How often do we get a nitty-gritty view into the daily life of a medieval knight—one based on fact and not misty mythology?
The Templars, founded in 1119 as a band of poor, pious knights, have been romantically reimagined in art, literature, film and folklore for centuries. The fact that they were shockingly villainized and disbanded in 1307—after a dizzying rise to wealth and power—only added to their legendary mystique.
But the brotherhood did leave its share of concrete historic record. Perhaps most fascinating: “The Rule of the Templars,” which outlined a detailed code of conduct governing every aspect of daily life, including clothing (spartan), meals (mostly silent), sleeping arrangements (austere), social restrictions (ample). There’s a good-sized section on penance, which was especially important for maintaining the order’s all-important discipline. The first draft, composed in 1129, dictated 68 rules designed to keep Templar knights on a tight leash, reflecting their vows of poverty, chastity and especially obedience. As the order grew bigger, more wealthy and more militarized, its disciplinary code expanded to several hundred rules and became increasingly complex.
Written in Latin and French by various authors over the course of a century and a half, the original rules documents no longer exist. But they are known through subsequent translations.
And what happened to knights when the rules weren’t followed? According to the code, comeuppance ranged from corporal punishment to losing one’s habit (knight’s robes) to banishment from the brotherhood. Lesser infractions sometimes required the sinner to eat his meals on the floor.
Below, a few of the more notable Templar rules:
Two to a bowl
*Because of the shortage of bowls, the brothers will eat in pairs, so that one may study the other more closely, and so that neither austerity nor secret abstinence is introduced into the communal meal. And it seems just to us that each brother should have the same ration of wine in his cup.
Meat in moderation
*It should be sufficient for you to eat meat three times a week, except at Christmas, All Saints, the Assumption, and the feast of the twelve apostles. For it is understood that the custom of eating flesh corrupts the body.
No leaving the table—unless it’s a real emergency
*If the brothers are eating at table and any of them suffers a nosebleed, or the war cry is raised, or there is a fire or the horses are unsettled, to avoid harm to the house, they may get up from the table without permission, for all these things, and then return to eating at the table if they wish.
When in the proverbial doghouse, eat on the floor
*While a brother is on penance…when he eats, he should sit on the ground before the household.