Templars: From Crusaders to Conspiracists

Steve Tibble

In 1187 the Templars fought heroically at Hattin. Just over 100 years later the order was mixed up in a bizarre sex crime.
The Battle of Hattin, 4 July 1187
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Templars: From Crusaders to Conspiracists

Galilee, 4 July 1187.

The dry heat caught the stench of blood and death and held it close to the earth – the fear was palpable and, for many, overwhelming. The men, already severely dehydrated, were almost finished. Even the dying had little energy left for screams, just animal sounds of pain and muttered, delirious talk of mothers – but whether this was their own or the Virgin Mary, even they probably did not know.

Most of their horses were already dead – some, very visibly, from numerous arrow wounds, and others, less obviously, from the heat and lack of water. The remaining Templar cavalry formed up in a thin, all too fragile line. Next to them were the men of the other main military order, the Hospitallers, and the last survivors of the crusader knights from the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Some of the brothers quietly mouthed a prayer to give them the strength and courage they needed. Most were just desperate to do their duty and avoid showing weakness in front of their comrades. A few made eye contact with their friends on either side. But looks had to express what emotions of fear or affection needed to be communicated. Few words were spoken. The famous Templar discipline, even in these last moments, was fierce – what little energy was left needed to be channelled into the coming fight.

There were fewer than 200 men in these dusty, ragged ranks. Preparing to charge a Muslim army of perhaps some 30,000 men, they must have known that they were going to lose. But the Templars were arguably the best heavy cavalry in the world. And, more to the point, they were out of options. This was the bravery of despair.

Complete silence fell in the ranks for the last few seconds. Time stood still. Then the standards signalled the order to charge. The tiny crusader squadrons lurched forwards, heads down as they careered into a storm of arrows.

Bravery was not enough against such odds. There was only one realistic outcome.

The crusader army was forced to surrender. The courage of the Templars had made a huge impact on their enemies. There was one final and unwelcome back-handed compliment. Saladin decided that the British Templars and their comrades from the other European provinces must die ‘because they were the fiercest fighters of all the Franks’.

The prisoners were bound and executed on the battlefield.

York, 1310.

A different place. A very different story.

The rector of the church of Crofton, near Wakefield, was testifying under oath. He said that he had heard (second-hand, of course) that a Templar had confessed to having had sex with others from the order. Even more sensationally, the same brother knight revealed that he and his comrades had insulted and spat upon the crucifix. Bizarrely, and this was the big surprise, the Templar was also reported to have said that ‘a certain image was shown to him like a certain calf placed on a sort of altar, and he was told that he should kiss the image and venerate it, which he did’.

Strangely, there was even corroboration of this seemingly outlandish claim. John of Nassington, a knight from York, had a very similar story. He testified that he had been told that the Templars had invited the knights and officials of York to a ‘great banquet’ at their manor house at Hirst. There ‘they were told that many brothers of the said Order had assembled there for a certain solemn feast that they used to hold, at which they adored a certain calf’. And, as if to make an extraordinary anecdote even more lurid, the context from other witnesses made clear that ‘adoring’ a satanic creature was a euphemism for kissing its anus.

These two stories ostensibly have little in common. British Templars and their patrons had fought and died on the battlefields of the Holy Land. And yet they had also, or so it was said, engaged in devil-worshipping rituals and bestiality – they were traitors to everything that Christianity stood for.

How did a small band of brave and intensely orthodox warriors become the centre of satanic cults? And how, in the space of a little over a hundred years, did the British Templars make the journey from crusaders to conspiracists?

Templars – The Knights Who Made Britain is the extraordinary story of these remarkable men, and that even more remarkable journey.

Steve Tibble is the author of Templars: The Knights Who Made Britain, published by Yale University Press.