Mary Reed McCall's Blog

April 13, 2012

Question: What do you get when you combine military skill of the deadliest kind with holy vows, fraternal loyalty, and a never-surrender-the-field attitude in battle?

Answer: A Templar Knight

Although they’ve become more popular in recent years, thanks to (some decent, some really bad) pop culture representations of them, accurate information about the Templar Brotherhood often proves elusive amidst the speculations, conspiracy theories, and outright fabrications that abound. About a decade ago, I set about trying to learn everything I could about this mysterious military order, in preparation for writing an historical trilogy ( Beyond Temptation , Sinful Pleasures , and The Templar's Seduction ), centered around three (fictional) knights who had served in the Brotherhood just before the mass arrests in 1307 and following them through to the dissolution of the order in 1314. At that time, other than my awareness that Templars were knights and an inkling that Friday the 13th and some kind of mystery were attached to their identity in history, I was for the most part uninformed. So, in honor of the Templar Knights and the tragedy of Friday the 13th in their history (explained below), here are some of the fruits of my years of research, condensed into short form, with a few juicy bits, a brief description of the trilogy, and links to some non-fiction text resources thrown in at the end for good measure.

Some basic facts about the famed Knights Templar:

- Templar Knights were the elite warriors of their day, akin to modern-day Special Military Units.

- They were established in Jerusalem in the early 12th century – the first military religious order specifically designed to defend Christianity; their original purpose was to provide physical protection of pilgrims to the Holy Sepulcher.

- They had preceptories (houses) all over Europe, in Cypress, and the Holy Land at the height of their power.

- Templars were exempt from all secular taxation – even taxes imposed by kings.

- Knights comprised only one level in the hierarchy of the full Templar Order. Templar warriors who were not knights were called sergeants. They served support roles on the battlefield, though the title also encompassed non-combatant brothers who served the Order in more mundane ways (as farmers, craftsmen, etc).

- Rounding out the ranks were priest-brothers, who served a spiritual role in that they could hear confessions and celebrate mass.

- Lastly, there were associate members of the Order – such as my hero from Book I: Beyond Temptation , Sir Richard de Cantor. Unlike other Templar warriors, these men could be married. They donated money or pledged themselves to fight for a limited time (as opposed to lifetime commitment), oftentimes in an effort to expiate a sin.

- Women in the Order were rare. They could serve, but only in a spiritual role. They were the equivalent of nuns, lived separate from the men, and spent their time praying for the safety of the brethren.

The Templar Warriors’ Lifestyle:

Templar Knights took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Rule of the Temple was more strict than some orders, however, and emphasized simplicity and self-discipline (for example, among many other hardships of monastic living, Templars were not allowed to undress completely for sleep, as that was considered a form of self-indulgence through physical comfort). However, because they were a military religious order, the Rule was adapted to include the rigorous martial training necessary to the success of their purpose.

In keeping with their religious calling, the Templar motto was "non nobis Domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam" (Psalm 115: Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for your love, for your faithfulness!).

As an interesting aside, you can hear a gorgeous choir version of this motto in the soundtrack of Kenneth Branagh’s HENRY V, Track 12, “Non Nobis Domine”. It was playing in the background as I wrote every battle or fight scene in each book in the trilogy.

The Beginning of the End:

One of the Templar Order's primary antagonists was King Philip IV (the Fair) of France, who coveted their vast wealth, according to many historians. For though their vows prevented any Templar from amassing personal fortune, the Order itself was employed to safeguard vast quantities of others’ valuables for a nominal fee; therefore, Templars were considered the world’s first international bankers. It was this, along with their “secret” initiation ceremonies, that caused resentment and suspicion to build around them and helped lead to their eventual downfall.

How Friday the 13th Plays a Part In the Templars’ Tragic Tale:

Here's where it really gets interesting - and tragic. In the first week of October, 1307, King Philip had sent secret missives to every sheriff and seneschal in France, with strict orders to keep the documents sealed until dawn on October 13th. As the sun peeked over the horizon on that Friday the 13th, all of those many dispatches were cracked open, read, and immediately acted upon throughout the kingdom; by nightfall some 6000 Templars in France were in chains.

The scope and organization of this mass arrest boggles the mind, considering the limitations of the era. Add to it the fact that most historians have determined that the charges against the Templars were trumped up and falsified, and I can’t help but spare a little extra thought, whenever a Friday the 13th rolls around, for those many men. They formerly had been the most revered and respected warriors known to history, and suddenly they were swept into the nightmare of arrest, eventual torture, and often execution, with the swiftness of a tidal wave that swallowed them all in its wake.

However, my writer’s mind got churning when in the process of reading about the mass arrests I stumbled upon a fascinating tidbit: Although 6000 Templars were arrested in France on October 13, 1307, approximately 20 managed to escape the country that same day. Yes, a handful of Templars eluded the highly-orchestrated plot against them and slipped toward the coast in a bid for freedom. That action alone seemed pretty heroic to me.

The Genesis of my Templar Trilogy

These resourceful, desperate, highly-skilled men and what I imagined they might have experienced as hunted warriors in the days, weeks and months following the violent and sudden mass arrests, served as the inspiration for my trilogy THE TEMPLAR KNIGHTS . The night of the arrests specifically provided the jumping off point for the Prologue in the first book of the trilogy, Beyond Temptation with its tormented hero, Sir Richard de Cantor, who in joining the Templars for a limited term attempted to expiate the sins of his past and heal his broken soul.

Sinful Pleasures follows as Book II, with its supremely romantic hero, Sir Damien de Ashby, whose face and form is so stunning and whose heart had once been so pure that he was called “Archangel” on the tournament lists. His public rejection at the hands of the woman he had loved set him on the path of attempted redemption with the Templar Brotherhood…and ultimately fed him into the brutal maw of the French Inquisition after the arrests.

Last in the trilogy is The Templar's Seduction , with its bad-boy hero (and Damien’s big brother) Sir Alexander de Ashby. Alex was forced to join the Order to escape the wrath of the English nobleman whose daughter he’d defiled. Ever the self-preserver, Alex’s heart remained untouched during his years as a Templar Knight. But later, in protecting his brother Damien, he too experiences the torment of the Inquisition. His redemption comes only after he is freed by Richard and his former brethren – for then, in the Lowlands of Scotland, he is blackmailed into a scheme to deceive a beautiful widowed lady and her people, and through the process he finds his honor and his heart.

As you might imagine, it was a bit of a leap to use monastic warriors as the heroes of romantic novels, but this turning point in their history – along with a little bit of fictional license – allowed for what I found to be an interesting and I hope exciting result.

There is so much more I’d love to share with you regarding this subject. Barring that, here are a few non-fiction sources I used in my research that you might also enjoy, to gain a more rounded picture of these noble, awe-inspiring warriors known as the Knights Templar:

The Trial of the Templars

Knight Templar 1120-1312

The Knights Templar in Britain

Templars: The Dramatic History of the Knights Templar, the Most Powerful Military Order of the Crusades

The Last Templar: The Tragedy of Jacques de Molay Last Grand Master of the Temple

Templar Organization: The Management of Warrior Monasticism

Before I sign off, I have to add that exactly 700 years after the mass arrests (in October 2007), the Vatican finally cleared the Templar Brotherhood of any guilt and released a 1308 document titled Processus Contra Templarios (Trial Against the Templars), proving that Clement had absolved them, prior to being pressured by Philip IV to rescind that absolution and instead take the Order to trial. You can learn more about it here: The Vatican and The Knights Templar

What are your thoughts about the Knights Templar? Please feel free to share in the comments below, or post questions if you like. I love to interact about this topic (and many others, LOL). Until then…Happy Reading!

--MRM
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Published on April 13, 2012 06:51 • 941 views • Tags: friday-the-13th, knights-templar

March 29, 2012

La Femme Nikita. Aeon Flux. Buffy. Mulan. The Black Widow. Xena. Lara Croft. Katniss...

The list could go on and on, but one thing unites all of these fictional characters: They are women warriors. Some are caricatures, some possess supernatural powers...but others are based in actual possibility as experts at what they do (which includes things like killing, breaking in, stealing, protecting others, defeating evil, and surviving insurmountable odds, usually without a whole lot of outside help).

These characters go against the popular stereotype that has existed in western culture for centuries – of females as the gentler, weaker, more vulnerable sex – and there is something both startling and thrilling in that fact.

While some people believe the words woman and warrior never truly go together except in the fertile minds of fiction writers, the truth is that characters such as those mentioned above spring from a legacy of lethal women warriors in real history.

These women, documented by bards and scholars throughout time, led their clans, armies, and sometimes entire countries into battle. They were highly trained with all kinds of weaponry and in war strategy, and they directed the action not from the safety of some position far above the field of combat, but from the thick of the fighting and bloodshed.

Female warriors from early Celtic societies in particular served as inspiration for me while I was researching and writing my own fictional Welsh warrior woman, Gwynne verch Owain, in The Maiden Warrior. My entire story developed from the question: “What if a baby was born in 1162 to a rebel Welsh prince and his wife, under all the signs of prophecy indicating King Arthur had returned to lead them to freedom…only the child was a girl?”

My character needed to grow into a woman warrior who could do serious damage with her blade. A woman who could hold her own against the most elite male combatants of her time...and win. I didn’t want a caricature or a “faux” warrior in a skirt who would come off a battlefield with nary a smudge of dirt on her face, and so I turned to history for real women who had embodied some of the qualities I was seeking.

Here are two that provided some practical inspiration:

1. Boadicea : Queen of the Celtic Iceni in East Anglia from her husband’s death in AD 61 to AD 63. Her husband, Prasutagus, had willed his independently-ruled lands to be shared jointly with his daughters and Rome, but after his death, Rome would have none of it; the Roman army came in, took over, and the general ordered Boadicea flogged and her daughters raped.

The enraged queen roused an enormous army of Celts in revolt, and led them in battle as they spent the next two years attacking and razing to the ground three cities in Roman control, at an estimated loss of Roman life somewhere between 50,000 – 70,000. Rome almost withdrew entirely from Briton thanks to the savagery and persistence of Boadicea’s revolt, but eventually, the skill of the Roman army overcame the Iceni rebellion, and Boadicea either poisoned herself or died of illness before she could be captured by her enemies.

It is interesting to add these two quotes about Celtic women warriors contemporary to Boadicea’s time, in the words of one Greek and one Roman historian, respectively:

Grecian Diodorus Siculus said, "The women of the Gauls are not only like men in their great stature, but they are a match for them in courage as well." Roman Ammianus Marcellinus noted,“…a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Gaul] in a fight, if he calls in his wife, stronger than he by far and with flashing eyes…”

2. Gwenllian verch Gruffydd : Wales and England were at war when this Welsh Princess was born in 1097 in the Welsh realm of Gwynedd. Gwenllian was the youngest of eight children of Prince Gruffydd ap Cynan and his wife, and by the age of 20 she was renowned for her great beauty. Soon, she caught the eye of a visiting, young Welsh Prince, Gruffydd ap Rhys. The two fell in love and eloped to her new husband’s lands in Deheubarth.

For years after, they rode out together, bedeviling the Norman Marcher Lords along the border of England and Wales, stealing goods and money and redistributing it to the displaced Welsh people. Finally, in 1136, while her husband was away in Gwynedd, seeking an alliance with her father to rouse an army in a much larger-scale revolt against the English, Maurice of London began to lead raids against Deheubarth. Gwenllian was forced to defend her home on her own.

Ever the warrior, she led her army to fight against the English near Kidwelly Castle, but though they fought valiantly, eventually Gwenllian was captured and beheaded, along with one of her sons. For centuries after her defeat, “Revenge for Gwenllian!” became the battle cry for the Welsh rebels. She remains the only medieval-era woman to have led a Welsh army in active battle.

Gwenllian died less than thirty years before the birth of my fictional Gwynne verch Owain, but the conflicts that occupied the real Gwenllian’s life were still serving as fodder in my character’s story, set on the border of England and Wales in 1189.

There is a whole other Arthurian sub-plot involved in this, that is again rooted in history – with the supposed discovery of King Arthur’s bones at Glastonbury Abbey in 1189 – but that tidbit will have to wait for another blog to examine. Suffice it to say, the real women warriors of history provided me with ample detail and inspiration for creating my own woman warrior in Gwynne.

So what do I love about Gwynne and the qualities I could explore in her, in a way I couldn't with other female characters I’ve written from the medieval era? Well, for one, Gwynne is no shrinking violet, physically. She is unusually tall, in the manner that Diodorus Siculus noted of many Celtic women. In fact, she is nearly as tall as her male, English warrior counterpart of my tale.

On my Facebook Author page Mary Reed McCall, Author I used a picture of Gabrielle Reece in her powerful, athletic prime to show my visualization of Gwynne’s bodily appearance (not hair and eye color). Keep in mind, Gabrielle Reece is 6’ 3”. I pictured Gwynne slightly shorter than Gabrielle, but only by a few inches.

I love the fact that Gwynne feels the call of duty and honor as strongly as any man. She is willing to lay down her life for her country and to do whatever is necessary to keep her people free. She has suffered and is willing to continue to suffer physically, with rigorous, daily training to keep her fighting skills at their peak. When she is wounded, she bears pain with stoicism.

She can hunt and fend for herself, ride into battle and kill those she must, with regret for the loss of life but without guilt or remorse. She can lift a nagging woman up by the front of her dress and bodily move her out of the way, toss a groping nobleman so that he skids on his backside ten paces across a room, and spar stroke for stroke, using various weaponry, with the hero.

However, she also has a dry sense of humor, is generous to others, protective of children, able to learn new skills (like court dancing) and can clean up beautifully to look like the true-bred princess she is, when she decides to take off her breeches, shirt, hauberk, gauntlets, and armor to don a dress and circlet instead.

So basically, Gwynne embodies everything I could ask for in a protagonist, female or otherwise. The fact that she is a woman warrior makes it all the more interesting and made the writing of her story all the richer for me.

There is so much more I’d love to write about women warriors, the pleasures and pitfalls of writing them, and the unique flavor that crafting a woman warrior as protagonist adds to a tale, but if I did that, I’d be writing another novel here!

The best I can do is to invite you to read about Gwynne, the Welsh woman warrior near and dear to my own heart, if you’d like to know more. The Maiden Warrior is on sale for $2.99 for download onto any kindle or free kindle app or for NOOK at The Maiden Warrior

Enjoy, with my best wishes for your own brand of strength, courage, and honor, as I leave you with this question: Do women warriors in fiction unsettle you, thrill you, or cause a whole different reaction altogether? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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Published on March 29, 2012 20:56 • 1,189 views • Tags: women-warriors

February 13, 2012

As a romance writer, it's expected that I will have some insights and ideas about that mysterious chemical process known as falling in love. And I suppose to some extent I do - at the least the kind of love I envision as satisfying and realistic in the way it's presented in a work of fiction....yes, I said realistic.

The basics of a romance novel, whether historical or contemporary, paranormal or futuristic, etc., often include certain elements (just as mysteries or suspense/crime novels, or horror fiction include elements central to the genre from which they spring). In a romance, two individuals meet. Sometimes sparks fly, and sometimes they don't (at least not at first). Occasionally, the two begin dating and fall in love right away; most of the time they get to know each other a little bit - maybe are even annoyed by each other at first - and then over time, they learn more and more about each other and realize, one day, that they've found the person with whom they want to spend the rest of their lives. It's a "Happy Ending", and in much of society's estimation, that makes romance novels somehow...suspect.

Here are some of the pejorative adjectives I've heard used about romance novels, in the almost two decades I've been writing: Romance novels are fairytales, unrealistic, tripe, salacious fantasy, ridiculous, porn for women, mindless, drivel. I've often thought of asking some of those who put down romance novels (often without having read more than one or two, perhaps as long ago as the 1970's or so, when the genre as we know it was brand new and completely different from today), "Would you consider the life you're living a real one? Yes? Oh, then I can only infer from your comments about romance novels (since they're so unrealistic) that you aspire to an unhappy ending in your own life, then?"

Of course no one aspires to an unhappy ending in his/her own life. And yet romance novels are reviled as fantasy - and sometimes dangerous fantasy - because they promote this best possible outcome and hope for happiness.

Granted, not every relationship or marriage will stand the test of time. Sometimes things don't work out, and that's a sad truth of life. But sometimes relationships do last, with love, laughter, bickering and arguments - all the stuff that makes a vital and interesting relationship, whether in a romance novel or real life, so...well, real.

I don't know about you, but I'm aiming for that happy ending in my own life. Those who want to read to the end of a 400 page novel into which they've invested hours, only to cry at some tragedy, death, or loss that functions as that story's denouement, are welcome to that kind of "realistic" book. I have enough struggle in my every day life to want to read more of the same in my fiction. I prefer to fill my heart and mind with the possibilities of the best this life has to offer - and finding true and lasting love is at the top of that list!

And now, in the spirit of love and Valentine's Day, I'm delighted to tell you that my third and final book in my Templar Knights trilogy, The Templar's Seduction is absolutely FREE on February 14 and 15 ONLY for download onto any kindle or kindle ap on a computer. Go to http://amzn.to/yyCPAO and enjoy, with my best wishes for some happy endings of your own!
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Published on February 13, 2012 19:58 • 401 views

February 12, 2012

So, this is my very first blogging attempt, ever, except when I served as a guest blogger on various book-related sites once or twice back in 2006 or so. I hope I will be scintillating enough to garner a few people's interest. If not, I've been known to talk to myself in the past. *G*

The topic that has come to mind tonight is one of perspective: specifically, perspective about life and death (yeah, I know, nothing like starting my first blog with a topic so light and effervescent, LOL)! In the wake of yet another tragic loss in the entertainment world (Whitney Houston's untimely passing at age 48), I've been reading news reports and of course the comments - at least some of them - in response. There are those who mourn, those who say "Who cares?" and those who seem downright angry that an entertainer with a notorious past of drug abuse and addiction, who "had it all" and then squandered it for self-indulgence, is being venerated and memorialized, when each week anywhere from a handful to hundreds of our troops die defending our freedom, and there is nary a headline memorializing them.

I couldn't help but ask myself where I stand on this issue, and while I'm still thinking about it (and will likely be thinking about it in some form for a long time), I think I've decided at least a couple of things. One of those is this: That the way we as a society handle the loss of someone famous (or infamous), while seeming sometimes excessive, with all the news coverage and memorials, springs from a feeling that this is nonetheless someone we know. This strange circumstance arises out of the articles or books we've read about the person, news stories we've listened to, movies we've watched, etc. The fact that we don't actually know anything about this person, other than what the media or entertainment business has spun for us, doesn't seem to matter. Contrast that with the reality that we will never know about or see similar kinds of media blitzes for each terrible casualty among those who serve our country in the armed forces. Seems unfair, doesn't it? And yet the lack of publicity for these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice doesn't discount or make any less important any of their deaths. It just means that we as a society do not or perhaps cannot connect on that same, seemingly personal level as we do a public figure, when faced with the loss of someone who is to us a complete stranger; someone even whose name we have never heard before.

It's such a difficult, human conundrum, because of course any loss of life that happens through sacrifice for others should be venerated and acknowledged in at least as extensive a way as the loss of a public figure. And yet the loss of a public figure - someone whose life seems to have touched many other lives, even if for a less sacrifical reason - remains important for so many, who cannot help but mourn, regardless of the fact that they never even met that person face-to-face.

The fact is that thousands of good, honest, honorable people die each day, with none but those who were part of their everyday lives aware to mark and mourn their passing. It doesn't make their loss any less important to those left behind or to the world at large; it's just that the world at large isn't consciously aware of them the way the world-wide "family and friends" of a famous person is. My own father was one of those mostly unmarked multitude, when he passed from this life in June 2011, and while I would love to trumpet his heroism (for he was heroic in many ways), his honor, integrity, kindness, love of animals and nature, and all of his wonderful qualities as a father and a man to everyone on a global scale, the fact remains that most of the world wouldn't want to or be able to mourn with me, because they simply didn't know him. He would be just a name to them, without any other context or frame of reference to make them care. The kind-hearted might offer me condolences at the general loss of a father, but the rest would just nod and go about the business of living.

And perhaps that's exactly the way it has to be, else we'd be spending all of our time mourning those lost instead of living the lives we were given to live.

So, my philosophy is to mourn or at least reflect upon every loss I learn about, and yet at the same time to continue living fully and as joyfully as I can. Carpe Diem (Sieze the Day)!...and make every moment of life we have here count for ourselves, someone, or something.
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Published on February 12, 2012 17:58 • 261 views