A unique glimpse of the everyday life of the Knights Templar

everyday lifeProfessor Helen Nicholson is a globally recognised expert on the Knights Templar. I’m very honoured to be sharing a platform with her at the Bradford Literature Festival on 30 June, 2018 discussing all things Templar related.

Ahead of that, I want to bring to your attention Helen’s most recent book that reveals the daily life of the Knights Templar – with fascinating insights. The book is called The Everyday Life of the Templars and I heartily recommend it.

What did the Knights Templar eat and drink? What was their daily routine? If you could be transported back to a Templar preceptory (one of their rural estates), what would you have seen going on?

Well, to give you a flavour of the answers to those questions to be found in her book, I’ve just interviewed Helen and here – exclusively for my users – she gives some glimpses of the secretive life of the Knights Templar. To find out even more, you’ll of course have to get a copy of her compelling read from Amazon and other online retailers.

So, here is Professor Nicholson in conversation with me:

What motivated you to write a book about the everyday life of the Templars?

I have been researching the surviving inventories and records of the Templar estates in Britain and Ireland from the period from the Templars’ arrest early in 1308 until the point when the estates were handed over to the Hospitallers. The inventories from Ireland and the sole inventory from Wales were published many years ago but the records from England remain unpublished. There is an enormous amount of information about the crops being grown on the Templars’ estates, the livestock being raised, the people employed there, manufacture of cheese, butter, cider, wine, which brothers were living in each Templar house and the other people who lived there. So the records give an insight into life in these Templar properties early in the fourteenth century. Other scholars have studied similar records from the Templar properties in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. So I thought it would be interesting to draw this material together to give wide picture of how the Templars and their tenants and workers would have lived.

Where did you find most of the source material, given the Templars didn’t write much about themselves?

When the Templars were arrested, full inventories were made of their properties. Their properties were administered by royal or church officials, until the pope decided the fate of the Order. Many of these records survive: from England & Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula. They give a snapshot of what was in the Templars’ properties on the day the Templars were arrested, and an ongoing picture of day-to-day activity over the next few years. Many records were not retained, or have been mislaid or destroyed, but enough survives to give an overall picture.

If we had visited a preceptory in the 13th century – what activity would we have seen going on?

There would not have been many Templars living in each house; most preceptories/commanderies in England were home to only four brothers or fewer, and many were leased out to tenants and had no Templars in residence. The rural commanderies/preceptories were like manor houses, running the estate farm. The farm workers would have been busy maintaining the fields and crops, taking care of the livestock and doing maintenance around the estate. The cook would be making potage (a type of oat porridge) for the workers’ daily meal. There might be a clerk attached to the commandery who kept the day-to-day records. There would have been household servants looking after the house. Any Templars in residence would have administered the estate, holding the manor court, ensuring rent was paid, farm work was done, workers were hired and paid as necessary. There would also be non-Templars living in the house: some of them were former Templar employees who now received a pension, while others had made a donation to the Templars in return for food and lodging for the rest of their lives. In addition, the Templars had wide networks of supporters who could come into their houses to make donations or transact other business. Some Templar houses had valuable religious relics which pilgrims would come to see. Travellers would come to find lodging, and Templar houses made regular weekly donations of food to the poor. So Templar houses would have been busy places.

Was the day punctuated by prayer?

The Templars’ regulations expected the Templars to follow the normal monastic pattern of prayers at fixed times during the day. The Templars should go into the chapel for these services, but as not every house had a chapel in actual fact they might have to say their prayers as they went about their work (as the regulations allowed them to do if they were on a military campaign). Most Templar houses with a chapel did not have a Templar priest, but employed a secular priest or a friar as priest in their chapel.

How effective were the Templars as farmers (compared to the monasteries for example) and did they engage in any other kind of business?

So far as the records show, the Templars were effective farmers who made careful judgements on the most effective way of working their land for good long-term returns. Apparently they were more generous employers than the Benedictine monks. Their livestock produced meat and other products such as wool and hides, which they could use or sell. They manufactured some food products (cheese, butter, cider, wine) and sold some of this produce as well as consuming it within the estate. The records from after the Templars’ arrests also show that some people owed money to the Templars — not large amounts — so, like other religious orders, they did make loans, but this was not a major business for most Templar houses.

What role did women play on Templar estates and were they allowed to be members of the order?

The estate records show that women were employed as cooks and to do the laundry. They were also employed on farm work: for example, picking grapes, milking the sheep, helping with the harvest. In addition, the estate records from the Templars’ commandery at Payns in Champagne refer to a Templar Sister (her name isn’t recorded; she’s simply refered to at ‘the sister’) and her female servant, Hersant. So, yes: women could be members of the order and women could live in the Templars’ houses.

Did all this activity in the preceptories across Europe really fund the military ventures of the Templars?

Yes — that was the purpose of the Templar properties in Europe! But clearly a lot of money would have been needed to maintain the Templars’ estates, invest in property, pay their workers and carry on the charitable work they did in Europe, so not all the income from their estates would have gone to the East.

How did it all end? What happened to the property owned by the Templars after 1307?

At the Council of Vienne in spring 1312, Pope Clement V gave the Templars’ former property to the Hospitallers. The Hospitallers were able to claim some of the properties, but some properties were taken back by the families of the original donors, some were kept by the kings who had arrested the Templars, some property was given to other religious orders, and in Spain and Portugal much of the property was used to found new military-religious orders.

If you enjoyed this interview and you’re in the United Kingdom on 30 June, 2018 – try and join us in Bradford, Yorkshire for what will promise to be a hugely fascinating discussion. Click HERE for tickets.

 

Why did King Philip of France crush the Templars?

 

King Philip le Bel enters Paris

King Philip of France owed a massive amount of money to the Templars and the Order had a large fortress in Paris reputedly sitting on large stocks of deposited bullion.

During a riot over a currency devaluation, the king fled to the security of the Templar fortress and reputedly, while there, couldn’t help noticing the vast amount of wealth the order possessed.

Having shaken down the Jews in France, and expelled them, plus turned the screws on the church and people – the Templars came into his range of vision. Being a medieval monarch was always an expensive business but Philip was determined to balance his books, even if that was done in a rather violent and unorthodox manner.

Some have argued that like modern banks, most of the wealth deposited with the Templars had actually been loaned out by the Order and the idea they were sitting on great amounts of booty is a myth. The historian Dan Jones writes that there wasn’t something incredibly exceptional about King Philip’s debts though concedes that he was a thoroughly unpleasant character.

Anyway, Philip decided – in effect – to kill his bank managers.  Don’t cheer.  Charges were trumped up and a Pope who was under the ‘protection’ of the French monarchy was encouraged, in spite of misgivings, to go along with the whole saga.

As we know, the leaders of the Order were put to torture with one even claiming that he carried his charred toes around with him in a box thereafter.  They confessed.  They retracted their confessions.  They were burnt at the stake.

Philip went on to expel the Jews from France – as Edward I had done in England a few years earlier.  But unlike Edward, he relented and asked them back again.  One assumes that suppressing the Templars and the Jews removed two sources of credit from the medieval French economy, so not such a smart move.

200px-Philippe_IV_Le_BelHe also picked on merchants from Lombardy thereby assuring that they preferred to transact business in London where there is still a ‘Lombard Street’.  He may even have contributed to London’s eventual rise to be the world’s global financial centre (sorry New York).

In fact, when it came to having zero understanding of economics, Philip le Bel really stands out as an A grade cretin.  And not just because he slaughtered our beloved Templars.  He also debased the coinage – that classic refuge of the spendthrift ruler….how many Roman emperors did the same to pay their armies?

The Templars then were undone not so much because of Satanic rituals and sodomitic initiations but because a cash strapped French king kept licking his lips every time he passed the Paris Temple. It was too much money to ignore!

Templar bankers – thwarting Robin Hood

robin-hoodDid the Knights Templar make it much harder for the likes of Robin Hood to rob from the rich and give to the poor? Using the smart financial system devised by the Templars, the rich no longer had to lug caskets of loot around with them. Instead, they lodged some money with the Temple in, say, London and withdrew it in Acre or Tripoli, hundreds of miles away.

How on earth could they do this in the Middle Ages? The theory is it all came down to the use of secret codes on chits, understood at the other end. As a result, a knight going off on crusade didn’t have to drag sacks of money around. Thieves waiting by the roadside would now find that the potential pickings were markedly reduced.

Like all bankers, the Templars charged an administration fee and interest but somehow managed to avoid the opprobrium of the church with regards to engaging in usury – an activity that had been largely confined to the Jewish community. The term ‘cheque’ it’s been argued refers to the chequered board on which Templars settled their accounts.

The Templars were also able to move huge amounts of money around. For example when the king of France was captured and ransomed during one of the crusades, the ransom was paid off by the Templars because their ships stationed offshore were crammed with gold to pay for the crusader wars.