Knightfall and the Templar Narrative

For the introduction, I set out to link the historical Knights Templar and their myth to their depiction in popular culture. This study has addressed the gap in Templar academia by examining ­high-profile ­Templar-themed texts dating from the 12th century, such as Parzival right up to The Da Vinci Code in the 21st century. The book first established the fundamental Templar archetypes in fiction, drawing upon contradictory themes of white nationalism, multiculturalism, Arthurian myth and conspiracy; this I surmised as the Templar narrative. The second was to investigate how this narrative has evolved over the century with multiple depictions in popular culture and explain why this medieval order of knights is still so prominent in the 21st century.

In examining the evolution of the Templars’ depictions in popular culture, this book has shown that the Templars became a malleable concept due to a lack of ownership over their legacy following their abolition in 1312. The Order’s sudden demise enabled the Templars to hold several contradictory aspects. The thematic structure approach demonstrated how the multifaceted Templar narrative attained themes of chivalry, colonialism, multicultural nationalism and a typological link to the modern West. This study of the Templar urtext has updated the study of the Knights Templar to provide the link between the Templar myths of cruel, fanatical warriors, the grail and freemasonry to modern fiction through various media formats such as literature, film, video games and tourism.

The Templar narrative would further expand through Knightfall (Handfield & Rayner, 2017–2019), a new drama series from History (formerly The History Channel from 1995 to 2008), whose previous historical drama, Vikings (Hirst, 2013+), Variety describes as “one of the most subversive and beautifully shot sword epics around” (Ryan, 2017 December 6). Knightfall is set at the end of the 13th century and dramatized the Knights Templars’ final years, the politics around their demise and the search for the Holy Grail. The show’s protagonist is a fictional Templar knight, Landry de Luzan (Tom Cullen), who becomes Master of the Paris Temple and is charged with finding the Holy Grail while hiding his affair with Queen Joan (Olivia Ross) from the King of France, Phillip IV (Ed Stoppard) and navigating machinations of his advisor William de Nogaret (Julian Ovenden).

The ­ten-episode television series debuted in 2017 to disappointing reviews, with Variety’s backhanded compliment, “If you set your expectations low, and just want something fairly mindless with acceptable swordplay and a couple of decent performances, you’ll be fine” (Ryan, 2017, December 6). Lowry, writing for CNN, also reviewed the show negatively, writing, “On paper, History’s ‘Knightfall’ sounds like a great idea. However, ‘Knightfall’ proves that it’s possible to come equipped with all the right accessories and still produce a show that winds up looking underdressed for a knight on the town” (2017, December 6). Despite the negative reviews, in the summer of 2018 it was announced the Templar series would be picked up for a second season (Sandwell, August 21, 2018).

The significance of the series Knightfall is that it provides a clear example of how the Templar narrative continues to evolve as this Templar story amalgamates the quest narrative into the Templar knight narrative. This Templar series takes inspiration from the medieval Templar dramas before it by including the heroic Templar aspect in the form of Landry. Landry is the polar opposite of the series Templar villain, Gawain (Pádraic Delaney), who is corrupted by the grail and betrays Landry. Like with the previous case studies of Kingdom of Heaven, Arn: The Knight Templar and Ironclad, the first instance of violence showcases the Templars’ moral compass with a speech delivered by the Templar Master, Godfrey (Sam Hazeldine), when the Templars are under siege at Acre:

Nearly two hundred years ago, nine knights founded our Order to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem. Today Acre is our stronghold in the Holy Land, and we will never relinquish it. We fight for more than just this city, more than just the men and women who will die if it falls; today, we fight for the grail. Take every life you must take, but take no more and remember that we answer to God just as we fight for God, and we win by the grace of God [Handfield & Rayner, 2017–2019].

This speech informs the audience that the Templars are on the defense, defending their home, the people, and the grail. Their actions are further justified to the audience by the reminder that the Templars must only harm those they must in order to defend the city, people, and the holy relic. This introduction through justifiable violence is similar to other heroic Templars, such as Arn Magnusson’s defending a woman from a group of drunken men and Thomas Marshall’s skirmish against King John’s men to protect the elderly abbot. It is also the polar opposite of the villainous Templar knight whose first use of violence is oppression, such as the robbery and slaughter of Muslim merchants by the Templars in Kingdom of Heaven. Landry follows in line with previous Templar heroes in that he uses his martial abilities to protect the helpless, which he demonstrates in his second incident of violence when he leads the Templars from the Paris Temple to defend the Parish Jewish community from attack by de Nogaret’s men.

Landry shares many character similarities to the previous heroic Templars, Arn and Marshall, as, like them, despite being a Templar, he is an outsider to the church hierarchy and the broader Templar Order. The heroic Templar weakness of succumbing to the charms of women is Landry’s greatest obstacle as his affair with Queen Joan has disastrous consequences for himself, Joan and the Templar Order. Aside from sharing the heroic Templar’s archetypal weakness, Landry also demonstrates the same respect for other cultures and races shown by Arn Magnusson. ­Co-Creator Richard Rayner explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that they did not want the show to be about the factional conflicts of the Crusades, not wanting to create a show focusing on “200 years of Christians fighting Muslims” (Roxborough, 2017, April 5). The protagonist in the show is a multicultural Templar knight who, like Arn’s friendship with Saladin, earns the respect of Rashid (Akin Gazi), a Saracen and leader of the Brotherhood of Light, a multiracial and ­multi-faith ­Assassin-esque organization. Landry and Rashid become allies, and they fight side by side, attempting to recover the grail.

Landry also stands up for the persecuted Jewish community in Paris and passionately pleads to all his Templar brothers to intervene. During a meeting at the Paris Temple, Landry says, “We are Templars. We are warriors. We’re supposed to fight for the Holy Land. Safe passage for pilgrims. Instead, we dole out a few loaves of bread, so nobody notices we are hoarding our wealth, we ignore the treatment of the Jews of our own city.” Landry’s empathy with other faiths is not shared by fellow Templar knight Gawain, who says coldly, “The Jews are not our problem” (Handfield & Rayner, 2017–2019). If not for the intervention of the multicultural Templar hero Landry, then the Jewish community would have been helpless.

Knightfall demonstrates the amalgamation of the Templar narrative as it also includes the quest narrative within its medieval setting. Aside from the heroic Templar Landry’s skirmishes protecting the innocent, the quest to find the Holy Grail is the show’s main story. Rayner discussed in an interview his interest in the Templar myth when discussing the Templars’ abolition. In an interview published in Exposition Review, he said, “no one knows what happened to all the various treasures—potentially even the spirit of destiny, the holy grail—they’d accumulated during the Crusades, and a thousand conspiracy theories flow from that moment” (2016, p. 46). In Knightfall, the grail is depicted as a simple wooden cup, similar to the grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and is said to hold the power of healing. The series includes archetypal Arthurian characters in the form of Gawain, who is corrupted by the grail’s powers and betrays Landry in an attempt to seize the grail for himself. Parzival’s character is also featured in the series, who in this Templar story is called Parsifal. Like Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, Parsifal is a naïve outsider who becomes embodied in the knightly quest for the grail. Apart from Arthurian tropes, the most significant inclusion of the quest narrative aside from the grail as a physical MacGuffin is that Landry must revisit his past to find the grail. Like the aspect of following in the Templars’ footsteps, Landry must venture into the past to find the grail; however, it is his past he must revisit in his quest for the grail.

The series mixes dramatized history with myth as it does feature historical characters and depicts actual events of that time, but these interslice with fictional characters and with the mythical Templar grail associations. Of course, historical accuracy in a fictional drama would be impossible, but the series benefits from a sense of historical authenticity due to its distribution by History, medieval visual tropes and endorsement from TV historian Dan Jones. Dan Jones acted as a consultant and said Knightfall “shows both the history and the legend of the Templars” (Roxborough, 2017, April 5). This sense of legitimacy is encapsulated in the opening credits, as it states, “History presents,” implying a truth to the Templar grail myth and an element of historical legitimacy to this fantastical Templar television series. The ­21st-century depictions of the Templars are contradictory, as are the centuries of myth following the Order’s demise. The ­14th-century end to any Templar authority supports the malleable consistency of the Templar legacy that created flexibility to evolve the Templars when represented in new media formats. Knightfall shows the continual evolution of the narrative through its amalgamation of the contrasting aspects, which further gives legitimacy and embeds the Templar myth into popular culture. The variety of the Templars’ depiction in new media highlights the relevance and importance of this study. Although it provides an original investigation that addresses a gap in Templar research, the continual evolution of Templar depictions means that the newest forms will need further analysis.

The Templars in Popular Culture

This book aimed to address the gap in Templar academia by investigating why the Templar myth became so widespread across multiple media platforms and to define the reoccurring Templar archetypes into what I call the thematic Templar narrative. This book identified the two most significant depictions of the Knights Templar in popular culture: the Order as guardians of the grail in medieval Arthurian literature and as the evil knights in the ­19th-century works of Sir Walter Scott. These two different Templar incarnations provided a framework for investigating how the Templar urtext expanded through representations in significant literature, film, computer games, and fan participation, such as fan performance and play within cosplay, fan videos, and tourism. Although a significant amount of the book focused on fictional Templar stories, to further determine the narrative’s evolution, it also needed to examine the dilution of historical actuality by fan interaction and the authoring of new fan texts. From examining kinetic levels of audience engagement, fans of ­Templar-themed texts use acts of play and performance to further immerse themselves interactively within the fictional reality of the Templar myth, acts that further cement connotative Templar perceptions and expand the malleable Templar narrative into new texts. The approach provided an original method to analyze the Templars as a widespread cultural phenomenon as their multifaceted perception has evolved through various types of media which address how Templar myth influences popular perceptions.

The Knights Templar have been featured in works of fiction for centuries, with further Templar texts being released during the writing of this book. The case studies chosen were the most culturally significant and financially successful texts, which would clarify the level of exposure and relevance these examples held in popular culture. The validity of the case studies’ notoriety was instrumental in identifying key examples for participatory texts such as computer games, fan film and tourism sites as the case studies needed to show significant cultural presence and be more than a niche practice. Therefore, this book used an internationally successful game franchise, a prevalently ­well-viewed fan film and iconic heritage sites as the central case studies to analyze the evolutionary effect their participatory media has on the thematic Templar narrative in popular culture.

The Templars’ arrest and then their abolition in 1312 sent shock waves throughout medieval Europe, tarnishing their reputation. With the abolition and execution of the Order’s leaders, there could be no authority over the Templars’ legacy, leaving the accusation of heresy, among other things, forever associated with the Templars. Contradictory myths and unfounded associations such as those levied by Phillip IV of France influenced the popular perception of the Knights Templar to this day, attributing a malleable quality to the Order. This malleability contributed to the transformation of the Templars’ story into the ­multi-strand Templar narrative that has evolved and expanded throughout the centuries via new literature and film and participatory media such as fan videos to computer games and fan tours. The Templar narrative incorporates contradictory aspects that have flourished in popular culture due to the Order’s sudden demise and loss of control over their heritage. It is because of this lack of authority over their legacy that the Templar narrative has expanded and shaped the popular perception of the infamous Order of the Poor ­Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, known commonly as the Templars.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!