My next guest blogger is a name familiar to anyone who studies the Templars. If you don’t already own it, get Alan’s book, Sheep: The Remarkable Story of the Humble Animal that Built the Modern World. It is a fascinating read.
While traveling through France with us on the season finale, we stopped at the Commanderie d’Arville. There we discussed how important these humble animals were to the Templars and the entire history of Europe.
I'm delighted that Alan agreed to author this blog post.
- Blog post by Alan Butler February 16th 2015
The names mentioned by Steve in his fascinating blog are ones I have seen so often as I have travelled up and down Britain on my own research. Knowledge of the interconnectedness of the bloodlines that funded the rise and success of the Templars has always been lacking, which is why it is so important the researchers such as Steve are spending so much time and effort filling in the gaps.
As Steve said in his blog it was almost a revelation to me on the America Unearthed shoot in France to hear him mention the Counts of Champagne. So often we researchers feel ourselves to be in a minority of one and it is the true importance of this little band of historians Scott has brought together that we can shine the light of our own respective findings on the same subjects. Following Steve’s blog it was an email comment from another of our band, Bill Mann in Canada that put me in mind of a Templar symbol we saw often on the shoot in France and of something that drew these great families together.
I remember years ago, when my attention first turned towards the Counts of Champagne and I began to understand what an amazing part they and the nobles to whom they were related had played, not only in Templarism but also in terms of the gradual growth of the modern world. Something all these families had in common, once William of Normandy had settled land upon them after he became King of England in 1066 was the importance they placed upon sheep and the wool they produced.
Indeed, part of William of Normandy’s desire to ‘be’ King of England was because of its wealth, much of which had come, right back to Roman times from the raising of sheep. Britain generally is very suited to this animal and they still thrive on our moors and uplands. Those nobles who fought with William at Hastings were given vast land holdings and a large part of the wealth they drew from their English and eventually Scottish lands stemmed from large flocks of sheep.
The Counts of Champagne, through their association with the Cistercians and then also the Templars certainly did not invent sheep husbandry but they turned it into an art form. It is no coincidence that one of the main emblems of the Knights Templar was the device known as the Agnus Dei. From a Christian perspective Agnus Dei means the Lamb of God and of course in this context it referred to Jesus but I have always been sure that this picture of a lamb carrying a cross was much more than a religious symbol to the Knights Templar. It demonstrated in no uncertain terms where a great deal of Templar money came from.
At Cistercian Abbeys all over Europe, but especially in Britain and also on Templar farms, of which there were once many hundreds, countless thousands of sheep were bred on marginal land that was fitted for little else. Their wool was a yearly cash crop and after having been cleaned, spun and woven, often in Flanders, most of it found its way to a series of great markets that were deliberately set up by the Counts of Champagne. These were known as the Champagne Fairs. It was a win – win situation for everyone concerned. The Cistercian order of monks spread across Europe in record time, whilst the Templars eventually became a vast network, with fighting being only one strand of their raison d’etre.
All of this came as a gradual revelation to me in my first years of research but I eventually began to realise that what had happened represented something far more significant than a new departure in animal rearing. The very existence of wool, its importance and the high prices people were willing to pay for the best wool began to undermine the very foundations of feudal government in Europe. The wool trade was international. For example raw wool from Britain was worked into cloth in Flanders, after which some of it was sold via the Champagne Fairs to merchants in Italy. There the woollen cloth was improved, ornamented and made into rich garments, some of which found their way back, via the Champagne Fairs to Britain.
Quite quickly it became almost impossible for Kings to control events in the way they had once done. Economic power passed down from the monarchs and the great Lords to merchants and even those who were breeding the sheep. New wealth from wool bought luxury goods, books and education. A new internationalism developed to such an extent that the feudal genii could never be put back into its bottle. It is my absolute contention that this was no chance consequence and I firmly believe that the changes that began to take place in Europe and which eventually led to the Renaissance were deliberately engineered in the palaces of Champagne and other French regions as early as the middle of the 11th century.
Back in the days when I was co-operating with Canadian writer Stephen Dafoe we coined the term ‘Templar Inc’ because we began to see a vast international company, the huge assets of which were constantly being used to foster more trade and to create new opportunities. Medieval kings did not understand how such a system worked, which made it all the more annoying for the French King Phillip IV when after 1307 he never found the vast chests of Templar gold he had expected.
In their day the Templars were responsible to no authority other than that of the Pope, and since even the Pope was invariably in their debt, they had every opportunity to change the world in which they lived and operated. But none of this would have been remotely possible were it not for the sheep that in the form of the Agnus Dei they kept as their major symbol throughout their existence.
This is of course a very short version of a long and fascinating story, because it was the sheep that as good as built the modern world, long after the days of those Medieval Lords. It might come as a surprise to some readers of this blog to learn that the sheep also had a very significant part to play in the founding of a free United States. Much is made of tea taxes as a spur to revolution but far more important was the fact that farmers in the American colonies were prohibiting from breeding better sheep and were prevented from importing new bloodstock from Europe on pain of lengthy imprisonment. To men such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were farmers themselves, this was an intolerable situation and a major stepping stone on the path to the Declaration of Independence.
If any of the readers of this blog happen to be in London any time soon, they might want to take themselves to the Temple district. This is now a great centre for legal training, though of course the original Templar Church can still be seen there. Even today, over seven hundred years after the Knights Templer were ‘supposed’ to have been destroyed, the sheep of the Agnus Dei can still be seen looking down from practically every building – as if those white-mantled knights with their illustrious family names never went away at all.