Northern Beholder

Where history and gaming collide.

Month: December, 2012

The Ships of Star Trek Online

Some friends of mine have gotten into Star Trek Online recently.  Being the only one with experience of it, I’ve unexpectedly found myself in the position of the wise mentor.  Before I get horribly killed to provide dramatic tension, I’m giving them a brief overview of the three types of ships available in the game.

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Merry Christmas!

Or your culture’s equivalent holiday greeting (if any)!  Enjoy the spirit of the season and, if you’re lucky, free vacation day or two!

Northern Beholder returns on Friday.

Historical Game Spotlight: Civilization

Sid Meier’s Civilization is one of the longest-running series in gaming.  The first entry was released in 1991, and it has enjoyed numerous expansions, sequels and spin-offs, the most recent of which was Civilization V in 2010.  All of the games follow the same general formula, the specifics of which are tweaked, streamlined and overhauled sequel-by-sequel:  Massive randomly-generated maps in which historical civilizations and cultures explore their surroundings, expand their knowledge and territory, exploit the resources they can reach, and more often than not attempt to exterminate each other over territorial ambition, scarce resources, religious differences and diplomatic slights.

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To Kill an Order, V

There’s some overlap in the sources for To Kill an Order and Death of the Templar, since both largely cover the same subject, simply from different perspectives.  Still, there are a few new books to recommend:

In Templars and Hospitallers as Professed Religious in the Holy Land, Jonathan Riley- Smith provides the reader with an excellent background to the formation and function of the Order of the Temple, including their involvement in the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s internal politics, connections with Christian Europe, and participation in military conflicts. While it contains little information directly pertaining to the downfall of the Templars, it is invaluable as a resource to understand the context of where they came from.

In addition to important contextual information regarding the Crusades at large and the role of the Catholic Church within them, John France’s The Crusades and the expansion of Catholic Christendom provides insight into the Templar’s formation and activities. He also takes a unique point of view on their downfall, offering an insight into the motives of Philip IV of France that other sources do not.

Finally, Tyerman’s The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction to provide background context on the age and situation in which the Knights Templar were formed.  While it has brief entries on the Templars themselves, it is, as the title implies, quite short, and best used to provide oneself with insight on the general outlook of the times the Templars operated in.

As always, the full list of sources can be found here.

To Kill an Order, IV

The arrests and trials of the Templars played out very differently in every kingdom independent from Philip, particularly England. King Edward II of England refused to credit Philip’s claims until a papal bull ordered him to go ahead with the arrests. Edward arrested the Templars in his nation only reluctantly, and in fact wrote to the Pope expressing his disbelief of that charges levelled against them. It was only the threat of excommunication and the need to come to a peace treaty with France that pressured him into acting in January of 1308, and even then he did his best to distance himself from the proceedings.

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To Kill an Order, III

So, we all remember our friend King Philip IV.  The story of the Templars’ death is his story too, as he was central to it all.

Philip was a very ambitious monarch, determined to unite all power in France under his rule, even to the point of declaring war over the issue, as when he clashed with England over Aquitaine. The early fourteenth century was characterized by initiatives to expel ‘foreign’ elements from key positions in France. Italian merchants, Jewish money-lenders, and the Templar bankers were tempting targets during financial crises, as their assets could be seized by royal forces and put to use for the crown. Furthermore, by expelling these outsiders from important positions, it left more room for French bourgeoisie to attain prominent positions, thus improving their bond with the king.

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To Kill an Order, II

Right then. Where were we before the cruel vagaries of nature intervened?

Ah, yes. Cruel vagaries of man. Let’s get back to that.

James Molay – a name that’s going to come up again – was the last man to serve as Master of the Templar, starting his term somewhere around the end of 1292 and beginning of 1293. When he came into office, the Templars were already plagued by rumours of misconduct, and had a terrible reputation in 13th-century literature for pride, arrogance, ill-gotten wealth and lack of charity.  Molay made it his mission to reform the Templar image, a task that had already become monumental in scale.

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Iced-Up ISP

Freezing rain sweeps through NB’s corner of Canada.  Three guesses as to which piece of infrastructure imploded as a result, and the first two don’t count.

Normal blog service resumes tomorrow!

To Kill an Order, I

Alright. Time to really dive into this Templars thing.  You already know the basics from Death of the Templars, so let’s get straight to the nitty-gritty.  First, we shall cover in greater detail the opposition to the Templars that had been slowly growing over the course of their existence.

At its founding, the Templar Order had considerable support amongst medieval nobility. The Templars were also well received by significant parts of the ecclesiastical establishment, receiving a letter of encouragement and advice from the prior of La Grande Chartreuse, a charter of privilege from Pope Innocent II, and a written defence of their way of life from Bernard of Clairvaux. The Grand Master of the Temple wrote many a letter to European men of power, soliciting assistance for the struggles in Outremer, and the Templars were in a strong position to rely on Louis VII of France, who was indebted to them for their aid during the Second Crusade. Westerners supported the establishment of the Military Orders to protect Outremer out of a fear of the East surging westwards and destroying Christendom.

The Templars quickly gained powerful benefactors, and the gifts given to their order during the 12th century rapidly exceeded those given to the older and less militant Hospitaller order. Templars in the West held high positions in the courts of England, France, and Iberia. They acted as royal treasurers, bankers, and trustees for the nobility in England and France. People from all walks of life who wanted treasure protected took it to the Knights Templar for what is today called safe-deposit. This included royalty; King James of England used the New Temple in London to store the Crown Jewels, and they were often employed in the collection and transportation of revenue. In France, the royal treasurer was in fact the treasurer of the Temple. They were also in charge of collecting both royal and papal taxes in many areas.

The sight of cartloads of tax money entering their strongholds – combined with the fact that they themselves were tax-exempt – helped contribute to the popular conception of their vast wealth, and thus their unpopularity.  By 1160, Pope Alexander III had to issue a papal bull against maltreating and abusing Templars; this suggests that this shows the early support from the Templars was no longer universal or definitive. However, the bulk of 12th century literature shows broad support for the Templars, with the Grail knighthood of the Cistercian Queste using them as inspiration, which indicates that the ecclesiastical establishment (which contained most literate members of society) still supported the Templars, who at that time were still militarily active in the Holy Land.

In addition, and contrary to usual monastic practice, the Templar chapter houses actually had regular contact with the local communities around them, suggesting that their relationship was much closer than usually assumed. Merchants, nobles, and kings, who stored their valuables in Temple treasuries, would also need free access to their own belongings. King Edward III once commented on how the New Temple (a large Templar chapter house) in London kept an open public thoroughfare through its courtyard and maintained the important bridge which linked to it. When the compound was later tended by the Hospitallers, repeated royal injunctions were needed to have them maintain the bridge and thoroughfare, which was not the case with the Templars. It was also not uncommon for noble travellers to be given free lodgings or refreshments, and chapter houses in urban areas often invited the laity into their chapel for mass.  As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, and the openness of the Templars seems to have worked against them.

As we’ve already discussed, the loss of the Holy Land triggered widespread soul-searching about the role of the Military Orders and the use of their extensive wealth, which contributed directly to the persecution and suppression of the Templars. William of Tyre’s history of the Templar order is a profoundly negative narrative, attributing the later problems faced by the Order to overbearing pride on their part. William’s text was translated into French only after Jerusalem was lost and the Third Crusade failed to retake it, giving a background of Christian failure and weakness in the Levant to the release of the text to a lay audience. It can be argued that the translator’s alterations to William’s text were not meant to play down the Templars’ wealth and power, but that instead there are distinct if subtle signs of hostility to the Templars within the text – some translations include the knighthood (chevalerie) of the Templars becoming the “fraternitie”, and the vow to renounce “propriete” becoming “prosperite”. It is only the translator that links other churchmen with the patriarch whose generosity to the Templars is ill repaid; only the translator who records how the Templars turned to the Pope to gain their exemptions from patriarchal jurisdiction; and only the translator who concludes the chapter by noting that the Templars continued in their assertive and litigious behaviour. Based upon this, it can be asserted that the lay nobility, the audience for this French translation, were disenchanted with the Templars in the 13th century when this translation and adaptation was made.

I’m on a Templar kick.

I really want to delve more into the downfall of the Templars.  There’s a lot of detail I left out of the first series, because it was more about Philip IV’s machinations, and it’s all fascinating.  I’m working on a follow-up right now that’s going to go deeper into the sorts of scurrilous rumours surrounding the Templars towards the end of the order’s existence and the details of their fall – the arrests, the torture and interrogation, and the trials.  Some of it’s gruesome, but then, history often is. Humanity is capable of great cruelty when inspired to it.  The fact that we’re still here speaks much to our capability to overcome our worst nature.

Anyway. More Templar stuff. Gotta go get the notes in order. It’s gonna be a wild ride.