The Dark Truths of the Templars – watch me on TV expose some secrets

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 15.10.47I will be appearing as a guest several times in a special edition of Forbidden History devoted to exposing the secrets of the Knights Templar. Presented by Jamie Theakston and broadcast on UKTV/Yesterday TV, Forbidden History asks the questions you have all been dying to know the answers to.

 

I will be discussing:

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 15.08.08
Me on Forbidden History: The Dark Truths of the Templars (Yesterday TV/UKTV)
  • The trial of the Knights Templar in 1307
  • Pagan rituals that may have become part of the Templar rites
  • How did the Templars become so rich, so quickly?
  • Were the Templars influenced by eastern ideas?
  • Did they reject church authority?
  • Why was such violence used to put down the Templars?
  • The way in which the order was wiped out

 

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Ten best medieval TV series

Like most of you – I love watching historical TV series.  Even the ones that are a little suspect from a factual point of view.  Some lists of medieval TV series include stuff I wouldn’t regard as being strictly medieval.  Hope I’m a bit more authentic here.  We’ve been spoilt in the recent past so let’s look at what we’ve been offered.

PILLARS OF THE EARTH

Pillars of the Earth brought us a murderous romp from the civil war that engulfed England under the reign of King Stephen. This was the beginning of the Templar era and a very violent time for England, often called the great anarchy. I loved this series – absolutely faultless.

THE DEVIL’S CROWN

This was a BBC series about the Plantagenet kings that never got repeated after a controversial airing in the late 70s. It’s quite violent in parts including a very disturbing castration. The style is a bit dated but to get to grips with English history at the time of the Templars, I can’t recommend this enough.

DA VINCI’S DEMONS

Total nonsense about a young Leonardo da Vinci on a quest to find the “book of leaves”.  From the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. It’s a compelling watch and I look forward to season three in 2015.

GAME OF THRONES

It’s mythical, Tolkein with attitude and full of gory violence – but strangely, it captures the flavour of the Middle Ages quite well.  Full of court intrigue and belief in strange beings that dwell in the forests, what’s not to like as a medievalist?

WORLD WITHOUT END

Like Pillars of the Earth, this comes from the pen of Ken Follett – only now we’ve moved about 150 years ahead. This is the reign of Edward III and again, it’s after another civil war. The last king, Edward II, has been killed….or has he?  Edward II, by the way, was the last king to preside over the Knights Templar before they were crushed.

THE WHITE QUEEN

BBC drama series takes us to the War of the Roses – the bloody end to the Middle Ages in England when the aristocracy tore itself to pieces. This focuses on the strong women who emerged in this conflict.

MERLIN

Merlin had a long grey beard when I was a kid but the BBC re-imagined him as a youth for this very dynamic and rather scary kids series.

THIBAUD

Whassat? I hear you say. This was a 1960s French TV series about a crusader – I just like the theme tune to be honest!

ARABIAN KNIGHTS

This cartoon series was part of the goofy 1960s/70s kids show Banana Splits – it completely conditioned my view of the saracens.

THE TUDORS

I was brought up to believe that the Middle Ages ended at the Battle of Bosworth and you couldn’t really call the Tudors medieval.  But I think that view might be simplistic. The Tudors were as much medieval as modern and so I’ve included the delightful Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives.

Many of these TV series exerted a huge influence on the writing of my Templar novel Quest for the True Cross which you can download on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback in the US and UK. See if you can spot the TV historical influences! And watch the book trailer promo video here:

Discipline in a Knight Templar squadron

It’s almost amusing to read the Templar Rule on how a Templar squadron should behave on crusade.  Basically, the Templars were required to ride in silence and not break rank unless given explicit permission to do so.  No bawdy songs or idle chatter – the Templars really were boy scouts.  What a contrast they must have been to the secular knights.

Even if a Templar saw somebody being attacked by a Saracen, there was a strict procedure to follow in how he conducted himself.  Just read this from the Rule:

“And if it happens by chance that any Christian acts foolishly, and any Turk attacks him in order to kill him, and he is in peril of death, and anyone who is in that area wishes to leave his squadron to help him, and his conscience tells him that he can assist him, he may do so without permission, and then return to his squadron quietly and in silence.”

So having stuck his sword in to a Saracen’s head, a Templar couldn’t come back panting and whooping shouting ‘ya see what I did there!’.   No – he had to be calm and stoic and continue riding in silence.  If he did charge off from his squadron “justice will be done even as far as going on foot to the camp and taking from him all that may be taken from him except his habit”.

 

Terrifying the enemy in medieval sieges

English: Capture of Jerusalem during the First...
English: Capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, 1099, from a medieval manuscript Deutsch: Mittelalterliches Gemälde der Belagerung Jerusalems durch die Kreuzfahrer 1099 Suomi: Jerusalemin valtaus 1099. Keskiaikaisen käsikirjoituksen kuvitusta. Polski: Zdobycie Jerozolimy podczas I krucjaty (1099 r.) – rysunek ze średniowiecznego rękopisu Italiano: Conquista di Gerusalemme durante la Prima Crociata, nel 1099, da un manoscritto medievale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ending a siege as quickly as possible was always a good idea with both those inside and outside the castle needing to maintain supplies and fend off disease.  The weapons employed to wear down your enemy were as much psychological as physical.  What you wanted to do to your enemy was to destroy their morale, their will to fight.

Lobbing the severed heads of captured soldiers over the castle wall – in either direction – was a favoured tactic.  This might include the hapless messenger who might have his head send back with the enemy response written on a piece of parchment and nailed to his head.  In 1344, the English were fighting to hold on to Gascony and one of their soldiers tried to break through the French lines with a request for more assistance.  He was captured and the poor man was catapulted alive back in to the castle he had sneaked out of.

At the siege of Nicaea in the First Crusade, the heads of Saracens were impaled before the city walls by the crusaders and others catapulted over the battlements.   It was quite common to execute prisoners in front of the enemy with a mass hanging calculated to dent morale.  Louis VI castrated and disemboweled captives and floated them down the river on barges to be met by their former comrades in besieged Rouen.

One Byzantine emperor blinded a captured Bulgar army save for one in every ten men – who kept a single eye, to lead the others back.  When this appalling spectacle returned to the Bulgar king, he apparently dropped dead on the spot (according to the Byzantine telling of it of course).  A similar tactic was used by De Montfort in the crusade against the Albigensian heresy.  He cut off the upper lips and noses of a captured garrison and blinded them – leaving some with an eye to lead them to the next castle as a warning of what happened if you resisted De Montfort.

If the enemy began to ram the walls, then they might be discouraged if captured prisoners were dangled – alive – in front of the attacking army.  One medieval king attempted to protect his siege towers from attack by mangonels on the city walls by tying live prisoners to the front of the machines.  We talk about ‘human shields’ now in warfare but in the Middle Ages, they were very, very literal.  Apparently, this ruse did not work and the siege towers came under renewed attack.  One account says that the youths tied to the siege towers died very slowly and “miserably, struck by the stones”.

Those throwing the stones at their captured comrades did so with tears in their eyes.  They were horrified at having to attack these young soldiers being used as a human shield.  “They crushed their chests, their stomachs and their heads and bone and mushy brain were mixed together”.  One can imagine that the defenders might have even tried to hurry the deaths of their comrades by taking special aim at them.

A properly provisioned walled city or castle complex could hold out for up to a year.  Day after day they could rain down rocks, boiling oil and arrows on the besiegers.  With proper preparation and weapons to hand, it could be the army outside the walls who suffered disease and hunger first and not those holed up behind the battlements.

Life for the besieged might get uncomfortable but with a stiff upper lip (providing you still had one!), you could see off the enemy.

Here is a medieval battle re-enactment in the Czech Republic: