chivalry

The historical reality of the Templars of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed’

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The planning was meticulous. Signed and sealed, laden with accusation and instruction, the letters were sent by the king to local authorities throughout his realm. They were to act exactly one month later, simultaneously and at the crack of dawn — on a Friday the 13th, as it happened. The targets were unaware of what lay in store, their leader even spending time with the king and seeming to enjoy his favor. The hour came, and armed men launched their surprise, summarily carrying off hundreds to the king’s dungeons, and many ultimately to their deaths. It was a performance reminiscent of a Stalinist purge or Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives.

The year was 1307, and the month was October. The king was Philip IV of France. And his victims were all members of the order of “the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Jerusalem,” better known as the Knights Templar — or simply the Templars. Over a period of two centuries, this charitable and military order of Crusaders had grown in power and wealth. At a stroke, and with the acquiescence of a weakened pope, Philip destroyed the order, imprisoning its leaders and burning many at the stake. “God will avenge our death,” said James of Molay, the last Grand Master, as he faced the flames on an island in the Seine.

And, in a way, God has. The Templars live on in popular culture — from the video game “Assassin’s Creed” to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Philip IV does not.

Dan Jones, the author of well-regarded histories of the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses, obviously gives no credence to the conspiratorial fantasies that have been spun around the Templars over the years. No, they do not guard the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, and never did. No, a surviving remnant does not protect the identities of the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdelene. No, the order does not secretly run the world — that’s the Trilateral Commission or maybe Skull and Bones. In “The Templars,” Jones relegates this curious afterlife to an epilogue. His aim is to present a gripping historical narrative, and in this he succeeds.

The raw material is rich. Founded by a French knight in 1119, after the successful First Crusade, the Templars began with a mission to protect throngs of pilgrims now traveling to the Holy Land. The members of the order wore white robes with a distinctive red cross, embraced personal poverty and lived according to a regime codified by the great Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. A papal charter was followed by a papal decree granting the Templars an exemption from taxes and local laws, effectively creating a transnational entity whose members could go anywhere. As Jones describes it, the order comes across as a combination of Blackwater, Goldman Sachs, Kroll International, FedEx, Fort Knox, Bechtel and, well, the Red Cross.

The financial acumen of the Templars was considerable. In the post-“Da Vinci Code” era, visitors to London often make their way to the Temple Church, between Fleet Street and the Thames, built in the mid-12th century. The circular nave — typical of Templar churches — is the oldest part of the structure and was used as a repository by English nobles and by the Crown itself. “By the 1240s,” Jones writes, “the order was providing diverse financial services to some of the richest and most powerful figures across Christendom.” The Templars “guaranteed debts, ransomed hostages and prisoners of war on credit, and could arrange very large loans — such as the one made in 1240 to Baldwin II, the emperor of Constantinople, and secured by his very own fragment of the True Cross.”

The order’s military record was mixed. In 1187, an army of Templars and others, under King Guy of Jerusalem, was surrounded and slaughtered by the sultan Saladin in his successful campaign to restore Palestine to the Muslim fold. Saladin had played his hand skillfully: stopping up wells even as he enticed the Christians farther into the searing flats; pausing long enough to allow dehydration to take its toll; then moving in for the kill. Some 200 Templars were captured, and Saladin beheaded them all.

That was an unhappy episode, but the Templars had another century of influential life in front of them, until that Friday the 13th in 1307. Philip IV was pious, paranoid, unscrupulous and mercurial — and deeply in debt to the Templars. It was all too easy to manufacture charges of heresy, blasphemy and sexual depravity: urinating on the cross, having sex on the altar — the usual allegations. The power and secretiveness of the Templars only fueled the charges. The decisive blow was struck in France, but within a few years the Templars were extinct throughout Christendom, except in the popular imagination.

“The themes of the Templar story resonate powerfully today,” Jones observes. He rightly does not pontificate about this and draws no specious parallels, but the reader can’t help recognizing familiar territory. There is the preoccupation in the West with what we now call the Middle East. Religions collide and atrocities abound. Cries of “Allahu akhbar” pierce the din of battle. The power of states is threatened, or seen to be threatened, by unaccountable forces with global tentacles. Information is unreliable and easily manipulated, allowing conspiracy theories to take root and spread.

Nothing is left of the Templars except words on parchment and ruins in stone. An older crusading order with certain similarities, the Knights Hospitaller, does still exist, after a fashion — its genetic progeny are the Knights of Malta. They have a palatial headquarters on the Aventine in Rome. They have a papal charter and enjoy quasi-sovereign status. They can issue their own passports. They maintain diplomatic relations with a hundred countries. And, like the Templars, they do not rule the world.

By Cullen Murphy in The Washington Post

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Business of knights

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In 1565, being on the small island of Malta in the Mediterranean meant the possibility of war. The Ottoman and Christian empires were scrambling for position. Frequent raids on trade routes and territory battles were commonplace. For the Knights of Malta, war was business as usual. Little did any of them know that their preparations for war in the spring of 1565, and the way they fought through the summer, would define the outcome of one of the greatest territorial battles in medieval times. Jean Parisot de Valette, grandmaster of the Knights Hospitaller (later to be known as the Knights of Malta), was given the terrifying honor and opportunity to lead the knights.

They did their research: War took a long time to get off the ground in 1565, and Valette, a seasoned and dynamic leader, knew this. He sent his spies into Constantinople (not Istanbul) in the fall of 1564 and received intelligence well in advance that the Ottomans were amassing a force and planned to assault the Mediterranean. Although historians are unclear on the exact number, it is estimated that more than 48,000 men in 193 ships launched from Constantinople to attempt to take territory, including Malta. The Knights of Malta: 500 strong.

They prepared: Valette’s response to the intelligence was immediate and focused action. He created coastline garrisons and started recruiting fighters from the civilian population. Training commenced for the civilians while crops were harvested early or destroyed on the majority of the island, preventing the presence of easy supplies for the enemy forces. He became an active voice in his community, quickly rallying allies and uniting dissenters in the population. By May, as the Ottoman fleet made landfall on Malta, he had grown his force to over 6,000 men.

They picked their battles: As bombardment started on Malta from the Ottoman invaders, the knights patiently waited to engage the enemy. More than 100,000 cannonballs fell on Malta during the summer of 1865. Civilians and knights took refuge. At St. Elmo, a courageous force of 1,500 men would hold their positions despite overwhelming odds while under siege. St. Elmo, a strategic fort in the harbor, would hold for sufficient time to allow the knights to call for reinforcements from Europe to Malta. Although all 1,500 defenders were killed during the fight for the fort, taking St. Elmo cost the Ottomans more than 6,000 men, and nearly a month of the summer. (War was a seasonal business back then.)

They leveraged their advantages: As the Ottomans shifted their attack to St. Michael/Birgu, Valette was careful to take account of their strategic advantages. On receiving intel that the Ottomans were building siege towers, a crew of engineers and knights tunneled out under the wall of the city and destroyed the apparatus. When the Ottomans broke through the walls of the city, Valette rallied a small force of 100 men, and with focused attacks, he drove the Ottoman force through the narrow streets of Birgu and out. Valette was 70 at the time. In each case in which the Ottoman forces overextended themselves, Valette took full advantage and committed only necessary responses, eventually causing complete desperation among the Ottoman forces.

They knew when to strike: As the Ottomans loaded their artillery back onto ships in preparations to leave, reinforcements pressed the retreat, further decimating the Ottoman fighting force, pushing them onto their ships and ensuring that Malta would be uncontested in the near future. Though about a third of the knights had perished and only about 600 men able to fight remained, the knights had inflicted more than 35,000 casualties on the Ottomans. Malta would not fall until the invasion of Napoleon some 200 years later.

Courage is rewarded: Valette’s efforts during the siege of Malta were recognized widely. Money began pouring into the island to strengthen the knights. With this sudden growth in resources, Valette founded the current capitol of Valletta, and strengthened Malta as a strategic defensive position for Europe.

History teaches many lessons, and the student of history begins to see patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed. For the business owner or the business banker, defining and using these key lessons can put us in good company.

In: Vail Daily

By: Ben Gochberg, commercial lender and business finance consultant.

New Squires, Knights and Dames in the Iberian Priory

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Once again the Pentecost was the magical occasion for the reception of new members in the Iberian Priory, this time in a beautiful ceremony conducted by the Commandry of Sintra in a secluded place in the middle of the Alentejo plains.

The ceremonies took two days. In the first day the new Squires were given their last instructions before committing themselves to the Order. It spoke of service, of the role the Squire had in the old Chivalric Orders and how it translates symbolically to today.

After each of the Squires was admitted to the service of the Order, the ceremonies were halted so that the chapel could be re-arranged in order to start the Pentecost Vigil, during which two Squires that had been admitted last year became a new Knight and Dame of the Order.

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Guarding the Tower during the Pentecost Vigil

The Vigil took place, as it is traditional, throughout the course of the night. The two Squires were supplied with sacred texts and doctrinal comments for their meditation, including a section of the “Book of the Order of Chivalry” by Ramon Llull.

As morning broke, the Commandry proceeded with the arming ceremonies, which were drawn to a close early in the morning of Sunday with a light breakfast in the woods.

The Priori of Iberia wishes to congratulate the new Knight, Rui Bento, KTJ and Dame Ana Brum, DTJ. We hope they will find a meaningful pathway for their spiritual quests in this new stage of their lives. The Priory also wishes to congratulate the new Squires, hoping that they can now see Chivalry as a living force, instead of dead letters in the pages of a dusty old book.

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Part of the liturgical team (Commandry of Sintra, Prioratys Ibericus, Osmthu)