The year is 1191. A daring counterattack against the Saracens’ last-ditch effort to relieve the besieged city of Acre has not only saved the Christian host from a fatal defeat; it has also brought the leader of that counterattack, English Templar Michael Fitz Alan, to the attention of King Richard the Lionheart.
In the days that follow, the king charges Fitz Alan with a life-or-death mission – to recover the Holy Lance, a long-lost religious relic widely believed to be responsible for the near-miraculous success of the First Crusade.
The ensuing quest leads Fitz Alan and a hand-picked band of Templars on a journey deep into enemy territory, where they battle Saracens, Assassins, hostile Christians and even a traitor within their own ranks as they seek to return the Holy Lance to Christian hands and thereby ensure the success of the crusade.
Killing as an Act of Love:
The Logic of the Military Religious Orders
by Andrew Latham
By the end of the 11th century, the Latin Church had evolved into a distinctive type of military power. At the most basic level, of course, the Church had long been a feudal landholder and was thus able to wield armed force in the same way as other feudal lordships: either by summoning vassals to provide obligatory military service or by accepting payment in lieu of service and hiring paid troops. But ecclesiastical landlords tended to raise fighting forces in this manner only when obliged to do so by their temporal feudal overlords – not to fight on behalf of the Church. Beginning in the mid-11th century, however, the Latin Church began to develop its own distinctive instruments of military power. In this post, I will briefly examine one of these – the military religious order.
The military religious orders – examples of which include the Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic
Knights – were monastic institutions dominated by a class of lay brothers (not priests, who were barred by canon law from bearing arms and fighting) who were warriors dedicated to the defence of Christendom. In most respects, they differed little from the other monastic institutions that had become such a commonplace within the Church: they were organized into similar monastic communities, took similar vows, followed similar rules of life (including the monastic horarium), performed the same holy office, were similarly exempt from the jurisdiction of secular powers and the episcopate, etc. Moreover, as with non-military monastic orders, some (such as the Order of Santiago) were decidedly local/regional in scope and scale, while others (such as the Templars and the Hospitallers) were truly centralized, trans-local Orders of the Church.
Where the military religious orders did differ from their non-marital counterparts was with respect to their mission/vocation and the way in which they served the Church. Simply put, the primary calling of the members of these orders was twofold: to purify themselves through the pursuit of the monastic ideal and to purify the world by fighting the enemies of the respublica Christiana. In other words, the members of these orders were both knights and monks, fighting a two-front war of spirit and flesh. Not only were they dedicated to defeating the enemies of Christ and defending the rights of Christians within and beyond the political reach of the Christian commonwealth, they also believed that such a vocation was a devotional act of Christian love (caritas) equivalent to the care of the poor and sick. For members of these orders, warfare was not a cultural imperative (as it was for temporal knights), nor a temporary act of devotion (as it was for crusaders); rather, it was a devotional way of life.
Typically well-supported by wealthy patrons, highly disciplined (having submitted to both military and monastic discipline), and enjoying a steady stream of recruits, these orders provided the Church with a reliable and very effective source of military power that it could and did use to advance its interests within and beyond Latin Christendom. Needless to say, this mechanism for generating armed force was unique to the Church – nothing like the military religious orders existed within the secular realm.
The question of how these fighting monks reconciled (or at least held together) the martial and monastic aspects of their personas is one I take up in my novel THE HOLY LANCE.
About the Author
Knox Robinson author Andrew A. Latham is an award-winning professor of International Relations Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades.
who regularly teaches courses in medieval political thought, international relations, and war. Trained as a Political Scientist, Latham has spent the last decade-and-a-half researching political violence in the Middle Ages. He has written scholarly articles on medieval war, the crusades, jihad, and the political thought of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. His most recent book is a work of non-fiction entitled
Latham was born in England, raised in Canada and currently lives in the United States. He graduated from York University in Toronto with a BA (Honours) in Political Science, later earned an MA from Queen’s University in Kingston and, later yet, a PhD from his alma mater, York.
Latham is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Historical Writers’ Association and De Re Militari: The Society For Medieval Military History.
Since 1997 Latham has been a member of the Political Science Department at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he where he lives with his wife Wendy, daughter Bernadette and son Michael.
For more information and updates, please visit Andrew Latham’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
The Holy Lance is on a blog tour!