protect the Grail – but that it was not a cup, but the bloodline of Jesus.
DISCOVER MORE: Templar Grail Quest
While others still adhere to the notion that the Grail was a stone that once sat in the crown worn by Lucifer. And when he was cast out of heaven with his friends for rebelling against God, it popped out and landed on Earth. The stone was revered by the Cathar heretics and was said to give eternal life.
Also – it was claimed that the Knights Templar worshipped heads in their secret rituals. During the trials of Templar knights after their arrest in the year 1307, many confessed to having venerated a “head” – a head of what exactly?
So in the second part of Templar Knight TV, I look over the statements made by these knights. I’m particularly fascinated by the ghoulish story that the head in question was the mouldering remains of the first Templar grand master Hugh de Payens.
Join me then on Templar Knight TV and let’s go Holy Grail hunting!
In Episode 3 of Templar Knight TV – I examine competing theories over the origins of the Knights Templar. In particular, was the order of knights set up by a shadowy organisation called the Priory of Sion? Or was it, as medieval chroniclers at the time claimed, a band of knights sworn to protect pilgrims on the roads into Jerusalem?
The Priory of Sion is the conspiracy theory that refuses to die. In the vlog that you can click on below, I race through the main points: That Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had children, who were whisked off to France. The Priory was set up centuries later to protect the descendants of those children who the Catholic church wanted to kill off. Why? Because the church saw them as a threat to Vatican legitimacy and power.
The Priory created the Knights Templar as its military wing to defend the descendants of Jesus. The origins of the Knights Templar according to this theory was to provide a bodyguard service to the holy bloodline. This was in the hope that one day they would establish a global Christian monarchy. But things went a bit wrong between the Priory and the Knights Templar and they went their separate ways in the year 1188.
None of this explains why successive popes showered privileges on the Knights Templar. Did the church not know the true nature of the Templars? Indeed, Rome gave the Templars almost complete immunity from the laws of the countries they were based in. They only had to answer directly to Rome. That hardly smacks of an organisation set up to crush the church!
I mean at some point, you would assume that the church would have guessed that their darling crusader knights on whom they had bestowed such largesse were in fact their mortal enemy working for a clandestine anti-papal organisation in the wings? Yet for two hundred years, we’re asked to believe that Rome didn’t wise up to this.
OK – they were eventually crushed by Pope Clement. But only after the King of France had metaphorically placed his hand at the pope’s throat. His soldiers had literally done that and more to the previous pope, Boniface, contributing to his early death. So Clement wasn’t about to show bravery in the face of French demands to close down the Templars.
FIND OUT MORE: In-depth investigation of the Priory of Sion
As I’ve blogged before, the Priory of Sion appears to have been a hoax dreamed up in the 1950s by a group of eccentric French chaps. One of them even admitted that the evidence for the Priory’s existence as an ancient fraternity was completely made up. Nevertheless, other authors since have sidestepped this inconvenient truth to state that, regardless, the Priory existed and had a hand in the origins of the Knights Templar.
In the vlog above – episode 3 of Templar Knight TV, I look at two books that have perpetuated interest in the Priory of Sion and they are: The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Richard Leigh, Michael Baigent and Henry Lincoln and – more famously these days – The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Dan Brown’s novel came out twenty years after Holy Blood Holy Grail and continues many of themes in the earlier 1980s blockbuster.
So much so that Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent unsuccessfully sued Dan Brown’s publisher alleging breach of copyright. Brown acknowledged his debt to Holy Blood Holy Grail even calling one of the characters Leigh Teabing. Leigh is Richard Leigh’s surname while Teabing is an anagram of Baigent. I remember thinking the name was a bit odd the first time I read Brown’s novel but of course, it all now makes sense.
Indeed in one scene where Teabing is talking to Sophie, he refers directly to Holy Blood Holy Grail saying it was a book that came out when she was very young. And it “finally brought the idea of Christ’s bloodline into the mainstream”.
Anyway, I don’t want to give my whole vlog away!! Click on the link above and enjoy ten minutes of speculation on the origins of the Knights Templar – you will not be disappointed.