Friday 13th and the end of the Knights Templar

dayIt’s one of those weeks again when a Friday 13th occurs and our thoughts turn to the Knights Templar. So why is the 13th so significant?

On the morning of Friday 13th October 1307, a huge dawn raid saw Templars all over France rounded up and imprisoned. Orders to conduct this raid had been secretly circulated to law enforcement officers – bailiffs as they were termed – from the King of France.

King Philip the Fair had resolved to destroy the order with one devastating blow. Each bailiff would have read the king’s words with trepidation:

A bitter thing, a lamentable thing, a thing which is horrible to contemplate, terrible to hear of, a detestable crime, an execrable evil, an abominable work, a detestable disgrace, a thing almost inhuman, indeed set apart from humanity.

The king claimed that while the Templars said they were Christian, they were in effect nothing of the sort. Honest men had informed the royal authorities that these knights were spitting and urinating on crucifixes and worshipping devilish idols. Worse, the Templars were giving each other illicit kisses all over their bodies including the “base of the spine”.

Every member of the Knights Templar was to be held for trial by the church while the King of France would take over all the assets of the Templars – buildings, gold, farms, etc.

Some knights managed to escape including the Preceptor of France, Gerard de Villiers. One has to feel rather sorry for another terrified knight who ditched his white mantle, shaved his beard and got into disguise but was still apprehended by the king’s men.

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Templars: once revered, now hated

The evidence suggests that nearly all the Templars had no idea what was about to happen. As the bailiffs kicked down their doors, the knights surrendered to their doom.

They were carted off to grim dungeons where many experienced a range of tortures to extract confessions. The king was determined that they would admit their guilt to the charges of sodomy and heresy.

Many of those taken away to have their feet roasted or hung up with their arms tied behind their back – two common forms of torture – were old men by the standard of the day. They were retired warriors or members of the order who had always been farm managers or administrators.

Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master, was probably the most surprised victim of the Friday 13th arrests. Only the day before, he had been an honoured guest at the funeral of the king’s sister-in-law.

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How the Templars became the Order of Christ in Portugal

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From my trip to the Viagem Medieval in Portugal in 2017

In 1312, Pope Clement V ordered all Christian rulers to seize the assets of the Knights Templar and hand them over to the rival Knights Hospitaller. One king refused to obey. In Portugal, King Dinis took over the Templar assets himself.  In effect, he used his royal power to protect and reshape the order so that it could continue. The result was the formation of the Order of Christ.

By 1319, King Dinis had convinced Clement’s successor, Pope John XXII, to recognise his new order. Dinis argued that Portugal still faced a significant threat from Muslim armies to the south. 150 years before, the Templars had helped the first kings of Portugal to create their country. This had involved conquering cities like Lisbon and Santarem from Muslim control to forge a new Christian nation.

The Templars had always been in the front line pushing the frontier ever further southwards. They had done so at considerable risk to their own safety. For this, Portugal was grateful. And so when the king was asked to suppress the Templars, he recoiled. Dinis came up with a novel and unique solution. Today, we would call it rebranding. He took brand Templar and relaunched it as brand Order of Christ.

As with the Templars, the new order followed the Cistercian rule – the code by which those monks led their daily lives. The Cistercians and Templars had always been closely interconnected. From 1357, the Order of Christ was moved to the same headquarters the Templars had used and built – the castle at Tomar.

FullSizeRender (2)King Dinis was a complex character. A poet who resisted church power and did more than any king before him to promote a strong Portuguese identity.

His son Afonso IV continued his father’s legacy nurturing the Order of Christ which was soon to play a leading role in the age of discoveries, which would see navigators from Portugal sail around Africa and discover Brazil.

This year, I went to a historical reenactment festival in northern Portugal called the Medieval Journey – Viagem Medieval. Every year, huge crowds turn out to see battles and short plays about a particular monarch. This year, it was the turn of King Afonso IV.

The festival slogan was a bit grim: Hunger, Plague and War. But Afonso IV reigned during a stormy period that included the ravages of the Black Death, a bubonic plague that decimated populations across Europe. He also had to see off attacks from both Muslim armies and those of neighbouring Castile, another Christian kingdom that would evolve in future centuries into modern Spain.

Here are some images from my visit and a video of the battle scene – enjoy!

The Dark Truths of the Templars – watch me on TV expose some secrets

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 15.10.47I will be appearing as a guest several times in a special edition of Forbidden History devoted to exposing the secrets of the Knights Templar. Presented by Jamie Theakston and broadcast on UKTV/Yesterday TV, Forbidden History asks the questions you have all been dying to know the answers to.

 

I will be discussing:

 

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Me on Forbidden History: The Dark Truths of the Templars (Yesterday TV/UKTV)
  • The trial of the Knights Templar in 1307
  • Pagan rituals that may have become part of the Templar rites
  • How did the Templars become so rich, so quickly?
  • Were the Templars influenced by eastern ideas?
  • Did they reject church authority?
  • Why was such violence used to put down the Templars?
  • The way in which the order was wiped out

 

Top baddies of the Middle Ages!

 

 

Here they are – the TOP baddies of the Middle Ages!

170px-John_of_England_(John_Lackland)KING JOHN OF ENGLAND

  • Took on the barons and lost, then made to sign Magna Carta
  • Excommunicated by the Pope
  • Mislaid the crown jewels in a marshy swamp
  • Fled in the face of an invasion of England by the King of France

 

200px-Philippe_IV_Le_BelPHILIP THE FAIR OF FRANCE

  • Never seemed to have enough money
  • So shook down the church and France’s Jewish population
  • Then saw how much wealth the Templars when he fled to their Paris headquarters during a riot against his proposed currency devaluation
  • Issued secret orders to arrest all Knights Templar on trumped up charges of sodomy and heresy then attempted to seize the wealth he’d seen

Honorius3POPE HONORIUS III

  • The Inquisition really got going with Honorius
  • He sanctioned the new Dominican order to go heretic hunting
  • Wrote a very odd book called the Grimoire of Honorius with helpful tips on how to summon up demons in order to control them and how human sacrifice could be used to root out sorcerers

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 22.44.24ENRICO DANDOLO

  • The Doge of Venice who funded the Fourth Crusade only so he could direct it against another Christian state instead of the Muslims
  • Though blind and very old, he led the crusaders against the Byzantine empire
  • Constantinople, the Christian jewel of the east, was comprehensively smashed up by the Venetians and their allies – and never really recovered until conquered by Muslim forces 250 years later

Death_of_andronic_IANDRONIKOS I KOMNENOS

  • A Byzantine emperor who ruled using terror between 1183 and 1185
  • His own people could take it no longer, rose up and overthrew him
  • A mob in Constantinople tied him to a post and beat him for three days
  • Then they cut off his right hand, pulled out his teeth, hair and eyes and then poured boiling water over his head

Frederick_II_and_eagleFREDERICK II – HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR

  • A very medieval approach to science, this absolute ruler conducted experiments on living people
  • This included imprisoning somebody in a cask with a hole to see if their would escaped from that opening at the point of death
  • Feeding two prisoners and then sending one out to hunt and the other to bed. Then disembowelling them to see which had digested his food better
  • Raising two children without any human interaction to see which language they ended up speaking

 

 

Torture and violence in the Middle Ages

English: Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker 

A new book – The Better Angels of our Nature – blows apart the idea that the twentieth century was the most violent on record.  Yes, there were holocausts and global wars, but actually you were far less likely to die a violent death in the last hundred years than in centuries past.  In the Middle Ages, during the Templar era, you were very likely to see criminals being hung, beheaded or mutilated in public.  Disemboweling, being broken on the wheel and burned at the stake were all part of the judicial approach.  When a court was held in the open air, it would be an opportunity to see the guilty suffering in some or other way.  What Steven Pinker argues in this book is that casual violence was a commonplace.

Take for example the summary execution of Colonel Gaddafi in October this year.   A lot of people were pretty horrified by the way in which he was dragged from a sewage pipe then beaten up and killed.  In a medieval setting, he would have counted himself lucky to die that quickly and relatively painlessly.  Indeed, rebels and political leaders who were defeated in battle might very well end up being dismembered and their limbs displayed in various parts of the kingdom.  Going back to Gaddafi, he once hanged student rebels from lampposts and had traffic deliberately re-routed so that drivers would see the bodies dangling in public.  This was back in the 1970s.  But frankly, no different to the kind of public retribution meted out to rebels in the 1170s.

Pinker argues that the relative decline in violence is due to our society being more industrialised, urban, secular and cosmopolitan.  And the rejection of violence even extends to corporal punishment against children.  From an early age we are conditioned to be repelled by physical violence.  This wasn’t the case in the Middle Ages where children were beaten routinely.  At an early age, they had to assume adult responsibilities and therefore were subject to adult punishments.  Through to the eighteenth century, individuals we would class as children were executed for petty crimes such as theft.

In his excellent new history of England – part one of which is called ‘Foundation’ – Peter Ackroyd has a chapter on crime and punishment in the Middle Ages.  He gives a shocking example of a nun who lost her virginity to a young priest in the 1160s at a convent in Watton, Yorkshire.  The nuns interrogated the pregnant sister and when they found out who the culprit was, he was captured and brought to the convent.  He was then imprisoned in a cell and the nun he had impregnated was forced to castrate him with a knife.  The other nuns then stuffed his genitals in to his mouth!  As if that wasn’t traumatic enough for her, she was flogged and bound with chains in a cell.  What happened to the baby after all this – goodness only knows.

Ackroyd also describes ‘ritualised fights’ in churchyards between aggrieved parties.  I have read previously about these grudge matches which were a common feature of medieval village life.   Sometimes the fights were fairly informal, the two parties just got down to beating each other up.  But on other occasions, they involved a degree of planning and training for the big day and were to the death.

Ackroyd mentions a case that I’d read about before of a man called Thomas of Eldenfield who in 1221 was not hanged for theft – as was usual – but blinded and castrated instead.  The detail that burnt this in to my memory was that his testicles were used as “little footballs” by the local kids.  As Ackroyd points out, there was a definite and quite mindless culture of violence in England in the Middle Ages.  One man simply walked in to a tavern, was disliked by the locals and killed on the spot.   A judge arriving at the city of Lincoln in the year 1202 was confronted with 114 cases of murder and 49 cases of rape!

Torture to extract confessions was not used quite as often as is widely believed.  Here is one website that lists some of the torture devices that were employed.   Ordeal was an on the spot way of determining the guilt of a criminal.  Ordeal by fire involved the accused fasting for three days.  An iron bar was placed on the local church altar to be sanctified.  At the beginning of mass, the iron bar was heated on a brazier and then at the end of mass, the accused was required to pick it up and walk with it.  After an agreed number of paces, he or she could drop the bar and their severely burnt hand was then bound up.  If after three days it had healed, then the accused was innocent.  But if it was still badly blistered and burnt, then the accused would most likely be executed.

 

Terrifying the enemy in medieval sieges

English: Capture of Jerusalem during the First...
English: Capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, 1099, from a medieval manuscript Deutsch: Mittelalterliches Gemälde der Belagerung Jerusalems durch die Kreuzfahrer 1099 Suomi: Jerusalemin valtaus 1099. Keskiaikaisen käsikirjoituksen kuvitusta. Polski: Zdobycie Jerozolimy podczas I krucjaty (1099 r.) – rysunek ze średniowiecznego rękopisu Italiano: Conquista di Gerusalemme durante la Prima Crociata, nel 1099, da un manoscritto medievale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ending a siege as quickly as possible was always a good idea with both those inside and outside the castle needing to maintain supplies and fend off disease.  The weapons employed to wear down your enemy were as much psychological as physical.  What you wanted to do to your enemy was to destroy their morale, their will to fight.

Lobbing the severed heads of captured soldiers over the castle wall – in either direction – was a favoured tactic.  This might include the hapless messenger who might have his head send back with the enemy response written on a piece of parchment and nailed to his head.  In 1344, the English were fighting to hold on to Gascony and one of their soldiers tried to break through the French lines with a request for more assistance.  He was captured and the poor man was catapulted alive back in to the castle he had sneaked out of.

At the siege of Nicaea in the First Crusade, the heads of Saracens were impaled before the city walls by the crusaders and others catapulted over the battlements.   It was quite common to execute prisoners in front of the enemy with a mass hanging calculated to dent morale.  Louis VI castrated and disemboweled captives and floated them down the river on barges to be met by their former comrades in besieged Rouen.

One Byzantine emperor blinded a captured Bulgar army save for one in every ten men – who kept a single eye, to lead the others back.  When this appalling spectacle returned to the Bulgar king, he apparently dropped dead on the spot (according to the Byzantine telling of it of course).  A similar tactic was used by De Montfort in the crusade against the Albigensian heresy.  He cut off the upper lips and noses of a captured garrison and blinded them – leaving some with an eye to lead them to the next castle as a warning of what happened if you resisted De Montfort.

If the enemy began to ram the walls, then they might be discouraged if captured prisoners were dangled – alive – in front of the attacking army.  One medieval king attempted to protect his siege towers from attack by mangonels on the city walls by tying live prisoners to the front of the machines.  We talk about ‘human shields’ now in warfare but in the Middle Ages, they were very, very literal.  Apparently, this ruse did not work and the siege towers came under renewed attack.  One account says that the youths tied to the siege towers died very slowly and “miserably, struck by the stones”.

Those throwing the stones at their captured comrades did so with tears in their eyes.  They were horrified at having to attack these young soldiers being used as a human shield.  “They crushed their chests, their stomachs and their heads and bone and mushy brain were mixed together”.  One can imagine that the defenders might have even tried to hurry the deaths of their comrades by taking special aim at them.

A properly provisioned walled city or castle complex could hold out for up to a year.  Day after day they could rain down rocks, boiling oil and arrows on the besiegers.  With proper preparation and weapons to hand, it could be the army outside the walls who suffered disease and hunger first and not those holed up behind the battlements.

Life for the besieged might get uncomfortable but with a stiff upper lip (providing you still had one!), you could see off the enemy.

Here is a medieval battle re-enactment in the Czech Republic: