The Hay History Group went across the border to England for their meeting last night, in Cusop Village Hall. Despite the snow, the hall was packed.
Alan Nicholls and Mari Fforde started the meeting off with a bit of a double act - it was a bit like watching newsreaders chatting together as they read the news - "And what have you got for us now, Alan?"!
Alan has been doing a lot of research, and has a new book out (price £15.00) on Hay Parish. He has also managed to trace his own ancestry back to a Welsh Prince in around 900, though he will have to do more research to make sure those links are right!
One delightful piece of information he turned up was in a will held in Canterbury - people who owned land in more than one parish had to have their wills proved (and saved for posterity) at an office in Canterbury, and this 17th century Mr Watkins had left 20 shillings for the building of two bridges over the Dulas brook, one of which we had crossed to get to the hall that evening (obviously they've been rebuilt since!). This was the first mention he could find of the bridges, so he assumes that the brook was forded at those points before that.
Mari said that she hopes work on the Castle will begin around April, and will be going on until 2019. All the floorboards in the attic have been taken up so that the architects can see the joists and assess how strong they are, and she's also planning a large tapestry to hang in the area which will be the entrance hall. This is the part that was damaged by fire, and will be an open hall up to the roof in the rebuilding. There are 18 families who were associated with the Castle, and she wants to choose 9 of them to represent on the tapestry by their coats of arms, finishing off with Richard Booth's - the final choice may be down to which are the prettiest!
She also said she wanted to do a documentary about Matilda de Breose, which should be interesting. She thinks that Matilda was the power behind William de Breose, one of the most hated men on the Marches at the time after the massacre at Abergavenny Castle.
And then we came to the meat of the evening - a talk given by Gill McHattie on the Knights Templar. She was anxious to dispell some of the myths about the Templars - who were arrested throughout France on the same day by King Philip the Fair, an amazing level of organisation for the period, as they had no warning at all. It was King Philip who spread many of the rumours taken up enthusiastically by the likes of Dan Brown, and mostly wrung from the Knights themselves by torture. And the date of that mass round-up was Friday 13th 1307, hence the bad reputation Friday 13th has had ever since!
They were monastic knights, and their Rule was drawn up by St Bernard of Clairvaux, a keen advocate of the Crusades, the first Grand Master being one of Bernard's cousins, according to some recent research. The beginnings of the order are shrouded in mystery - the first documentation appears later, when they were already a major movement throughout Europe - but they attracted members of aristocratic families, who moved in the most important political circles of the time. And they became enormously wealthy, which provides a sufficient motive for King Philip to get rid of them, in France at least - and he had a tame Pope on hand in Avignon to issue whatever orders he wanted.
One Papal Bull, ordering Robert the Bruce to round up and torture Knights of the Order in Scotland, was returned. Twice. Robert had just been excommunicated by the Pope, so he didn't see why he should follow any Papal orders!
Gill McHattie has been doing research around Herefordshire, and showed slides of some of her findings (she's also written a book, copies of which were available on the night). Most people who know about the Templars know about Garway (by the way, she says the myth of there being 666 pigeon holes in the dovecote there is rubbish).
It was by no means the only site associated with the Templars, though - they also had a manor at Bosbury, close to the Bishop's Palace once occupied by St Thomas Cantilupe, the 13th century gatehouse of which survives as part of a farmhouse there. Unusually for the tomb of a bishop at that period, St Thomas's tomb in Hereford Cathedral has armed knights carved around it, who may possibly be Templars.
There was a circular chapel in Hereford itself, built on de Lacy land - the de Lacy family had strong ties to the Templars. The foundations were found during building work in the 19th century. Garway was originally a round church, too, to imitate the Holy Sephulcre in Jerusalem, though it was rebuilt in more conventional style by the Hospitallers when they took over. And the chapel at Ludlow Castle is round, too.
Elsewhere there are grave slabs, marked with a foliate cross, sometimes with the outline of a sword, and sometimes with the circular cross used by the Grand Master. No names were inscribed on the grave markers - the Knights were supposed to be known only to God.
And finally there was the mystery of the Grand Master's seal, showing two knights mounted on a single horse. Traditionally this has been claimed to show the vow of poverty that the Knights took when they joined the Order, but as Gill pointed out, in reality they would have been tripping over horses! Each knight had a battle trained horse, plus one or two riding horses, plus a horse for the squire, and baggage horses - and it's part of the Rule that the knights went from the first church service of the day to look after their horse! So maybe it was to show that the Knights fought practically, in the battles against the Saracens, and spiritually, as monks?
It was a fascinating talk, and I learned a lot about hidden corners of Herefordshire.