Saturday, January 30, 2010

Demise of the Knights Templar

From the vast wealth of literature on the Templars, sometimes weighed heavily with prejudice and opinion, it becomes obvious that myths and controversy surround the Knights Templar. Depending on the source, the Templars could be practitioners of black magic, or men of noble deeds. I leave it to my readers to delve further into the subject, and to decide for themselves the strength of the connection between the Templars and the Freemasons of today. This blog is merely intended as a starting point, to lay a background of the order, hopefully encouraging more research.
What we do know is that, after the failed crusades, the Templars evolved into a more worldly order, and became a target for their evident wealth and the needs of the secular world. Philip IV (the Fair), short of money to finance a war, began a systematic persecution of the Templars. Members were arrested and imprisoned over a period of years. Torture brought confessions of sacrilegious practices, which in turn doomed the Templars to condemnation and the confiscation of their possessions. Jacques de Molay, pictured here, was the last Grand Master of the Templars. He was burned at the stake, on an island in the Seine. It is said that, as the flames leapt around his feet, he put a curse on both the pope and the king, predicting their deaths would follow his own. Both the pope and Philip IV died within a year of de Molay’s death.
For further reading, see C. G. Addison’s, The History of the Knights Templars, or the studies by E. Simon (1959) and T. W. Parker (1963).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Origin of the Templars

Crusaders to the Holy Land were beset by bands of thieves and vagrants as they made their way along the Pilgrim trail. Initially, crusaders were protected by a loosely formed group of bowmen, but after the success of the first crusade, Hugues de Payens, a Frankish knight, along with eight other knights, offered protection to crusaders. The knights took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, not unlike the vows of established religious orders.
The Templars rapidly grew in numbers and prestige. A Grand Master and General Council led the organization, which ultimately answered only to the pope, not to any crusading leaders.
The Templars were first established in Jerusalem, where Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, gave them quarters in the palace, the captured Al-Aqsa Mosque. Because the palace was on Temple Mount, a holy site, the knightly order took the name Templars. To this day, the site remains one of the most contested religious sites in the world. The accompanying picture is one of Baldwin II ceding the Temple of Solomon to the knights.
From Jerusalem, the Templars moved to Acre, and after the Fall of Acre (1291) the order established itself on the island of Cyprus and operated from there. By now, the Templars had evolved from a military organization to one primarily known as one who handled the money of Europe. They had special privileges, and because of earlier gifts of estates and wealth, they held a powerful place in the courts of Henry II of England and Louis IX of France. This power would lead to their ultimate persecution. My next blog will cover the rising resentment that brought about the destruction of the Templars.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Adam de la Halle, the musician on whose life The Tapestry Shop was based, was born in Arras, a city in north-eastern France. Arras flourished during the thirteenth century, and was especially known for its tapestries and banking system. Besides Adam, the town was the birthplace of another musician, Jehan Bodel, and of Robespierre, one of the best-known figures from the French Revolution. During World War I, the town was heavily bombed, but most of the city was reconstructed, only to be bombed again in WWII. The town square, however, survived. Surrounded by 17th century buildings, it is the perfect place to have a steaming cappuccino on a cool morning in April, one of the best times of the year to be in northern France. Besides the lovely weather, the tulips are in bloom, and the tourist crowds are not there yet. If you go, be sure to walk through the underground tunnels that lie beneath the city. During WWI, British soldiers defended Arras, holed up in the tunnels, of which the Germans were unaware. During WWII, French Resistance fighters were executed at the Citadel. Not far from Arras is Vimy Ridge, where craters from bombs can still be seen, along with the memorial to Canadians who lost their lives there.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My upcoming book, The Tapestry Shop, set in 13th century France, takes place during the reign of Louis IX. King Louis married into a family of beautiful women, and Louis’ sister-in-law was considered one of the most beautiful women in France. Her name was Eleanor of Provence.
Eleanor was brought to England at the age of twelve, to marry Henry III of England. Until that time she had never laid eyes on him. When she married her king at Canterbury Cathedral, she wore a golden gown that shimmered in the sunlight. The skirt fell in wide pleats to her feet. The sleeves of the gown were lined with ermine.
Once settled in to court life, she frequently ordered her gowns from her homeland, France, and was often seen with a girdle (a belt-like affair) into which she casually tucked a small dagger.
Together, Henry and Eleanor had five children. She was respected for her lively intelligence and for writing poetry, but some Londoners resented her influence with the king. For more about Eleanor, you can read Jean Plaidy’s Queen From Provence.