Tomar – mysterious city of the Knights Templar

I’ve been filming with the History Channel in Tomar, a town in central Portugal that was once a stronghold of the Knights Templar.

I’ve written about this magical place before but having gone back again this year, I just need to beg you all to book a ticket and go and visit. It’s breath taking. The only place on earth where I really think you can feel the presence of the Templars around you.

I made a little iPhone movie while I was there and want to share it with you. I’ll tell you more about the History Channel programme in future blog posts.

 

Advertisements

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

 

Set your record buttons for Jamie Theakston and Forbidden History!

IMG_2053
Jamie Theakston and the Forbidden History team in my study

From mid-June, Jamie Theakston will be presenting the fourth series of Forbidden History on UKTV’s Yesterday Channel and on Discovery AHC in the autumn. The fourth programme in this series will be The Dark Truths of the Templars and yours truly will be appearing as a contributor.

Jamie and the team landed in my study a few months back and we discussed all things Templar for a couple of hours. It’s been in post-production ever since but excitingly is now ready to broadcast.

I haven’t seen the finished programme but issues we covered included:

  • How did an order of monastic knights pledged to vow of poverty become so hugely rich?
  • What could have been the real reasons for the formation of the Knights Templar in 1118?
  • The connections between the order’s founders and some very wealth and influential people
  • Why did the Templars base themselves on the Temple mount in Jerusalem and what were they doing there?
  • The salacious charges brought against the Knights Templar during their trial
  • Did the secular powers, kings and pope, manage to seize all their treasure or did they escape with some of it?
  • What do we make of persistent accusations that the Templars were influenced in their rites by pre-Christian and non-Christian ideas?

Do feed back to me what you think. There will be other TV appearances later in the year and I’ll keep you posted. Make sure all your Templar fans and friends are watching!

Terrorists endanger Templar sites

DSCF3429
A photo I took inside Karak castle in 2013

The news that Karak castle in Jordan had been attacked by members of the so-called Islamic State is horrifying and shocking. Much worse that a Canadian tourist, Linda Vatcher, was killed in the skirmish along with members of the Jordanian security forces. Linda’s son Chris was also injured. Our thoughts go to them at this terrible time.

I visited Karak (or Kerak as I spelt it then from the Arabic) in 2013. It’s a stunning place to see and underneath is a warren of mysterious tunnels. The fortress was the stronghold of the notorious Raynald of Chatillon who apparently wasn’t averse to chucking his enemies off the battlements. And I can assure you that the drop is steep and vertiginous. It eventually fell to the forces of Saladin but not without a long and bitter fight.

IMG_3797Sadly, I will not be returning to Karak anytime soon. This is one of many Templar sites across Syria and Jordan that are off limits as war rages in the region. The splendid Krak des Chevalier was reportedly damaged during fighting in 2014, the BBC reported. While the outside walls looked pretty much intact, the interior had taken a pounding and there was rubbled strewn everywhere.

We might say – well, tough for those buildings but people come first. And that would be right. However, the deliberate demolition and vandalism perpetrated by so-called Islamic State against historic buildings is calculated to destroy the spirit of the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi peoples. The terrorists know that when they release film of Roman, Templar or ancient Muslim sites being reduced to dust, that it cuts deeply.

This is part of their year zero strategy to convince us that everything before them was false and sacrilegious and that history now begins with their self-proclaimed “caliphate” – rejected by most Muslims worldwide. So we must do whatever we can to defend these great places and assist in the rebuilding and repair after the wars have dissipated. We must preserve the past to build the future.

Fans of the Templars and fans of the Saracens will need to come together to protect the heritage of the Middle East that means so much to all of us.

And on that note – Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2017!

 

How much the Templars can teach us today

I’d like your thoughts on how much we can learn today from the experiences of the Knights Templar in the 12th and 13th centuries. We have certainly entered into a period where faith, politics and history have combined to create a particularly toxic brew. So could we find solutions by delving into the past?

2642870a1
Can the period of the Knights Templar shed any light on today’s events?

What we find might surprise us. Listening to several podcasts lately on medieval history and especially the story of the Byzantine empire, I’m struck by how fluid the boundaries were between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages. Those boundaries are becoming more fluid again.

I’ve blogged many times in the past about how the caliphate once dominated southern Europe. Spain and Portugal were majority Muslim from 711CE to around the start of the 13th century. Sicily was an emirate and Greece was swallowed up by the Ottoman empire in the late Middle Ages. For many centuries, the boundaries between the two faiths seemed set, into modern times, but that situation is changing. The question is – can we live in harmony?

800px-BattleOfHoms1299
The boundaries between Islam and Christianity have always been shifting

Just as parts of Europe were Muslim in the Middle Ages – so was the presence of Christianity surprisingly strong in North Africa and the Levant. Not just as a result of crusader conquest, but populations that had remained Christian long after the Arab conquest of the seventh century. Egypt, for example, was more than likely majority Christian for at least three hundred years after the Arabian armies stormed in. Syria had large Christian populations that are only now being finally decimated by war and terrorism. Constantinople was the capital of an eastern Christian empire that – at times – dominated Asia Minor and the Balkans until it was crushed by the Turks in the middle of the fifteenth century.

Religious zealotry – what we might now term ‘extremism’ – abounded in the medieval period. On the Christian side, new monastic orders preached asceticism and violent crusade. On the Muslim side, a violent interpretation of jihad was demanded from those who felt the caliphate had grown soft and corrupt. As Spain was slowly invaded by Christian crusader kingdoms in the north, waves of Muslim zealots – the Almohads and Almoravids – tried to put backbone in to the caliphate with a return to perceived theological purity. Sound familiar?

Cicero once correctly noted that those who ignore history fail to grasp the present and future. Quite right! So I’d like to know what you think the past can teach us today. Your thoughts would be very welcome.

 

 

 

 

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. It was a period called The Great Anarchy that tore families apart and reduced some aristocrats to outlaw status. This was at the beginning of the Templar era and a very violent time for England. 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 gory 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”. Set at the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. The series was pulled as it got sillier and sillier. But it’s a decent enough romp through the corruption of Italy at its most artistic and innovative.

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? I’m always of the view that the Targaryen family are basically the long reigning Plantagenets of England who went a bit off the rails with Richard II. The dynasty ended with his murder and a usurper Henry taking over. Sounds familiar?

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

This was a 1960s French TV series about a crusader – I just like the theme tune to be honest! It’s a classic depiction of the Templars all neatly laundered white tunics and long flowing hair. Nobody seems to ever get filthy and dirty in the battle scenes.

ARABIAN KNIGHTS

This cartoon series was part of the goofy 1960s/70s kids show Banana Splits – it completely shaped my early 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. Henry is depicted as rather dashing and good looking – which he was to start with – but he never becomes the corpulent ogre that he did in real life in this series.

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:

Where are English kings buried?

English: Effigy of Henry II of England in the ...
Effigy of Henry II of England in the church of Fontevraud Abbey

The Knights Templar existed from around the year 1118 to 1307 and I thought it might be interesting to reveal to you which kings ruled during that time and where are they buried.  So…here goes!

  • Henry I was William the Conqueror’s son and became king after his older brother was killed in a rather unfortunate hunting “accident”.  Being a Norman king, it’s not surprising that he died in Normandy – his domains in what’s now northern France. It’s said that he died from a “surfeit of lampreys”!  His body was returned to England, embalmed and sewn into a bull’s hide – nice!  He was buried in Reading Abbey but unfortunately for him, the abbey was shut down by Henry VIII four hundred years later during the Protestant Reformation and his body disappeared.
  • His successor King Stephen had a stormy reign – a period known as the Great Anarchy in England.  Embroiled in a civil war and losing the throne for a while, he managed to regain the crown but died at Dover Castle of dysentery in 1154. Buried at Faversham Abbey in Kent, his body went missing when…Henry VIII shut down the abbey during the Reformation. It’s said the local people stole the jewels off his skeleton and any other valuables.
  • Henry II took over after Stephen, the son of the Empress Matilda – daughter of Henry I – who had fought that nasty civil war with Stephen.  He married the feisty Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful medieval queens, and she and his children rebelled against him. Not a happy family! He’s buried at Fontevraud Abbey in modern France. His empire extended from Scotland to the Pyrenees.
  • Richard the Lionheart – you all know about him.  Brave crusading king who spent hardly any time in England and allegedly admired by the legendary Robin Hood (if Hollywood is to be believed).  Like his father, he was also buried in Fontevraud Abbey.
  • John – “bad king John” who signed Magna Carta, ceding power to the barons. He was forced to flee an invading French army and died of dysentery.  According to one account the disease was brought on by eating peaches and wine. He was buried in England at Worcester cathedral, largely on account of having lost his ancestral lands in France.
  • Henry III – he was buried in Westminster Abbey, which is appropriate as he rebuilt the original Saxon church into something much grander that we see today. His tomb used to be adorned with jewels but pilgrims and tourists hacked off bits of it over the centuries so only the uppermost part of the tomb glitters anymore.
  • Edward I followed the new example and was also buried in Westminster Abbey but this time in a very grand but austere tomb.  You can still see it today.  This king, you may recall, was the vanquisher of Braveheart and a stern but effective ruler.  His tomb was opened in 1774 during a rather morbid and gothic phase of grave inspecting that titillated posh society.  The king was found to be ‘richly habited, adorned with ensigns of royalty, and almost entire’. At another tomb opening around that time, of a medieval knight, one of the high society people decided to taste the remains of the Middle Ages warrior.  Ugh!
  • Edward II – the last king to preside over the Templars came to a grisly end.  Reputedly homosexual, though one can argue that with many historians, it’s alleged that his wife and her lover had him executed with a red hot poker placed somewhere I’d rather not mention!  His body was buried in an abbey that then became a place of pilgrimage, in spite of his reputation. In fact, he was so popular in death that the abbey expanded to become Gloucester Cathedral. It’s claimed the presence of his remains stopped Henry VIII shutting the place down but as it didn’t stop him dissolving the other two abbeys I mentioned, I wonder if that’s really true.