Templars and sodomy – were the knights really gay?

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I have been asked on several occasions whether the Knights Templar were gay. After all, they were accused of kissing each other on the “base of the spine” and other parts of the body in their initiation rites.

One user got quite irate when I insisted you couldn’t classify the Templars as a medieval LGBT organisation – though that’s not to say some of the knights weren’t gay. Homosexual love is as old as humanity but LGBT identity as we understand it today is quite modern. Sadly, there were no Pride parades in the 14th century (unless you count some papal processions!).

So – why this association between the Knights Templar and homosexuality?

It really all hinges on confessions made during the Templar trials between 1307 and 1314. King Philip of France was keen to crush the brotherhood of knights and basically levelled two main accusations against them designed to disgust medieval public opinion: heresy and sodomy.

But…should be said that heresy was probably the worst of the two accusations. To deny Christ, his sacraments and the authority of the church was to overturn the natural order of things – way more than two men being in love. It also posed a far greater threat to the power of the Pope, the King and the whole spiritual and temporal superstructure.

Sodomy and the Templar trials

So what were the accusations levelled against the Templars that gave rise to the idea many were gay?

The Templar trials expert Professor Malcolm Barber details quite a few confessions made after 1307 that give you the full picture. This is merely a taster:

  • John of Cugy, a 53 year-old Templar who had been keeper of the mills in Paris told an inquisitor that the Visitor of France (a very senior Templar knight) had taken him behind the altar and “kissed him on the base of the spine and the navel”. After that, he was told to spit on the crucifix. Nice.
  • Ithier of Rochefort under torture admitted to “obscene” kisses and “the incitement to homosexuality”
  • Nicholas of Sarra denied the holiness of an effigy of Christ before stripping off and being kissed again at the base of the spine, the navel and the mouth
  • Ralph of Grandeville had homosexuality “enjoined upon him” via the usual kisses
  • William of Giac said that while he was in Cyprus as a brother serving with the knights, he had “carnal relations” with the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay – who was later burnt at the stake in 1314

When dealing with other heresies, the church and its inquisition often saw homosexuality as a symptom of heresy. It suggested that those who denied the authority of Rome in spiritual matters were degenerate and base. The term “sodomy” would be employed and it encompassed not just same sex relations but bestiality as well.

So, for example, William of Auvergne (bishop of Paris between 1228 and 1249) was convinced that heretics liked to kiss a cat under its tail or a toad fully on the mouth. Both animals being familiars of Satan of course.

I discuss in other blog posts the allegation of black magic rituals to discredit the Templars. The knights’ initiation rites were depicted as a kind of black mass – with the worship of severed heads (Baphomet) and the presence of magical symbols. Adding homosexuality into the mix was a given.

Templars, homosexuality and sin

If you were gay in the Middle Ages, then joining a brotherhood of some description was a good way to avoid that familiar and annoying question at family gatherings:

“When are you going to get married?”

Monastic orders allowed you to be in close proximity to other men, even with shared accommodation. And you were expected to deny female flesh. It just gets better and better. Plus there was a career path and lots of dressing up.

If you were more butch – then why not join the Templars?

It was a monastic kind of life but with armour, swords and macho camaraderie. And the Templars weren’t the only military order in history where same sex love may have bonded warriors together. The Samurai saw no problem in men fighting the enemy to the death to protect the lover within their own ranks.

However, the accusation of “sodomy” against the Templars was layered with more meaning in the Middle Ages. To the medieval mind, sinfulness brought down the wrath of God. If the Templars had been practising “unnatural acts” then that would explain why they had lost the Christian crusade against Islam. Their sinfulness was a ticking time bomb.

And that’s more than likely what their enemies were really getting at. These Templars masqueraded as the best of knights but they were hypocrites. Greedy, lying, scheming, heretical and…..sodomitical….hypocrites. That was the negative PR the king of France and his ministers were chucking at the knights.

And to a degree, it worked. People were fed up of the crusades, which had now turned against the crusaders. All those lands that had been fought for were back in Muslim control. Therefore – who was to blame for this sorry state of affairs?

The Templars seemed an obvious target.

But why would God turn his face away from such brave men? Because, the accusers argued, they’d been up to all sorts of skullduggery behind the scenes. You get the drift. Godless and sinful – so of course they lost one battle after another. This logic may seem peculiar to us in the 21st century but in the 1300s, it went down a storm.

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