The Knights Templar, the Nazis and a rebellious noble

What Geoffrey de Mandeville looked like before the Nazi bombs
What Geoffrey de Mandeville looked like before the Nazi bombs

Geoffrey de Mandeville – first Earl of Essex – had a rocky life and a bloody death.

Being a noble in the early 12th century meant keeping your head above water during a period sometimes called the ‘great anarchy’.

In the year 1135, king Henry I died. His cousin Stephen declared himself the new king but the late king’s daughter Matilda had different ideas. Taking Stephen on with her own army, the two parties engulfed England in a vicious civil war.

To protect his lands and social position, Geoffrey rather treacherously swapped sides on more than one occasion. When Stephen eventually prevailed against Matilda, he arrested the earl who was forced to surrender his castles. Furious with his treatment by the king, Geoffrey launched a rebellion. For a year, he holed up in the marshes of East Anglia – reduced to becoming a bandit.

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 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.

What Geoffrey looks like today
What Geoffrey looks like today

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 has had a rough time.

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2 thoughts on “The Knights Templar, the Nazis and a rebellious noble

  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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