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Author Jack Whyte
Author's Note

No other organization in history has captured the attention and the curiosity of modern readers as completely and as intriguingly as the medieval Order of monks known as the Knights Templar, and the beginnings of that popular fascination sprang from the 1982 publication of the Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. I know with absolute certainty that my own interest in the Order of the Temple was kindled by reading that work, because although I had always found the Templars fascinating, because of the mystery and the mysticism surrounding them, it was after reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail that I first thought, There has to be a truly great story hidden in there somewhere, if a guy could just strip away all the layers of obfuscation and find a way to really look at who these people were, and what made them tick. I had always believed that the Knights Templar were real, very human people, despite the fact that, back when I was a boy, the only pictures we had of them were stylized stone figures carved on medieval tombs, and the only reports we ever read of them told us they were a villainous and evil breed, condemned and excommunicated by the Church as heretics and apostates.

The grasping Norman knights in Ivanhoe were all Templars, as were the lowering, black-avisaged villains in several other tales I read in boyhood, and one seldom heard, or read, anything good of the Knights Templar. They were always evil, threatening stereotypes And yet there was a quiet, logic-bound area of my awareness that recognized other, seldom listed and infrequently mentioned aspects of Templar history: they existed as an Order for less than two hundred years, and for most of that time they were the legitimate standing army of the Catholic Church; they invented and perfected the first sophisticated, credit-and-gold-bullion based international banking system, and they financed all the kings and kingdoms of Christendom. They also amassed the largest and most impressive portfolio of real estate holdings known to history, and to protect their enormous trading fleet they developed the largest navy in the world. Their black and white naval ensign, a white skull and crossbones on a black field, struck the fear of God into pirates everywhere.
 
Most impressive of all, however, to a storyteller, was the awareness that their meteoric career effectively came to an end in a single day, on Friday the Thirteenth of October, 1307, a date, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, that will live forever, if not in infamy, then at least in mystery. And so were born in my mind the elements of my Tale of the Templars: The Beginnings, designed and brought about, history tells us, by nine penniless men—two of whose names we do not even know today—who spent years digging in the bowels of Jerusalem and unearthed a treasure that made them the most powerful and influential force on earth for two centuries; The Middle, when an army of monks, all of them wearing the equal-armed cross of the Order of the Temple, formed a standing army in the Holy Land and fought to the death, hopelessly outnumbered by the swarming legions of Saladin’s Saracens, in a vain attempt to preserve an impossible dream; and The End, when the Order was overthrown in a single day by the sinister lieutenant of a grasping, ambitious king, and only a few escaped to foster and nurture a legend and a tradition of hope and regeneration.

In writing these novels for modern readers, I have had to deal with the French names of my major characters… All the original Templar knights were French and nobly born, which meant that their names all had a “de” in the middle, as in Geoffroi de Bouillon, André de Montbard, Hugues (Hugh) de Payens, etc. The reason for that is that family names, or surnames, as we know them today, were not in common use that long ago, and most of the identifiable names that existed sprang from the family’s birthplace or region. If a man called Guillaume (William) was born in a certain town or city, like Chartres in France, then he would be known as William of Chartres . . . Guillaume de Chartres. That makes for tough reading in modern English, and so I have made allowances, dropping the “correct” French names in many instances, although not all instances, in favor of simplifying things for modern readers. I have given all my characters “modern” sounding names, simply by Anglicizing their first names wherever possible and dropping the “de” between their first and second names in many instances. Thus Geoffroi de St. Omer becomes simply Godfrey St. Omer, Archambaud de St. Agnan becomes Archibald St. Agnan, and Payen de Montdidier becomes Payn Montdidier, but Hugues de Payens, the founder of the Knight Templar, becomes Hugh, yet remains Hugh de Payens, because that is his historical identity.

I also made a note to myself, back when I first started writing these stories, to be sure to explain a few of the things that were normal eight or nine hundred years ago, but which seem utterly alien and incomprehensible to modern readers. For example, no one—neither the clergymen who planned the Crusades or the warriors who fought in them—ever heard the words “Crusades” or “Crusaders”. Those worlds came along hundreds of years later, when historians began talking about the exploits of the Christian armies in the Middle East. And the Crusaders’ word for the Holy Land was Outremer—literally, The Land Beyond The Sea. In addition to that, medieval Europe was not called Europe. It was called Christendom, because all the countries in it were Christian. The name “Europe” would not come along for a few more centuries.

Even more difficult for modern people to grasp is the idea that there was no Middle Class in Medieval Europe, and there was only one, all-powerful Church. There was no capacity for religious protest and no Protestants. Martin Luther would not be born for hundreds of years. There were only two kinds of people in Christendom: the Haves and the Have-Nots (some things never change,) otherwise known as Aristocrats and Commoners, and both were male, because women had no rights and no identity in the world of medieval Christianity. The Commoners, depending on which country they lived in, were known as peasants, serfs, slaves and mesnes, and they were uneducated and largely valueless. The Aristocrats, on the other hand, were the men who owned and ruled the lands, and they were divided into two halves—Knights and Clerics. There were no other options. If you were first born, you inherited. If you were not first born, you either became a knight or a cleric. From Clerics, we get the modern word clergyman, because all clerics were priests and monks, but we also get the modern word clerk, because all clerics were expected to be both literate and numerate. Knights had no need to be literate. Their job was fighting, and they could hire clerics to keep their records straight. Knights represented the worldly order, whereas Clerics represented God and the Church, and there was no love lost between the two orders. On the most basic level, knights existed solely to fight, and clerics existed to stop them from killing. That entailed the most fundamental kind of conflict and led to anarchy and chaos.

The Knights Templar, for a multiplicity of reasons, became the first religious Order ever entitled to kill in the name of God. They were the first and the greatest of their kind, and this is their story.

Jack Whyte
Kelowna, BC, Canada
May, 2006
 


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