As I’m writing a book on the Templars for publication next year and seeking to improve this long running Templar blog – I wanted to know the questions YOU want answered.
Hundreds of you responded through the Facebook pages I run to encourage discussion about the Knights Templar – more details on how to follow those pages below. What you told me has led to a rethink of the book and even what I put on this blog going forward.
I was genuinely surprised by your responses. So, let’s look at the topics you want to know more about.
TODAY’S TEMPLARS – One of my most popular blog posts is on which organisations today claim to be genuine Knights Templar. It seems that some of you have been ripped off by certain bodies claiming to be Templar. I’d like to find out more about this activity and hopefully we can put a stop to it. You also want to know a whole lot more about the Freemason and Catholic links to the Templars and about certain political organisations that claim (falsely in my view) to be Templar today. Expect a blog post on this shortly.
TEMPLAR ANCESTRY – Many of you are keen to trace your family tree back to Templar knights or other important figures in the Middle Ages. I’ve had several emails recently from people using Ancestry dot com to try and discover their family’s medieval roots. I’m a big fan of Ancestry and being half-Irish have connected with a lot of long lost American cousins. I’ll be looking at ways to unearth your Templar era ancestors.
THEIR TRIAL AND EXECUTION – I got a lot of comments and emails asking for more information about the arrest of the Templars in 1307 and their subsequent torture, trials and executions. You also want to know if there’s any truth to the allegations of heretical worship, initiation rites and whether the Templars could have saved themselves. I’m on the case!
MONEY MAKING AND TREASURE – I expected people to be interested in the treasure of the Templars but many of you are more interested in their innovative banking activities. Their role as early financiers seems to fascinate you greatly! One of you believed they may have founded the Swiss banking system, something I have heard before. But, another one of you thought that by the end they were totally broke – there was no treasure left. I have covered the money angle previously on the blog but will return to it on your behalf.
BLOODLINE OF JESUS – Some of you hate the whole Dan Brown approach to the Templars but, equally, many of you want the Merovingian dynasty theory explained in more depth and what exactly is the link to Mary Magdalene and Christ? Several of you were vexed as to whether they were enemies or defenders of the Catholic church. Let me shine some light on this….look out for some blog posts!
CLEAR LINE BETWEEN HISTORY AND MYSTERY – One of you expressed total contempt for the 1980s Templar conspiracy theory book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail – which made the Priory of Sion theory very popular and influenced Dan Brown. It seems some of you have had enough of this alleged hokum. To help you navigate fact and fiction, I’m now going to separate blog posts into “Templar mystery” and “Templar history” categories from now on, clearly labelled – so you will know when I’m giving you acknowledged facts or just chatting about the conspiracy stuff. You’ll see I’ve actioned this already.
BRAVERY AND BROTHERHOOD – You likened the Templars to the SAS and the Foreign Legion and admired their bravery in battle. I clearly need to tell you more about how they fought and whether it was true that they were the most courageous of crusaders. The word “Loyalty” came up a lot and you view that as one of the Templars’ most likeable qualities.
Thank you for your feedback and keep it coming!
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Henry VIII as never seen before!
Henry VIII was king of England long after the Knights Templar had ceased to exist. But I thought this appearance by my good self on prime time British TV in October 2018 would amuse many of you. I agreed to dress up as Henry VIII and audition for a part playing this larger than life monarch. If I’d got the part, I’d have ended up working at Hampton Court Palace telling tourists about his life!
The TV programme is called The Big Audition and I was in the first episode of the new series. I’ve done lots of guest slots on history TV programmes talking about everything from the Nazis to the Romans to the Tudors. But I’d never done reality TV before so this was an interesting insight into how reality TV programmes are made.
What you see in the video clip below is me making my way to the TV studio in full costume. It was filmed as a kind of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever meets Henry VIII. Great day and huge fun. But kind of glad a young actor got the job. I’ll stick to my current day job!
Well, you heard it here first – Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame coming to your TV screen in the next season of Knightfall on the History channel. I now have a picture of him in his new role next to the drama series’ main protagonist, Landry – a hot headed Templar knight.
Hamill is of course battle scarred already – the crusades and his inter-galactic activities!
To my UK followers!
You may have seen me dressed up as Henry VIII in The Sun this week. The story was about the launch of a new ITV prime-time show called The Big Audition. Each week, viewers will follow the struggles of a group of candidates vying for three very interesting jobs!
I decided to throw my hat in the ring for one of those jobs but I can’t go into any details ahead of transmission. You’re going to have to watch at 9pm on Friday, 5 October to find out what happened. Just to say it was great fun filming and I suspect you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Tune in and watch The Big Audition on ITV.
Cannibalism in the crusades – fact or fiction?
A special investigation into the question: is it true that crusaders ate human meat during the Crusades and were they even encouraged to do so? Your views and knowledge on this subject would be very welcome in the comments section. Now, read on…
The first years of the crusades were marked by butchery.
Even before recruits to this holy war had left their homeland, they would kick things off with a pogrom directed at the local Jewish population. In the so-called Rhineland Massacres, crusaders on their way to Jerusalem attacked Jews in towns throughout southern Germany. Many took their own lives rather than be subjected to the sacrilegious humiliation of enforced baptism.
This grim episode has been viewed as a medieval precursor of the 20th century holocaust of European Jews.
Accusation of cannibalism in Syria
When these rough and ready crusaders got to the east, things hardly got much better. For a monk who was rooting for the warriors of Christ, Fulcher of Chartres didn’t flinch from recording what would be termed war crimes in the modern age. In one alleged incident, earlier on in the First Crusade, he claimed that some Christian soldiers had cooked and eaten flesh from the bodies of dead Saracens at the Syrian town of Ma’arra.
This practice was also reported by Ralph of Caen, who claimed to have seen this grisly meal being prepared. Albert of Aix, another chronicler, added that along with Saracens, the crusaders were eating dogs too. But it was Guibert of Nogent who pointed an accusing finger at poor, bedraggled but extremely zealous crusaders he referred to as Tafurs.
These were the foot soldiers notionally under the control of nobles and princes who were leading the armies of God into the Middle East. But they appear to have been a law unto themselves, “barefoot, wearing sackcloth, being covered in sores and filth, and living on roots and grass”.
Wherever they went, they left a trail of devastation. Too poor to afford swords, they fought with clubs, knives, shovels, hatchets, catapults and pointed sticks. Their ferocity was legendary; the leaders of the crusade were unable to control them and never went among them without being armed, while the Muslims were terrified of the Tafurs.
Were the Tafurs practising cannibalism?
The word ‘Tafur’ is said to have come from a nobleman of that name who saw the vast army of beggars that arrived to join the First Crusade under the leadership of the charismatic French priest Peter the Hermit. Tafur was so moved by this sight that he forsook his fine clothes for rags and embraced a life of poverty.
It was also, apparently, Peter the Hermit who introduced Tafur and the unruly band he soon gathered around himself to the option of cannibalism as a way of enduring a long siege, such as the one at Antioch. The term ‘Paynim’ is Middle English slang for a pagan, specifically a Muslim:
Peter the holy Hermit, he sat before his tent
Then came to him the King Tafur, and with him fifty score
Of men-at-arms, not one of them but hunger gnawed him sore
“Thou holy Hermit, counsel us, and help us at our need;
Help, for God’s grace these starving men with wherewithal to feed”
But Peter answered, “Out, ye drones, a helpless pack that cry,
While all unburied round about the slaughtered Paynim lie.
A dainty dish is Paynim flesh, wth salt and roasting due.”
“Now, by my fay,” quoth King Tafur, “the Hermit sayeth true.”
The cartoonishly ghastly nature of these sadistic peasants has led some to wonder whether the Tafurs were a propaganda invention of the crusader nobility. By creating a devilish lower class stereotype motivated solely by greed and malice, this would divert attention from the equally appalling avarice and cruelty of the Christian aristocracy in the Holy Land.
Both Christian and Muslim writers painted a picture of the crusaders that hardly accorded with the idea of a war fought for a higher and noble purpose. Instead, this was brutish thuggery coated with a thin veneer of Catholic religiosity. A sad excuse for base and bestial behaviour.
Please share any more information you have about cannibalism during the Crusades.
In December 1170, the archbishop of Canterbury – Thomas Becket (often referred to as Thomas a Becket) – was assassinated at the altar of his cathedral. Four knights stormed in and cut him to pieces with their swords. One account even has the poor man’s brains spilling out on the ground.
Thomas had been a friend of the English king, Henry II. It’s fair to say that both men had strong tempers. But earlier on they had been the firmest of allies. When Henry ascended to the throne, Thomas became his Chancellor – the highest office in the land. And they were both bold reformers.
Thomas Becket disappoints his friend the king
So, Henry rather imagined that if he put his old mate Thomas into Canterbury as archbishop – the top cleric in England – then the church would be pretty much under his control. But the moment Thomas felt the mitre firmly on his head, he transformed into a staunch defender of church interests. Henry was horrified.
As things degenerated, Thomas was exiled then allowed to come back – which he repaid by ramping up his conflict with the king. Henry was beside himself and is supposed to have cried out: “Will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?” Well, four knights overheard Henry and took him at this word.
Off they went to Canterbury were they murdered Thomas while he was officiating at the high altar of the cathedral. Now, even by medieval standards, that was a brutal and sacrilegious act. And the pope in Rome was going to make sure that the English king did a whole heap of penance for this appalling act.
DISCOVER MORE: The Templars in America
King Henry does penance for the murder of Thomas Becket
Having been scourged at the tomb of Thomas – soon to be declared a saint – the humiliated king was absolved by the pope. But there were conditions. He was ordered to fund the upkeep of some 200 Templar knights in the Holy Land. This would have been an eye watering sum for any European monarch. It does appear that a significant amount of money was deposited with the Templars in London at that time.
The four knights who had killed the archbishop were meanwhile packed off on crusade to the Holy Land on what was in effect a 14 year prison sentence imposed by the pope. Some accounts say they were forced to live as hermits on the Black Mountain outside Antioch while one online source claims they became Knights Templar. None of the four assassins seems to have survived much more than three years in the Middle East.
It was also impressed on king Henry that he might want to pack his bags and go on crusade either to Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela (modern Spain). These were two parts of the world where Christians and Muslims were engaged in bitter warfare. Other princes had ventured out there, so why not Henry?
But he was less than enthusiastic. There was always the worry that his rebellious sons Richard (the future Lionheart) and John (of Magna Carta fame) would try to overthrow him the moment he left English shores. So Henry declined to go on crusade.
READ MORE: Secrets of the Knights Templar
The king may also have tried to renege on that pledge to fund 200 Templar knights. Instead, I’ve read that he offered the Templars land in newly acquired Ireland. Another Irish connection to this story is that one of the four murderers, Reginald FitzUrse, left the Holy Land at some point and ended up in Ireland.
There, he founded the McMahon clan (by ways I know not). Obviously being a McMahon myself – I find this most intriguing!
The force – the Templar force – will truly be with him!
The quest for the Holy Grail that began in season one will see Mark Hamill play a character called Talus, a crusader who has endured a decade in captivity. Actors Tom Forbes and Genevieve Gaunt will also be joining the cast in what seems to be a beefing up of the drama and commitment by the History channel to stick with the medieval knights!
You may also be aware that I appear in the accompanying documentary series Buried – in episode four to be precise. That’s when presenters Mikey Kay and Garth Baldwin arrive in Portugal on a Templar treasure hunt. We investigated caves in the Templar stronghold of Tomar to see if we could locate the Ark of the Covenant and any other booty – you’ll have to watch to see if we discovered anything!
And here’s a Star Wars/Templar related fact: it’s believed that George Lucas was originally going to call his sacred warriors Jedi Templars but then opted for knights.
You’ll have to wait until at least late 2019 to see Mark Hamill dressed as a Templar, by the way.
I’ll also be helping Jamie Theakston to investigate secret societies and the truth behind the Dead Sea Scrolls. I worked with the Forbidden History team previously in season four looking at the secret initiation rites of the Knights Templar and the accusations levelled against them at their trial.
So – tune in to Forbidden History – it’s great fun and if you’re trying to get your family engaged with historical topics, it’s accessible and engaging. Tell me what you think after watching the intrepid Jamie Theakston and his sidekick Tony McMahon!
Mogadouro is a town in northern Portugal that was once a centre of Templar activity. Now an impressive pile of stones balancing on a volcanic rock is the only clue to Mogadouro’s past.
Early in July this year, I returned to this part of Portugal from where my mother’s family originated – a rugged landscape in the north east that was once a battle ground between Islam and Christianity as well as between rival crusader armies.
The region is called Tras-os-Montes – behind the mountains – and I’ve always joked to cousins there that it’s a land of “Templars and Jews”. What I mean by that is that is the presence of the Knights Templar can be seen everywhere as can the cultural footprint left behind by Jews fleeing the Inquisition in neighbouring Spain.
In the town of Mogadouro, you can still see an impressive Templar fortress built in the first decades after the foundation of the order. What you have to remember is that a crusade was being fought on the Iberian peninsula at this time as half the land mass was under the control of a Muslim caliphate.
Mogadouro was also in the front line against neighbouring Spanish Christian kingdoms like Leon and Castile. They didn’t much welcome the emergence of a new kingdom called Portugal and its impetuous ruler Dom Afonso Henriques. He was connected by ties of blood to the Templar’s founders in Burgundy, France. It’s often speculated whether the creation of Portugal was indeed a Templar project to hit the Islamic world in its western flank.
The fort still looks impressive, as I hope my photos suggest. And it was lit up for a local festival to Saint Anne – the mother of Mary. Nearby is an ancient stone pillory with four strange protrusions at the top. I once asked a local farmer what they were for and he remarked blandly: “Oh, we used to hang the Jews from there”.
It is true that the Inquisition eventually caught up with the Jewish population after the Templars themselves had been crushed. They then faced forced conversion or the flames of execution. But there is still a dialect in that region, Mirandense, which some claim contains Hebrew references.
Here are some photos from my recent visit to the Templar fortress at Mogadouro. You can get there by taking the Douro train from Porto to Pocinho and then a coach from there.