William de Mandeville
TEN THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT OUR TROUBLED HERO
William is based loosely on a true-life historical character – William de Mandeville, third Earl of Essex and his father really was killed as described in the book, including the gruesome detail about the whereabouts of his coffin (no more spoilers!)
- Our Templar hero was living during a turbulent time in England sometimes referred to as The Great Anarchy. King Stephen had taken the throne after the death of Henry I – but the old king’s daughter, Matilda, thought she should have been queen. Civil war ensured and we see William’s family swept up in it.
- William begins his life as a Templar at the Order’s preceptory in Witham, Essex. Cressing Temple really existed and was one of the first and largest Templar properties in England. You can still visit a barn from the medieval period that has miraculously survived!
- Bernard of Clairvaux was William’s inspiration and quite right too. This saintly ascetic was a great advocate for the Templar order and is a saint in the Catholic church.
- William’s turcopole (a kind of servant often of Middle Eastern background) is a Syrian Christian called Pathros. There had been Christians in Syria going back to Roman times and, of course, they are still there today – though increasingly persecuted and killed by sectarian extremists. Pathros would have recognised that situation!
- Nicholas is a boy-thief rescued by William before he is forced to undergo trial by ordeal – in this case, being forced to carry a red-hot iron bar for a set distance. After three days, his bandaged hand would have been examined by a priest to see if God had intervened to heal it. If it wasn’t healing, then execution would result. William stops Nicholas having to experience this barbarism.
- William, Pathros and Nicholas journey to the Iberian peninsula where Christians and Muslims are engaged in an often overlooked crusade. From the year 711CE, most of modern Spain and Portugal had been under Muslim control and ruled by an emir in Cordoba. But by the twelfth century, the peninsula was almost evenly split into Christian and Muslim domains with a vicious war for ultimate control.
The True Cross has been hidden in Al-Usbuna. This is the modern city of Lisbon, capital of Portugal. But in William’s time, it was a Muslim city built round what is now the castle of St George. At its centre was the Qasr (Alcazar in Spanish) where the governor lived. Then a protected compound for the nobility and beyond that, the medina where the common folk had their more modest homes. William has to get into this city and find the True Cross – a seemingly impossible task!
- William is tormented by a demon who appears to him at night in the form of a Basilisk. Some of the things the Basilisk says to mock William were inspired by gospels rejected by the Christian church. The bible we have today mentions the Basilisk in different ways as a hideous serpent and manifestation of evil. It was believed that it could kill with a glance.
- Orraca steals William’s heart – but all is not as it seems. No spoilers of course – but she may return in future adventures with Sir William de Mandeville!