Tom Cullen Knightfall Interview:
Did you have to do any extra training or had you already known how to use the sword?
Tom Cullen: “In drama school in the UK we do a lot of fight training, and so I’d done a lot of sword training prior. And,I found that I had the propensity for killing people, ironically. (Laughing) So, I’d actually done extra exams and had some practice while studying in drama school but that was about eight years ago. I hadn’t swung a sword in about eight years, so it was all very new in many respects.
The stunt team that we had was led by an amazing Frenchman, Cédric Proust. He is a top stuntman and fight choreographer. He really put us through it and we had a great swordsman called Roman. The entire team wanted us to be at a very, very high level. Every day on set they would drill us and I did about three months of physical training beforehand to get myself and my body ready for the fighting portion of my character and the series.
We also did a two and a half week boot camp where we would walk in the morning and do some circuit training and then do fighting in the afternoon. Later, we’d go horse riding and do some more sword training and then we would go to the gym. When it came to the actual filming, because there were a lot of fight scenes I was filming 14 hours a day doing scene work and then I’d have to do my fight training either on my lunch breaks or on the weekends. Any kind of second in the day that I did have I would fill it by going up to the stables and ride.
Working on Knightfall was a full-on experience because the team wanted it to look authentic and real, and when you watch the fights they are absolutely incredible. I’m so proud of all of the actors who’ve participated in the battles because we’ve really done a great job. The stunt guys have really trained us well and they’re epic battles and muddy and gruesome. And they feel very real, which I think is something I’m very proud of.
There is an incredible battle sequence in the final episode which is the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. We had like 400 guys on a battlefield fighting for about two weeks. It’s epic and amazing. And the real geek, nerd in me – because I am one – just can’t believe that I’m in it. I’m extremely proud of it.”
How much research did you do?
Tom Cullen: “Whenever I have done a historical piece, I think it’s imperative that you have to bathe yourself in as much literature to understand the world as much as possible, so that when you get onto the set, the world is just vibrating inside you. I wanted to know as much about the Crusades and about the politics at the time. Not just the politics in Europe or in the Middle East, but also Mongolian politics because they had a huge influence.
You just need to immerse yourself in the world and know everything that these men would have known, understand every single permutation and the political permutation that is affected where they are at this point and what drives these men and women to do the things that they do. I think that’s something that you have to do, otherwise it’s just lazy and in a way unforgivable because at that point that’s where you make mistakes.
You take history for granted and history should never be taken for granted because it’s essential for us furthering ourselves as a society and as a culture, because the one thing that history teaches us is that it’s cyclical. And so, yes, I read a lot and we had a fantastic historian on set. His name is Dan Jones. He’s just released an amazing book that you must read called The Templars which is on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. It’s brilliant. He was there on hand at all times feeding into us and making sure that what we were portraying was as accurate as possible. Anything that would come up in the script that we didn’t know, we would use him as a source of knowledge and he would say, ‘Go and read this, go and read that,’ or just tell us because he’s a real fountain of knowledge.
And that wasn’t just the access that put me in the world of the Knights Templar. […] The costume design, the art direction, the production design, makeup, etc. it was all so dense and real that you feel like you’re right in it as soon as you turn up on set. It’s just all there for you, you know, and you can really immerse yourself into the world.
The days we spent on set were amazing. We filmed on the biggest sets in Europe at Barrandov Studios. They built Medieval Paris. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. In the show, I have to do this shot where I’m riding down this nearly 200-meter long street that they built. And there are 350 extras and each extra has a job, each extra has a name. And it’s live, real world and you just forget that the cameras are there because it’s so extraordinary.
Our costume designer, Diana Cilliers, was amazing. I remember the first time we did our screen test, which is where you put on the costume in front of camera and you kind of like pose and walk around so they can see what it looks like on camera with the makeup and the hair and all of that kind of stuff. I remember putting the costume on, the chainmail and everything, and it weighed 50 pounds which was like an insane amount of weight. I struggled to walk down the corridor to get to the studio to do the screen test.
I was like, ‘Guys, why is the costume so heavy? How are we supposed to move and fight in this?’ And the answer was that Diana tried out lighter material such as plastics and other materials but they just didn’t look authentic. And so they put us in the most authentic costume that they could and we just had to deal with it. We got bigger and we got stronger, and so very quickly we were able to run and jump, get on horses in the 50-pound costumes and do everything that we needed to do to play our parts. But, you know, you can see the difference in the way that the costumes move and the way that your body moves in them. It’s just authentic and I think it makes for a very real experience when watching the show.”
Can you talk about Landry’s relationship with Godfrey, played by Sam Hazeldine?
Tom Cullen: “So the relationship that Landry has with Godfrey runs throughout the entire first season. And so in episode one, Godfrey is Landry’s surrogate father. Landry was an orphan and Godfrey essentially took him in and saved him from this orphanage. And so because of the promise Godfrey saw in him, Landry became a Templar at the age of 11 which is very, very, very rare.
One of the Templar rules is that you must become a Templar of your own volition because it’s such a monastic lifestyle where you do things like eat your food out of the same bowl as another man. There’s no vanity, there’s no possessions. It’s completely monastic. And so it’s very rare for a young boy to join the Templars like Landry did.
So, Godfrey becomes Landry’s father and as the season goes on, in episode one there is a truth revealed to Landry about Godfrey that he didn’t know. And Landry, like a classic hero that we all know, as the protagonist, he hunts and searches for the truth at all costs. He is like a boar who gets physically beaten, emotionally beaten and he just gets back up by himself and charges towards the truth.
Godfrey is pivotal in that circle of truth that Landry is striving towards and it isn’t a very easy journey for Landry to go on throughout the first season. But, it’s a very satisfying journey for the viewers. Every time the scripts would come in there would be a new revelation and it would be a new shock and a new turn and it was very cool to read and really fun to play. I hope that the audience enjoys it as much as we enjoyed making it.”
Is any particular theme or aspect to Knightfall you think will really resonate with the viewers?
Tom Cullen: “Yes, sure. I think what I’m very proud of in the show is that you can kind of look at the show objectively from the outside having not seen it and say, ‘Oh, this is about guys swinging swords and that’s what the show is about,’ but the show is so much more than that. The show is about politics. We have a lot of stuff that takes place in the French Court at the time, dissecting and breaking down the politics and the machinations of political interplay, which I just love that kind of stuff.
It has a fantastic central spine through the show; an amazing love story which I’m surprised at how strong and moving that story was as we were filming it. It kind of grew into this thing that we had no idea it would become. The show talks about revenge and betrayal, brotherhood, loyalty, faith, humanity and mortality. I think that it raises really big questions about who we are whilst at the same time being really kind of fun and entertaining. So, that takes you on a really wild journey.
And, so I truly believe the show has something for everybody. I think that it is by no means a gendered show. I think that women would love it as much as men will love it and that is something I’m really proud of, too. It has fantastic, strong female characters. They are actually probably stronger than all of the male characters and they’re just as complex and rich as the male counterparts, and it’s very moving. I’ve watched the last episode three or four times now and I’ve shed many tears every single time. It’s a great rollercoaster.”
What do you like about the medieval time period?
Tom Cullen: “I’ve always been obsessed with the Medieval time period because I think it’s a time that we can look back on and learn from. And, actually, 800 years isn’t that long ago and that this is the time really when the world that we live in today was created and formulated. We’re still feeling the repercussions of the actions and choices the people made in the medieval period today.
It’s also a period that is grimy and dirty and dangerous. The line between life and death is so thin, it’s really interesting to learn about. And I think that’s a fantastic place to make a drama in. It’s a very rich world since life and death was so next to each other, and it’s world rich in terms of human wants and needs. Nowadays our lives are reasonably comfortable for certain people, especially in America. We typically don’t have that kind of life and death threat every single day where we are going to drop down with scurvy or have to go into battle.
So, our choices aren’t as drastic. But if you have a lifespan of 35 years, every choice you make is loaded. And so I think that the world of the Medieval period is one of very high octane and people making life and death choices every single move. And that, for me, is an exhilarating period of time to make a drama in.”
How do the scenes in Knightfall resonate in your own life? How do you draw on your own life to play the part of Landry?
Tom Cullen: “That’s such a good question. On the paper, it isn’t necessarily very easy to draw on myself, and I think that I like to work as an actor from the places of truth instead of drawing on myself as an empathetic being. Well, I’ve had some experiences personally that I put it into Landry but not many. I worked in an empathetic way, anyway where I try and put myself into the character’s body and some kind of lose myself as much as possible. And so my thoughts and my character’s thoughts were somewhat separate as opposed to my own.
I don’t really like to draw on my own experiences. I feel that’s confusing and muddied and I don’t think it’s very healthy. So, it wouldn’t have been very healthy for me to continue working in that way and it’s not why I’m an actor. But the themes that were very resonant with me in the show, that resonated with me as a reader and as a viewer and as an actor, are ones of brotherhood and loyalty, love and lust, and denying one’s own happiness, complexity in relationships with a father and feelings of abandonment. All of that stuff really resonated with me.”
Do you believe that because Landry became a Templar at such a young age that’s why he was able to rebel against that part of his vow and enter into a romantic relationship?
Tom Cullen: “I think that when we first meet Landry at the top of episode 1 he is 20, and he is brash and young. He is a maverick, incredibly cocky, and is kind of emboldened by the fact that he has God on his side and he thinks that he’s invincible, which I think a lot of 20 year-olds think, regardless of whether they have God on their side or not. I know I certainly felt like that.
But what we see at the top of episode one is his entire life flipped upside down when they lose Acre, the last Templar stronghold in the Holy Land and they lose the Holy Grail. And so we flash forward 15 years and when you’ve been brought up as a as a warrior, and that’s all you know, everything you know, it’s a tough reality to deal with. He’s like a caged animal, unable to fulfill what he thinks is his only purpose and duty which is to fight.
And so when we meet him, he is this very, very complex, pulled apart guy in episode one. He is battling with his humanity and he is secular yet he is also still mentally devout. He is very loyal to his brothers, his family, yet he is lying to them. He is having an affair with a woman yet he is a monk. He is the bravest, most fearless warrior, yet he’s starting to feel a sense of his own mortality. I think that’s why he kind of falls in love with this woman. It’s not that he’s doubting God or that he’s doubting the Templars or religion, but that he’s doubting himself. He is in a conflict, in a battle with himself, which are the stories that I love to watch where your hero is so full of contradiction and battle and personal complications. And throughout the first season, we see him work through that and battle through that and try and find out who he really is. It’s an awesome journey for me to play and to take viewers on.”
Did you discuss what would happen moving forward with the series, where it might go in seasons two, three or four? Were you given an idea of Landry’s entire arc beyond the first season? And if so, to what degree does that influence your approach to the character? How much are you able to build into the character as the series goes on?
Tom Cullen: “We love the show and we really hope that we can continue making it for as long as possible because we’re a real family and we’re very, very proud of it and we love making it. There’s also still a lot of the Templar history that has yet to be told. We have an idea of where the show will go and where it will take us. But what actually happens is that while you’re making a show, it becomes this dialogue that happens between the writers, the actors, directors, the costume designers, the art director, the production designer, makeup artists, etc. where you’re constantly kind of feeding into this pot which is the show. It evolves and changes and moves in ways that you would never expect it to.
It’s like a living organism but that surprises you. And so though we have an idea of where this is going, actually the truth is that we don’t in many respects. We have the structure of history and what actually happened which we have to stay with but in terms of the characters, and their fuels and wants and needs and how they navigate their way through that history is something that we’re constantly being surprised by with the characters. And that’s a really exciting place to work with.
And especially as an actor, I don’t want to know where the character is going because in life I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow or how it’s going to pan out. I can only be in the present and I can only make choices in the present, and so that’s what you want your characters to do. And so the writers actually withheld scripts from us and didn’t tell us what was happening later in this first season so that we could be surprised in the moments whilst we were making the episode, which is a really fantastic and authentic way to work. And then once we get the script, we kind of talk about them and collaborate on them.
Dominic Minghella is an incredible showrunner. He is a force of nature and an amazing man and a brilliant writer, and he really values the actors’ input. He is always very good at fielding ideas and whether he takes them or not is up to him, but it feels like a very collaborative process where everybody is feeding into it and we all have ownership over the show and that’s really exciting.”
in showbizjunkies.com by REBECCA MURRAY
History’s Knightfall delivers a fascinating story centered around the Knights Templar and their quest to find the Holy Grail in the early 14th century. Like the network’s flagship series Vikings, Knightfall proves why History needs to develop more original dramas.
Knightfall goes big and bold right from the beginning with a large-scale battle set in the city of Acre. For a TV budget, the assault on the stronghold looks great, but it’s the use of intricately placed cameras that make the sequence shine.
Typically, an actor that wears a helmet, like Thor, finds a reason to take it off, in order to better show the actor’s face. Studios don’t want to pay someone millions of dollars to hide beneath a helmet. Instead of taking the helmets off, Knightfall puts the cameras inside the helmets. It’s a brilliant choice because it creates a feeling of claustrophobia that adds to the intensity of the fights.
The combat is well choreographed and believable. It’s not as flashy as Vikings, but with warriors wearing armor that heavy, it must be difficult to move. The only complaint is the ineffective use of slow motion throughout the episode. It doesn’t ruin any of the skirmishes, but it is distracting. It feels like the show is trying to be overly stylized when it doesn’t need to be.
The characters that inhabit the story are remarkably realized. Landry (Tom Cullen) is one of the lead knights in the order. Cullen (Downton Abbey) brings all the good looks, charm, and toughness needed to carry a historical epic like Knightfall. Early on, Landry’s close relationship with the King is revealed to be a sore spot between Landry and the rest of his brothers. This conflict should make for a compelling story down the road — especially if you know a little bit of the history concerning the Templar order.
Knightfall takes place around the time of the Templars’ downfall, which according to some historical accounts, has to do with the troubled financial relationship between King Philip IV of France and the Templars. This version of the King, skillfully portrayed by Ed Stoppard (The Crown), doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would betray his friends. These are merely first-impressions, but I’m excited to see how it all plays out. History is a network that’s not afraid to toy with expectations, even in a historical setting (e.g. Vikings). Remember, this is a television show after all.
Some of the supporting characters based on their names alone add to the mystery surrounding the Grail legend. Parsifal (Bobby Schofield) is one such character. Schofield (Black Sea) effectively plays the wide-eyed farm boy who’s in over his head. What’s fascinating here is the historical significance of his name. In the legends about King Arthur, Parsifal (Percival) is one of Arthur’s most trusted knights and he’s also part of the Grail legend. It looks like the writers are using various legends and historical accounts to shape their story. This mixture of fantasy and history makes Knightfall all the more delightful.
It’s nice to have a series that gives the Templar’s a story from their point of view. Properties like Assassin’s Creed haven’t painted them in a good light and while there are reasons for that — having a different perspective on the ancient order is enjoyable to watch. Landry and his brothers are seen as protectors of the people, as opposed to cold-blooded killers.
Knightfall creates an engaging story centered around the Knights Templar and their search for the Holy Grail. With gorgeous costumes and wonderfully designed sets, Knightfall does a great job of bringing 14th century Paris to life. Backed by a strong performance from Tom Cullen, Knightfall should have enough staying power to see it through until the finale.
in ign.com by DAVID GRIFFIN
Note: This review is reprint from IGN. The OSMTHU has no official review of Knightfall. However, we should point out that Knightfall is a ficcional series with the Templars as a background. It’s not History. You should enjoy it as you enjoy any other great fictional story.
If you’re looking to get fit, Tom Cullen, star of History’s Knightfall, has a suggestion for you: wear chain mail.
The actor stars as Landry, leader of the Knights Templar, in the newest scripted drama from the network home of Vikings — which meant wearing 50 pounds of armor nearly daily for the better part of a year.
“I didn’t want to weigh the costume early on, because otherwise it would just become a thing in my head. I have weighed it since and it has become a thing in my head,” Cullen, who played Lord Gillingham in Downton Abbey, told Rotten Tomatoes. “The costume weighed 50 pounds, which is a lot to be carrying for 14, 15 hours a day when you’re fighting and riding horses. My body changed shape. I went from fit and kind of slender to muscular and big, just from the fact that I was carrying this amount of weight, this heavy costume.
“I couldn’t even get on a horse when I first started,” he confessed. “I had to have a stepladder because I didn’t have the power in my legs to get over the horse. But by the end of the shoot, I was leaping and running and jumping on horses. It was intense.”
So if you want to “get swole,” try the Chain Mail Workout!
“It’s where you wear 50 pounds of chain mail for seven months, every day, 15 hours a day,” Cullen said. “That’s all you have to do. And you’ll end up [muscular]. I’ve had to go to my wardrobe and buy all new trousers because my ass is so big. Honestly, if you want an ass like Kim Kardashian, become a knight.”
Knightfall takes place in the 1300s and follows the Knights Templar as they hunt to recover the Holy Grail in the final days of their reign, ahead of their eventual downfall. The series was shot in Eastern Europe on a Prague backlot — “they built medieval Paris, they built a temple, a palace, streets, a market, a moat, castle walls, a church, shops, alleyways, a pub — it was extraordinary,” Cullen said. The show tackles the later days of the Knights Templar’s reign of power.
“They were such a fascinating, clandestine sect,” Cullen said. “That the myriad of lies and layers that they bathed themselves in — it’s very difficult to unpack all of that. It was fascinating to learn about them. It was a real educational process for me.”
While, like most people, Cullen had a working knowledge of the group, he learned a lot while simply researching for his role.
“One of the things that really stuck with me was that they invented to first bank,” he said. “They created the banking system, and they created the first checks. They became the wealthiest fighting force in the world. And they answered to no country, no king, no queen. They only answered to God and to the Pope. No borders. You could cash your money in France, and you could take it out in Jerusalem. They were kind of untouchable. Fascinating guys. The thing that really surprised me was the level of their power. You learn about how they were in the battlefield. They were extraordinary. They would never leave. Even if they were losing, they would never turn their back and run. They would basically only surrender when the last man had been killed. That level of bravery and intelligence is an extraordinary combination, I think.”
Cullen’s character, Landry, was taken in by the Knights Templar as a 10-year-old orphan.
“All he’s known is war, fighting, and God. When we first see him in episode 1, he’s a very brash young maverick knight who ultimately loses the Holy Grail and loses Acre, the last stronghold in the Holy Land, which is the one thing that he understands himself through. The series is set 15 years after that event, and we find him questioning everything about himself. He’s questioning his faith and his own identity. He’s a very contradictory, very complex character. He is lying to his brothers. He’s having an affair with a woman. But he is immensely loyal. He is maybe the most fearless, brave knight. Yet he is starting to discover his own humanity and his mortality. He is a very pious man and is still a very faithful man, yet he is starting to discover who he is outside of his brotherhood.”
Yes, that’s right — there’s still plenty of sex on this show about religious monks, and Landry’s dedication to the Knights Templar only wavers when his chastity vow is involved.
“He’s very faithful to her,” Cullen said. “He’s a one-woman kind of guy.”
Except he’s supposed to be a no-woman kind of guy.
Added Cullen, “He’s a very complex guy, which is the kind of guy I’m interested in watching.”
The season will include major developments about Landry’s love — in the first episode, even — but his relationship will take a back seat to his main quest: to recover the Holy Grail.
“Landry goes on a pathological hunt to try and find the Grail, because I think that he entwines a lot of his own identity into that piece of pottery,” Cullen said. “I think that he hopes to find it not only to garner enough power to go back to the Holy Land, which is what he thinks that he should be doing, but also to return himself back to who he was — search for his identity before he became this very complex guy. What’s great is that on the way, we see his life fall apart, and as he discovers more about himself, he discovers more about the people around him and the lies that are entwined around his whole life and his whole existence.”
in rottentomatoes.com by Jean Bentley
HE Antonio Paris, Master Emeritus OSMTHU, has received the Gran Cross of the Order of Saint John – Knights of Malta, during a ceremony in the Palace of the Order in La Valeta, from the hands of Grand Master Don Basilio Cali. The Grand Cross is the highest distinction given by the Order.
The Order of Saint John is one of the branches of the Order of the Hospital, that had headquarters in the Hospital of Saint John in Jerusalem at the times of the crusades.
This acts inaugurates a new cycle of cooperation and amity between the OSMTHU and the Order of Saint John, bringing, at the same time, Master Antonio Paris to the forefront of the Templar activity, after a few years of quiet retirement.
The Templar Globe congratulates Master Paris on this happy occasion.
A DARK Age palace has been discovered, strengthening the likelihood that the legend of King Arthur may be based on a grain of truth.
A DARK Age palace has been uncovered on Cornwall’s windswept coast, strengthening the likelihood that the legend of King Arthur may be based on a grain of truth.
Myth has it that King Arthur will return at the hour of Britain’s greatest need. It could certainly do with some help right now.
Whether or not a new archaeological dig at his supposed birthplace of Tintagel Castle will prompt such a second coming is another matter.
But it may already be adding to the evidence that the myth surrounding the warrior king who, with the knights of his roundtable, struggled to hold back a “Dark Age” from enveloping Britain.
The Dark Age has long since proven to have been not so dark. But the scant records from the time have made pinning down one historical character that best fits the outline of the tale near impossible.
Now, archaeologists have returned to Arthur’s traditional birthplace of Tintagel for the first time since the 1990s. They’ve just completed their first dig in a new five-year excavation.
Last month they sank four trenches into previously unexcavated areas of the ancient island settlement.
What they found may be the remains of a 1500-year-old palace.
BIRTHPLACE OF A LEGEND
Like many prominent British landmarks, Tintagel has long been associated with Arthurian legend.
Like all the others, the evidence has been largely limited to hearsay.
The ruined castle that dominates the Tintagel landscape is believed to be from the Medieval 13th century. This would make it some 700 years younger than the Arthurian tales.
But it’s long been thought that the castle may have itself been built upon the ruins of an older structure.
But it was the discovery of a stone engraved with a name linked to Arthur’s in 1998 that reinvigorated interest in the windswept ruins on Cornwall’s coast.
Archaeologists believe it to have been a foundation/dedication stone dating from the 6th century. It is engraved with the name Artognou.
It’s these ruins that may have been linked to the Arthur of legend.
The tales tell of the seduction — some say by magical means — of the beautiful wife of a local lord by the then King of Britain. The illicit act conceived Arthur.
Mythology goes on to say the young boy was raised as a squire — a knight’s assistant — until fate took its hand and placed the rightful king on his throne.
The first written record of the mystic king comes from a monk named Gildas in the sixth century.
But it was a time where books were scarce and the most common form of transmitting history — and telling tales — was through memorised songs and poetry.
It took two several more centuries before a more detailed account of King Arthur and his actions would be recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1138AD.
Unwinding his tangle of myth, legend and history has been a challenge for authors and historians ever since.
At the time of Monmouth’s writing, historians believe Tintagel would likely have been little more than a windswept pile of rubble.
So the notion of it being a powerful palace would have had to have been handed down verbally through the generations.
Just like the tale of Arthur himself.
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
The archaeologists were guided in their efforts by geophysical surveys of the rocky outcrop’s terraces earlier this year.
Among the ultrasound and radar echoes were outlines of what could be up to a dozen buried buildings, one-metre thick walls and winding paths.
The strategically positioned trenches, two on an upper east terrace and two to the south, have all provided a glimpse of the stonework foundations of long-lost buildings.
From the scattering of potsherds and glass, this places the site smack between 400 and 600AD — precisely the time Arthur is supposed to have led his war band against the invading hordes.
None of this proves Arthur existed.
But the new finds add substance to the idea that the site could have produced cultured but strong warriors as well as influential political figures.
It would have been a beacon of lost civilisation in a world of economic chaos and roving, marauding tribes.
Much of the 150 fragments of glass and pottery recovered had been imported from the far reaches of the then collapsing Roman Empire — indicating a place of both great wealth and trade importance.
One piece was the lip of a Turkish-Phocaean red-slip plate or bowl. It was a particularly fine and highly prized ceramic that would likely have held pride of place on the table of nobility.
Original excavation work in the 1930s led archaeologists to believe the cliffside landmark may have once been an Early Christian monastery.
Later work has steadily strengthened the idea that it may have been an important Dark Age fortress, held by the king of Dumnonia who filled the void in Cornwall left when the Romans abandoned Britain in 410AD.
Jacques DeMolay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, cursed a king and a pope as he burned at the stake — launching an undying myth
SEVEN hundred years ago, a dying knight uttered a curse as the flames of the pyre he was tied to lapped at his feet. Those words continue to haunt us even now.
That knight was Jacques de Molay.
He was the Grand Master of the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, generally known as the Knights Templar.
A fraction more than two centuries after the Knights of Order of the Temple of Solomon had been founded amid the rubble of Jerusalem to defend the Holy Land, it would now be ended by flame in the heart of Paris.
Betrayed by a king he trusted and a pope he was sworn to obey, in his final hours DeMolay fought fervently against the false charges which had destroyed his international network of Christian warriors.
His dying curse was powerful. And effective.
S’en vendra en brief temps meschie / Let evil swiftly befall
Sus celz qui nous dampnent a tort; / Those who have wrongly condemned us;
Diex en vengera nostre mort. / God will avenge our death.
Pope Clement V, complicit by design or cowardice, was dead 33 days later — from a severe bout of dysentery brought about by advanced bowel cancer.
King Philip IV of France, who had been happy to kill and defame Christendom’s defenders for their wealth and land, died within eight months. This time it was a hunting accident.
It was the final act in a power play that makes the schemes of Game of Thrones seem like mere schoolyard squabbles.
De Molay, oddly, lives on.
A contemporary source tells of a group of monks secretly swimming to his funeral pyre on an island in Paris’ River Seine to gather up the old man’s bones as holy relics. His name has echoed through history ever since.
The idea of the Order of the Temple itself refused to die.
Though formally disbanded and its assets nominally handed over to their arch rivals — the Knights Hospitaller — there were few untouched enclaves of Templars who changed their name to escape retribution.
But the black-and-white banner of the Poor Knights would rise time and again throughout history by the oppressed and those seeking association with secrets, occult and mystery.
And, as the likes of The DaVinci Code, Game of Thrones and Ivanhoe attest, it’s an idea that resonates even now.
SIGNED, SEALED — AND DELIVERED?
De Molay’s last stand was something of a surprise.
The supreme commander of more than 2000 knights, sergeants and attendants had put up a pitiful performance after the sudden arrest of his brethren on Friday, October 13, 1307. It was a date that would go down in infamy for its ill fortune.
It had been an extraordinary operation: King Philip’s sheriffs all through France had been secretly notified to conduct the coordinated arrests that same night. Once hauled forward to face trumped up charges of heresy, sodomy and sedition, the stunned church seemed powerless to defend its own. Torture did the rest, quickly extracting confessions for the most heinous of crimes — heresy.
But by 1314 the scandal had died down. The arrest and accusations against the Templars was old news. The fate of its members — and its wealth — seemed little more than a formality.
A papal commission of inquiry was appointed to pass final judgment on four of the Templar’s most senior commanders. Two of the inquisitors were considered “royal” men — being close associates of King Philip “the Fair”. The third cardinal was one of Pope Clement’s closest friends.
Naturally, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
It was to be a public show trial, carefully scripted and conducted under the watchful eye of King Philip’s city guard and most loyal followers and performed on scaffolding erected in front of the famous Notre Dame cathedral.
But something inside de Molay had changed.
The seven years of torture and imprisonment had not weakened his spirit. It had reinforced it.
In fact, the Grand Master had been held in solitary confinement the dungeon of his own Paris fortress for the previous four years. Now in his 70s, de Molay’s body must have been wracked by injury, malnutrition and lack of sunlight.
Stepping out into the warm light and seeing his brothers-in-arms again after so long must have ignited his spirit in a way it had never been before.
He and his colleagues — Geoffroi de Charney, Hughes de Pairaud and Goeffroi de Gonneville — were dressed in their Order’s iconic white robes emblazoned with the blood-red cross and paraded in front of the crowd.
It was intended to be their final humiliation.
LAST ACT OF DEFIANCE
The people of Paris were expecting a show. A performance. A tragedy.
They got what they wanted — but not the anticipated script.
The day, March 18, 1314, started well. The full list of charges was read out to the crowd: Heresy. Homosexuality. Corruption.
All were reminded that the Templar commanders — including de Molay — had long since confessed to these most awful of crimes.
It was time to pass sentence. As the senior cardinal began to read from a decree announcing that the three Templar leaders would face perpetual imprisonment, he was unexpectedly interrupted.
By de Molay.
The Grand Master who had seemingly confessed so easily to such serious sin seven years earlier — and who had refused to speak out during the show trials which followed — finally found his voice.
He demanded to be heard.
He asserted his innocence, and that of his colleagues. He accused the king and pope of false accusations and of rigging the trials.
The crowd was shocked.
They knew what this meant.
An unexpected spectacle: A burning at the stake.
Such was the fate of all confessed heretics who renounced their crimes.
But the performance was not yet over.
De Molay’s old colleague under the searing sun of the Holy Land, Geoffroi de Charney, suddenly took up the battle cry.
Both launched into a forceful defence of their innocence and a blistering attack on those who sought to steal their land, their power, and their honour.
They harangued the esteemed cardinals for their complicity. They emphatically denied the allegations and pointedly revoked every aspect of their prior confessions.
De Molay and de Charney knew the consequences.
So did the remaining two Templar officials — de Pairaud and de Gonneville. Both cowered into the background, abandoning their superiors to their last stand.
The cardinals were stunned. They quickly fled the uproarious scene.
The king’s men knew what to do. Such a revocation of guilt meant the Grand Master and the Preceptor of Normandy had voided the protection of the Church and were now under royal jurisdiction.
They dragged the two Templars away.
King Philip heard of the outburst within minutes. His extravagant new palace was just a few hundred meters up the road.
It was too much for the troubled king to tolerate. His family was torn by scandal — the wives of his three sons all having been found guilty of adultery only months earlier. Any other such challenge to his flagging authority and reputation needed to be stamped upon, and quickly.
He summoned an immediate session of his royal council.
Nominally it was to discuss and pass judgment upon the two relapsed heretics. In reality it was most likely a shouting session.
The verdict was arbitrary anyway.
King Philip gave the two Templars what they wanted.
He immediately issued his decree: Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney were to be burnt at the stake that very evening, at the hour of Vespers.
The place of execution was ordered to be a small sandbank at the foot of the island in the middle of medieval Paris which formed the seat of royal and religious power.
It sat in full view of the island’s royal gardens and palace, and of the Monastery of St Augustine on the opposite bank of the River Seine.
Meanwhile, the Templars Hughes de Pairaud and Goeffroi de Gonneville had been whisked away by church officials to serve their sentences of life imprisonment. Both would die prolonged, miserable deaths.
De Molay and De Charney were bundled through the seething crowds filling Paris’ streets. Word of their fate had spread. Nobody wanted to miss the show.
It was the end of an era. All knew this.
All wanted to see how this suddenly courageous Grand Master faced his death.
Chroniclers from the time tell of how de Molay willingly cast off his clothes and walked up to the pyre dressed only in his undershirt. Some say he asked to be tied to the stake with his hands free so he could pray.
All paint a picture of a calm and determined man, content with his fate.
As the flames took hold, they seem to have only ignited anger within the old knight.
The Chronicler of Paris wrote:
Seignors, dis il, sachiez, sans tere, / Sirs, he said, know, without any doubt
Que touz celz qui nous sont contrere / That all those who are against us
Por nous en arront a souffrir. / For us will have to suffer.
It was an age of superstition. While the sparks of the Renaissance were beginning to fly — particularly among the new universities of Paris — there was still a pervasive belief in the power of curses, prayer and prophecy.
The chroniclers tell of “how gently” de Molay met his execution.
To the silent crowd, this would have only added to the power of his final words.
De Charney, seeing the extraordinary manner in which his commander had died, declared he was proud to burn in the colours of his Order, and desired to do so with the same grace as his Grand Master.
The righteous piety in which the two knights were immolated was in stark contrast to the stories of cowardice, corruption and heresy the Paris crowd had been sold over so many years.
Their deaths invoked so much admiration among the crowd that it inspired centuries of doubt as to their guilt.
It also inspired the myths that seemingly will not die.
THE TEMPLAR CODE
It’s a story with stark relevance to the modern world.
The Templars were, in essence, an international corporation. A network of farms, estates, banks and markets which fed a bureaucracy full of infighting, divergent purposes and ambition under the helm of a single chief executive officer — in this case Jacques de Molay.
King Philip’s government was bankrupt. He’d squandered his wealth on a series of failed wars and expensive monuments to his ego. He needed cash. He needed income. He lusted for power.
The manner in which the hearts and minds of Europe’s pious public were played, how the legal system was manipulated and how the cowed Catholic Church capitulated still triggers fears of grand-scale, high-level conspiracy and corruption.
But the Templars themselves — as pious knights, as warrior-monks sworn to fight for their beliefs — reflect our fear for modern religious-inspired terrorism and the righteous claims of those who fight against it.
Add to the mix the charges of heresy, magic and conspiracy and you have a rich recipe few authors — and charlatans — can resist.
They’ve been linked to the Turin Shroud, the Holy Grail and the ‘hidden bloodline’ of Jesus Christ.
From Ivanhoe to Indiana Jones, Hellbound to Assassin’s Creed, Kingdom of Heaven to The DaVinci Code — the myth of the Templars all play a part.
And the name of the Order has been invoked by secret societies for centuries, seeking to draw upon the mystical might of the knights’ name.
It’s a power still present today: One of Mexico’s most powerful drug gangs has twisted the image, and the name — The Knights Templar Cartel — to suit their own anti-authoritarian needs.
But put aside the myth and the mayhem and you will find the real history of the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Jerusalem to be fully fascinating in itself.
As the final hours of Jacques de Molay show: There is no need for embellishment.
La casa del Temple, la que podría ser la casa más antigua de Toledo mejor conservada (data de los siglos XI-XII), podrá visitarse este sábado 18 de marzo de forma gratuita, tras la última restauración realizada en los alfarjes de su planta primera, compuestos por vigas «de las más antiguas de España».
La jornada gratuita de puertas abiertas forma parte del programa «Patrimonio desconocido», impulsada por el Consorcio dentro de las actividades organizadas con motivo del 30 Aniversario de Toledo Ciudad Patrimonio de la Humanidad, según ha informado el Ayuntamiento una en nota de prensa. Cada mes se visita y se da a conocer un espacio histórico rehabilitado que normalmente está cerrado al público. El último fue la fuente de Cristina Iglesias en el Convento de Santa Clara.
Rosana Rodríguez, concejala de Turismo, asegura que uno de los objetivos del 30 aniversario es abrir espacios desconocidos para «el disfrute» de los toledanos y también de los turistas y que, gracias a ello, se puede conocer una representación de la arquitectura civil de los siglos XI y XII salvada después de «tantos» siglos de historia. En este caso, la jornada de puertas abiertas se celebrará el sábado 18 de marzo, de 10:00 a 14:00 y de 16:00 a 18:00 horas, en la calle Soledad, número 2.
El Consorcio ha intervenido para llevar a cabo la restauración de los alfarjes de la planta primera que «no se habían terminado de limpiar y proteger» en la rehabilitación de 1997, en la que parte del artesonado de la Casa del Temple, según ha avanzado el presidente del Consorcio de Toledo, Manuel Santolaya, está compuesto por «vigas de las más antiguas de España».
Santolaya ha explicado que se trata de un «sitio excepcional» que tiene relación con el palacio de la Aljafería de Zaragoza y la iglesia de San Millán de Segovia y que incluso alguna de sus piezas, en concreto una alacena mudéjar, se encuentra en el museo británico.
El propietario de este antiguo palacio islámico, declarado Bien de Interés Cultural, Amador Valdés, ha asegurado que «seguramente es la casa más antigua de Toledo mejor conservada», en la que destacan sus zócalos de pinturas bícromas y sus estructuras de madera, «las mejores conservadas in situ del país», en las que han aparecido policromías que estaban ocultas tras la última restauración.
El propietario ha indicado que hay muchas leyendas que relacionan la Casa del Temple con la Orden de los Templarios pero ninguna oficial y ha dicho que en el siglo XIX, el historiador Amador de los Ríos ya denominó este espacio como Casa del Temple, al igual que Benito Pérez Galdós en su novela «Ángel Guerra».
Durante el siglo XIX, se conservaba además de la Casa del Temple, que ocupaba «toda la manzana», la Casa de la Parra, hoy desaparecida, que era donde se ubicaba «supuestamente la alacena del Temple», exportada a Londres tiempo después.