Those who have seen the movie ‘Braveheart’ will know that the English army got a pasting at the battle of Stirling Bridge after which a furious King Edward I – ruler of England and his dominions in Wales, Ireland and France – charged back from the latter country to confront William Wallace, now appointed Guardian of Scotland. Edward was an energetic king who seemed to relish battle on multiple fronts expanding his realm to cover what is now called the ‘United Kingdom’ as well as struggling to hold and increase the ancestral lands on the other side of the English Channel.
Edward expected all subjects to back his campaigns and this included the Templars. Now, of course that posed – in theory – a little problem for the Order. Their first loyalty was to the Pope, not any particular king. They were also forbidden to fight in wars that pitted Christian against Christian. However these rules didn’t seem to stop the Templar master in England – Brian Le Jay – joining Edward’s side at the Battle of Falkirk. This was the great clash where Edward got his bloody revenge against Wallace, weakening the great Scottish general.
Le Jay was a rather colourful character. One of these people in history who seems to have stuck his finger in the wind, worked out which way it was blowing and acted accordingly – to make sure he was on the winning side. He’d actually been the Grand Master in Scotland before taking over in England. So by the time Falkirk came round, he found himself with the stronger king, ready to do battle at his side. Edward had previously insisted, when Le Jay was still Scottish master, that he swear allegiance to him and not the Scottish king and Le Jay, sensing which way that political wind was blowing, duly obliged. No wonder the Victorian Scottish novelist Walter Scott detested the memory of Le Jay and based his evil Templar characters on him in his novel, Ivanhoe.
To my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but the man who became Templar master in Scotland after Le Jay and was in place for the Battle of Falkirk – John de Sawtrey – also fought with Edward against the Scottish king. So the Templars were very much on the Angevin/English side against Scotland. A good decision in that Edward won the battle – a bad decision in that both Templar masters were killed pursuing Scottish solders who were fleeing through a forest.
In spite of the support of these Templar leaders, Edward I had a bit of form when it came to regarding the Templars as little more than piggy banks to be raided when he needed the money. In his youth, he had attacked the Temple in London to get funds for a civil war against the barons. This was when Simon de Montfort and the barons had rebelled against Edward’s father Henry III. London had come out for the barons and Edward had to flee the city with his tail between his legs. His wife, Eleanor – later revered in saintly terms when she died – was forced to take refuge in Saint Paul’s cathedral from a mob that was pelting her with stones and filth.
On his way up to fight the Scots, Edward I had availed himself of Templar hospitality including a night at Temple Newsam outside Leeds, which I mentioned in an earlier post. By all rights he and his family should have been well disposed to the Templar Order but as Europe turned against the Templars, so did the Angevin monarchs. Edward I’s son, Edward II, had no hesitation grabbing Templar property when the opportunity presented itself.
As for Wallace – he had cut down the two most powerful Templars in the kingdom but he himself would be brutally executed in London not long after. The spot where he was hung, disemboweled, etc is not far from where I work and flowers are still placed there by fans.