So what do you cover a horse with – particularly one bearing a Templar knight? Let’s have a look at that horse…
The large cloth covering is called a ‘caparison’. The premium war horse was a destier while a rouncey was more of a bog standard horse. A Templar knight would more than likely have had a horse for daily riding and another for war duty. I think I’m right in saying – will check the Rule later – that Templar knights were entitled to three horses in total. Note that bridles and all horse equipment was without any ornamentation – plain and simple only.
So what did a Templar wear over his armour? Let’s look at a Templar on horseback and work out what he’s got on.
OK – we see the white mantle that distinguished Templar knights on the battlefield. Templar serjeants wore black mantles which were confusingly similar to the black mantles of the Knights Hospitaller – well, I think they were, you tell me different. From the papal Council of Troyes in 1129, the Templars were permitted to wear the white mantle but the red cross with equally sized arms was not added for nearly another twenty years. This was a decision made by pope Eugenius III in 1147 at the height of the second crusade and after intense lobbying by the Templar’s great champion Bernard of Clairvaux.
The white mantle is clearly a sign of purity while the cross is said to have been a symbol of martyrdom and as I’ve said before the Templars had a relish for the concept of martyrdom that we’d associate in our own time with Islamic fundamentalists. They venerated saints that had suffered gruesome martyrdom.
When in battle, the knights Templar – easily identifiable in their mantles – were often the last to leave the battlefield when other, secular knights, might have fled. Their mantles were not just items of clothing but religious habits, monastic garb. As such, they had to be looked after and tended respectfully and the Rule was clear that they couldn’t just be casually hung up at night. It was an absolute condition of being a monastic knight in the Templar order that their mantle was worn during the many prayers they were obligated to make during the day.
Templars also could have a cope – a hooded cloak that could be tied and fastened round the neck. Copes, mantles, cloaks were not allowed to have any ornamentation and the sort of fur lining worn by aristocrats was completely forbidden by the Rule.
Let’s do a head to foot tour of what a Templar knight would have worn as I notice from your Google searches that this is something many of you are interested in. Here is a waxwork I encountered on my travels of a Templar knight on horseback. This image, captured on my iPhone, is accurate to my knowledge. In this post – I’m going to talk about the headwear of a Templar.
What can we see? Starting with the headgear then. He is holding what seems to be a so-called ‘sugarloaf’ medieval helmet. A wrap around helmet protecting the entire head but with no visor. This places it in the 1200s. Prior to this, there would have been a more open helmet with a nose guard or triangular piece of metal protecting the face but leaving the sides of the head more exposed. Covering his head is a ‘coif’ of chain mail. This is like a metal balaclava that can be removed. Again, this puts it slightly later in Templar history in the 1200s. In the previous century, the head covering was part of one long piece of chain mail covering the head and trunk of the body and stretching down to the knees and was called a ‘hauberk’. Later in the 1300s, we see ‘aventails’ depicted a lot more – these were a flap of chain mail attached to the helmet rim that extended across the chin and covered the neck, leaving just the face exposed.
We move a hundred years forward from the suppression of the Templar order to an incident that illustrates the horrors of medieval war. By the fifteenth century, knights were kitted out in the heavy plate armour that most people associate with the medieval period. Though Templars never wore such cumbersome sheets of metal.
From the end of the Templar period and for the next century – the English waged a long and bloody war against the French. This culminated in the brilliant though hugely expensive and ultimately unsuccessful battles fought by Henry V. In 1417, he laid siege to Caen – ancestral seat of the Norman kings who had ruled England from 1066.
It meant a lot to get Caen back in to the Norman/Angevin/English empire. So a vicious battle was fought and the city eventually taken. But not before one hapless knight called Sir Edmund Springhouse had a little accident in his full armour.
The problem was – well, you try climbing a scaling ladder up the side of a castle wall with who knows what being thrown down at you while you are wearing a full suit of armour. Poor Sir Edmund lost his footing and fell to the ground very painfully.
Encased in his heavy armour and probably having broken something like a leg or arm, he couldn’t get up. But worse was that he now found himself surrounded by enemy French troops who took one look at him and decided to inflict what can only be described as a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.
They heaped hay and straw on his prone and groaning figure – largely obscured from view by his armour and helmet – and then set the material on fire. Unable to rise, Sir Edmund was duly roasted alive inside what should have been a protective suit of armour. What a gruesome way to go!
This isn’t a Templar but elements of the armor are similar to what a knight of the Order would have worn in the twelfth century – when the Templars were founded. Note, there is no helmet with a moveable visor – not a common feature of armor until the next century.
The one piece chain mail extending over the head is the norm. And the kite shield one normally associates with the Normans is still a standard piece of kit.
There’s no fancy helmets or suits of armor with plates of steel that are worn in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Boots are much simpler that the footwear that will follow in the centuries ahead and the Templar used swords with minimal ornamentation.