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Templar Rules, Templar Punishments

Knightfall is back for its much-anticipated second season, and things have been turned upside down for Landry du Lauzon. The brave, battle-hardened Templar has suffered an almighty fall from grace thanks to the discovery of his affair with Queen Joan, and this serious violation of the Templar code means he must now seek redemption the hard way: by re-joining the order as a lowly initiate. This grueling new existence will be made all the harder by his teacher, Master Talus, played by Star Wars legend Mark Hamill. Talus is vehemently opposed to Landry being allowed back into the order even as an initiate, and is about to make life hell for the fallen knight.

Landry’s dark predicament has, of course, been brought about by his own human weaknesses, and it highlights just how strict existence was for the real-life Knights Templar. The code of conduct, also known as the Latin Rule, was absolutely integral to Templar life: the very identity of the knight was entirely based around the clauses which were first drawn up in the early 12th Century, and which evolved and expanded in the ensuing decades.

What’s really important to bear in mind is that the Templars were essentially warrior-monks, and the Latin Rule was largely inspired by the code of conduct followed by Benedictine monks. So this was more than a matter of mere honour or chivalry: it was a sacred pact with God which absolutely had to be adhered to. The Latin Rule also played a key part in establishing the Templars as more than just a rabble of upstart knights, but a major force organisation which would soon become one of the richest and most powerful in the world.

Attributed to Hugues de Payens, the first Grand Master of the order, and the influential abbot Bernard de Clairvaux, the Latin Rule pulls no punches from its very opening words:

‘We speak first to all those who secretly despise their own will and desire with a pure heart to serve the sovereign king as a knight… and wear permanently the very noble armor of obedience.’

These words hammer home the fact that Templars were expected to overcome their own will – their own petty, earthly, human lusts, desires and wants – and submit themselves totally to God. There were certain initial stipulations for becoming a fully-fledged knight in the order: you had to be from a noble background, unmarried, not in debt, and healthy. Lying about any of this would mean expulsion.

Misbehavior could also mean having to eat dinner off the floor, among the dogs.

Reading the Latin Rule today, it seems intimidatingly pedantic on the smallest details of life in the order. Some of it is to be expected – the guidelines on the uniform of the knights, for example, and the vows of chastity. But it’s the nitty-gritty stuff that stands out: for example, pointed shoes and even shoe-laces were the focus of bizarre contempt, ‘for it is manifest and well known that these abominable things belong to pagans’, and the use of napkins was forbidden on Good Friday. A knight wasn’t even able to adjust his stirrups or sword belt without asking permission (although tinkering with his belt buckle was OK, for some reason).

And then there’s the curiously progressive and modern-seeming warning about eating too much meat. The Templars were only allowed to eat meat three times a week, ‘for it is understood that the custom of eating flesh corrupts the body’.

Punishments were carefully outlined for even the most minor infractions. Some were relatively mild and almost comical. For example, if any Templar displayed pride in his appearance and sought out nicer, finer garments, he was to ‘be given the worst’. And misbehavior could also mean having to eat dinner off the floor, among the dogs.

But what if, like Landry, a knight committed a more serious violation of the Latin Rule? If a Templar fought with a fellow knight, lost their horse, was found to be telling lies or succumbed to his baser desires by sleeping with a woman, he could face the loss of habit – meaning being stripped of his garments, weapons and status in the order. It was only by appealing for redemption that the brothers could restore his habit after a period of time.

Even more serious violations – such as killing a fellow Christian, committing sodomy or fleeing the battlefield – would lead to a knight being expelled from the Templar order. However, redemption could still be found even for such men, as they could be ordered to join the Cistercians, an order of monks with close ties to the Templars. This could well have been the fate of a real-life Landry.

It’s one of the bitter ironies of history that the Templars, who were so synonymous with their ultra-strict and pious lifestyles, would eventually stand accused of the most extreme heresies and debaucheries. During the purge and bloody downfall of the order, the knights were said to have indulged in occult worship, spitting on the cross and engaging in homosexual rituals.

These confessions were extracted by excruciating torture, with some knights being literally roasted alive over open flames. But the very secrecy of the order, the importance they placed on discreet and unshowy servitude to God, ironically opened them up all kinds of unfounded rumours and allegations which people were all too willing to believe. And so, when all is said and done, even the worst of the Templars’ own punishments were trivial in comparison to their ultimate, bleak fate.