Knights Templar – A Secret History: Interview with the author Graeme Davis

davisI recently mentioned a great book on the Knights Templar by Graeme Davis that explores the many stories and myths that surround this intrepid order of warrior monks.

Graeme got in touch and I leapt at the opportunity to review his book and connect with the man himself. 

On your behalf, I posed some searching questions and I think you’ll find this a fascinating read. Share your thoughts and views as ever. But without further do – let’s go meet Graeme Davis!

You have a fascination for myth and folklore – where did this come from? And tell us how it’s influenced both your books and work on games.

It started very young. At the age of six or seven, I saw Jason and the Argonauts on my parent’s black-and-white TV, and was fascinated by Ray Harryhausen‘s monsters. A week or two later, the traveling bookmobile brought a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey to my little school, and I was hooked. That Christmas, I asked a rather nonplussed department-store Santa for a book on Greek mythology. For the rest of my childhood, I read Greek and Norse myths, the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, and anything else I could get my hands on.
About a decade later I discovered Dungeons & Dragonsand was immediately attracted to its use of creatures and concepts from mythology. I spent hours in the local library ploughing through a multi-volume set of English and Scottish folklore by county – initially to find new monsters for my games, but more and more I became intrigued by the stories themselves and the recurring motifs that seem to be independent of race and culture.

You wrote a compelling book on the Knights Templar – what interests you about the Templars? Why do you think they generate so much interest?

holyI first became aware of Templar conspiracy theories when I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a college student. I was studying archaeology and learning about the Middle Ages at the same time, and my penchant for myth and folklore had begun to develop into an interest in historical fantasy. The Templars of legend defied the worst that the Catholic Church and the crowned heads of Europe could throw at them, and are still active today, and that is a powerful narrative. Their secrets and their powers are just defined enough to make them intriguing without exposing them to detailed analysis, which ensure that they will always be intriguing.

In the book, you claim the revelations came from a certain Dr Emile Fouchet – am I correct in assuming that he may be an imaginary character? Where did you get the idea of Fouchet from?

Fouchet is completely fictional. My intention was to assemble all the Templar legends and conspiracy theories that I could find and weave them into a single narrative, but that required a framing device. By creating Fouchet and his research, I had a unifying fiction and a single voice for all the speculation that was needed to hold everything together.

The Templars have generated as much fiction as fact – do you think it matters if the boundaries are blurred or do you feel it might be even be impossible to wholly separate fact and fiction?

I think it has been impossible to separate Templar fact from Templar fiction since 1139, if not before. The events surrounding the Order’s dissolution added to the fiction, and with the rise of Templar imagery in Freemasonry that started in the 18th century, the legend grew and grew.

The Templars were accused of some pretty racy stuff back in 1307 – do you believe any of the charges were true?

Most of the charges were pretty standard for a group accused of heresy. Sodomy was a normal part of the package – we  get our word “bugger” from the name of the Bulgarian Bogomils who were accused of heresy in the 10th century. More serious, in many ways, were the charges of secret adherence to Islam, including the Baphomet-Mahomet connection remarked on by many historians. The practicalities of life in the Crusader States – and later, in the shrinking Christian foothold in the eastern Mediterranean – required those on the ground to make certain compromises for the sake of survival, and to the “armchair quarterbacks” who were safely at home in Christendom, this must have looked a lot like defection to the Islamic cause. The accounts of contemporary Arab historians show that the Templars were regarded as anything but allies.
The other charges were partly reiterations of these two – “every imaginable crime and vice,” “defy the authority of the Church,” and so on – and are too vague to shed any light. The story of trampling and spitting on the cross, one of the best-known to modern readers, emerged from questioning under torture, and was not among the formal charges.

What about the stories of treasure found under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem – are you sceptical?

I see this story as a continuation of a legend that goes back to Roman times and before. The Temple was said to contain a secret chamber into which a mechanism could lower the Ark of the Covenant for safe-keeping if Jerusalem were attacked; certainly, the Ark was not among the treasures looted from the Holy of Holies by Roman troops in AD 70. It is easy to see how rumours of a secret chamber could grow into a story of hidden treasure, especially taking into account the Islamic view of Solomon as a powerful sorcerer in addition to a wise king.

You mention in the book the possibility that the Templars got to America. Do you think there’s any likelihood that could have happened and why would they have gone there?

The story of the lost Templar fleet implies that a great Templar treasure went somewhere, and it has not been found in Europe. Scotland, its most likely destination, has yielded nothing, and the next stop is Scandinavia, where the Templar captains could very well have learned of the old Viking sea-routes to Iceland and Greenland, possibly from former Templars who had sought refuge among the Teutonic orders. While it was in decline, the Norse Greenland colony did not die out for another century, and the routes would still have been known in 1308. From there, following clues in the Icelandic sagas, it would be possible to follow Lief Eriksson’s original route and find North America. Did the Templars do so? There is no conclusive evidence, and for all we know the lost fleet – if it truly existed – might just as well have gone into the Mediterranean.

Assassin’s Creed and other works have popularised the idea of a centuries old battle between Templars and the church/Inquisition – why does this idea clearly have so much appeal?

They are perfect for historical fantasy: a secretive organisation with mysterious powers, untold wealth and influence, and a shadowy agenda which can be fitted to almost any storyline for a book, movie, or game. The idea of a secret war that lays behind the events of history as we know it is endlessly intriguing, and whether the Templars are cast as vicious power-seekers or tenacious underdogs, their historical reality and centuries-long pedigree makes them an ideal secret society to use.

Are you planning any further writing or games based on the Templars?

Not at this time, although Templar history and Medieval history in general have informed a lot of my fantasy writing down the years, and this will no doubt continue to be the case.

Here is a list of other publications by Graeme Davis that feature the Templars:

Colonial Gothic Organizations Book 1: The Templars
A sourcebook on the Templars for Rogue Games’ tabletop roleplaying game set in America’s early history.
GURPS Crusades
A mostly-historical sourcebook on the Crusades, including the role of the Templars and the Hospitallers.
“The Knights Templar,” Pyramid #3/86, December 2015
Different versions of the Knights Templar, defined for the GURPS tabletop roleplaying game.
“Templars: The Fighting Priests,” Pyramid #3/19, May 2010.
A discussion of the Templars and Templar-like organizations in fantasy games.
You can join Graeme Davis on his blog (https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/) where he has posted some of the reviews of the book: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/knights-templar-a-secret-history/
For those who don’t like Amazon, the book can be ordered directly from Osprey Publishing’s web site at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey/knights-templar
The rest of the Dark Osprey line can be seen at https://ospreypublishing.com/store/osprey-adventures/dark-osprey
Last October, Graeme published a curated anthology of early American horror stories set in and around the Colonial era. Not related to the Templars as such but great stuff! It is available via most online booksellers and direct from the publisher at http://pegasusbooks.com/books/colonial-horrors-9781681775296-hardcover
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KNIGHTFALL: The second episode!

FROM THE TEMPLAR KNIGHT BLOG

Episode 2: Find us the Grail

So now Knightfall is creating a dramatic and tense conflict between Pope Boniface VIII and William de Nogaret, chief adviser to the king of France. Scroll down and you’ll see the two historical profiles I provided you of these two very real-life characters.

Pope Boniface VIII in Knightfall
Pope Boniface VIII

As I explained in blog posts previously – and do search – De Nogaret was from a family tainted by association with the Cathar heresy. This was a large-scale rebellion in the south of France against the Catholic church led by a Christian sect that rejected the power of Rome’s bishops and priests. In my view, De Nogaret was possibly over-compensating for his family’s treachery towards the French state through being ultra-loyal to the king. But he remained hostile to the church – and especially the pope.

Boniface existed and was reviled by the poet Dante as an utterly corrupt and venal pope. However, in relation to the king of France, he was simply refusing to be his puppet. The king wanted to tax church wealth without seeking Rome’s permission and the Vatican was refusing to comply. This would eventually result in a violent physical conflict between De Nogaret and Boniface – and I wait to see how Knightfall depicts that.

As I suspected, the clash between these two medieval heavyweights has somewhat overshadowed Landry, our Knight Templar hero. But it’s a delicious and spiteful battle to watch! Ostensibly, they are duking it out over a royal marriage but we can sense there are bigger themes underlying this that will eventually lead to the destruction of the Knights Templar – an army of monastic warriors protected by the pope.

This episode flagged up King Philip of France’s hefty debts to the Templars, which we know will provoke their downfall. He’s a monarch always in debt and on the look out for treasure he can grab to balance the books. Meanwhile, the Templars, oblivious to their impending doom, are desperately looking to recover the Holy Grail – which they have carelessly lost. Click on the tab above for more information about the Templars and the Holy Grail.

The Grail plot for now is less compelling than the scheming between De Nogaret and Boniface but it’s clearly going to erupt to the surface as the series progresses. So far – so good. Your thoughts?

KNIGHTFALL character profile: Pope Boniface VIII

KNIGHTFALL (1)Knightfall is the new blockbuster drama series from the History channel featuring the Knights Templar in their final days and a quest for the Holy Grail.

It mixes fact and fiction to tell a compelling story. Some of the characters existed while others are fictional or a blend of people from that period.

I’m going to closely examine some of the factual characters in Knightfall. In this blog post, I’m looking at Pope Boniface VIII – in real life, a pope who had a dreadful relationship with King Philip of France. He is played by Jim Carter in Knightfall.

Pope Boniface VIII

bonifacePope Boniface had a miserable relationship with King Philip of France – the monarch who crushed the Knights Templar. Basically, the French king wanted to tax the Catholic church while the pope believed he needed to be asked first. It was his clergy and the king could lay off until he gave his permission. Also, the pope argued that he had no objection to funding religious wars, crusades in other words, but was less amenable to bankrolling bust ups between the kings of France and England.

There was a growing rift between a papacy that wanted to be all powerful as God’s representative on earth versus a new breed of medieval ruler that wanted full control of their own domain. These kings and queens saw the pope as a foreign intruder undermining their authority, In time, two centuries to be exact, this would lead to a religious revolution called the Reformation where monarchs like Henry VIII of England would reject the pope’s authority altogether.

Boniface didn’t lie down in the face of the French king’s aggression. He came back at him with threats of excommunication and damnation. King Philip let loose a medieval version of political spin circulating poisonous rumours that Boniface was a sodomite and diabolist.

The Italian poet Dante hated Pope Boniface as they were on opposing sides in Italy’s endless political squabbles. When he described hell in his legendary book Inferno – Dante couldn’t put Boniface in hell because he was still alive. But he had another earlier pope buried head first for the sin of simony who predicted that Boniface would soon be taking his place.

romeRelations between King Philip of France and pope Boniface just went from bad to worse. Boniface saw everything Philip did as an attack on the church. Philip reacted with measures designed to provoke Rome like banning the export of gold, silver and precious stones – a law that would starve the pope of revenue from France. There was even a suggestion that Philip wanted to establish a new Christian realm under French control incorporating the Byzantine and Holy Roman empires. In this new empire, the pope would be reduced to a patriarch on a salary.

All of this was too much for Boniface. He issued bulls and proclamations thundering that King Philip needed to acknowledge papal supremacy. He warned that he could not be answerable for Philip’s immortal soul. Boniface chastised Philip for not launching a crusade against the Muslims and urged him to reject evil counsellors. One suspects he had William De Nogaret in mind.

Things got increasingly heated. Philip started conspiring with the Italian Colonna family who detested Pope Boniface. He also convened a special council at which Boniface was accused of heresy, gross and unnatural immorality, worshipping idols, using magic and killing his predecessor as pope. If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because King Philip would use very similar charges against the Knights Templar.

Sciarra Colonna slapping Pope Boniface VIII across the face, 1303There was now a showdown between king and pope. Philip called for Boniface’s removal. Boniface demanded the French people overthrow an excommunicated monarch. That was too much for the king. His adviser William De Nogaret and a leading member of the Colonna family went with 2,000 mercenaries down to the city of Anagni where Boniface was holding court and kidnapped him.

He was eventually freed when the local people drove out De Nogaret and Anagni but died shortly afterwards. Stories circulated that in his final days he went completely mad, chewing at his own hands and smashing his head against a wall. But Boniface’s body was taken out of its marble sarcophagus in 1605 and was found to be surprisingly intact. So that bit of spin hasn’t held up.

To be clear, Boniface did not suppress the Knights Templar. What happened after his death was that King Philip eventually managed to get a French cardinal elected as Pope Clement. This pope was far more compliant and moved the church’s headquarters from Rome to Avignon in southern France. With a pope at his fingertips, Philip was able to move against the Templars with relative ease.

KNIGHTFALL character profile: William De Nogaret

KNIGHTFALL (1)Knightfall is the new blockbuster drama series from the History channel featuring the Knights Templar in their final days and a quest for the Holy Grail.

It mixes fact and fiction to tell a compelling story. Some of the characters existed while others are fictional or a blend of people from that period.

I’m going to closely examine some of the factual characters in Knightfall. In this blog post, I’m looking at William De Nogaret – in real life, a key adviser to King Philip of France and architect of the Templars’ downfall. He is played by Julian Ovenden in Knightfall.

William De Nogaret

De Nogaret came from a family that had been implicated in the Cathar heresy in southern France. This deviant form of Christianity had been condemned by the papacy which had unleashed war and damnation on the Cathars. At its height, not just the ordinary people but the aristocracy had supported a religion that refused to recognise the authority of the church and its sacraments.

nogaretClearly, De Nogaret wanted to overcompensate for this family’s past treacherous leanings. He determined to prove to the king that he was the most loyal of French subjects. This craven courtier became a pliant tool of the king’s will and an instrument for his crushing of the Templars.

However, his career was characterised by a robust contempt for the papacy. His boss, King Philip, was engaged in a long row with Pope Boniface VIII (who also features in Knightfall). Predictably, this row was about money.

Philip demanded the right to tax the church as he saw fit and stop the export of riches from dioceses in France to Rome. The king believed the Catholic church in France had a patriotic duty to support his wars financially. But the Pope thought otherwise.

Boniface wanted to continue to exert traditional church power and didn’t accept that kings could tell the church what to do or how to spend its money. Most worryingly for the court in Paris, the pope intended to excommunicate King Philip – a move that was dangerous for any royal ruler in the medieval world. After all, a king was supposed to be a divinely approved figure and to be cast out of the church undermined their very legitimacy.

arrestDe Nogaret came up with a novel idea for convincing Pope Boniface of the king’s view. He kidnapped him in Italy. And then mistreated him. But was then forced to release the pope when local townspeople besieged De Nogaret and forced him to flee back to France. When he got back there, King Philip rewarded him handsomely and both men were delighted when news broke that Pope Boniface had died.

After a short reign by a weak pope called Benedict, the French king and De Nogaret connived to get Pope Clement – a Frenchman – elected pope. He moved the centre of the Catholic church from Rome, where he had way too many enemies, to Avignon in southern France. The popes would remain in Avignon for the next hundred years. For King Philip and De Nogaret this proved to be an excellent development as they were now able to keep a very close eye and almost complete control over the leader of the Catholic church.

This was essential when it came to destroying the Knights Templar. De Nogaret was made Keeper of the Seal in 1307 and almost immediately issued warrants for the arrest of all the leading Templars in France. After they were rounded up, he worked tirelessly to extract confessions and frame the knights on trumped up charges. In this endeavour, he drew on his undoubted skills as a very smart lawyer.

In 1314, the Templar Grand Master would be burnt to death in public in Paris but De Nogaret had died the previous year. Catholic chroniclers delighted in describing his final agonies – having not forgiven him for beating up Pope Boniface and taxing the church in France.

KNIGHTFALL character profile: King Philip of France

KNIGHTFALL (1)Knightfall is the new blockbuster drama series from the History channel featuring the Knights Templar in their final days and a quest for the Holy Grail.

It mixes fact and fiction to tell a compelling story. Some of the characters existed while others are fictional or a blend of people from that period.

I’m going to closely examine some of the factual characters in Knightfall. And I’m starting with King Phlip of France, played by actor Ed Stoppard.

King Philip the Fair of France

The villain of the piece, if you’re a Templar fan! King Philip was a capricious monarch with a track record of squeezing money from different social groups in France to pay off his debts. The Jews, the church and Lombard merchants had all been given a shaking down by the king’s enforcers eager to snatch their loot.

But it took some daring to take on the Knights Templar.

philipWhy did Philip come after the knights? After all, the last Grand Master – Jacques de Molay – had been a trusted individual who had even helped to bear the coffin of his sister-in-law – Catherine de Valois –  at her funeral, days before his arrest.

Philip had first become aware of the Templar’s wealth when he had taken refuge in their Paris headquarters during severe rioting. The disturbance was his own fault. He had devalued the currency and Parisians felt short changed. So, they took to the streets and fearing for his life, Philip scuttled into the Paris Temple. What he saw there set him on a course that would destroy the order.

The huge amount of money Philip believed the Templars owned made them a target for his avarice. However, the Templars were sitting on cash that they held in trust for their rich clients. They didn’t own vast amounts – they held it to be paid back to knights on crusade who could withdraw the money using a primitive version of bank cheques while they were abroad.

philipPhilip didn’t grasp this. You could say he was financially unsophisticated. Instead, he just saw lots of loot he could get his hands on if only he could trump up some charges against the Knights Templar, shut them down and grab their assets. And that’s exactly what he did.

When the king’s soldiers arrived at the Paris Temple expecting to cart off enormous sacks of treasure – they found next to nothing. The fabled wealth turned out to be exactly that – a fable. Most likely there had been a run on the Templar bank as the order’s military fortunes declined. They were losing battle after battle in the Middle East and so what was the point in banking with them?

That didn’t stop Philip spending years putting pressure on the Pope and his inquisitors to find the Templars guilty and end up burning Jacques de Molay at the stake in front of Notre Dame cathedral.

This spectacular act of vindictiveness has astonished people down the ages. It’s left people wondering what ulterior motives the king would have had for such brutality. Did he think, as some have suggested, that the Templars were planning a coup against the monarchy in France? Were they hoping to carve out their own kingdom in southern France? Had they hidden their wealth abroad even as far as Scotland or modern day Portugal?

TemplarsAnd what of the outlandish charges made against the Knights Templar – that they engaged in sodomy, denounced Christ, worshipped a strange head and desecrated the crucifix? Most historians think these were standard issue trumped up charges used to discredit enemies of the state.

But – could the king really have believed these charges? Philip seems to have genuinely thought he was continuing the saintly legacy of his grandfather, Louis IX – a crusader king who had brought Christ’s crown of thorns to Paris.  Could Philip have sincerely felt the Templars were heretical and had to be crushed?

Whatever the truth, King Philip certainly succeeded in suppressing the Templars but it didn’t prove to be the major cash boost that he had hoped for. And it left him with a reputation for paranoia, sadism and greed.