Templar Book Week - History Corner

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Templar Book Week - History Corner

We continue Templar Book Week with an extract from our next book, which is currently at the printers, with pre-orders being taken to guarantee immediate dispatch as soon as we receive our supply. Pilgrims of the Sword - the Official History of the Knights Templar covers the entire Crusading period. Two centuries of heroism, action, triumph, disaster, analysis and lessons for the here-and-now.

Pilgrims of the Sword is a heavily-researched, entertainingly-written, beautifully illustrated and produced masterpiece. Our extract today is the full Introduction. Enjoy, and thanks for sharing!

‘We can imagine Thibaud Gaudin sitting in the prow of the long-boat, his face set in the thousand-yard stare of men who have witnessed the horrors of war, the death agony of comrades and the emptiness of fearing that their sacrifice was in vain.’

Even among those who know their history, the name Thibaud Gaudin may at present mean nothing. Yet, by the time you have finished reading this book, you will be as familiar with the twenty second Grand Master of the Order of the Poor Knights as with his better-known fellows.

You will also have an understanding of the dilemma in which he found himself, and hopefully greater sympathy for him than is afforded by so many of the sensationalist, shallow, tabloid ‘historians’ who have been so quick to judge him in the past.

We could pick many similar examples, but the story of Gaudin makes the point well enough on its own. While this is the fully authorised, Official History of the Templars, it is not centred on the institution of the Order itself. Our team has striven instead to see things through the eyes of our long-dead brothers. They were flesh and blood men. History is not a dry roll call of dates and list of titles and battles; it is about real people. People just like us.

I am sure that you are as eager as we were to leap into our study and account of the deeds and daring do of Hugh de Payns and the other members of the first band of nine Templar brothers. 20,000 men fought and died in the Holy Land wearing the red cross we revere today; they are waiting for us on their dusty patrols, gripping their swords at the stomach-churning moment before the order to charge rings out, or peering through the mountain dawn mist from the ramparts on which they keep watch and guard over the Holy Land.

But just before we join our brothers, it will make their story easier to grasp if we take a few moments to clarify some details.

You only have to skim through a handful of the many source documents and prior works we used in the making of this book, to see a bewildering variety of spellings for the names of key individuals and places in the epic story of the Crusades.

They are often unfamiliar, with wide variations produced by a mixture of the phonetic recording of local accents, degrees of literacy and ancient errors in transcription.  None is necessarily right or wrong. In each case, we have chosen the version which we think is easiest on the eye and tongue of the modern reader of English.

In an era before the adoption of surnames, the nobles who play such central role in our story were generally identified by the name of the place at which they or their family had their primary seat, or by where they were born. In the case of French, or Anglo-Norman figures, we tend to use the French ‘de’ in such names, especially at first, since this is how they described themselves and were known to their contemporaries. But we allow a drift towards ‘of’ as time passes. This reflects the slow recovery of common English as the Norman Conquest receded into history, and conflict and rivalry with France stimulated the growth of English identity.

At the time covered by this first volume, France as we know it today had not yet come into being. The French-speaking nobles at the centre of the history of the Order still tended to describe themselves as ‘Franks’, after their Germanic ancestors, who conquered much of Western Europe in the so-called Dark Ages which followed the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The term, for example, includes the nobility of what is now Belgium, and fitted easily too as a description for the Franco-Viking hybrids who had spread with extraordinary vigour from Normandy to seize control of England, Ireland and even Sicily.

The Arabs too found the word ‘Frank’ a convenient catch-all description for the infidels who had so rudely interrupted their elegant and perfumed internecine savagery.

One place name which is likely to be unfamiliar, but which we use frequently because it is so useful, is ‘Outremer’. This derives from the mediaeval French ‘outre mer’, meaning ‘over the sea’. It was the name given by the Franks, Normans and their medieval chroniclers to describe the territory which they wrested from the Muslim Arabs and held for roughly two centuries.

It is up to the reader whether to read it as a French compound, with an ’Allo ’Allo accent, or to completely Anglicise it to ‘Out-reamer’. That would probably be closer to the pronunciation used by the English men-at-arms who fought so bravely, so far from home, under Richard the Lionheart and Edward Longshanks.  Many of them made it back to England, so there is a fair chance that their blood courses through your veins; you may feel that their opinion counts for something.

Whichever you choose, we use it in order to avoid excessive repetition of the phrase ‘the Holy Land’, and because Outremer refers to a place in time, whose boundaries varied with the fortunes of war, and which is now long gone, whereas the ‘Holy Land’ is both fixed and eternal.

Furthermore, the Crusader states seldom if ever covered the full extent of the Holy Land; particularly towards the end of the adventure the Franks were hemmed into a mere sliver of coastal territory. While the term ‘Outremer’ will be unfamiliar to most readers at first, it is thus the most accurate and simple way to designate the territory held by the Latin Christians.

The ‘Kingdom of Jerusalem’ is a term which will also become familiar. It may in general be taken as an alternative way of saying ‘Outremer’, although in reality the two names refer to strictly different things. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was in fact only one of four separate states established as a result of the First Crusade. The other three were the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Tripoli.

Being centred around, and having the prestige of, the Holy City, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was the most coveted and the most robustly defended, and even at the time its name tended to be used – particularly by Westerners ignorant of the finer details of local sovereignties - as convenient shorthand for the whole area of the Levant under Christian control. This process was aided by the fact that the royal title and position survived the physical loss of Jerusalem by more than a hundred years.

There is a tendency among modern Westerners, influenced by the pernicious heresy of Christian Zionism, to conflate the idea of the Holy Land with the secular, and in fact deeply anti-Christian, state of Israel.

Medieval Christians had a much more accurate understanding of the term, which of course included parts of Syria and Jordan as well as Palestine.  Think of Saul on the road to Damascus, and the fact that it is Syria which remains home to communities of Aramaic Christians, who still speak the language of Jesus Christ Himself.

We do not use the name Lebanon, except to connect to modern readers’ knowledge of geography. The artificial state did not even exist until created as a French mandate just after WW1, as part of the process by which European colonial powers carved up the possessions of the defeated Ottoman Empire.

The final point about names deals with our heroes’ enemies. We often use the word ‘Muslim’, because that is what they were, and because the Crusades were an episode in the still ongoing civilisational war between the followers of Christ and Mohammad. To use the term is not to succumb to the moronic over-simplification of the conflict employed by ‘counter-jihad’ propagandists; it is simply to be accurate and brief.

In addition to the religious disagreement, however, the clashes between Europeans and the men of the desert have always had a racial dimension. The enemy were thus often referred to as ‘Saracens’ or ‘Turks’.

Strictly speaking, the Saracens were Arabs or Kurds, while the Turks were more recent arrivals from the steppes of Asia. The Arab Muslims had followed the Prophet for centuries and, apart from the Bedouin, tended to be settled, with their economies based on farming and trade. Their urban culture was based on ornate buildings and a very easily understood love of shade and fountains.

The Turkic tribes, by contrast, were recent converts to Islam and - although quick to assimilate to the settled ways and sophistication of the Arab elite – were still influenced by the particularly hard and brutal nature of their ancestral life as nomadic horsemen. 

Even in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Western chroniclers and observers tended to use the two descriptions interchangeably and at random.

As with the four Crusader states, however, the men on the ground were well aware of the difference. Describing the slaughter which concluded the liberation of Jerusalem, the author of the Geste Francorum, or The Deeds of the Franks and the Other Pilgrims to Jerusalem wrote that: ‘They killed all the Saracens and the Turks they found... whether male or female.’  Clearly, he both understood the difference and thought it worth noting.

That was in 1099, twenty years before the foundation of the Poor Knights who, although deadly in battle, very seldom sank to such indiscriminate slaughter. As we will see, the Templars actually developed a much more sophisticated approach to the civilisational enemy – one which helped to turn them into the pre-eminent defenders of the Frankish enclaves for nearly two hundred drama-filled years.

The military veteran author of Dungeon, Fire and Sword, John L Robinson, provides us with a succinct summary of the Templars’ incredibly special role:

‘It was in the long years between the Crusades that the Templars were most important. They were the strongest military force holding the Muslims at bay, which they did through the defence of their castles, direct engagement in the field, and diplomatic missions to the Islamic courts. Crusaders were military pilgrims, who came to fight and go home. The Templars were military monks, committed to remain in the Holy Land to consolidate the gains, or to clean up the mess, after the Crusaders had fulfilled their vows and then sailed away from the scene of their triumphs or tragedies.’

Let us find out more about these remarkable men, about their mission, and about the most mysterious and fascinating elite force in military history – the Knights Templar!

 

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