A unique glimpse of the everyday life of the Knights Templar

everyday lifeProfessor Helen Nicholson is a globally recognised expert on the Knights Templar. I’m very honoured to be sharing a platform with her at the Bradford Literature Festival on 30 June, 2018 discussing all things Templar related.

Ahead of that, I want to bring to your attention Helen’s most recent book that reveals the daily life of the Knights Templar – with fascinating insights. The book is called The Everyday Life of the Templars and I heartily recommend it.

What did the Knights Templar eat and drink? What was their daily routine? If you could be transported back to a Templar preceptory (one of their rural estates), what would you have seen going on?

Well, to give you a flavour of the answers to those questions to be found in her book, I’ve just interviewed Helen and here – exclusively for my users – she gives some glimpses of the secretive life of the Knights Templar. To find out even more, you’ll of course have to get a copy of her compelling read from Amazon and other online retailers.

So, here is Professor Nicholson in conversation with me:

What motivated you to write a book about the everyday life of the Templars?

I have been researching the surviving inventories and records of the Templar estates in Britain and Ireland from the period from the Templars’ arrest early in 1308 until the point when the estates were handed over to the Hospitallers. The inventories from Ireland and the sole inventory from Wales were published many years ago but the records from England remain unpublished. There is an enormous amount of information about the crops being grown on the Templars’ estates, the livestock being raised, the people employed there, manufacture of cheese, butter, cider, wine, which brothers were living in each Templar house and the other people who lived there. So the records give an insight into life in these Templar properties early in the fourteenth century. Other scholars have studied similar records from the Templar properties in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. So I thought it would be interesting to draw this material together to give wide picture of how the Templars and their tenants and workers would have lived.

Where did you find most of the source material, given the Templars didn’t write much about themselves?

When the Templars were arrested, full inventories were made of their properties. Their properties were administered by royal or church officials, until the pope decided the fate of the Order. Many of these records survive: from England & Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula. They give a snapshot of what was in the Templars’ properties on the day the Templars were arrested, and an ongoing picture of day-to-day activity over the next few years. Many records were not retained, or have been mislaid or destroyed, but enough survives to give an overall picture.

If we had visited a preceptory in the 13th century – what activity would we have seen going on?

There would not have been many Templars living in each house; most preceptories/commanderies in England were home to only four brothers or fewer, and many were leased out to tenants and had no Templars in residence. The rural commanderies/preceptories were like manor houses, running the estate farm. The farm workers would have been busy maintaining the fields and crops, taking care of the livestock and doing maintenance around the estate. The cook would be making potage (a type of oat porridge) for the workers’ daily meal. There might be a clerk attached to the commandery who kept the day-to-day records. There would have been household servants looking after the house. Any Templars in residence would have administered the estate, holding the manor court, ensuring rent was paid, farm work was done, workers were hired and paid as necessary. There would also be non-Templars living in the house: some of them were former Templar employees who now received a pension, while others had made a donation to the Templars in return for food and lodging for the rest of their lives. In addition, the Templars had wide networks of supporters who could come into their houses to make donations or transact other business. Some Templar houses had valuable religious relics which pilgrims would come to see. Travellers would come to find lodging, and Templar houses made regular weekly donations of food to the poor. So Templar houses would have been busy places.

Was the day punctuated by prayer?

The Templars’ regulations expected the Templars to follow the normal monastic pattern of prayers at fixed times during the day. The Templars should go into the chapel for these services, but as not every house had a chapel in actual fact they might have to say their prayers as they went about their work (as the regulations allowed them to do if they were on a military campaign). Most Templar houses with a chapel did not have a Templar priest, but employed a secular priest or a friar as priest in their chapel.

How effective were the Templars as farmers (compared to the monasteries for example) and did they engage in any other kind of business?

So far as the records show, the Templars were effective farmers who made careful judgements on the most effective way of working their land for good long-term returns. Apparently they were more generous employers than the Benedictine monks. Their livestock produced meat and other products such as wool and hides, which they could use or sell. They manufactured some food products (cheese, butter, cider, wine) and sold some of this produce as well as consuming it within the estate. The records from after the Templars’ arrests also show that some people owed money to the Templars — not large amounts — so, like other religious orders, they did make loans, but this was not a major business for most Templar houses.

What role did women play on Templar estates and were they allowed to be members of the order?

The estate records show that women were employed as cooks and to do the laundry. They were also employed on farm work: for example, picking grapes, milking the sheep, helping with the harvest. In addition, the estate records from the Templars’ commandery at Payns in Champagne refer to a Templar Sister (her name isn’t recorded; she’s simply refered to at ‘the sister’) and her female servant, Hersant. So, yes: women could be members of the order and women could live in the Templars’ houses.

Did all this activity in the preceptories across Europe really fund the military ventures of the Templars?

Yes — that was the purpose of the Templar properties in Europe! But clearly a lot of money would have been needed to maintain the Templars’ estates, invest in property, pay their workers and carry on the charitable work they did in Europe, so not all the income from their estates would have gone to the East.

How did it all end? What happened to the property owned by the Templars after 1307?

At the Council of Vienne in spring 1312, Pope Clement V gave the Templars’ former property to the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers were able to claim some of the properties, but some properties were taken back by the families of the original donors, some were kept by the kings who had arrested the Templars, some property was given to other religious orders, and in Spain and Portugal much of the property was used to found new military-religious orders.

If you enjoyed this interview and you’re in the United Kingdom on 30 June, 2018 – try and join us in Bradford, Yorkshire for what will promise to be a hugely fascinating discussion. Click HERE for tickets.

 

Templar hero: André de Montbard

Right at the beginning of the Templar story, nine knights gathered to found a new order of warriors who would take monastic vows. One of them was a man called André de Montbard. So, what do we know about him?

montbardWell, he was the uncle of a very influential religious figure called Bernard of Clairvaux – later to be made a saint. Bernard was a really unusual individual. He was constantly plagued by illness including what appear to have been severe migraine attacks and high blood pressure. But far from adopting a healthy regime, Bernard tortured his own body with punishing routines of fasting, sleep deprivation and intense prayer. The sort of thing that impressed people in the Middle Ages!

Bernard had joined an order of monks called the Cistercians who wanted to bring back some discipline and modesty to medieval monasticism. He hated twiddly ornamentation in churches and illuminated bibles and believed monks should eat very plain food. So not much fun to be holed up in a monastery with Bernard – unless you shared his point of view.

Crucially, he also believed that killing in the name of Christ was OK. You weren’t committing homicide – killing a human in other words – you were killing evil. And that was just fine. So when Bernard got a visit from his uncle André de Montbard in 1126, who wanted to tell him all about the new order of Templars, it was a marvellous meeting of minds. Bernard didn’t need much convincing to swing his support behind his uncle’s friends.

Uncle and nephew wrote to each other over the years exchanging very touching thoughts. Uncle André was busy with the Second Crusade in the Holy Land while Bernard made rousing speeches to huge throngs of peasants urging them to go and fight. The future saint also found time to write the rule book for the Templars and promote the order to the pope as a jolly good idea.

Towards the end of his life, a chronically sick Bernard begged André to come and see him again. Though he also acknowledged that the crusades were in trouble and needed André’s undivided attention:

…I wish even more strongly to see you. I find the same wish in your letters, but also your fears for the land that Our Lord honoured with His presence and consecrated with His blood…

Bernard began to realise he might never see his uncle again and their conversations would have to continue beyond the grave.

But let us mount above the sun, and may our conversation continue in the heavens. There, my Andre, will be the fruits of your labours, and there your reward…

The two never met again. André de Montbard had his work cut out as Muslim armies put huge pressure on the Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. This took its toll on the Templar Grand Masters. Everard des Barres, third master of the Templars, resigned and went to join Bernard as a monk in his abbey.

Des Barres had already been absent from the Holy Land for a while and this clearly annoyed André de Montbard. He was effectively his second in command as Seneschal and wrote a rather testy letter to his boss asking him to come back and show some leadership:

Never has your presence been more necessary to your brothers. And however Providence may dispose of us, do not hesitate to start your journey back.

But Des Barres decided he’d had his fill of dangerous battles in far off lands. Instead, he tonsured his head, put on a plain monks’ habit and went off to pray with Bernard for the rest of his life. The Templars then elected Bernard de Tremelay as Grand Master number four.

But De Tremelay was killed during the siege of Ascalon – controlled by Egyptian forces. A breach in the wall of the city was created and Bernard unwisely rushed in with a band of Templars. This act reflected the first in/last out mentality of the Knights Templar – depicted as courage by their supporters and vainglorious rashness by their detractors. All of these Templars were cut to pieces and their bodies displayed, hanging headless from the walls.

André found himself elected the fifth Grand Master. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy his time in that position. Less than three years later he passed away in Jerusalem – the last of the original nine knights who had founded the Knights Templar.

 

A Templar adventure for you to enjoy this Christmas!

Templar CrossThis Christmas, relax by the fire with a historical adventure that will transport you back to the Middle Ages and a time of battle, adventure and danger. Join my Templar hero William de Mandeville as he searches for the True Cross, the most holy relic of the Knights Templar, stolen by the Saracens!

See him team up with a Syrian mercenary Pathros and an English urchin Nicholas as they travel across the known world to find the lost treasure. They will encounter corrupt and murderous clerics, barbaric crusaders, a sadistic sultan and the beautiful Orraca – who will fall in love with William but….how that love will be tested!

In the United States, it’s available as an e-book or paperback via Amazon – click HERE.

It’s also stocked by Abe Books in the US – click HERE.

In the United Kingdom, Waterstones is retailing the book for £2.99 – click HERE for more details.

HAPPY FESTIVE READING!!

 

Five great novels on the Knights Templar

Five books that transport you back to the world of the Knights Templar – capturing the sense of time and place, bringing to life the mysteries and secrets. Which novels should you be taking on your summer holidays? Here’s some good reads!

templar-knight-book-two-crusades-trilogy-jan-guillou-hardcover-cover-artThe Knight Templar – Jan Gillou

This was one of a trilogy of books that introduced us to a troubled Swedish templar knight called Arn Magnusson.  Gillou was more famous in the 1970s for writing novels and journalistic exposes about the intelligence community, even being accused of being involved in espionage himself. But for this blog, it’s his Templar trilogy that catches my eye and the excellent movie Arn that resulted from those novels.

A Moorland Hanging – Michael Jecks

Cold-blooded murder has transformed Simon Puttock’s official obligation into something horrid, and he will need the able assistance of his friend, Sir Baldwin Furnshill, to draw a criminal out. A former Knight Templar, Sir Baldwin knows much of duty and servitude and of evil freely indulged in the name of godliness or greed. Now, justice must be served, even if their search exposes extortion, foul corruption, rule by fear, and killers willing, even eager, to shed more blood.

Brethren: An Epic Adventure of the Knights Templar – Robyn Young

This book takes you on a journey through Paris, London, Egypt and Palestine at the eve of the last crusade. A young knight is a on quest to find a dangerous book that belongs to an organisation within the Knights Templar called the Anima Templi. But it seems that a lot of other people want the book as well.

Knights of the Black and White – Jack Whyte

Whyte wants to strip away the conspiracy theories and take a long hard look at the real Templars. His books set out to immerse you in the gritty contemporary history of the order bringing the medieval world to life.

The Last Templar – Raymond Khoury

Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEG_4908282This was a US best seller beginning with four Templar knights in modern day Manhattan who storm into an art gallery on horseback to steal some Vatican exhibits. An FBI agent must journey across three continents to find the long lost secret of the Templar order.

Oh and I forgot one novel – Quest for the True Cross by….me! Order it by clicking on the image in the left hand margin. Now on Amazon in paperback and kindle.

 

 

 

Quest for the True Cross – FAQs

Quest for the True Cross – first in the Templar series

This week sees the official launch of Quest for the True Cross – my Templar adventure, which you can download HERE. I’ve been asked certain questions over and over – and in case you can’t get hold of me this week, here are some quotable answers.

Will this be a Dan Brown type book?

Absolutely not!  From day one, when I started work on this two years ago, I wanted to ground a story about the Templars in the medieval period. There is mystery, adventure and suspense – but all seen through the eyes of 12th century Templars, Moors, kings, bishops and Saracens.

Tell us about the main character?

Sir William de Mandeville is based on a real person – the son of the first Earl of Essex who did indeed end up in a coffin suspended above the ground in an apple tree as I describe.  William is forced to return from the crusades in the Holy Land and in modern terms is suffering from something like post traumatic stress.  This being the Middle Ages though, he thinks he possessed by a demon. Finding his father hanging in a tree doesn’t improve his mental state and propels him on a quest. This is the key theme of the book – William’s struggle to win back his family honour and hold on to his sanity.

What about his companion Pathros?

He’s an important character. A Syrian Christian whose family has fallen victim to the invasion of the Seljuk Turks. Pathros’ father is imprisoned in a dungeon never to be seen again. He leaves Saracen-controlled Aleppo to make a life for himself among the crusaders in Jerusalem. But even though he is taken in by the Templars as a ‘turcopole’ – an auxiliary – his background precludes him ever becoming a full knight. Pathros is stuck between two worlds: he’s rejected by the Saracen east because he’s not a Muslim and he’s rejected by the crusader west because he’s a Syrian and his version of Christianity is viewed as heretical.

You say this book will disappoint those on the far right who have tried to appropriate the Templars for themselves?

Oh yes. If Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik thinks killing children at a summer camp bears any resemblance to the Knights Templar then he’s as deluded as most sane people think he is. The Templars were not sociopathic, murderous loners – they were very much a part of medieval society operating at its highest echelons. They were bankers, farmers, politicians, monks and warriors.

So how do you depict the Middle Ages?

I show all the political dirt, the intriguing, the violence and the massive upheavals that shook people and destroyed their lives.  William lived in a world where Constantinople was still the greatest city and trade was conducted between Cairo, Cordoba, Paris and London. It was a much more globalised place than we sometimes imagine. Christian western Europe was establishing its ascendancy over the Islamic south and the Byzantine east. The balance of power was about to be hugely altered.

Is it full of battle action?

From the start, you’ll get plenty of war!  But it’s the last hundred pages and the taking of Al-Usbuna that will have you on the edge of your seat. William fights alongside the great heroes of Portuguese history – Dom Afonso Henriques, Geraldo Geraldes Sem Pavor, Gualdim Pais, Hugo Martins, Martin Moniz and Pedro Pitoes. I don’t portray them all sympathetically and I might upset some readers with my depictions of these characters. But it’s a warts and all read and neither side – Christian or Muslim – comes out of it unblemished.

Sir William de Mandeville – Templar hero!

Sir William de Mandeville is the hero of my Templar novel Quest for the True Cross. Some key facts about William:

  1. templar3He is a Templar knight from Essex in England
  2. His father was the Earl of Essex but died in gruesome circumstances after rebelling against King Stephen
  3. William’s older brother becomes the new earl and soon reveals a cruel streak
  4. William returns home from the crusades in the Holy Land after a spell of madness and challenges his brother’s tyranny, rescuing a poor boy who is about to be mutilated for theft
  5. Back in the Holy Land, the True Cross – the most sacred Templar relic – has been stolen by the Saracens. It is now in the city of Al-Usbunna
  6. Crusader and Templar armies mass to take Al-Usbunna from Muslim control and William joins them to try and retrieve the True Cross. He hopes by doing so, he can restore his family honour disgraced in different ways by his father and brother
  7. William also hopes to conquer his own growing insanity, caused by the terrible carnage he had seen on crusade in the Holy Land

I won’t spoil the conclusion – buy Quest for the True Cross to find out what happens!

 

The real Arn – Swedish knight templar

Arn Magnusson – our heroic knight – hails from West Gothia and is hopelessly in love with Cecilia.  Needless to say they are torn apart from each other and Arn’s quest is not just to be a great knight but also to be reunited with Cecilia.

ArnI have one small sartorial quibble about Arn and that is the cross emblazoned on his white mantle. To me, it more closely resembles the later cross used by the Order of Christ in Portugal after 1314 – over 150 years after Arn would have been alive. The Order of Christ was what the Templars became in Portugal after they were dissolved. The Templar cross was simpler.

Key facts about Arn:

  • He is part of the Swedish Folkung aristocratic dynasty, a family originating from Östergötland in the south of the country
  • Arn grows up in a Cistercian monastery. This order of monks were very closely related to the Templars, so much so that the Templars have sometimes been referred to as their military wing. The biggest spiritual influence on the knights was a Cistercian abbot in France called Bernard of Clairvaux who led a very severe and self-punishing existence
  • Arn has to become a Templar as penance for having premarital relations. It is true that some knights had committed crimes and sought to redeem themselves in the order by fighting for Christ in the Holy Land
  • Arn meets Saladin, the great Saracen leader, but is then instrumental in defeating him at the Battle of Montgisard. Unfortunately, Saladin would later inflict an even worse defeat on the crusaders and Templars at the Battle of Hattin
  • Arn making friends with Saladin may seem far fetched but the Templars were later accused of being on way too cordial terms with the Muslim enemy, something used against them at their trials from 1307 onwards
  • The movie about Arn is based on a trilogy of novels by Jan Guillou, an author and journalist who also writes spy fiction

Here’s a reminder of what a great movie Arn is: