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.


Discovering the treasure of the Knights Templar – “Buried” on the History channel

Get read to find out where the treasure of the Knights Templar is buried – when the History channel airs Buried on 31 January, 2018. And guess who appears as an expert when they arrive in Portugal? Yes – me!

I’ll be seen clambering around tunnels in Tomar, once the nerve centre of Templar operations in Portugal. This is where the knights fought off repeated invasions of the Iberian peninsula from Muslim forces in the south. It’s also where the Templars transformed into the Order of Christ after they were banned in 1307.

Buried is accompanying the History channel drama series Knightfall – which you will know all about if you follow this blog! So….look out for me on screen soon!

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Discipline in a Knight Templar squadron

Templar artworkIt’s almost amusing to read the Templar Rule on how a Templar squadron should behave on crusade.  Basically, the Templars were required to ride in silence and not break rank unless given explicit permission to do so.  No bawdy songs or idle chatter – the Templars really were boy scouts.  What a contrast they must have been to the secular knights.

Even if a Templar saw somebody being attacked by a Saracen, there was a strict procedure to follow in how he conducted himself.  Just read this from the Rule:

And if it happens by chance that any Christian acts foolishly, and any Turk attacks him in order to kill him, and he is in peril of death, and anyone who is in that area wishes to leave his squadron to help him, and his conscience tells him that he can assist him, he may do so without permission, and then return to his squadron quietly and in silence.

So having stuck his sword in to a Saracen’s head, a Templar couldn’t come back panting and whooping shouting ‘ya see what I did there!’.   No – he had to be calm and stoic and continue riding in silence.  If he did charge off from his squadron..

..justice will be done even as far as going on foot to the camp and taking from him all that may be taken from him except his habit.


Knight roasted to death in his armour

knightWe move a hundred years forward from the suppression of the Templar order to an incident that illustrates the horrors of medieval war.  By the fifteenth century, knights were kitted out in the heavy plate armour that most people associate with the medieval period.  Though Templars never wore such cumbersome sheets of metal.

From the end of the Templar period and for the next century – the English waged a long and bloody war against the French.  This culminated in the brilliant though hugely expensive and ultimately unsuccessful battles fought by Henry V.  In 1417, he laid siege to Caen – ancestral seat of the Norman kings who had ruled England from 1066.

It meant a lot to get Caen back in to the Norman/Angevin/English empire.  So a vicious battle was fought and the city eventually taken.  But not before one hapless knight called Sir Edmund Springhouse had a little accident in his full armour.

The problem was – well, you try climbing a scaling ladder up the side of a castle wall with who knows what being thrown down at you while you are wearing a full suit of armour.  Poor Sir Edmund lost his footing and fell to the ground very painfully.

Encased in his heavy armour and probably having broken something like a leg or arm, he couldn’t get up.  But worse was that he now found himself surrounded by enemy French troops who took one look at him and decided to inflict what can only be described as a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.

They heaped hay and straw on his prone and groaning figure – largely obscured from view by his armour and helmet – and then set the material on fire.  Unable to rise, Sir Edmund was duly roasted alive inside what should have been a protective suit of armour.  What a gruesome way to go!

Templar armor – common mistakes

A twelfth century soldier

This isn’t a Templar but elements of the armor are similar to what a knight of the Order would have worn in the twelfth century – when the Templars were founded.  Note, there is no helmet with a moveable visor – not a common feature of armor until the next century.

The one piece chain mail extending over the head is the norm.  And the kite shield one normally associates with the Normans is still a standard piece of kit.

There’s no fancy helmets or suits of armor with plates of steel that are worn in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.  Boots are much simpler that the footwear that will follow in the centuries ahead and the Templar used swords with minimal ornamentation.

Knights of Malta spotted in Baghdad

The veteran journalist and scourge of the Vietnam War, Seymour Hersh, has angrily claimed that US military leaders in the Iraq War were linked to the Knights of Malta – that they saw their mission as one to replace mosques with cathedrals.

“That’s the attitude – we’re gonna change mosques in to cathedrals.  That’s an attitude that pervades.  I’m here to say.  A large percentage of the  Joint Special Operations Command.”

This speech was being delivered in Qatar this week and Hersh said the war against Saddam Hussein was seen as a crusade pure and simple. 

Alleging that commanders in the US army were also connected to Opus Dei, he went on:

“They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the thirteenth century.  And this is their function.”

He added the curious allegation that these generals pass crusader coins or that have crusader insignia between them. 

“They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

Needless to say Catholic bloggers have not been delighted by the reference to the Order of Malta.  Catholic League president Bill Donohue blasted Hersh on the Catholic Online website:

“So this is the group that Seymour Hersh seeks to demonize. His long-running feud with every American administration-he now condemns President Obama for failing to be “an angry black man”-has disoriented his perspective so badly that what he said about the Knights of Malta is not shocking to those familiar with his penchant for demagoguery.”

I bring this spat to your attention as it conjures up images of Christian knights versus Saracens being replayed a thousand years later.  But is it actually true?  There’s no doubt that some of the rhetoric post-9/11 had an unfortunate crusader tinge to it – and the word ‘crusade’ was even used injudiciously to refer to the Iraq War.

But we then have to take a leap further and ask is the US military really engaged on a project to roll back Islam and establish crusader states in the Middle East (excepting Israel which muslim fundamentalists would call a de facto crusader state)? 

If they are – they’ve failed spectacularly.  The only state with a smile all over its face in the Middle East today is Iran – is that what our erstwhile crusaders thought would be the outcome in 2003?

The missing Templar bodies at Segovia

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 00.51.02Here is a church I thoroughly recommend you visit if you find yourself in central Spain – Vera Cruz – named after the True Cross which it claimed to contain.  It’s just outside the old town of Segovia, sixty miles out of Madrid.  Easy train journey from the Spanish capital and worth an overnight stay.

Segovia itself is a very odd layout – let me tell you a bit about that place first.

Right through the middle of the town – in fact, it feels like the end of the old town, is a wacking great Roman aquaduct.  The town centre is in a low but steep valley and you can climb up some steps that take you to the uppermost level of the aquaduct and you get the vertiginous experience of looking down at the structure at close range.  The people below look like ants next to it.  You have to admire Roman engineering.

When you’re through with that and eaten some suckling pig for dinner – the local speciality – walk out of town towards the church of Vera Cruz.  A round building that imitates the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and we all know what that means – Templars.  A tower has been added at some point but you can see very clearly that it was built by the Order.

Painted on the walls in red are fading Templar crosses but what the guide books never mention is what you find if you just walk round the edge of the building.   My friend and I had to negotiate what looked like building rubble but there were the umistakable body shaped holes in the ground.  Emptied medieval tombs where shrouded figures had once lain.  Simple question – where are they now?  And when were they removed?

Digging up the dead, desecrating their memories, is not unknown in Spanish history.  It was even done in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s when anarchists exhumed priests’ and nuns’ bodies and propped them up against church walls – a practice condemned by the mainstream Republican left I should add.

So were these Templars dug up when the Order was condemned by papal decree?  Was it a way of showing loyalty to the papacy and throwing out these heretical cadavers.  Unless told otherwise, I’m going to assume it was.