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.

 

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

How White Supremacists and Islamists exploit the Middle Ages

IMG_3976I’ve tried to avoid this topic but with comments from white supremacists appearing on social media channels linked to this blog, I need to make my position crystal clear on the relationship between the Knights Templar, white supremacists and Islamist-inspired terrorists.

It’s quite simple. There isn’t one.

That unfortunately hasn’t stopped groups in my native United Kingdom like the English Defence League adopting Templar symbols and mottos as their own. White supremacist marchers who stormed Charlottesville in 2017 employed imagery referencing the Holy Roman Empire and the Templars. The words Deus Vult  and Saracen Go Home were recently sprayed on a mosque in the town of Cumbernauld, Scotland and extreme right groups in northern Europe and the United States can be heard yelling Non Nobis Domine.

Groan.

This might all be ignorable if the consequences weren’t so potentially fatal. On 22 July 2011, Anders Breivik killed eight people in the Norwegian capital by detonating a bomb and then made his way to a summer youth camp where he gunned down 69 teenagers. On YouTube he had posted a rambling manifesto covered in Templar imagery and ranting about the need for a crusade. I blogged at the time that this murderous sociopath had zero in common with the Knights Templar.

Why did I claim that? Here’s some reasons:

  • The Knights Templar were not loners or sociopaths. They were a military order endorsed by kings, princes and popes. The Templars ran agri-businesses (huge farms to finance the crusades), banking operations and were high level political advisers. They were not bedsit bombers or hate filled cranks.
  • Turcopoles were local Middle Eastern warriors who joined the Templars as auxiliaries. They were often Christians whose families had been Christian for longer than many families in Europe.
  • In one recorded incident, the Templars admonished a Christian who was trying to stop a Muslim praying in the Al Aqsa mosque, which was rebranded the Temple of Solomon while Jerusalem was under crusader control.
  • The Templars were respected by their Saracen opponents – not because they were racists but because of their bravery and dedication. First into battle and last to leave.
  • Christians respected Arabic learning. When the Spanish city of Toledo was taken by crusaders after centuries of Muslim control, scholars from all over Europe descended on its libraries like locusts. When the Templars were put on trial, they were accused of having been influenced by and admiring Islam.
  • Muslims and Christian realms were in much closer proximity – literally bumping up against each other. The caliphate in Spain bordered France. In Sicily, the king issued proclamations in Norman French, Greek and Arabic. The crusader states conducted trade and diplomatic relations with their Saracen enemies out of necessity. Templars would have known their Saracen counterparts, probably by name in many instances.
  • There was no concept as we understand it of white supremacy in the Middle Ages. The Templars were certainly a Christian order but Christians could still be found in large numbers in north Africa, the Middle East and the Byzantine empire (modern Turkey and bits of Syria on occasion). Christians were white and brown, to put it crudely. Please show me where a Templar ever talked about whiteness being a defining issue.
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Christian and Muslim play chess in the Middle Ages

Ultimately the Templars were all about keeping the Holy Land Christian and pushing back the caliphate in modern Spain and Portugal. But they saw this as a lofty, spiritual cause – not a thuggish day out to beat up some migrants and asylum seekers.

That is not to deny the existence today of extremist and violent Islamist inspired terrorism. To me, the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda are the mirror image of white supremacism. They preach a murderous form of religious supremacism where their victims are both Muslim (Shia, Sufi, dissenters) and non-Muslim. They frame the past in terms that are also completely ahistorical. Ignoring the complexities of medieval politics, they boil the past down to a binary struggle between the “caliphate” and the Christian “House of War”. This is as false as the perspective of white supremacists.

The caliphates of the past that they imagine were 100% Muslim were nothing of the sort. The Ottoman empire was a patchwork of ethnicities and faiths. In fact, Ottoman Constantinople had a much more diverse population then modern day Istanbul. The Ottomans also stoned less people to death over a four-hundred-year period than ISIS in two years of nightmarish terror in Syria and Iraq.

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An image to excite an Islamist ideologue

Islamists also use medieval analogies to prop up their world view. The 2017 terrorist attack in Barcelona led some blood-soaked supporters of ISIS on social media to invoke the memory of the medieval caliphate that once ruled Spain and Portugal – Al-Andalus. Ignoring the fact that Jews, Christians and Muslim co-existed under that caliphate, they claimed it was only a matter of time before Islamic rule was reinstated.

Let’s be clear on this. Islamism is an ideology developed largely in the 20th century around groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir as well as the puritan Salafi and Wahabbi schools of thought. Contrary to its claims, it is not and never has been mainstream Islam. Fortunately for the Islamists though, white supremacists characterise this ideology as…mainstream Islam – doing it a great favour. Islamist ideology has borrowed heavily from fascist and Leninist methodology and created a totalitarian version of the caliphate that neither Saracens or crusaders would have recognised.

Every so often in the history of Islam currents have emerged that are dubbed, by Muslims, as “Khawarij”. Heretical and violent bigots who believe they have the right to determine who is a good Muslim and who is not – and then to excommunicate (“takfir”) or even execute those who don’t meet their criteria. In the Qur’an, the Prophet Mohammed anticipated these people who would “recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.” He called on other Muslims to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

ISIS and Al Qaeda are Khawarij, twisting Islam to a bloody agenda. And they have a symbiotic, mutually supportive relationship with the white supremacists. Because both Islamists and white supremacists strive for an end of days civilizational clash. They crave the end of compromise, co-existence and moderation yearning instead for what ISIS terms the “extinguishing of the grey zone”.

If we want a world safe for our children – we must reject both ideologies. We can start by disconnecting the Knights Templar and the Saracens from this hateful garbage – both white supremacism and violent Islamism. It’s time for Medieval Studies departments and other experts to stop hiding under stones cowering and come out to refute this distortion of the medieval era. There has been an encouraging start from THESE medieval experts.

The silence of others is literally costing lives.

Your views, as ever, very welcome. But advocacy of racism and/or violence will be taken down.