Those of you who asked for a free copy of Quest for the True Cross (up to the 50 people limit) will now have a book making its way to you via registered mail from London. Prepare to be transported back to the 12th century and a story that will immerse you in those stormy times. Happy reading!
Researching my Templar novel was an adventure in of itself taking me to Jordan, Israel, Egypt, across southern Europe and to Templar sites in the United Kingdom. All in the name of authenticity – while keeping the book a real page turner!
Now – it just so happens that I have several T-shirts and mugs for the book with the very attractive Templar logo to give away. An ideal start to the day would be a coffee or tea in a Templar mug – don’t you think? So what do you have to do?
Well – it’s a small quest befitting any wannabe Templar. You have to buy the book on Amazon (.com, .co.uk, etc) and then review it. Once you’ve done that – send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to say the review is there. Then I’ll mail out a mug or a T-shirt. I even have some Templar coasters left and lucky winners will get one of those too.
So – invest in a great adventure (modestly priced) and write your review!
Here’s a great idea for a Templar holiday this year – visit all the Templar hotspots mentioned in my book Quest for the True Cross. I’ve been to all of them (barring one) and can guarantee – they are fascinating places. So – let’s start our quick journey!
TEMPLAR HOTSPOT ONE: Edessa
This city is now in modern Turkey – which is appropriate as it was the Seljuk Turks who drove the crusaders out of Edessa on Christmas Day in 1144. The city had been the capital of the County of Edessa, one of the first Christian kingdoms established after the First Crusade. The unsuccessful defence of the city was led by its Latin archbishop Hugh who was either trampled to death by his own fleeing flock or killed by the Seljuks as they stormed the city’s fortifications. I begin Quest for the True Cross with the siege of Edessa in full swing and two unscrupulous thieves using the tumult to steal the True Cross from a church in the city.
TEMPLAR HOTSPOT TWO: Jerusalem
Jerusalem had been taken by Christian forces in the First Crusade – in the year 1099. A contemporary chronicle claimed that the massacre perpetrated by crusaders against the populace was at such a level that blood splashed up from the streets on to the knights’ stirrups. In the years that followed, a crusader kingdom was established with the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock converted from Muslim to Christian use. This was reversed back again when Jerusalem fell to Saladin eighty years later. We meet the hero of Quest for the True Cross, Sir William de Mandeville, in Jerusalem as he helps to defend it from encroaching saracens.
TEMPLAR HOTSPOT THREE: London Templar church
The Temple church in London was the second Templar preceptory in the city and stands between Fleet Street and the river Thames. You need some imagination to picture it as part of a complex of medieval buildings long gone that would once have served the knights’ requirements. It’s now surrounded by law firms. In my novel, Sir William returns to the Temple to discover his father’s body hanging from an apple tree. This is based on a factual account of a failed rebellion by the 1st Earl of Essex Geoffrey de Mandeville’s against King Stephen. The Earl was subsequently declared an outlaw and killed. His body was forbidden a Christian burial but was rescued by the Templars. I won’t spoil what happened next – you’ll have to read Quest for the True Cross.
TEMPLAR HOTSPOT FOUR: Cressing Temple
Sir William is forced to return to the Templar preceptory where he began his life as a knight. It’s an unhappy return. The preceptory is run by a bitter old curmudgeon by the name of Wulfric who detests the young and valiant Sir William. Cressing Temple is in Essex and was once a major centre of the Knights Templar in England – founded during the unhappy reign of the aforementioned King Stephen. You can still see remains of a huge barn that I mention in the novel. I grew up in Essex and it’s with great pride that I bring this Templar gem to your attention!
TEMPLAR HOTSPOT FIVE: Clairvaux
Leaving England, Sir William journeys to Clairvaux to see his old mentor – Bernard. The French Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was a titanic figure in the Middle Ages – a reformer, ascetic, advocate of the crusades and supporter of the Templars. With the fall of Edessa to the Turks, he gave a series of rousing sermons urging the European nobility to make haste to the Holy Land and defend the Christian kingdoms. I depict Sir William as being one of many knights swept up in this fervour. Unfortunately, the Second Crusade suffered many setbacks, which hit Bernard hard. In my book, I convey his bitterness at the turn of events. I also touch on the intellectual battle that Bernard fought against a rival cleric called Peter Abelard. The latter was a worldly philosopher who offended the more spiritual Bernard.
This is an astonishing story from the Middle Ages of how a vast crusader army on the way to the Holy Land was convinced to divert to Portugal and help a small Christian kingdom take a city called Al-Usbuna from its Muslim rulers. That city would be renamed Lisbon and become the capital of Portugal. These events unfolded between 1144 and 1147 – and I touch on them heavily in my novel Quest for the True Cross. So let’s look at what happened…
In the year 1095, Pope Urban II preached a sermon at the Council of Clermont that changed history. News had come that the Christian Byzantine empire – roughly corresponding to modern Turkey and Greece – was in danger of falling to the forces of Islam. In response, the pope launched the crusades. This was to be a holy war. Those knights who took up the cross and went off to fight in the east would have all sins forgiven. It proved to be a very attractive proposition and after the first crusade, Jerusalem had been overrun by the crusaders with Christian kingdoms established in what is now modern Lebanon, parts of Syria and Israel.
But it wasn’t just the Holy Land that saw a nose-to-nose confrontation between the two faiths. Sicily had been an emirate up until 1085 when the Normans conquered it. And in modern Spain and Portugal – Muslim rulers had been in control of most of the Iberian peninsula since the year 711CE. However, they were now being pushed back slowly and in 1085, the magnificent city of Toledo was seized by King Alfonso of Leon-Castile (a Christian kingdom in northern Spain). So there were crusades in progress on multiple fronts – not just in the east.
In fact, the pope was very keen to make sure that crusaders kept up the fight in Iberia. There were dreams of creating new Christian kingdoms in that region and already – on the west side of the peninsula – a new entity called Portugal was emerging. It started out as a county of Leon but under an ambitious ruler, Dom Afonso, the territory started to assert its independence from both neighbouring Christian kingdoms and the Muslims to the south. Nevertheless, Dom Afonso felt constantly insecure about his political position. He needed a major victory against Islam to bolster his credibility and his ambition was to seize the wealthy and well defended Muslim metropolis of Al-Usbuna on the river Tagus.
It was the crafty bishop of Porto – the largest city he then ruled – who came up with the solution. Pedro Pitoes knew that a vast crusader fleet had set sail from England bound for the Holy Land. The Second Crusade was underway after the fall of the Christian controlled city of Edessa in Syria – which is where I begin the action in my novel. Pitoes encouraged this fleet to dock at Porto and then delivered a rousing speech to the warriors as they came on to land.
Yes, he told them, I know you’re off to fight in far off Syria. But there is a city right here that needs your help. And if you lend your muscle to the king of Portugal – then you will be allowed to take what you want from the city before handing it over to us. And this will be a just war in which you will be providing a great service to the church of Rome. That was the gist of his speech, which features in Quest for the True Cross.
The crusaders – amazingly – were convinced. This would lead to a delay of many months before they reached their final destination in the east. And along the way, as I detail in Quest, there were many grumbles and mutinous moments. But somehow, thousands of men from Flanders, Germany, England, France and elsewhere were convinced to march to the walls of Al-Usbuna and end four centuries of Muslim rule there.
I place my hero – an English Templar knight called Sir William de Mandeville – in the centre of this incredible tale. The details of the siege and the characters involved were taken from a contemporary account called De Expugnatione Lyxbonensi – The Conquest of Lisbon – written by an Anglo-French priest who was present throughout the battle.
Especially for those of you outside of the UK who have never seen this series – it’s essential viewing. Tony Robinson is something of a pop historian with a particular interest in what ordinary people were doing at different stages of history. This is an episode of a series he made called ‘Worst Jobs in History’ where he focuses on the Middle Ages – it may alter your perceptions of that period.
One thing he illustrates is how unbelievably tedious the process of making chain mail was – the poor sods who had to hammer thousands upon thousands of rings together to make one chain mail suit.
BBC Leeds ran an interesting article on its website about the Knights Templar in Leeds – maybe not a place you would automatically associate with the Order. Leeds is a large northern English city that grew to its current size on the back of the industrial revolution. But if we went back a few centuries previous, we’d find it was home to a large Templar preceptory founded in 1155.
The evidence is scattered all over Leeds in various names that reference the Templars. Templar Street, Temple Row and my favorite – Templegate Drive (sounds like a Suzi Quatro number). Temple Moor school sits on former Templar property and Templar crosses could still be seen on many old buildings in the city at the start of the twentieth century.
Temple Newsam was the heart of the Templar community in Leeds though you’d be hard pressed to find much evidence now. A lot of medieval remains were swept away during the industrial age or by kitsch landscaping in the eighteenth century.
The farmlands around the Jacobean mansion that now dominates Temple Newsam (built three hundred years after the Templar Order was supressed) were landscaped by Capability Brown – an expert in creating perfect forests, articifical lakes and many of the romantic notions we have of the English countryside.
The BBC repeats an old speculation that the fictional Temple Stowe in nineteenth century author Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe was based on Temple Newsam. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that Scott depicts the Templars as all round baddies – a very distorted though enjoyable depiction of the Order.
In 1311, the preceptory was shut down and became the property of King Edward II. You’ll recall he’s the king supposedly killed by having a red hot poker placed inside him – I’ll spare you the details. In a previous blog I mentioned the Templar hating bishop who rejoiced in Edward’s downfall. But before that happened, Edward profited himself from the end of the Order.
However, an inventory from the time doesn’t reveal glittering treasures at Temple Newsam but a well run and thriving agricultural community. It was in the fleeces and hides of sheep and cows that the Temple generated the wealth to fund their crusade in outremer.
As I say then, not much to see above ground in Leeds but the heritage is there – and the city has plenty of other charms.