Knightfall season two is upon us, with the headstrong Templar knight Landry du Lauzon brought low by his illicit affair with Queen Joan. As part of his path towards redemption within the order, he must re-train as an initiate under the stern eye of Talus, played by Mark Hamill, who is effectively the Templar equivalent of a drill instructor.
Real-life Templars certainly had a hard time of it. Being part of this elite organization of warrior-monks meant sacrificing almost all aspects of normal life and adhering to a rigid code that dictated everything from what you wore to what you ate. This fierce set of stipulations, known as the Latin Rule, can almost be seen as a formalized, super-strict manifestation of chivalry. These days, chivalry is instantly associated in our minds with medieval gallantry and romance – knights in shining armor wooing fair maidens and so on – but it originated as an informal code of military conduct, focused entirely on martial discipline, religious piety and one’s conduct as a warrior.
Those joining the Templar order would not be raw 'newbies', unfamiliar with chivalric concepts and the harsh reality of military life. In fact, any budding Templar had to be a pre-existing knight – that is to say, a mounted warrior of noble standing who’d already ascended the various levels of training in his youth.
Saladin ordered all the captured Templars to be beheaded in front of him
The first phase of a budding knight’s career would begin very early at the age of around seven when the son of aristocratic parents would be dispatched to serve as a page at another noble household. A page would learn the intricacies and etiquette of courtly society, running errands, cleaning clothes and getting trained in hunting and hawking.
Then, when the page reached his mid-teens, he would ascend to the next level: that of the squire. Now working as a knight’s apprentice, the teenager would tend to horses, carry weapons and armor. (In the Arthurian legends, the future King Arthur served as a squire to the boorish and hot-headed knight, Sir Kay.)
Having mastered combat and courtly etiquette, a squire could become a knight by his early 20s, the transformation from squire to knight is known as the 'accolade'. One of the interesting quirks of the Templar structure was that, since only fully-fledged knights could become warriors in the order, squires tended not to be budding Templars at all, but rather employees hired to serve as assistants to the knights.
The Templar order itself was founded, not as an aggressive military fighting force, but in a more defensive capacity, as bodyguards for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099. This was an epic and often brutal trek for the faithful, putting the Christian travelers in the way of roaming bandits and religious enemies who’d rob and massacre them. The Templars were intended to provide safe passage for the pilgrims on the treacherous roads to the east, but as the power, wealth and significance of the order grew, so too did their reputation on the battlefield.
The central strategy of the Templars and one in which they were very well trained was to act as the 'shock' troops at the forefront of any battle they were involved in. Riding in on horses, the Templars were like the tanks of their day, deployed to break enemy lines and deal a heavy blow. A particularly well-known Templar assault took place during the Battle of Montgisard in 1177, which saw the teenage King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem take on the forces of the famed Muslim leader, Saladin.
The odds were against Baldwin IV, who was dubbed the Leper King become he was so seriously afflicted by the disease. Fighting with his arms swathed in bandages, Baldwin led a frighteningly outnumbered band of Christians against the might of Saladin’s troops. While exact numbers will always be unknown to us, it’s generally agreed that any engagement should have been heavily skewed in Saladin’s favour. Instead, the Templars managed to take his scattered forces unawares and mount an audacious attack.
One chronicler of the time described the dramatic Templar surge:
'Spurring all together, as one man, they made a charge, turning neither to the left nor to the right. Recognizing the battalion in which Saladin commanded many knights, they manfully approached it, immediately penetrated it, incessantly knocked down, scattered, struck and crushed. Saladin was smitten with admiration, seeing his men dispersed everywhere, everywhere turned in flight, everywhere given to the mouth of the sword.'
What makes the ferocity and strength of the Templars even more impressive is that, during their training and beyond, they had to abide by an austere regimen which included only being allowed to eat meat three times a week and asking permission to do the slightest thing, including adjusting elements of their clothing. Such was the fear they struck in the enemy that revenge could be ruthless. It’s said that, following his victory in the Battle of Hattin of 1187, Saladin ordered all the captured Templars to be beheaded in front of him, rather than risk imprisoning them and allowing them to fight another day.
So, while the exact details of Templar training have been lost in time, it can be deduced from the historical record, from the Latin Rule and the blood-splattered chronicles of hard-fought battles, that Templars like Landry really would have been subjected to harsh battlefield training by the likes of Talus – maintaining their status as 'God’s Executioners'.