The Knights Templar – guilty or innocent? An argument that has raged for centuries.

templar3Since their downfall, opinions on the guilt of the Knights Templar have been bitterly divided. Right down to our own time, experts have quarrelled over whether the charges against the Order were true or trumped up lies.

So let’s look at what a mixture of historians, lawyers and writers have said about the Templars and decide who is telling the truth.

I’m relying quite heavily on a book for this blog post that I thoroughly recommend – it’s called The Knights Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord. So, as you know, the Knights Templar were rounded up, arrested and tortured by the king of France in 1307. From that moment, people began to take sides.

The legendary poet Dante, author of The Divine Comedy was supportive of the Templars, This might have been shaped by his own hostility to France. The French were backing Dante’s political opponents in Florence so the poet accused the king of just wanting their money by levelling scurrilous accusations.

Over in Spain, a writer called Ramon Llull took the opposite position. He wanted to see the religious military orders united. Immediately before the Templars were arrested, there had been demands from the pope for them to unite with the Knights Hospitaller but they had refused.

Templar artworkThe last Templar grand master Jacques de Molay had given Llull full hospitality when he had stayed in Cyprus on his way to conduct missionary work to the Muslims – an endeavour that would eventually lead to his death. Although the Templar leader had been kind to Llull, he reciprocated by condemning the knights for not merging with other orders.

The sixteenth century saw the great witchcraft mania and the Templars were sucked into this as an example of evildoers who practice the satanic arts. In his book De Occulta Philosophia, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa accused the order of being depraved, in effect accepting the charges made against them during their trial. All the heretical rituals the Templars were said to have practised were assumed to have been fact.

The Protestant Reformation posed a conundrum for the new religion. They hated Catholics. So, were the Templars rebels against the pope or the worst example of corruption in the Catholic church? One seventeenth century Protestant clergyman, Thomas Fuller, decided they were corrupt. But the Royal Society, a bastion of early scientific thought, declared for the Templars.

The eighteenth century saw the rise of the Enlightenment and the Freemasons. The Dupuy brothers took a very anti-Templar line declaring the order had been corrupt for a hundred years before they were put on trial. The Dupuys worked for the French “sun king” Louis XIV so not surprising they were taking a hostile line perhaps. In contrast, the Freemasons embraced the Templars as historical forerunners.

The nineteenth century continued to show that the Knights Templar were as divisive as ever. Access to medieval documents and a spirit of scientific enquiry led some to exonerate the order and put the papacy firmly in the dock. But novelist Walter Scott made the Templars the baddies in his hugely successful historical novel Ivanhoe. Scott drew on a widely held view at the time the order was crushed that they were double dealing between the crusaders and their Saracen rivals.

Down to our own time, nobody can quite seem to make up their mind whether the knights were a force for good or evil. Assassins Creed has the Templars as a centuries old conspiracy to enslave humanity. Dan Brown subscribes to the Priory of Sion theory with the Templars doing their bit to protect the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.

So – over to you. Templars – good or evil – guilty or innocent?

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Watch me on “Private Lives of the Monarchs” – discussing royal secrets

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 11.23.06Back in April 2017, I filmed for a new TV series called Private Lives of the Monarchs investigating the salacious royal secrets of various kings and queens.

The first episode airs in the UK on 20 November 2017 and will look at Queen Victoria featuring a private life that will surprise you.

In Australia, where the series has already started to air on SBS, I believe they have kicked off with a very raunchy look at Charles II, known for good reason as The Merry Monarch.

The series is presented by Tracy Borman – a highly respected author, historian and curator of the Royal Palaces. It’s an enjoyable watch – I think – and your feedback on my on screen performances would be hugely appreciated.

Filming for Forbidden History (UKTV) – series five – with Jamie Theakston

This week I found myself at the Gore Hotel in London filming for series five of Forbidden History presented by Jamie Theakston and to be broadcast on UKTV/Yesterday in the Spring of 2018.

There are six episodes and I’ll be in all of them talking about a wide range of topics from who was the real historical Jesus, the man behind James Bond and the treasure looted and stolen by the Nazis. Looks like it’s going to be a great series!

On 20 November 2017, I’ll be appearing in Private Live of the Monarchs, also on UKTV/Yesterday talking about Queen Victoria. I’ll be in every episode of that series as well, presented by Tracy Borman.

Here I am filming at the Gore Hotel for Forbidden History.

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August 2017 – my Templar quest in Portugal – don’t miss it!

Anybody who has been following this blog for any length of time knows that I’m obsessed with the Templar history of Portugal. I’ve been all over Europe and the Middle East to see Templar sites, but I always come back to Portugal. Being half-Portuguese of course has nothing to do with it 🙂

August will see me visiting some incredible places and events and blogging to you direct from them:

  • Tomar – the evocative headquarters of the Knights Templar. A small town now dominated by a Templar fortress on top of a hill. The peaceful beauty of Tomar today belies its violent past as the front line between Christian and Muslim Europe in the Middle Ages. I’ll share with you some thrilling Templar stories and great pictures
  • Santa Maria da Feira – this town hosts an extremely popular festival called the Medieval Journey. They stage a huge mock battle and this year the theme is King Afonso IV. He was the son of King Dinis of Portugal who saved the Templars by cunningly renaming them the Order of Christ and giving the knights royal protection
  • Viana do Castelo – I’ve been visiting this town for over forty years and in August, it stages a festival for Our Lady of Agony This includes several women who dress as Mary, mother of Jesus, with fake swords plunged in their chests (well, they appear to be!) to symbolise the agonies she endured at the crucifixion
  • Sintra – A forest just outside Lisbon with fairytale castles, a huge wall built by the invading caliphate in the medieval period and tunnels some believe are linked to the Knights Templar
  • Porto and Lisbon – the first and second cities of Portugal both dripping with history but quite different. Porto, the launchpad for the crusader invasion of Lisbon, which was then under Muslim control and called Al-Usbunna
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Medieval Journey in Santa Maria da Feira, just south of Porto – a great event!

 

Joseph of Arimathea and the Knights Templar

To understand why the Knights Templar based themselves in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the mysterious biblical figure of Joseph of Arimathea is worth knowing. He was, according to the Gospel of John, a secret disciple of Jesus – a rich Jewish merchant who may even have been the great uncle of Jesus.

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Did Joseph of Arimathea possess relics sacred to the Knights Templar?

One blogger has noted that he would have to be the great uncle as being uncle would have meant he had the same name as Jesus’ father. Hardly likely two brothers would both be called Joseph. Another source stipulates that he was Mary’s uncle and so that problem is solved.

Joseph was an unusual choice for a disciple given that apparently, he was a Pharisee – the class of priest that gets a particularly bad write-up in the New Testament. You’ll perhaps remember that the Pharisees were deemed to be total hypocrites – moral on the outside, but corruption within.

It was Joseph who would provide a tomb for the body of the crucified messiah and also the shroud in which he was wrapped. The gospels claim he got permission from the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to take the body away. This begs the question how exactly he got in front of the governor to put forward this request and why it was accepted. Was he a very senior figure in local Jewish society? Did he bribe the governor?

Some have poured scorn on the idea of Jesus being removed so quickly noting that it was far more likely the Romans would have left the body of a trouble maker like Jesus to rot in public for a while on the cross and not allowed something as civilised as a tomb burial. But of course he had to be buried in order to be resurrected. And given that resurrection was supposed to be bodily – not just the soul – the idea of Christ’s body being pecked to bits by crows was never going to be very palatable.

More importantly for the Templars, Joseph was believed to be the man who collected some of Christ’s blood in a chalice as he hung on the crucifix. That chalice we know as the Holy Grail. It’s then claimed that Joseph travelled to England to spread the gospel. He arrived in Glastonbury – known as Avalon at that time – and baptised 18,000 people in one day at the nearby town of Wells. The Holy Grail was hidden away, maybe placed in a well that to this day is known at Glastonbury as the Chalice Well.

At this point I should also point out that it was widely believed in the Middle Ages that Joseph had brought Jesus as a youth to England before returning to the east. It’s even asserted that Jesus worked as a farm hand or a miner during his stay.

So with Joseph you have a lot of associations with important and sacred relics:

  • The holy shroud in which Jesus was buried
  • A chalice used to collect his blood that may also have been held by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The tomb of Jesus
  • Joseph also possessed the lance that pierced Christ’s side according to some accounts

Were the Knights Templar established to protect these relics from being found or stolen? Or they were lost for centuries and the Templars were desperately looking for them under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem? If they found these relics, did that account for the Templars’ sudden wealth and power? These and many more theories have circulated for centuries and at the centre of it all is a rather enigmatic figure of whom we really know very little: Joseph of Arimathea.

 

 

 

What were the Templars up to in their first decade of existence?

According to the contemporary chronicler William of Tyre, nine “noble men of knightly rank” from the Champagne region of France founded the Templar order in the year 1118. So what they do in their first ten years? Well, the answer is a bit vague:

  • They didn’t wear their characteristic white mantles and red crosses until after 1129 – in fact they wore secular clothes for the first few years
  • But they did observe holy vows of chastity and obedience as if they were monks
  • Nine men swore to protect all the roads leading into Jerusalem so that pilgrims could get to the sacred sites peacefully – just nine men!
  • They gave up holding any property themselves but pooled their resources into the new order
  • The King of Jerusalem gave them what is now the Al Aqsa mosque as their new headquarters
  • They believed the mosque was the Temple of Solomon and called it this
  • After nine years – William of Tyre recounts that there were still only nine knights
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Council of Troyes – turning point for the Templars?

It does seem unusual that the order didn’t grow at all in its first decade. And yet, at the Council of Troyes in 1129, both Pope Honorius and the Patriarch of Jerusalem showered praise on the Templars and allowed them to wear a white mantle. Later they began to sew red crosses on to the front of these mantles.

With support from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux – who was a leading cleric of the time but also related to one of the founder Templars and from the same part of France – the order developed its own rule book. Money was pumped into the order through bequests by rich nobles. By 1170, there were 300 knights and “countless” Templar sergeants (a lower rank that could not wear the coveted white mantle).

The mystery though is why the order appeared to stand still in its first decade and yet suddenly expand at an incredible pace after 1129 – both in terms of members and wealth. Why did the King of Jerusalem give nine knights with bold claims control of the Temple of Solomon? And why were Popes so willing to make the Templars answerable only to themselves and to no king, prince or bishop – something that would come to generate intense hatred towards the Knights Templar.

Were the Knights Templar secretly part of the Cathar heresy?

The Knights Templar were accused of rejecting the divinity of Christ, spitting on the crucifix, not believing the church sacraments and conducting their own masses without a properly consecrated priest. They emerged in France in the 12th century at the same time that a very dangerous heresy had gripped the south of the country: Catharism.

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Pope Innocent III excommunicates the Cathars then has them massacred

The Cathars were Christians who rejected the Pope’s authority and that of his church of priests and bishops as well as holding “gnostic” views such as the existence of an evil deity in constant conflict with a good God. They found a great deal of support not only among ordinary people but even sections of the aristocracy, most notably Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse. Unfortunately for Raymond, his tolerance of the Cathars led to a direct conflict with the most powerful pope in history, Innocent III.

Innocent sent a papal legate Pierre de Castelnau to try and turn Raymond away from the Cathars but not only did the count reject these overtures, Pierre was murdered on his way back to Rome. A furious pope ordered the French king to head a crusade against the Cathars and armies poured into the Languedoc region of France. The surrendering Cathars were either put to the sword or burnt to death.

But their ideas persisted. Many agreed with their view that the church should return to traditions of poverty and piety. Their questioning of the Catholic view that the bread in the mass literally becomes the body of Christ continued to be discussed in low whispers before erupting to the surface centuries later in the Protestant Reformation. Many of France’s elite had family connections to the Cathars including Guillaume de Nogaret, the top adviser to King Philip of France and scourge of the Templars. His parents and grandparents were reportedly Cathars. It seemed that in spite of the success of Innocent’s crusade, Catharism still lurked in dark corners of French society.

Many of the charges levied against the Templars by King Philip of France and his adviser De Nogaret smack of Cathar beliefs. The charges certainly would have resonated with medieval public opinion, familiar with the scandalous views and practice of the southern French rebels.

There may have been genuine fears that as the Templars had operated at the same time as the rise of Catharism that they had imbibed some of their philosophy. Or that the Templars were influenced by ancient Christian beliefs in the east that were very similar to those held by the French heretics. Worse, there may have been an underlying fear that Templar military might could be used to carve out a Cathar sympathetic state in southern France. As the crusades in the Holy Land crumbled, where might Templar energy and know-how be expended?

Possibly what King Philip of France saw in the order was an unimaginable danger that needed to be rapidly snuffed out.