The Knights Templar, a feudal lord and the Nazis

What could possibly link the Knights Templar, a particularly controversial medieval aristocrat and the Nazis? Well, more than you might think!

First let’s start with the medieval aristocrat. Geoffrey de Mandeville was a serial rebel and of a violent disposition. Well suited to his times you might think as the early 12th century in England was referred to as the Great Anarchy.

This was following the death of King Henry I in 1135 after eating a “surfeit of lampreys”. His daughter Matilda expected to take the crown but medieval lords weren’t up for giving power to a woman. Her cousin Stephen knew this and declared himself king.

DISCOVER: The gory history of Temple Bar

That led to a vicious civil war between Matilda and Stephen where each gained the upper hand at different times. Geoffrey nimbly swapped sides repeatedly but managed to annoy both Matilda and Stephen in the process.

Eventually, a victorious Stephen ordered the arrest of Geoffrey, who was the first Earl of Essex, and the seizure of his castles. Geoffrey responded by becoming a bandit and holing up in the marshes of East Anglia.

Eventually, the king’s forces surrounded the troublesome earl and he was shot through with arrows. A traitor to his king and rejected by the church for raiding Ramsey Abbey – Geoffrey’s body couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground.

In fact, nobody knew what to do with his remains. Until the Knights Templar stepped in. They took his carcass to their London headquarters – the Temple church still standing – in a lead coffin and hung it from the branches of an apple tree. That way it was in their protection without being placed in the ground.

At some point, a burial was made possible and his son arranged for an effigy of his father to be placed in the Templar church. It can still be seen today. But it’s taken a bit of a bashing.

Up until the 10th March, 1941, the effigy was in almost pristine condition. But this was the Second World War and the Blitz meant Nazi bombs were raining down on the city. One exploded in the circular church bringing the roof crashing down on top of the effigy. As you can see – he took quite a pounding.

Even in death – Geoffrey had a rough time.

2 thoughts on “The Knights Templar, a feudal lord and the Nazis

  1. Geoffrey DeMandeville was my 29th great grandfather And I’m curious about his life. May I ask a few questions please?
    Why was Geoffrey DeMandeville’s body claimed by the Knights Templar? Was he in fact a Templar of some rank? What is his story with the Templar’s if he was one? And where may I find records of his Templar service if any? Thank you very much for your work on historic people and events.

    1. Raymond – Apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I’ve been in Finland working on a project. Got very distracted. Geoffrey was the Earl of Essex and made a habit of swapping sides in the civil war between King Stephen and his rival, the Empress Matilda. Stephen made him Earl and then when he back Matilda, she gave him some other titles like custodian of the Tower of London, etc. He definitely fell out with Stephen and then the church after allegedly sacking Ramsey Abbey. Though by this time, Stephen had declared him an outlaw and he seems to have become a desperate man, living off his wits. He was shot through with arrows and his body was rescued by the Templars. So the question you want to know is….why? The Templars – unlike the church and state – were prepared to protect his remains – though they didn’t bury him for a while. He was kept in a lead coffin, possibly suspended from a tree. His son, another Geoffrey, got the permission to bury him and arranged for the effigy. But it’s in a very prominent place in the Templar church in London. If you want to investigate further, I’d suggest contacting them but also a place called Cressing Temple in Essex – a well preserved Templar preceptory. If you find anything out – do tell me!

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