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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Judi Upton-Ward (ed. and trans.)

The Catalan Rule of the Templars:
A critical edition and English translation from Barcelona, Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Cartas Reales, MS 3344

(Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2003), xxviii +113 pp., $90/£45, ISBN 0851159109.

On numerous visits to Madrid, this reviewer has found occasion to drop by a bookstore just north of the Plaza del Sol to check out its medieval offerings. Some years ago, he was struck by an interesting realization: among books on the Middle Ages, those dealing with the Templars always enjoy a disproportionate presence. Although there are rarely more than several dozen medieval volumes on the bookstore shelves, at least three or four and sometimes as many as a half dozen will deal with that most famous of military orders, mute testimony to the continuing fascination people feel for a long-defunct organization and its spectacular demise.

Popular lore connects the Templars to the establishment of the Masons and credits them with the transport of the Shroud of Turin from the Holy Land to Europe. The Templars are said to have been guardians of the Holy Grail or, as some would have it, the holy blood (san greal or sang real). They are linked to a shadowy and seemingly-apocryphal organization known as the Priory of Sion. They are woven into modern thrillers such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. And they have a truly awesome web presence. (A Google websearch conducted in September, 2004, yielded approximately 155,000 hits, ranging from fairly scholarly sites to off-the-wall conspiracy theories.) In short, the Templars are always “in.”

Consequently, one suspects that The Catalan Rule of the Templars, edited and translated by Judi Upton-Ward and published by the Boydell Press in 2003 as volume nineteen of its Studies in the History of Medieval Religion, will exercise an appeal beyond the audience for which it was intended and to which it will be of real use. In her preface, the author leaves no doubt that the book is aimed at scholars:

I am pleased...to present what I hope will be a useful tool for scholars of the crusades in general and the Templars in particular. I see the present work very much as a ‘sister’ to the French Rule, adding important new information to the material already available in my translation of de Curzon’s edition.

The Catalan manuscript (Cartas Reales, Ms. 3344) dates to the late thirteenth century. It contains an incomplete version of the Templar Rule written on seventy folios and housed in Barcelona’s Archivo de la Corona de Aragon (ACA), one of Europe’s richest and oldest repositories of medieval documentation. In her current volume, Dr. Upton-Ward has provided both an excellent critical edition of the Catalan text and a painstakingly accurate English translation, thereby rendering that document easily accessible to readers whose facility with high medieval Catalan may range from sketchy to non-existent. What is more, she has accomplished the feat without sacrificing the document’s complexity. Her volume displays an optimal layout with the original and its English translation on facing pages, making it easy for those so inclined to compare the two. The Catalan version contains brackets of several sorts signaling redundant material, illegible pieces of text, “best guess” readings for difficult passages, apparent omissions, above the line inserts, and the start of new paragraphs. A few necessary concessions have been made to modernizing the text: obvious scribal errors have been corrected, the text has been punctuated, words separated, accents and spellings standardized, and some of the most confusing mispellings reworked.

There are two separate sets of footnotes: those accompanying the Catalan text are linguistic in nature; those appearing at the bottom of the translation either deal with historical fact or supply cross-references to other clauses. In a few cases, confusing statements have not been adequately clarified, as for example, in the Rule’s first clause:

When all the brothers have arrived the Master will say, ‘Good lord brothers, stand up and pray to God that he give us counsel,’ and if it is a day of nine lessons they should be standing and if it is a day of three lessons they should kneel if they are not old (?). And each brother should plead for mercy when he comes to his chapter if he has in any way transgressed the commandment of the house and do what the brothers sentence him to do.

The question naturally arises, what is a day of three lessons and what is a day of nine? While the specialist may understand the distinction, the uninitiated will not, and there is no clarifying footnote. Fortunately, such omissions are the exception.

The volume’s introduction supplies a three-page summary of topics treated in each of the 206 clauses of the rule contained in the Barcelona manuscript. For those wishing to compare the Catalan and French versions, Upton-Ward has provided a five-page Concordance of Clauses. There are two maps: one depicting Templar commanderies in the Crown of Aragon, the other showing major sites in the Holy Land. At the conclusion of the volume are a fairly detailed index and a valuable six-page bibliography on the Templars, referring to books and articles in a half dozen languages, some published as recently as 2002 (the year before this work appeared.)

In short, Upton-Ward has lived up to her promise to supply crusade historians, linguists, and students of the medieval Church and medieval law with “a useful tool for scholars,” one that is closely linked to her previous translation of the French-language version. That work appeared over a decade ago (1992) as volume four of the same Boydell series, under the slightly redundant title, The Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Rule of the Order of the Knights Templar.

In contrast to medieval scholars, the casual aficionado, lured into purchasing this book by the Templar mystique, will find it considerably less interesting than Upton-Ward’s earlier translation of the French Rule; not least because it fails to reproduce what is usually called the Primitive Rule, the original document handed to the first grandmaster, Hugues de Payens, in 1129, when the Council of Troyes converted his Templars into an official order of the church. As noted above, the Catalan manuscript is incomplete; among the extensive pieces missing from its text is this earliest segment of the Rule.

The book’s only real weakness lies in its Introduction: like the Catalan text, this is incomplete. Upton-Ward has failed to provide the basic historical context that one expects from any good introduction. Her book lacks even the briefest sketch of the order’s history, the drafting of its rule, the additions made to that document over time, the provenance of the existing manuscripts, the scholarship involved in their recovery or the history of their publication. This reviewer was left with a distinct impression of having entered the topic in medias res. In the absence of a systematic treatment of the order, brief sections on “The Holding of Ordinary Chapters,” “Penances,” The Hierarchy of the Order,” and “Provincial Structure of the Order” appear as little more than disjointed insertions.

Here, a useful comparison may be drawn to the medieval legal codes published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in its Middle Ages Series. All of these have systematic introductions, not only dealing with the text, but also placing it into its proper historical context. The most recent, Donald Kagay’s translation of The Usatges of Barcelona issued in 1994, presents the reader with a 60-page introduction to a 49-page text. By contrast, Upton-Ward’s introduction to The Catalan Rule is both sketchy and highly selective.

It is not difficult to imagine the author’s response to such criticism: Upton-Ward would simply direct readers of The Catalan Rule to what she has characterized as its “sister” work, i.e. her 1992 translation of the much more complete French-language version. By a conservative estimate, that text is more than three times the length of what might better be called “the Catalan fragment.” It contains various critical pieces, missing from the manuscript in Barcelona, chief among them the Primitive Rule and the Hierarchical Statutes. What is more, Upton-Ward’s earlier translation does indeed possess a more highly-developed, carefully-organized introduction, one that includes ten pages devoted to the history of the order.

Despite the existence of that earlier volume, this reviewer would argue that a work like The Catalan Rule should stand on its own. No reader (especially one who has paid for the privilege) should have to have recourse to the French Rule in order to fully understand its Catalan “sister.” Upton-Ward’s current volume would have been better served had she simply incorporated into its Introduction much of the material that appeared a decade ago in her French Rule; in particular, the opening ten pages dealing with Templar history. She might also have seriously considered appending to this volume The Primitive Rule which, after all, runs to less than twenty pages.

Despite its abbreviated nature, The Catalan Rule tells a good deal about the organization that lived by its dictates. Its text also begins in medias res, describing a member’s entry into a chapter meeting, and immediately going off into a long series of punishments and penance to be meted out by the chapter. Only later does the reader encounter several sections outlining transgressions for which a member could be expelled from the house (i.e. the order), temporarily lose the right to wear the habit, be cast into irons, suffer corporal punishment, or undergo varying periods of fasting. Since these later sections (Clauses 73-83 and 84-118) show no logical connection, they may well have been inserted into the Rule at different times.

The Rule places great stress on military discipline and steadfastness. (Clauses 77, 81, 83, 93, 94, 95, 108)
No Templar was to desert a border fortress. No Templar was to leave his banner or flee from the field. Nor was he to charge forward without orders. All were serious offences.

Another section deals with a knight’s entry into the order. Acceptance was strictly on a class basis; those not of legitimate birth and knightly lineage were not to be accepted. The Rule lays out details of the ceremony that a candidate would have to go through and stresses the warning given to all new members that they should not contemplate joining if they were not ready to endure the hardships that membership entailed.

The prerogatives of the chapter in governing its own affairs are writ large throughout the document and masters are cautioned not to infringe on them (Clause 3). The knight’s transgressions are normally to be judged and sanctioned by his chapter; only in rare cases were such matters carried to another level. Brothers who were “known to be of bad behaviour” were encouraged to request permission to transfer to a different order. (Clause 11 and 31) Drunkards were given a choice: leave the order or “forgo wine all the days of your life.” (Clause 34)

What makes the Catalan Rule an unusual code, and greatly adds to its interest, is the inclusion of numerous examples, detailing how actual violations had been treated in the past. At the beginning, these historical vignettes appear only infrequently; the first, in clause 44, tells of one Brother Pelayo who came from Spain to Damietta unsummoned and was then summarily sent back. Similar historical anecdotes are found in clauses 121-123 and 126-129. Then, starting at clause 156, most of the remainder of the code (47 clauses) is devoted to these mini-case studies, all of which provide information about the Templars, unlikely to be found elsewhere.

Clauses 121-123 tell of several respected knights, including Richard de Bures, a future grand master, who admitted to having secured entry through simony. Although dismissed from the order, they were immediately permitted to reenter, this time without benefit of simoniacal influences. Clause 173 tells of a similar indulgence extended to a member in good-standing: when it was discovered that a knight brother named Oliver (no last name given) was not the son of a knight or a lady, his fellows, meeting in a chapter general, allowed him to take holy orders and become a chaplain brother, arguably a step up given the privileges extended such men by the Rule (Clauses 46 and 48).

On the other hand, Templar punishments could be stringently applied when the occasion demanded: according to Clause 129, while at Antioch, three brothers participated in the killing of several Christian merchants for which they were sentenced to expulsion, public whipping, and perpetual imprisonment in Chateau Pélerin. Here, they eventually died.
Despite some of the accusations of deviancy that would later be leveled against the Templars, there is very little in the Rule regarding homosexual activity, and the little there is casts it in a highly negative light. Clause 164 speaks to this highly-charged subject:

It happened at Chateau Pélerin that there were brothers who practiced wicked sin and caressed each other at night, so that those close to the evil deel and others who had suffered by it, told this thing to the Master and to a group of worthy men. The Master took the advice that this thing should not come to chapter because the deed was so offensive, and that the brothers should be made to come to Acre [Templar headquarters in the east.] And when they had arrived, the Master sent a worthy man to the chamber where they had been placed, and made them remove their habits and put them in heavy irons.

On the other hand, there are some provisions of the rule that undoubtedly contributed to the Templars’ undoing. For example, the charge that they secretly performed obscene rites was fed by a veil of secrecy spread over their doings, particular those that occurred in chapter meetings (Clauses 74, 124-126).

The casual student of Templar lore will not find this volume nearly as interesting as the author’s earlier translation of the French Rule. By contrast, taken together with that earlier work, it constitutes “must” reading for any scholar seriously studying the Knights of the Temple.

L. J. Andrew Villalon

University of Cincinnati <avillalon@cinci.rr.com>

Page Added: January 2005