The Templar Knight

History podcasts on the way – lockdown relief!

Many of my friends are going stir crazy with quarantine lockdown but we all realise this is the only way to challenge this terrible threat. Sadly, I’ve had a couple of friends in intensive care but the good news is – they pulled through and recovered from the Coronavirus.

So, we all have to make the best use of those lockdown hours at home. And finally, I’ve decided to get on with the podcasts that some of you have been asking me to do for years.

The camera equipment is bought and podcast episodes have been mapped out – some great and fun history content. What I really want is your input once we get going. It’s no fun being a lone blogger or podcaster – you need to hear the audience reaction. Even, folks, if it’s negative. Not a problem for me.

Therefore, I’m going to stop watching endless Netflix series and create something. Would you like to see where I’ll be filming from? Well – here’s a sneak peek below…

In the podcast “studio”

Templars at the guillotine – myth or reality?

One of the most curious stories about the Knights Templar may have been fabricated hundreds of years after they were crushed – by a French Freemason who was the illegitimate son of the penultimate king of France, Louis XV.

This is a bizarre tale of revolution, the Illuminati, Freemasons, Templars and two famous deaths by execution. The two executed individuals were the last Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay, burned to death in the year 1314, and the last King of France, Louis XVI (son of Louis XV) guillotined in 1793.

So – here’s the curious story: We need to go back two hundred years to the French Revolution when the monarchy had been overthrown, a Republic declared and the last monarch had been sentenced to death. Louis XVI was accused of conspiring with foreign powers to restore himself to the throne. That was the last straw for the revolutionaries who voted to behead the hapless king on a charge of treason.

Templar at the guillotine – or was it a Freemason?

One wintry day he was led from his prison – a huge fortress that, ironically, had been built by the Knights Templar as their French HQ centuries before. At the moment that Louis XVI lost his head on the guillotine on 21 January 1793, a man in the crowd watching this gory spectacle allegedly yelled:

“Jacques de Molay you are avenged!”

The story runs that this man was most likely a clandestine Templar descended from the original medieval knights. Part of a secret brotherhood that deliberately fomented chaos and plotted bloody revolution. And his cry referred to a curse put on the French monarch by De Molay just before the fire was started that would consume his body.

The old Templar Grand Master asked for his hands to be untied so he could pray as he burned and prophesied to those present that both King Philip IV (who had ordered his execution) and the compliant Pope Clement would soon be dead as well.

DISCOVER MORE: Where was Jacques de Molay executed in Paris?

King and Pope did indeed die shortly after. But was the guillotining of Philip’s successor as king 450 years later anything to do with De Molay’s curse. And did this incident of the man in the crowd uttering such words actually happen?

Illegitimate Freemason concocts the story

The source for this story is a strange chap called Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt (1769 – 1821). His father was a renowned chemist but it seems that in reality his mother, Francoise Basselet, had become pregnant with Charles as a result of a fling with the King of France – Louis XV (grandfather of the beheaded Louis XVI).

Charles’ official father was enraged at what the king had done and never forgave the libidinous monarch – which might explain why Charles, as a young man, became a very enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution in 1789, which overthrew the monarchy and declared a Republic.

Throughout this period, Charles (pictured below) was a Freemason. In 1794, he became the Master of a Lodge in Paris. And like many revolutionaries, he despised the Roman Catholic church, organised religion and religious orders like the Jesuits. He supported attempts to de-Christianise France and to launch a new official state cult based on the God of Reason.

But his revolutionary enthusiasm didn’t last. Charles became disillusioned by the so-called Reign of Terror – when hundreds of aristocrats and alleged plotters were beheaded on the notorious guillotine. He watched with increasing dismay as the huge blade decapitated countless princes and dukes.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the revolution then started to devour its own children. Revolutionaries turned on each other with death sentences passed on men who had once been heroes like Danton and Robespierre. Even Charles had to flee after being suspected of counter-revolutionary sentiments.

Templar conspirators pretending to be Freemasons to blame

Though he remained a Freemason and was broadly supportive of the revolution, Charles tried to make sense of what had gone wrong in France. Why had there been a turn to mass bloodshed and cruelty? Who was responsible?

In a 1796 book called Le Tombeau de Jacques Molay (the tomb of Jacques de Molay), he pointed an accusing finger at a determined conspiracy of undercover Templars and Illuminati bent on creating chaos and destruction. These 18th century Templars had burrowed their way into some Masonic lodges united by an oath to “exterminate all Kings” and to “destroy the power of the Pope”.

The Masonic lodges under Templar control had links to similar underground lodges in Italy, Germany and England. They had formulated some of the key concepts of the French revolution including the notion of equality and – the red, white and blue of the French flag that still exists today.

Charles explained in his book:

“The true Templar Freemasons are eight hundred lodges about the Earth bent on vengeance, ambition and their system and have sworn to massacre kings for the independence of the world.”

Charles went on to assert that these contemporary Templars spread fear of conspiracies that didn’t actually exist. They created a sense of impending danger when there was nothing to actually worry about. All of this designed to create revolutionary instability. And when their own activities were occasionally uncovered – they would accuse their opponents of being the real trouble makers.

Charles also alleged that a certain Italian nobleman called Count Alessandro di Cagliostro had been inducted into the Bavarian Illuminati and was the Templar emissary to Paris stirring dissent behind the scenes to advance the Templar agenda.

This was definitely questionable.

The real Calgliostro was a low-born conman from Sicily called Giuseppe Balsamo who toured Europe fooling the gullible with tales about himself and he made up the Illuminati connection while on trial and facing a death sentence in Rome. Cagliostro also invented a branch of Freemasonry he called “Egyptian”, which had one positive aspect – it allowed women to join and hold senior positions. So Charles was essentially bigging-up a known fraudster.

Evil Templar run Freemason lodges versus other Masons

Charles claimed the malign Masonic Templars were called Amis Reunis and included top revolutionaries like the aforementioned Robespierre and Danton. Neither of them were around to deny this by the time Charles made these claims having had their heads removed in public.

So why did the Amis Reunis inject such a bloodthirsty tone into the French Revolution? Because, Charles explained, they saw themselves as part of an unbroken line to the original medieval Knights Templar. Therefore, they were intent on destroying the Bastille – where they believed Jacques de Molay had been imprisoned – and claiming the life of the King of France as an act of revenge.

I’m happy to be put right by any Masons out there. But my reading of Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt is that he didn’t think all Freemasons were implicated in dark and murderous plots – only those who saw themselves as latter-day Templars. And he believed they had now become very numerous like a “Hydra of a hundred heads” and had seized control of the French Revolution for their own ends.

Even at the time, this incendiary book with its claim of Templar conspiracies to overthrow the monarchy came under sharp criticism. So much so that shortly before his death, Charles wrote a follow-up tome justifying his claims again.

He repeated his allegation that the radical Jacobin faction during the French revolution had been set up by Masons and the Illuminati and that the Templars had been a driving force behind the French Revolution.

Templar or Freemason or neither at the guillotine?

All of which brings us to a man shouting “Jacques de Molay you are avenged!” at the guillotining of King Louis XVI in 1793. I’d always assumed this story was intended to be sympathetic to the Knights Templar. A way of saying that you don’t mess with these heroic knights without some consequences.

But what it really seems to have been is a yarn spun by Charles and his supporters to prove that wicked latter-day Templars were behind the bloody chaos of the French revolution. And that they had to be stopped from causing more mass violence in the future.

Satan gave us the Holy Grail – and it was a stone

Satan and the Holy Grail

So we all know that the Holy Grail might have been a cup featured in the Last Supper and used to collect blood from Jesus while he hung on the cross. Or, conversely, the Holy Grail is actually the bloodline of Jesus – an unbroken chain of descendants from the children of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. But what if it was none of these things and was actually a magical stone?

But what if the Holy Grail actually originated with Satan – the lord of all darkness? And it was a stone!

Let me run you through the theory in outline. The New Testament ends with a very strange and apocalyptic section called the Book of Revelation. it describes a war that raged in heaven when the Devil attempted to overthrow God. The Archangel Michael leads the good angels against the rebel angels whose leader, the soon-to-be Devil, is often referred to as Lucifer.

Lucifer was incredibly beautiful and gifted and God favoured him above all the other angels. His fondness for Lucifer is what made the angel’s betrayal that much worse. Is this mentioned in the bible? Not exactly. It’s an account that has evolved over the centuries. But it’s loosely based on a few verses in Ezekiel where a very angry God (isn’t he always in the Old Testament?) lays out what terrible punishments he intends to inflict on the King of Tyre – an implacable enemy of the Israelites.

These verses touch on the king’s beauty and wisdom, how his pride will be his ruin and how his downfall will be full of agony and torment. Curiously, at one point, the passage refers to the king as having been in the Garden of Eden. That clearly was unlikely – unless he’d lived to an astonishing age. And this is what has been seized on to suggest that the King of Tyre isn’t really the subject of these verses at all. It’s therefore assumed by some that God is instead referring at this point to none other than Satan.

FIND OUT MORE: Was cannibalism practised in the Crusades?

The Holy Grail as a stone – popping out of Satan’s head!

As a result of rebelling, Satan was ejected from the heavens with considerable force. And as he tumbled down to his new realm of hell, a stone popped out of his crown and hurtled to the earth. This is the so-called Lapis Exillis. And it’s this magical pebble which is mentioned by the medieval author and knight, Wolfram von Eschenbach. He wrote his own version of the legend of the Arthurian legend called Parzival. And in this tale of valiant warriors, he refers to the Templars and the sacred stone they guarded – the Lapis Exillis – also known as the Grail.

One of the properties of this stone was that merely by sitting on top of it, the legendary Phoenix was firstly burnt to a crisp and then reborn from magical flames. Even human beings who gazed upon the stone were incapable of dying for a week. And if you stuck around the stone long enough, you might endure for two hundred years without ever ageing.

In this account then, we have a stone that brings the Phoenix back to life and stops people from ageing, which is guarded by Templar knights. Eschenbach was indeed a contemporary of the Knights Templar and did service as a crusader in the Holy Land. This has given rise to the idea that not only did he rub shoulders with Templars but got wind of the strange and secret rites they indulged in – which he wove into his Parzival epic.

The Holy Grail stone is called Lapis Exillis

The name of the stone – Lapis Exillis – has generated lots of detective work. Different theories basically on what the Latin means. One notion is that the words should be read: lapis de coelis. If you did Latin at school, you’ll know that roughly translates as ‘stone from heaven’. I now anticipate a hail of abuse from Latin grammarians yelling that ain’t true. But – indulge me for a moment – because it would give rise to the idea that the stone was an astronomical phenomenon.

You see – some have speculated that the stone that fell from the Devil’s crown was a meteorite. They point to the frequency of meteor worship in ancient cultures from ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire. Take for example the wayward teenage Roman emperor Elagabalus (pictured below) who brought an object called the Black Stone of Emesa and its high priest to be worshipped in the city. He was later murdered by the Praetorian Guard but the stone shows an already established cult around meteors.

Today in Mecca, millions of Muslims venerate a black stone at the Kaaba that some claim is a meteor – though that is disputed. It clearly originated in pre-Islamic Arabia and has somehow been integrated into the holiest place in Islam. Important to say the black stone is not worshipped as an idol. But there it is – a meteor in Mecca still venerated by pilgrims every year.

Objects that fall from heaven with sacred power is a recurring theme in ancient mythology. A wooden figure of the goddess Pallas Athene was said to have fallen from the skies. It was used to protect the city of Troy and later reputedly ended up in Rome where it guaranteed the strength of the empire.

Long before the Roman empire was founded, the city was ruled by Etruscan kings and the second of these kings – Numa Pompilius – possessed a magical shield called the Ancile that fell from heaven. Several Roman writers described it including Ovid, Livy and Suetonius. Ovid described the moment when Numa, wearing a white hood, begged the god Jupiter to send him holy weapons and as he implored, the skies raged furiously with thunder, then “yawned” and a shield landed at the king’s feet.

So – the Holy Grail as a magical stone that fell as a fireball from above. Any takers?

Templar revenge on the corpse of King Philip!

Is it possible that the Knights Templar exacted a terrible revenge on the corpse of their arch enemy King Philip of France? He was the monarch who crushed the knights in 1307. But centuries later, Philip’s remains were thoroughly desecrated. His skeleton was treated like garbage. So, was this the fulfilment of a Templar curse?

I have just visited the Basilica of St Denis on the outskirts of Paris. It’s in a working class suburb – a little out of place these days. A medieval church slap bang in the middle of a 1970s shopping precinct.

Much of it was destroyed in the French Revolution of 1789 while the surrounding area took a pounding during the Second World War – and from post-war town planners.

St Denis – scene of Templar revenge against King Philip of France?

All the Kings and Queens of France were buried in this 12th century building – constructed on the site of an even more ancient Christian church – and possibly a pagan temple before that. The tombs included the last resting place of King Philip IV of France – referred to as “the Fair”.

But he wasn’t very fair to the Knights Templar. In fact he crushed them in the year 1307 and seized their assets. His final cruel act was to have the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burnt to death near Notre Dame cathedral.

FIND OUT MORE: Why did King Philip of France crush the Templars?

But maybe the Templars had the last laugh from their graves. Because 450 years after Philip died, his body – and those of other French monarchs – was dug up and flung into a common grave.

This was during the French Revolution when the Paris mob wanted to wipe out everything associated with the old regime. As a consequence, they pillaged the royal tombs at the basilica of St Denis – graves that dated back countless centuries. And Philip was not spared.

DISCOVER: The Templars in America – true or false?

Here I am wandering around St Denis, giving you an exclusive look at a church that is hard to get to – but worth seeing.

Rob Riggle Global Investigator seeks the Holy Grail

I am appearing as a contributor on the new Discovery channel history investigation series Rob Riggle Global Investigator presented by Mr Riggle – who you will have seen previously on Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show as well as several comedy movies.

He brings his comedic talents, military background and ability to connect with TV audiences to this new fun history series. I was honoured to be asked to appear with Rob on his special investigation into the Holy Grail.

We filmed at Kilwinning Abbey – a Scottish ruined medieval structure. It has an amazing history. The church most likely started out as the modest dwelling of one or more monks who had come to convert the area to Christianity. One theory is that the original missionaries came from Ireland – which is highly plausible. There are strong cultural and ethnic ties between Ireland and Scotland. Take it from me – I’m half Irish!

The abbey fell foul of the Protestant Reformation – hence its current lamentable condition. The town enthusiastically embraced the new Protestant religion and still does to the present day – though with unfortunate consequences. It has both a strong Freemason and Orange Order presence.

The Masons claim direct descent from those stonecutters who built the abbey. But that doesn’t mean they have any empathy towards the Catholic religion to which their ancestors adhered. The town boasts a number of Orange Order lodges – I saw two. And Kilwinning had a reputation – even in Scotland – for being rather hostile to Catholics. There’s one story – reported in The Herald newspaper – that somebody was barred from entry to a pub for having a green car. Green being the colour of Irish (Catholic) Republicanism.

FIND OUT MORE: Check out my other TV appearances

But back to the Knights Templar. Some believe that when the Templars fled the wrath of the King of France – they ended up in Scotland with their treasure. So we went hunting to see what we could find! There are reputedly secret tunnels under Kilwinning – one of them leading from my hotel. But for some curious reason, the hotel owner has built a toilet over the tunnel entrance. I have no idea why!

DISCOVER: How medieval stories go from book to movie to video game

Anyway – enjoy!! And tune into Rob Riggle Global Investigator!

Murder of Thomas Becket at Christmas!

Thomas Becket was a hugely popular saint in the medieval period. He was murdered on 29 December 1170 by a group of soldiers who thought they were pleasing the king. After his death, claims were made of miracles performed in his name and he was eventually declared a saint. As his murder happened on 29 December, this meant that Christians paused their Christmas festivities to honour Thomas Becket.

What made his murder so shocking was that Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the most senior cleric in the English church. Nobody had ever dared to kill such a man. Even in the brutality of the Middle Ages. Yet, just a few days after Christmas Day, Becket was hacked to pieces at his altar. The attack was so savage that his brains reportedly spilt on to the floor.

Remembering Thomas Becket at Christmas

Before the Industrial Revolution two hundred years ago, we were a rural society. And holidays were more frequent and longer. That certainly applied to Christmas where people celebrated for twelve days – starting on 25 December and ending on 6 January. This was nearly a fortnight of raucous drinking and feasting. On the final day, there would be a Twelfth Night cake bringing the Yuletide feasting to an end.

FIND OUT MORE: How did the Templars celebrate Christmas?

Celebrating the murder of Thomas Becket at Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, Christians paused in their merry making to remember Thomas Becket – killed on that day in his cathedral. This had been an act of sacrilege against the church and an appalling act to commit during Christmas.

It really was a misjudged act of violence. The murderous knights thought their act would please King Henry II of England who had fallen out badly with Thomas Becket. The two men once been friends. But Henry wanted more control over the church and Thomas proved to be uncooperative. This made Henry furious – and he had a notoriously foul temper.

In a fit of anger, the king yelled:

“Will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest!”

And so the Christmas murder of Thomas Becket was set in motion. Four knights – Richard FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton – took Henry at his word. Eager to please their sovereign lord, they made their way to Canterbury and committed the terrible deed. The date of their crime was the 29 December.

FIND OUT MORE: Top ten heresies against the Catholic church

That was the fifth day of the twelve days of Christmas. As the shocking news spread across Christendom, there was a widespread clamour to make Thomas a saint. And so he was canonised by the pope not long after his death. The 29 December became his special day and a time when Christians would put down their festive food and drink to commemorate a bloody murder in Canterbury in the year 1170.

Strange Evidence – new series with me on Discovery!

Last Friday, I was filming for the next series of Strange Evidence which will be broadcast on Discovery Science in 2020. In case you missed the last series of Strange Evidence – we look at filmed material of bizarre phenomena and test out several theories as to what is happening.

Now – I can’t give anything away of course, but it’s going to be an amazing series. So, keep your eyes peeled for it. I’ll also be appearing with Saturday Night Live veteran Rob Riggle on Discovery next year and a new series of Forbidden History, which has moved from UKTV to Discovery.

I’m all over Discovery basically!!

DISCOVER MORE: Did you catch me on History talking Templars?

You will also catch me on History where I’ll be talking about the Knights Templar once more – I’ll give you more details when that appears. All very exciting. Here I am filming last week.

Templars accused of pollution and dumping

This is one of the most unexpected stories I’ve discovered about the Knights Templar. In 1306, the Templars were accused of dumping waste into the river Fleet in London – a gross and irresponsible act of urban pollution.

A year later, they’d have bigger things to worry about when the King of France issued arrest warrants and imprisoned hundreds of Templar knights. But in 1306 in London, their main concern was a serious accusation by Henry Lacy, the Earl of Lincoln.

The earl was furious at the Templars – accusing them of blocking the river Fleet by building a water mill. The Fleet was a tributary of the river Thames that’s now invisible to Londoners. In the 19th century it was roofed over and today flows through the city’s sewers. But in the medieval period, it was a busy waterway along the edge of the ancient city walls of London.

In the 1180s, the Templars had abandoned their original headquarters to move closer to both the river Fleet and the much bigger river Thames. The rushing water could power a mill and help with their commercial activities. But in the 1240s, a group of Carmelite friars – the White Friars as they were known – moved in nearby. They complained about the polluting activities of the Templars ten years before the Earl of Lincoln.

DISCOVER MORE: Medieval friars who wrote about the Templars

In 1290, the White Friars claimed that the stench from the river was so bad as a result of Templar pollution that some of their brothers had died from the unhealthy aroma (disease was believed to be caused by evil smells). And they told the king that the stink was so bad that even the frankincense they burned during holy mass couldn’t mask it.

In truth though, the friars were always moaning about something – and accusing other people of causing problems of their own making. Plus, it was very likely in their interests to undermine the Templars. Because after the Knights Templar were destroyed, the White Friars muscled in on their role as political power brokers and bankers.

In 1307, a commission was eventually set up to look at why the River Fleet had become so filthy. And it turned out that the culprits were the butchers and leather workers further upstream at Smithfield meat market. They were involved in tanning animal skins, which was a filthy and pretty disgusting process. It was these people, and not the Templars, who had been engaged in systematic pollution of the Fleet.

But regrettably by then – the Knights Templar had been shut down by order of the Pope.

Did the Pope try to save the Knights Templar?

The normal account of what happened to the Templars is that King Philip of France – greedy for their wealth – crushed the knights with the active help of a compliant pope who did what he was told. But is that true?

Clement V was a pope in a weak position. His predecessor, Boniface VIII, had tried to stand up to King Philip and had literally been beaten to a pulp by Philip’s minister Guillaume de Nogaret and a band of French troops.

So, Clement had no wish to suffer that fate. In addition, he had been forced to flee Rome because of the city’s poisonous politics and the papacy had moved to the city of Avignon – right on the doorstep of King Philip. But this doesn’t appear to have meant that the pope was entirely in Philip’s velvet pocket.

FIND OUT MORE: My visit to Notre Dame just before the fire

Pope has second thoughts about crushing the Knights Templar

In the year that followed the arrest of the Templars – on the orders of King Philip – the pope began to doubt that they were guilty of anything. In February 1308, he even told his inquisitors to rein in their investigations. Needless to say – King Philip was furious.

Not only did he meet Pope Clement in person to deliver a thinly veiled threat – but began what we would now call a PR campaign to trash Clement’s reputation. De Nogaret had anonymous tracts questioning the suitability of the pope circulated around the country. These poison pen letters said that:

  • The people of France were greatly angered by the pope ignoring the terrible things the Templars had done behind closed doors (sodomy, heresy, etc)
  • Pope Clement had only admonished the Templars “in words” and that just wasn’t good enough
  • This pope was corrupt, giving powerful positions in the church to members of his family including a nephew (most likely an illegitimate son)
  • The crimes of the Templars are so grave and terrible that the church isn’t fit to judge them and the prosecution should be conducted by the French king
  • They should suffer the same fate as that meted out by the prophet Moses to those of his Jewish followers he found worshipping a golden calf

“Are not all these Templars homicides or fautores, sustainers, accomplices and receivers of homicides, damnably uniting with them apostates and murderers?”

Pope Clement was still minded to defend the Knights Templar who had been so loyal and brave in defending Christendom but then an event played into King Philip’s hands. A Templar being held in a papal prison escaped. Oliver of Penne, the preceptor of Lombardy, broke a promise to the pope to be a good prisoner and made a run for it.

King Philip was then able to throw up his hands and basically say: Well, look at that excuse for a pope – can’t even keep one Templar behind bars, let alone two thousand!

And with that – papal attempts to stop King Philip destroying the Knights Templar faded.

The mystery of the Templars and the magical cord

When the Knights Templar were arrested and imprisoned they were accused of a whole range of stuff including worshipping idols – and particularly heads. It was alleged that they touched these sacred heads with a cord that they then wore at all times.

The head was often alleged to have been a strange being called Baphomet – which some believed was the devil and others have asserted was the prophet Muhammed. And then another claim is that the head was that of John the Baptist.

But it’s this thing about a magical cord I find very odd. And the idea that such a notion would shock medieval public opinion. How outrageous that these knights paraded around with a magical cord around their waists! To us, it seems almost comical that anybody would find this shocking.

So, what were the accusers trying to tap into? What significance did this small piece of rope have for people seven hundred years ago?

The Knights Templar were accused of wearing a magical cord that proved they were either influenced by Islam or the Cathars as Tony McMahon discovers

Some commentators have wondered whether talk of this magical cord was supposed to infer that the Knights Templar had absorbed Muslim ideas picked up in the Middle East. Others think that it referenced rituals developed by the Cathar heretics in southern France – who I have blogged a great deal about so look it up!

Cords similar to those that the Templars were said to wear may have featured in the Consolamentum – a sacrament practised by the Cathars and condemned by the Catholic church. The Cathars rejected all the Catholic sacraments as they denied the doctrine of the Resurrection and the Catholic definition of redemption.

DISCOVER MORE: Were the Knights Templar actually Cathars?

Why associate the Templars with the Cathars? What the French king was trying to do was tarnish the reputation of the knights and paint them as un-Christian. By doing so, he could justify seizing their lands and treasure – assuring people it was the right and Christian thing to do.

And reference to a magical cord was part of this propaganda campaign.