Templar hero: Gualdim Pais

We think of the Crusades as a series of battles between Christianity and Islam fought in the Middle East. But in fact, the Crusades were fought in many places including modern Spain and Portugal.

When the Knights Templar were founded in 1119, the Iberian peninsula was divided between an Islamic caliphate in the south and several Christian kingdoms in the north. Separating these two very different and warring realms was a buffer zone that swapped hands over and over.

Between the rivers Mondego and Tagus in Portugal lay lands referred to in the medieval period as ‘nullis diocesis’ – territory with no bishop or patriarch. Church and state had no firm hold over these lands. Instead, crusaders and Moors (the Muslim armies) fought each other bitterly gained and losing the advantage.

It fell to the Knights Templar to try and hold the line. The king of Portugal gave the Templars control over nullis diocesis hoping their combination of religious zeal and military courage would be enough to push back the Moorish invaders.

The knights built a string of castles to defend their position. One such was the fortress at Tomar, which you can still see today. It’s famous for an octagonal church that lies within it referred to as the ‘charola’ – allegedly modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

D._Gualdim_Pais,_Mestre_dos_Templários_-_História_de_Portugal,_popular_e_ilustradaThe Portuguese Templars at Tomar elected a grand master for their new nation and the most famous of these was a formidable character called Gualdim Pais. You can still see a statue of him in the town square. He holds a kite shield and resembles a Norman knight of that period.

He had served in the Holy Land and been present at the Siege of Ascalon in 1153 – when Fatimid Egypt had been soundly defeated. Back in his native country, he fought yet another crusade. The difference being that this war, by and large, was moving in favour of the Christian side. Bit by bit, the Islamic caliphate of Al-Andalus, that had ruled much of Spain and Portugal for four hundred years, was gradually being driven back.

However, in 1190, Gualdim faced a dire threat he might never have anticipated. A vast army from Morocco surged through southern Portugal and arrived at the mighty stone walls of Tomar. So bitter was the hand to hand combat that a door into the city is still called the Gate of Blood. The ground was crimson as both sides thrust and cut at each other.

Five years later, Gualdim died and was buried in the church of Santa Maria Olival, which you can visit today.

 

 

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Templar hero: André de Montbard

Right at the beginning of the Templar story, nine knights gathered to found a new order of warriors who would take monastic vows. One of them was a man called André de Montbard. So, what do we know about him?

montbardWell, he was the uncle of a very influential religious figure called Bernard of Clairvaux – later to be made a saint. Bernard was a really unusual individual. He was constantly plagued by illness including what appear to have been severe migraine attacks and high blood pressure. But far from adopting a healthy regime, Bernard tortured his own body with punishing routines of fasting, sleep deprivation and intense prayer. The sort of thing that impressed people in the Middle Ages!

Bernard had joined an order of monks called the Cistercians who wanted to bring back some discipline and modesty to medieval monasticism. He hated twiddly ornamentation in churches and illuminated bibles and believed monks should eat very plain food. So not much fun to be holed up in a monastery with Bernard – unless you shared his point of view.

Crucially, he also believed that killing in the name of Christ was OK. You weren’t committing homicide – killing a human in other words – you were killing evil. And that was just fine. So when Bernard got a visit from his uncle André de Montbard in 1126, who wanted to tell him all about the new order of Templars, it was a marvellous meeting of minds. Bernard didn’t need much convincing to swing his support behind his uncle’s friends.

Uncle and nephew wrote to each other over the years exchanging very touching thoughts. Uncle André was busy with the Second Crusade in the Holy Land while Bernard made rousing speeches to huge throngs of peasants urging them to go and fight. The future saint also found time to write the rule book for the Templars and promote the order to the pope as a jolly good idea.

Towards the end of his life, a chronically sick Bernard begged André to come and see him again. Though he also acknowledged that the crusades were in trouble and needed André’s undivided attention:

…I wish even more strongly to see you. I find the same wish in your letters, but also your fears for the land that Our Lord honoured with His presence and consecrated with His blood…

Bernard began to realise he might never see his uncle again and their conversations would have to continue beyond the grave.

But let us mount above the sun, and may our conversation continue in the heavens. There, my Andre, will be the fruits of your labours, and there your reward…

The two never met again. André de Montbard had his work cut out as Muslim armies put huge pressure on the Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. This took its toll on the Templar Grand Masters. Everard des Barres, third master of the Templars, resigned and went to join Bernard as a monk in his abbey.

Des Barres had already been absent from the Holy Land for a while and this clearly annoyed André de Montbard. He was effectively his second in command as Seneschal and wrote a rather testy letter to his boss asking him to come back and show some leadership:

Never has your presence been more necessary to your brothers. And however Providence may dispose of us, do not hesitate to start your journey back.

But Des Barres decided he’d had his fill of dangerous battles in far off lands. Instead, he tonsured his head, put on a plain monks’ habit and went off to pray with Bernard for the rest of his life. The Templars then elected Bernard de Tremelay as Grand Master number four.

But De Tremelay was killed during the siege of Ascalon – controlled by Egyptian forces. A breach in the wall of the city was created and Bernard unwisely rushed in with a band of Templars. This act reflected the first in/last out mentality of the Knights Templar – depicted as courage by their supporters and vainglorious rashness by their detractors. All of these Templars were cut to pieces and their bodies displayed, hanging headless from the walls.

André found himself elected the fifth Grand Master. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy his time in that position. Less than three years later he passed away in Jerusalem – the last of the original nine knights who had founded the Knights Templar.

 

How would a Knight Templar celebrate Christmas?

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A Victorian take on the medieval Christmas

Christmas. What’s not to like? The decorations, pudding, cake, fir tree decked with lights, Santa Claus and his little elves.

Now imagine a Christmas without any of these things. Then you’re getting closer to Yuletide at the time of the Knights Templar!

So – key points for celebrating Christmas medieval style:

  • Advent is not about calendars popping open a day at a time with a chocolate sweet behind each little door. No – Advent is about fasting before Christmas. Oh yes – no goodies and plenty of hunger pangs. You’re preparing yourself for Christ’s arrival on earth so no binge eating and lots of prayer.
  • Christmas in pagan Roman times was the festival of Saturnalia where slaves and masters swapped roles for a day. This tradition mutated under Christianity into a curious practice where boys were made bishops for a day. The boy-bishops would deliver silly sermons – in one recorded instance saying that all school teachers should be hanged!
  • Deck your cottage or halls with holly and ivy but you won’t find a single Christmas tree in medieval Europe. And certainly not one covered in lights with a fairy on top.
  • No turkey on the table because these birds only arrived in Europe after Christopher Columbus discovered America. So, you had goose, beef, lamb and….the king might have enjoyed a peacock (Richard II of England certainly did). An aristocratic feast would most likely have featured a boar’s head as the centrepiece.
  • Thanks to the crusades, spices from the Middle East began to appear on medieval tables. We’re used to cinnamon flavouring but this was a newcomer. Ditto marzipan – another import from the exotic lands where the Knights Templar were doing battle.
  • Mince pies were made with mince – and flavoured with the aforementioned spices from the East.
  • Spices also featured in a drink called Wassail – drunk from a huge wassailing bowl. The bowl might be taken door to door for villagers to have a glug. Wassail was a very spicy form of cider that would have appeared like stewed apple. Should you wish to make some – HERE is a recipe.  The word Wassail comes from the Saxon/Old English for “good health” – in case you were wondering.
  • Christmas was first recorded as a word around 1038 and meant a religious mass to celebrate the birth of Christ. That meant going to church. It was obligatory. But singing carols was regarded as a bit of a nuisance by the church authorities – too much rowdiness it seems.

Carols were sung by singers standing in a circle. And they’re quite different to the jolly tunes we’re familiar with. Here’s a group re-enacting what they probably sounded like.

 

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?

The most horrific disease at the time of the Knights Templar

Imagine a disease that results in you losing your fingers and toes, your nose collapsing and going blind – just because somebody sneezed over you. By the time the Knights Templar were formed in the early 1100s, Europe was in the grip of a leprosy epidemic. Villages all over England saw poor unfortunates excluded and shunned for bearing the tell-tale signs of Hansen’s disease.

leper monks
A bishop confronted by several monks in the 1300s who have got leprosy

You had to come into close contact with an untreated leper and be exposed to their nasal droplets but clearly this happened as more and more people succumbed. In the period in which the Templar order existed – 1118 to 1314 – over 300 leper houses were established across England. Some believed that if they were kind to lepers, then God would shorten their time in purgatory after they died for their acts of charity to the afflicted.

But many more medieval folk simply wanted lepers shunted away and unseen. They even insisted that they carry a bell around their neck to announce that they were in the vicinity. You can imagine the terror that some superstitious and ignorant peasants felt when they heard that bell coming towards them. They might have hidden behind a bush until the sad, bedraggled figure limped past.

The bacteria that causes leprosy – Mycobacterium leprae – is slow growing and today very treatable. But of course with no modern medicine in the medieval period, an infected person could expect a long period of painful suffering before death. And I’m talking years here.

Greensted-Church-Essex-Lepers-Squint
The leper squint at Greenstead

So in my book Quest For The True Cross – I have a village leper called Jake, once a respected member of the community and now an outcast. Somebody like him would have been a familiar figure. Villagers might have remembered him as a fixture down the local tavern but now reduced to being treated like a dog with scraps thrown to him while he watched holy mass through a hole in the church wall – called a “leper squint”. There is one such squint in a Saxon church at Greenstead near where I grew up.

When somebody was identified as having succumbed to leprosy, they had to undergo an unusual religious ritual where they were officially excluded from the community. The priest would lead the leper to the local church telling him or her on the way that while they were sick in body, their immortal soul might still be pure. In life the leper would endure pain but in death, the invalid could ascend to heaven with a body free of disease.

Once inside the church, the leper had to kneel under a black cloth – almost as if he was dead already – while the priest set out the rules by which he or she would now have to live:

I forbid you ever to wash your hands or even any of your belongings in spring or stream of water of any kind and if you are thirsty, you must drink water from your cup or some other vessel.

The leper was told by the priest, in no uncertain terms, to wear the designated clothes, carry the bell; never to touch things they wanted to buy but point; never to enter taverns again; to only have intercourse with their own husband or wife; never go down a narrow alley in case they infected somebody; not to touch fences or posts; avoid infants and to only eat and drink in the company of other lepers.

And know that when you die you will be buried in your own house unless it be by favour obtained beforehand in the church.

The most famous leper known to the Knights Templar was the young King of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV – featured with a silvery mask in the movie Kingdom of Heaven. In spite of the debilitating condition and the appalling attitudes towards leprosy in the Middle Ages, Baldwin was able to rule for eleven years and fought the Saracens bravely in the Holy Land.

Here is a tribute to the leper king of Jerusalem:

A Templar adventure for you to enjoy this Christmas!

Templar CrossThis Christmas, relax by the fire with a historical adventure that will transport you back to the Middle Ages and a time of battle, adventure and danger. Join my Templar hero William de Mandeville as he searches for the True Cross, the most holy relic of the Knights Templar, stolen by the Saracens!

See him team up with a Syrian mercenary Pathros and an English urchin Nicholas as they travel across the known world to find the lost treasure. They will encounter corrupt and murderous clerics, barbaric crusaders, a sadistic sultan and the beautiful Orraca – who will fall in love with William but….how that love will be tested!

In the United States, it’s available as an e-book or paperback via Amazon – click HERE.

It’s also stocked by Abe Books in the US – click HERE.

In the United Kingdom, Waterstones is retailing the book for £2.99 – click HERE for more details.

HAPPY FESTIVE READING!!

 

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.