I 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:
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?
Often viewed as one of the most evil monarchs England every endured – Richard III was immortalised by Skakespeare (100 years after the king’s death) as a wicked hunchback capable of murder and deceit. Richard was notorious for allegedly having his two young nephews confined to the Tower of London and then killed in secret.
He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, bringing to an end the House of York and ushering in the House of Tudor. The whereabouts of his body had been a mystery until it was discovered under a car park in the English city of Leicester. Scientific analysis of the bones confirmed the identity and this week will see his formal burial in Leicester cathedral.
There had been demands for him to be returned to York but he will be interred in Leicester. Should you ever visit that city, I advise you to raise a pint in his memory at a pub named in his honour: The Last Plantagenet.
Now – I have to say that Richard III does not fall within the Templar period, he reigned 150 years after the order was suppressed. But it’s this week’s major medieval event in the UK with media from twenty countries attending. And it seemed wrong not to mention it.
Here’s some memorabilia that I picked up in York from campaigners who – very seriously – are determined to clear his bad name. They think he’s been a victim of Tudor propaganda.
There’s been plenty of talk in the UK about the 799th anniversary of Magna Carta this month – with the 800th anniversary looming next year. Politicians have been banging on about the need to use this ancient document to re-instil “British values” in our multicultural land. The thing is – if any of these parliamentarians actually took the trouble to read the document they claim to know so much about (prime minister David Cameron famously couldn’t translate the latin when asked to do so on the Letterman show), they’d find some very surprising things.
For example (with supporting quotes):
MAGNA CARTA IS FOR FEMINISTS
(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.
(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.
FOREIGNERS WITH MONEY CAN COME AND GO AS THEY PLEASE
(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs.
THE WELSH CAN RULE THEMSELVES
(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.
BEING IMPRISONED WITHOUT TRIAL FOR ANY PERIOD IS A NON-STARTER
(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
HS2 WOULD NEVER HAVE GOT BUILT
(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.
UK WOULD EITHER HAVE TO GO METRIC OR IMPERIAL – BUT NOT BOTH AT THE SAME TIME
(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.
PUNISHMENT SHOULD FIT THE CRIME – AND THE OFFENDER
(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.
I’m sure these aren’t the British values that prime minister David Cameron intended!
Yesterday, I was in the City of London and standing outside Bank tube station, I took three photos to examine the Templar-era medieval history of one small corner of the great city that I live in and adore.
Without moving an inch – I first snapped the street sign for Lombard Street. Why is this called Lombard Street? This was a grant of land from Edward I (remember him? The king who fought Braveheart) to the Lombards – merchants from northern Italy. The modern day party representing the north of Italy in the Italian parliament is called the Lombardy League. So who who were the Lombards?
Back in the Middle Ages, these commercially minded people were the descendants of a Germanic tribe that invaded Italy in the sixth century. They had come to London in good faith but things went badly wrong in the 14th century. During the peasant revolt of 1382, an army of disgruntled serfs stormed London and went on the rampage – they took a particular dislike to well-heeled foreigners.
Their leaders John Ball, Jack Straw and- Wat Tyler, with more than thirty thousand men, went straight through London to the Palace of the Savoy, a very fine building on the Thames as you go towards the King’s Palace of Westminster, and belonging to the Duke of Lancaster. They quickly got inside and killed the guards, and then sent it up in flames. Haying committed this outrage, they went on to the palace of the Hospitallers of Rhodes, known as St John of Clerkenwell, and burnt it down, house, church, hospital and everything. Besides this, they went from street to street, killing all the Flemings they found in churches, chapels and houses. None was spared. They broke into many houses belonging to Lombards and robbed them openly, no one daring to resist them. In the town they killed a wealthy man called Richard Lyon, whose servant Wat Tyler had once been during the wars in France. On one occasion Richard Lyon had beaten his servant and Wat Tyler remembered it. He led his men to him, had his head cut off in front of him, and then had it stuck on a lance and carried through the streets. So those wicked men went raging about in wild frenzy, committing many excesses on that Thursday throughout London.
Behind me yesterday, I found a small covered alley – still existent – nestled between two banks: Pope’s Head Alley. It doesn’t look particularly interesting now but according to the diariest Pepys in the 17th century, it was a centre for the sale of cutlery, turnery and toys.
And finally a blue plaque to a Lord Mayor of London called Gregory de Rokesley who held the position an astonishing eight times during the 13th century. He was a wealthy goldsmith – like many of the nearby Lombards – and took his name from a town in Kent. He was also a mighty wool merchant.
Not only was he mayor, but also a chamberlain to King Edward I – and master of the Royal Mint. It was his job to put a stop to the fraudulent practice of coin clipping, where bits of coin were shaved off by criminals. His coat of arms appeared in the stained glass windows of old St Paul’s cathedral, burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
It’s not the most pleasant episode in English medieval history to look back on but it happened during the Templar period and we can’t ignore it. Fortunately, we have an excellent book by Robert Winder called ‘Bloody Foreigners’ to fall back on. The title of the book is not to be taken literally – his contention is that the English have always been ambivalent or outright hostile to immigration and yet it’s a country very much forged by migrants and where, curiously, in spite of the initial negative feelings towards new arrivals, England has a strong record of assimilation and absorbing other cultures – seemingly effortlessly.
Norman England in the 12th century was surprisingly cosmopolitan though not necessarily for the nicest of reasons. French settlers were encouraged by England’s overlords to dilute the old Saxon ruling class. Winder says that it was noticeable that foreign merchants could obtain royal permits to trade with relative ease compared to the local Saxons who were still mistrusted. Through the ports of London, Bristol and Southampton came goods – and people….from Flanders, France, Genoa and Venice. Flemish masons worked on cathedrals and castles while German copper miners instructed locals how to dig for the precious metal. The Germans and Dutch were also very prolific in the beer trade.
Edward III was so impressed by the contribution being made to the country’s well-being by the foreigners that he even joined a Flemish guild. However, lower down the social scale, there were plenty of English folk who resented the obvious wealth of these merchants who had come from strange lands overseas. To the Saxon poor, it looked like they were literally fleecing the country – benefiting from the great wool industry run by the Cistercian monks who then sold their produce to the Flemish weavers. This did lead to what we might call in modern parlance ‘race riots’ against merchants from Europe and that did include lynchings and pogroms. England wasn’t the only country to see this kind of xenophobia – but it certainly shocks many English today to know it happened.
One community though suffered from growing hatred and suspicion more than any other. Initially brought over and nurtured by the Norman kings after the conquest of 1066, they found that success came at a cruel price. The Jews of England engaged in what we might call ‘usury’ but was a primitive form of banking finance. They did this partly because they were barred from other professions and also because of Christian prohibitions on the flock earning interest from transactions – similar to Islamic prohibitions still in force today. So the Jews set up a network of financing that would be the germ of what London is today – the financial capital of Europe, if not the world.
Aaron, a moneylender in Lincoln, financed the building of the local cathedral – which remains a glory on the skyline. He lent to the King of Scotland, the Archbishop of Canterbury and several Cistercian monasteries. When he died, his estate was taken over by the king and an entire department of state – the Scaccarium Aaronis – was required to work its way through his holdings.
The Jews were effectively the property of the King and harming them was in effect, damaging the king’s property. Rates of interest were undoubtedly high – though comparable to some credit cards today! Typically, a noble might expect to pay back double the original loan by the end of the year. However, money was needed and wasn’t always readily available in the medieval economy so the Jews were on to something of a winner.
Some of the most prolific moneylenders, according to Winder, were women. Licoricia of Oxford gave two thousand, five hundred pounds towards the building of Westminster Abbey. Did she care about such a building? No. But it certainly helped her relations with the King, who was after all her protector. Fund his pet projects and life could go on as usual. Belaset of Wallingford was another women in the usury game and her name is assumed to mean ‘nice assets’ – a little bit of medieval humour there!
It’s crucial to point out that not every Jew in England was a moneylender. Some were, needless to say, rabbis but there were also doctors and shopkeepers and artists. But it’s the money lending that brought them most in to the public eye. Certainly the king’s eye. Increasingly, the Norman and then Angevin kings decided that it would be far more advantageous to tax the Jews instead of borrowing from them. After all, a king can do that kind of thing. So the Jews suffered an ever growing tax burden – which they no doubt passed on in part to their increasingly disgruntled customers.
Even a king like Henry II – a friend to both the Jews and the Templars – drained Jewish finance for his own needs. His son Richard the Lionheart was brutal in squeezing the Jewish community – and the rest of England – to fund his crusades against Saladin. In fact, it was in the year of Richard’s coronation – 1189 – that the first serious outbreaks of violence against Jews in England erupted. Most appallingly was the death of 150 Jews in York herded in to a castle tower and murdered. Elsewhere, the Jews were able to take refuge in castles and nobles felt obliged to extend the King’s protection over them. But the writing was on the wall – things were going to get a lot worse.
Matters were not helped by a series of so-called ‘blood libel’ incidents across northern Europe. In Norwich, a child called William was found crucified and his blood drained allegedly by the Jews. Similar cases occurred elsewhere. I think it’s safe to say these were completely fabricated but they gave the mob a very good excuse to attack Jewish property.
The nail in the coffin was a hardening of attitude on the part of the Angevin kings. John badly needed finance and even had one Jewish moneylender in Bristol tortured till he handed over ten thousand Marks. The method of torture was to have a tooth extracted every day until he agreed. He apparently got to the seventh tooth before giving in!
Henry III personally attended the torture of a Jewish man – Copin of Lincoln – accused of another blood libel against a child called Hugh. Torture extracted the required confession and he was dragged through the town then hanged. This legitimised assaults and murders on Jews and in 1263 on Palm Sunday in London, about four hundred Jews were slaughtered. Winder makes the point that this event hardly figures in most England history books.
The kings were simply moving towards confiscation of Jewish wealth – no more borrowing or taxation – just seizure. The Templars, of course, would also see opportunistic monarchs grab their holdings and eventually terminate the Order. In 1275, the final act in this tragedy unfolded as Edward I issued his Statutus de Judeismo which stated:
Forasmuch as the King hath seen that divers evils and the disinheriting of good men of his land have happened by the usuries which the Jews have made in time past, and that divers sins have followed thereupon albeit that he and his ancestors have received much benefit from the Jewish people in all times past, neverthless, for the honour of God and the common benefit of the people the King hath ordained and established, that from henceforth no Jew shall lend anything at usury either upon land, or upon rent or upon other thing.
So Edward basically said – thanks for everything you’ve done in the past but I’m now ending it all for you. Already Jews had been banished from several towns, now they would be forced to wear identification badges – so the Nazis weren’t the first to invent this:
And that each Jew after he shall be seven years old, shall wear a badge on his outer garment that is to say in the form of two tables joined of yellow fait of the length of six inches and of the breadth of three inches.
Measure by measure was enacted against the Jews, eventually banning their religious customs. In 1290, they were given a deadline of the first of November, All Saints Day, to leave England. One captain ferrying a boat load of Jews across the wide Thames estuary hit a sandbar and invited his passengers to get out and stretch their legs. He then sailed off, leaving them stranded, shouting obscenities to the effect that they could pray to Moses to save them. All of the passengers drowned.
It would take four hundred years and the rule of Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century for Jews to be re-admitted to England.
It’s an interesting fact that when King John was first presented with the demands of the barons, who were forcing Magna Carta (the great charter) on to him, he was staying at the New Temple in London with Brother Aymeric (sometimes spelt Elmeric), master of the Order in England. This was rather like lodging with your bank manager who also happened to enjoy a papal seal of approval and have a handy stock of weapons and well trained soldiers.
The Templars were very much John’s bankers, particularly after he was declared excommunicate by Pope Innocent III. John seems to have both deposited and taken out multi-thousand ‘mark’ amounts to protect his wealth and to use it to hire troops. Aymeric also helped John out with his papal problems – particularly important as Innocent III was beyond doubt the most powerful pope in history.
The Templars were enthusiastic supporters of the Plantagenat kings and did rather well out of them. Henry II was a keen benefactor and John gave them the island of Lundy, bits of Northampton and Cameley amongst other bequests. For this, he got their support in his bust up with the aristocracy.
Aymeric St Maur may have been related to Milo St Maur, one of the rebel barons. Entirely plausible as they were all from the same Norman knightly class. It’s also claimed that the St Maur family were ancestors of the Seymours from whom Jane Seymour emerged, third wife of Henry VIII – two hundred years after the crushing of the Templar Order.