Lost Relics of the Knights Templar?

Still a clearer picture of the Knights Templar than this show…

Well, maybe. But you aren’t likely to find out from this programme.

‘Lost Relics of the Knights Templar’ is another low-effort effort from the so-called History Channel. The preamble before each episode states that this and the other objects were “gathered in the 1960s from the Templar Convento de Cristo and castle complex at Tomar in Portugal and then scattered before being ‘brought back together’ by two ‘self-made millionaires’, Carl Cookson and Hamilton White.

I can find absolutely nothing online about this alleged ‘hoard’ or this sword prior to the announcement of this series (there’s a fairly detailed press release here that explains that these are only parts of a supposedly much larger cache – two caches in fact). Not one mention of a sword associated with Tomar at all, never mind one with Templar provenance. If these artefacts are genuine discoveries, they should have been presented to subject specialists for examination and analysis, yet they apparently have not been. Series historian Dan Jones even alludes to this in a Daily Mail article;

‘The scholar in me says take them to the British Museum and ask the curators there to verify them… The rebellious streak in me says go and find all about them yourselves.’ 

Ridiculous, and all too common in sensational ‘finds’ (whether relics or bits of Sasquatch) that are kept from expert scrutiny and invariably turn out to be fake or lacking in relevant provenance when they do see the light of day. As for the two owners, these quotes from the same article are hardly encouraging;

‘Carl and Hamilton are cagey about where they procured them, but are in no doubt about their authenticity.’ 

‘I’d be happy to go to court and fight the first clown who says these items are not real,’ 

Seems legit doesn’t it? Refuse to reveal the immediate provenance and threaten any sceptics with legal action. Classy. Happily for my non-existent legal fund, I am not about to claim that they aren’t real. But it’s a long old chalk from ‘real’ to ‘actually associated in any way with the Knights Templar.’

I simply haven’t the time to cover the whole series, so I’ll focus here on episode 3, which features an alleged Knights Templar sword. The sword appears to be a genuine relic condition European sword, and the three crosses pattee – two encircled crosses inlaid into the blade and another simpler cross on the pommel – also appear to be original to the piece. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the thing seems to lack any provenance whatsoever, despite appearing in a 45 minute long programme supposedly devoted to finding some. 

First the two show the sword to Dan Jones, who although a bona fide historian, is no arms and armour specialist. Why did they not approach the Royal Armouries or the Wallace Collection? Probably because the curators would not wish to be associated with yet another dubious ‘documentary’ about the endlessly mythologised Knights Templar. The crosses do seem to have flared tips, which would make them subtle examples of the cross pattée. As usual with these programmes however, the ‘investigators’ leap to the assumption (and do not discuss any other possibility) that a cross pattée is necessarily a KT cross. This is just not so. As actual medieval historian Karen Ralls states in the ‘Knights Templar Encyclopedia’ (2007, p. 151);

‘The red cross was a symbol of martyrdom, added to the mantles of the Knights Templar in 1147, when Pope Eugenius III regarding this and other matters. Although a cross is referred to in this bull, the exact design of the cross is not specified. Generally, the Templars did not use crosses that were unique only to them, as they were also used by other religious communities as well, so it cannot be said that the Templar order had only “one type” of official cross.’

Ralls does also state that ‘…one of the more commonly employed designs was the croix pattee—a four-sided cross with equidistant arms that “splay” out at the ends’, so it’s certainly plausible that it could have belonged to a Templar knight. It could equally have belonged to a knight of another religious order, or even just about any knight. Knights in general were big fans of Christianity, funnily enough.

Dan Jones tells us that the sword’s ‘…got a real weight on it…’ (thanks Dan) and asks if it is ‘late 13th century’? The sword’s owner, who claims to know his swords, states that it is (and it is, in fact). Unfortunately he then shows his ignorance of edged weapons by grabbing a 14th century longsword and correcting Dan that it’s not for stabbing but rather for ‘…trying to bash your way through very severe plate armour’. This is completely, hilariously wrong. Having already made a big leap from ‘probable medieval sword with crosses on it’ to ‘Knights Templar sword’, we then make the equally ridiculous jump to the idea that this could be the sword of the Templar ‘Grand Master who fell at Acre’. Jones says ‘we know that the sword survived’, referring to the fact that de Beaujeu’s sword was apparently collected by the Knights and could therefore have been smuggled to safety, but in terms of posterity, what does it matter whether it was rescued by the KT or not? Captured swords, if anything, would have been more likely to survive as trophies, yet none have survived to the present day with provenance intact. We have no description of the sword belonging to Grand Master Guillaume de Beaujeu to which we could try to match this sword. It’s of the right period, and has the right iconography. If it had a secure provenance to Tomar or another KT site, we could at least say that it is likely a KT sword, but we could still not say that it is likely de Beaujeu’s.  

Jones is, to be fair, very circumspect about the sword in this scene, and even the two owners refer to the ‘limited amount of evidence’ that they have; they ‘can’t state that it did’ because there is ‘not enough evidence’. This is an unusual level of honesty for a programme of this nature, and if this were a 15 minute short, we could end there and it would have been quite an interesting find of a previously undocumented medieval sword. But of course there are another 40-odd minutes to fill… They first take the sword to ‘antiques restorer’ Jonathan ‘Jonty’ Tokeley-Parry who is, shall we say, a very…’colourful’ character with an interesting past. Tokeley-Parry says ‘nobody will doubt the sword unless they are a complete idiot’. Weirdly defensive again, but OK. He is at least correct not to doubt it. He looks at the inlaid crosses on the blade and pommel, confirming that the copper inserts are genuine because a medieval decorator would have hammered a ‘raggedly jaggedly splintery circle’ to receive the copper, and shows what he says are visible hammer blows. These aren’t visible on-screen amidst the many corrosion pits, but I will take his word for it (again, there’s no reason to doubt that the sword is a genuine medieval sword).

Sadly, literally no evidence is forthcoming for the rest of the episode as we follow the presenters on the usual fruitless foreign travel talking to barely relevant people and looking at barely relevant buildings. They manage to conclude only that it is possible that Templar relics could have been smuggled to safety, and the episode ends abruptly at that point. No new provenance is uncovered, no firm link to de Beaujeu or even the KT is made. This is ‘Hunting Hitler’ levels of filler that leads absolutely nowhere.

That’s it, really. Not much meat to get into on this one. I started into episode 4 just out of morbid curiosity, but ten minutes in and we’re already onto Nazis….and, I’m out. Maybe the final episode reveals where this sword really came from, but I doubt it.