Treasure of the Knights Templar

One of the greatest mysteries relating to the Knights Templar is whether the order discovered some form of treasure in Jerusalem that would offer an explanation for their fabulous wealth.

Nine knights at the start of the 12th century went to the Patriarch of Jerusalem and asked for permission to guard the roads in to the holy city to safeguard pilgrims. They wanted to form a new order that would combine militaristic valour with monastic discipline and piety. The Patriarch and secular authorities gave the knights the green light and so the Templars were launched.

Baldwin lets the Tempars base themselves at the Al Aqsa mosque – the temple of Solomon

They asked to be based in the Al Aqsa mosque, which they believed dated back to the reign of king Solomon – pre-dating the destruction of the great Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. King Baldwin of Jerusalem agreed to them being based at this auspicious location. These crusaders were to become the knights of the Temple – the Templars.

In a very short period of time, they began to amass significant wealth. How was this achieved? There are several explanations. The nine knights themselves were well connected aristocrats plugged into a network of well-heeled supporters in the church and state. Bequests began to flood in from those looking to support the crusade in the Holy Land and hoping for divine favour in the afterlife.

As the Templars grew establishing preceptories across Europe, they created a complex financial and economic network to fund their activity in the Middle East. The order even developed the first banking cheques allowing knights to travel great distances without having to carry their wealth in chests. The Templars became money lenders to princes and ran an efficient farming enterprise. So is this where all their money came from?

Well, not according to sources down the centuries. In the 19th century, evidence emerged of excavations underneath the Al Aqsa mosque suggesting the Templars had been digging away for something. Of course, this gave rise to speculation that they had found some form of treasure – possibly the Holy Grail (with little agreement on what that actually is) –  explaining their sudden leap in wealth.

As the crusades crumbled in the 13th century, the Templars were forced to abandon Jerusalem. The theory then goes that they hauled their treasure off to be stored in their most formidable and well guarded preceptory in Paris. This building with its thick walls still stood during the 1789 French revolution but was demolished in stages in the years that followed.

So did the Templars get their wealth out of Paris as their leaders were put on trial for heresy by king Philip the Fair of France – a monarch always short of money who fleeced the Templars, the church, the Jewish community and anybody else who could pay for his wars?

When the Templars were rounded up and arrested in 1307, some were imprisoned at the fortress of Gisors in France. Graffiti on the walls was said to include the image of a large cart carrying treasure away.  A caretaker at Gisors in 1929 claimed to have found an underground chapel crammed with vast riches. However, when the local authorities turned up to investigate further, there was nothing at all. He was duly fired.

In the 1960s, the French culture minister Andre Malraux ordered a new dig at Gisors using the army instead of archaeologists. But even their heavy muscle failed to reveal a thing. There was no Templar treasure.

When King Philip of France – scourge of the Templars – sent his forces to raid the Templar headquarters in Paris in 1307, the cupboard was indeed bare. There’s no doubt there had been a great deal of loot within its walls because the king had seen it himself on a previous visit but now….nothing. Had the Templars under cover of night spirited away their treasure?

Some were convinced they had. So where did it go? One theory was that the surviving knights headed to the port of La Rochelle and took their ships, loaded with riches, to England and then on to Scotland. There, they helped the plucky Scots beat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn – a claim the Scots dislike as it infers they couldn’t win their own battles!

There were already Templars in Scotland, dating back to the order’s earliest days. The knights hooked up with Henry Sinclair, the Earl of Orkney. In the late 14th century, the story runs that Sinclair and the knights used old Viking routes to sail to Iceland, Greenland and then to Vinland in modern Canada. There, they founded a kingdom that the native Iroquois referred to as Saguenay.

Is this painting trying to tell us something about the Templars?

Stories of Saguenay and the Scottish connection were picked up by French missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries who duly reported back to the Vatican. One theory is that the 17th century French artist Poussin hints at knowledge of Templars in the New World in his painting Et in Arcadia Ego, also referred to as The Arcadian Shepherds.

I will explain this theory in more depth in another blog post.



Did the Templars fight at the Battle of Bannockburn?

Did this king get a helping hand from the Templars?

In 1307, the Knights Templar in France were being arrested en masse and flung into prisons to be tortured till they confessed to heinous crimes like spitting on the cross and denying Christ. But, some Templars got away. It’s asserted that they fled in two directions: Portugal and Scotland.

Down in Portugal they were given royal protection and morphed into the Order of Christ – playing a leading role in the discovery of the New World. In Scotland, they teamed up with Robert the Bruce to defeat the England at the Battle of Bannockburn.

That’s according to historian Robert Ferguson who says their involvement tipped the balance in favour of the Scots. Now, not only is that a claim that raises the hackles of many Scottish nationalists but it was derided as rubbish by leading Templar historian Helen Nicholson back in 2009.

However, Ferguson is adamant that between 29 and 48 Templars were on the battlefield with the Scottish when they inflicted a historic defeat on the old enemy. Nicholson counters that the only Templars left with real fighting ability in 1307 would have been in their last stronghold of Cyprus.


Magna Carta – a feminist charter?

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 00.38.31There’s been plenty of talk in the UK about the 799th anniversary of Magna Carta this month – with the 800th anniversary looming next year. Politicians have been banging on about the need to use this ancient document to re-instil “British values” in our multicultural land.  The thing is – if any of these parliamentarians actually took the trouble to read the document they claim to know so much about (prime minister David Cameron famously couldn’t translate the latin when asked to do so on the Letterman show), they’d find some very surprising things.

For example (with supporting quotes):


(7) At her husband’s death, a widow may have her marriage portion and inheritance at once and without trouble. She shall pay nothing for her dower, marriage portion, or any inheritance that she and her husband held jointly on the day of his death. She may remain in her husband’s house for forty days after his death, and within this period her dower shall be assigned to her.

(8) No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband. But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent, if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord she may hold them of.


(41) All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs.


(56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.


(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.


(23) No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so.


(35) There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russett, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly.


(20) For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a royal court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood.

I’m sure these aren’t the British values that prime minister David Cameron intended!

Maps of the Templar world

I have always loved historical maps – they never give a wholly accurate view of what the reality was on the ground but they’re fascinating to pore over. And here are some images of Europe and the Middle East at the time of the Knights Templar. What a different world they present!

Going from left to right across Europe, these maps reveal the tempestuous political climate of the period.  The Norman aristocracy of England had begun its slow invasion of Ireland as you can see by a smattering of pink on the east coast, Wales and Scotland were still independent and the English crown still claimed vast swathes of what is now France.

The Iberian peninsula is even more striking. Half of it was still under Islamic control – having been completely invaded in the year 711CE.  Christian kingdoms like Leon, Castille, Portugal as well as Aragon and Navarre had begun the ‘Reconquest‘ aided by crusaders and Templars from all over Europe.

Central Europe was dominated by the Germanic Holy Roman Empire that stretched down into northern Italy meeting the Norman controlled southern half of the boot.  Venice was independent and increasingly challenged the fading power of the Byzantine Empire – which it would eventually deal a huge blow against in the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

Beyond the Byzantines – the Greek speaking inheritor of the eastern Roman empire centred on Constantinople – was the encroaching realms of the Seljuk Turks.  The Seljuks had become the dominant force in the Islamic Middle East and would crush crusader controlled Edessa in 1144.

Enjoy the maps!

Map of medieval Europe map of medieval europe map of medieval europe

The son of the man who killed Macbeth becomes king

An interesting anniversary today.  Alexander the first became king of Scotland on this day in the year 1107 – being the son of Malcolm Canmore, the man who killed Macbeth.  Malcolm was a Celt to the very bone whereas his wife Queen Margaret was an Anglo-Saxon.  He allowed her to give their children Anglo-Saxon and non-Scottish names and so Alexander appears to have been named after Alexander the Great – a revered figure in the Middle Ages – or possibly after a pope of the time.

Malcolm was killed while raiding in to Northumberland, which was now under the Norman yoke – as was the rest of England. The reason for the raids is rooted in the dynastic politics of the time with agreements made and broken between the Scots and rulers of England – so no change there then! One has to add in to the mix, the presence on what is now Scottish soil of Scandanavian rulers. The north and west of the country was very much part of the Viking world and this influence is made very evident in Shakespeare’s play on the life and death of Macbeth.

With king Malcolm slain in Northumbria, Scots showed their Saxon queen what they really thought of her and such was the animosity that her sons fled to England.  Hard to believe that Queen Margaret would eventually be declared a saint – she certainly wasn’t worshiped by the Celtic nobility at this time.  The Norman king – William the second known as “Rufus” on account of his flaming red hair – saw an opportunity to meddle in Scottish politics and seized it.  He installed Edgar, one of the sons, on the throne as his loyal vassal and there he remained until he died at a relatively young age.

Then enter Alexander – the next in line to the throne as Edgar had no children.  He doesn’t appear to have broken with the Normans and was probably not greatly enamoured of the old Celtic families that had forced him to flee and given his mother such a rough time.  To their horror, he married the illegitimate daughter of Henry I – now king of England after Rufus died in a hunting accident often suspected to have been murder.  He also brought the distinctive Celtic Christian church closer to the rites of Rome – a slap in the face to the country’s ancient traditions.

Going back to Macbeth – the eleventh century king of Scotland who Shakespeare turned in to a monster – if you have never seen the play, then it’s a definite must.  There are various film versions – the two most famous directed in the 1940s by Orson Welles and in the 1970s by Roman Polanski. And the more recent movie with Michael Fassbinder.

The Roman Polanski version:

When Braveheart killed two Templar masters

BraveheartThose who have seen the movie ‘Braveheart’ will know that the English army got a pasting at the battle of Stirling Bridge after which a furious King Edward I – ruler of England and his dominions in Wales, Ireland and France – charged back from the latter country to confront William Wallace, now appointed Guardian of Scotland.

Edward was an energetic king who seemed to relish battle on multiple fronts expanding his realm to cover what is now called the ‘United Kingdom’ as well as struggling to hold and increase the ancestral lands on the other side of the English Channel.

Edward expected all subjects to back his campaigns and this included the Templars.  Now, of course that posed – in theory – a little problem for the Order.  Their first loyalty was to the Pope, not any particular king.  They were also forbidden to fight in wars that pitted Christian against Christian.  However these rules didn’t seem to stop the Templar master in England – Brian Le Jay – joining Edward’s side at the Battle of Falkirk.  This was the great clash where Edward got his bloody revenge against Wallace, weakening the great Scottish general.

Le Jay was a rather colourful character.  One of these people in history who seems to have stuck his finger in the wind, worked out which way it was blowing and acted accordingly – to make sure he was on the winning side.  He’d actually been the Grand Master in Scotland before taking over in England.  So by the time Falkirk came round, he found himself with the stronger king, ready to do battle at his side.

ivanhoe-movie-poster-copyEdward had previously insisted, when Le Jay was still Scottish master, that he swear allegiance to him and not the Scottish king and Le Jay, sensing which way that political wind was blowing, duly obliged.  No wonder the Victorian Scottish novelist Walter Scott detested the memory of Le Jay and based his evil Templar characters on him in his novel, Ivanhoe.

To my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but the man who became Templar master in Scotland after Le Jay and was in place for the Battle of Falkirk – John de Sawtrey – also fought with Edward against the Scottish king.  So the Templars were very much on the Angevin/English side against Scotland.  A good decision in that Edward won the battle – a bad decision in that both Templar masters were killed pursuing Scottish solders who were fleeing through a forest.

In spite of the support of these Templar leaders, Edward I had a bit of form when it came to regarding the Templars as little more than piggy banks to be raided when he needed the money.  In his youth, he had attacked the Temple in London to get funds for a civil war against the barons.  This was when Simon de Montfort and the barons had rebelled against Edward’s father Henry III.

London had come out for the barons and Edward had to flee the city with his tail between his legs.  His wife, Eleanor – later revered in saintly terms when she died – was forced to take refuge in Saint Paul’s cathedral from a mob that was pelting her with stones and filth.

On his way up to fight the Scots, Edward I had availed himself of Templar hospitality including a night at Temple Newsam outside Leeds, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  By all rights he and his family should have been well disposed to the Templar Order but as Europe turned against the Templars, so did the Angevin monarchs.  Edward I’s son, Edward II, had no hesitation grabbing Templar property when the opportunity presented itself.

As for Wallace – he had cut down the two most powerful Templars in the kingdom but he himself would be brutally executed in London not long after.  The spot where he was hung, disemboweled, etc is not far from where I work and flowers are still placed there by fans.