In the mid-nineteen nineties, I was looking for new and interesting avenues for re-enactment. I had achieved a respectable presentation as a late twelfth-century knight that I was content with, (see the page entitled C12th Western cavalry) and thought that it could be the basis for presenting as a Templar Knight-Brother. I made a white surcoat, and a nice white shield with a black chief. I do not recall what became of the surcoat, but that shield still languishes unused in a shed. Before I took it out, I had concluded that no accurate and enjoyable re-enactment of a Templar Knight-Brother could be done.
Since then, of course, Templars have had periods of huge trendiness in pseudo-historical fiction, and have come to crop up everywhere in historical recreation. I have no issue with people doing fantasy Templar in the SCA, LARP or anywhere else if they are honest about it. However, every example I have seen to date (mostly in Britain, but some on the WWW) of people purporting to do Templar re-enactment (with all the implied or explicit claim of realism embodied in that term) has been wrong in fundamental ways.
Of all categories of twelfth/thirteenth-century chivalry, the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon is by far the one about which we have the most copious evidence. Not only are there the many crusade chronicles, the court records and so on, most importantly for practical purposes, we have the Rule of the Order. That document defined the the life, the conduct, the clothing and military equipment of the KnightBrothers in intricate detail, and of other members of the Order as well. It exists in a fine English translation, and that is probably also true of other languages.1 This must surely be the starting point for any attempt to represent the Order in something like a historically accurate manner.
The Templars are also the most intensively researched group of twelfth/thirteenth-century knights in modern academia, but even notable scholars have fouled things up when writing for the popular audience. Helen Nicholson is a well-established academic author on the military orders. Yet in her Osprey Warrior volume on the Order,2 she has them jousting in plate D (and that is even, alas, on the cover), despite the fact that the Rule of the Order specifically and explicitly bans Knight-Brothers from engaging in that activity on account of the danger to them and their mounts. Dr. Nicholsons explanation to me when we met once at Leeds University was that she could not work out how they could have trained otherwise. I could only reply that it was shame she could not have consulted me.
So what is wrong with purported Templar re-enactment as it is generally done? There are four main issues:
Firstly, there is the tendency that every boy wanting to be a Templar aims to seen to be a battle-ready Knight-Brother (the white suited fellows), just like I did. I will return to this.
Secondly, a minor issue is a facet of the common problem with chivalry re-enactment the notion that a surcoat makes a knight, that is, one sees men on the battlefield without complete mail coverage on their bodies, but with a surcoat. This is a particular travesty in the context of the Templars. Like any religious order, the brothers owned no property. They did not have to supply their own equipment, it was provided by the Order, and the Order had very rapidly became the wealthiest non-state entity in the medieval West. Hence, it cannot be proposed that any Knight-Brother ever took the field without the latest and best military kit.
The third and fourth issues relate to the behaviour required of Knight-Brothers, and are the most crucial. They are the reasons I gave up aiming to do Templar Knight-Brother re-enactment.
The Rule decrees that:
1) Outside the Orders premises, no Knight-Brother shall be without at least one other Knight-Brother in his company.
2) No KnightBrother shall ever have dealings of any sort with a woman, even if she is his mother or sister.
And still, at every re-enactment we see pseudo-Templar KnightBrothers walking about on their own, and taking to women, even having women residing in camp with them. What is that but a wilful falsification of history?
So, is reasonably accurate Templar re-enactment completely impossible? No. There are ways it can be done … but suspect you wont like it!
I assume that no one is going to want every conversation between a female member of the public and a man representing himself as a KnightBrother to start with the explanation The Rule of the Order says that I am not supposed to talk to a woman at all but ... . It seems to me far better for them to act in character and get around the problem with a simple expedient. The thing to do is to abandon the trend for everyone involved to be a KnightBrother. The Order also had LayBrothers, civilian men equivalent to the monks of other orders, who did the administrative work, and who were not constrained by those two problematical rules. In addition, there were Serjeants, Western soldiers who were in the Orders service, but had taken no religious vows. In the East, there were also Turcopouloi, local military retinues of entirely secular character. With any of such men in attendance, there is, at least, somebody who can engage with women on behalf of the party in a way the KnightBrothers cannot. That does mean that any Knight-Brothers appearing in public (remember, no fewer than two) must be accompanied by one of those characters ready to step in politely at a moments notice and explain to women why the Brothers are ignoring them, and relay questions and comments.
Local factors must be considered and reflected. It has been notable that with the economic contraction there has been a trend in Britain for the fewer re-enactment events to be focussed more on local relevance. The Order of the Temple did have extensive holdings in England as much as anywhere else, but no significant military presence. So what would it have meant to have been a member of the Order in England? There may have been a few lucky superannuated surviving KnightBrothers about who might have ventured out of their cloister, but mostly it was Lay-Brothers and clerical staff doing agricultural and financial administration to fund the Orders military operations overseas. Hence, if you want to do Templar re-enactment set in England you had better brush up on your Roman numeral arithmetic. Your mission: Audit without Fear! Your weapon: an abacus!
Often, would-be Templars are a small subset of a wider group. That will always make a more historically accurate presentation more difficult. Should it become possible to put together a stand-alone Templar presentation, how might it function? Radical homosociality3 has been marginalised in Western society, and I dare say that few men would nowadays want to be in a male-only re-enactment group. Yet once again, that male-only aspect of the Order must properly be depicted physically in what purports to be a Templar camp, just as much as in the behaviour I have discussed. And once again, the diversity in the Orders membership should come to the rescue. A facsimile of a Templar camp should, therefore, be segregated. One sequestered area being the KnightBrothersquarters from which they only emerge in multiples, and which is either closed off from the public, or guarded by a LayBrother or Serjeant who would admit men but not women. (Yes, diplomacy will be required) The rest of the camp would be designated to the other classes of the Order, with the women associated with the group being presented as being attached to the Serjeants or Turkopouloi. This is, of course, in the context of the reenactment performance, what the participants do the rest of the time is nobodys business but their own.
Someone might object But the women wont like it! No, the women wont like it, but in my experience, the great majority will understand and accept the explanation that it shows how societies have changed.
Anyone who is serious about living up to the re-enactment and living history rhetoric of representing history as accurately as possible must never forget the famous dictum The Past is a foreign country they do things differently there.
© Timothy George Dawson 2019