Monday, October 2, 2023

Steve Tibble's "Templars: The Knights Who Made Britain"

Steve Tibble is a graduate of Cambridge and London Universities, and is a research associate at Royal Holloway College, University of London. He is one of the foremost academics currently working in the field of the crusades, and is the author of the warfare and strategy chapters in both The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades and The Cambridge History of the Crusades (2023).

His recent publications have been critically acclaimed and include The Crusader Armies (2018) and The Crusader Strategy (2020, short-listed for the Duke of Wellington's Military History Prize).

Tibble applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Templars: The Knights Who Made Britain, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Templars - The Knights Who Made Britain is about something close to all our hearts, for good and bad - income tax.

In particular, it discusses the way in which the English crown under Henry II began to raise taxes in the 1180s in response to the increased and unremitting threat posed to the crusaders by Saladin and his hugely powerful cavalry armies.

The content on page 99 is ostensibly very specific, but the test works rather better than one might imagine - it acts, in a way, as a metaphor for the role adopted by the Templars, and the almost sublime strategy they used to fulfill that role.

The Templars were created as a way of defending the Holy Land and its local Christian communities. They did this with a twin-track strategy - being a standing army in the East, and marshalling aid from the West. This meant, ironically, that while they were masters of war in the Holy Land, they were also masters of peace and stability in Europe - undistracted kings and more productive states were needed to better support the crusading movement.

The Templars were thus committed to helping the development of taxation and banking in England (in order to get money sent to the east) and to ingratiating themselves within Henry II's administration (in order to persuade the king and his men to go on crusade).

Ultimately, the Templars wanted to operate within effective, stable societies. Such societies could generate more resources to be sent to the East (to help bolster up the crusader states). A far-reaching consequence of this surprisingly internationalist agenda, however, was to help create more modern instruments of government on a provincial level. The interests of the order were fundamentally their own – but those interests often coincided with those of a stabilising and centralising monarchy.

This was not an ideal world. However frustrating it might be, the local monarchies (such as the kings and queens of England and Scotland) almost invariably put their own interests first. But the Templars, and their papal masters, generally strove for improvement rather than perfection. They made the best of what they found. And they tried to make it better.
Visit Steve Tibble's website.

--Marshal Zeringue