Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Branded a Coward

"Branded, cursed with a coward's shame

What will you do if you're branded?

Will you fight for your name?"

-- Theme song from the TV series, Branded

Ivo de Grandmesnil was one of my 26th great-grandfathers. He fought in the First Crusade in the army of Robert II "Curthose", Duke of Normandie (my 27th great-grand uncle and son of my 28th great-grandfather, Guillaume "le Conquerant"). After distinguishing himself several times in battle, he was selected for a special mission at the Siege of Antioch. Together with his uncles, Guillaume and Aubrey de Grandmesnil and Stephen II, Comte de Blois (father of future King of England, Stephen), and several other knights Ivo rappelled down the walls of Antioch under cover of night carrying treasure, maps, and architectural drawings that the Crusaders could not allow to fall into enemy hands if the city was lost to the Seljuk Turks. Like modern-day covert operatives, the group had to make their way on foot -- and chiefly by stealth, as they were vastly outnumbered in the surrounding countryside -- to the port of St. Simeon, where they were met and assisted by the Knights Hospitaller and spirited off to France by ship.

Eventually, they made their way to the city of Chartres, where they turned over their treasures to the Church for safe-keeping. Among the documents they bore were building designs that were later used in the reconstruction of Glastonbury Abbey, Winchester Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, Amiens Cathedral, and Chartres Cathedral, as well as many lesser-known Norman Gothic structures of the 12th through 15th centuries.

Because their mission had been carried out in utter secrecy, the entire group were derided as cowards for "fleeing" the Siege of Antioch and publicly scorned by the Pope. Although he was made Sheriff of Leicester upon his father's death in 1098, Ivo's reputation as a knight was severely damaged and he enjoyed little success. He and Stephen de Blois sought the counsel of their cousin, Hugh, Comte de Beaumont, who arranged for them to join the Crusade of 1101 in hopes that their reputations for bravery and adherence to duty could be restored. Both were killed in battle in 1102.

In 1103, another cousin of theirs, Hugues de Payens, gathered eight other knights -- most or all of them also relatives -- and formed a group to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land that would eventually be formalized as the the Knights Templar.

No records have survived that give the full reasons for the founding of the Knights Templar, but I would like to think that among them was the desire of Hugues de Payens to ensure that his cousins' deaths while trying to restore their unjustly sullied reputations had not been in vain.

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