21st Oct, The Club at The Ivy, London.
On 21 October 2017, Dan Jones ran our inaugural History Masterclass at The Club at The Ivy on the Knights Templar. In one of London’s most exclusive venues, Dan’s Masterclass – which was sold-out, with a long waitlist – was a fascinating examination of this mysterious movement of warrior-knights, and of the process of writing narrative history.
In the first part of the Masterclass, Dan introduced the Templars – discussing St Bernard of Clairvaux and the 68-point code of conduct that he established for them (including don’t wear pointy-shoes, and ‘avoid the caresses of women from which men have perished so many times’). We considered the purpose of the Templars – to defend pilgrims to Jerusalem – and their spectacular early growth into a wealthy and important order.
After coffee and pastries, Suzannah Lipscomb questioned Dan about the business of writing medieval history, and about the Templars in particular.
The class then divided into small groups, each supplied with an extract from a primary source that Dan had prepared, and each considering what evidence it gave about the Templars, how it could be used to tell a story about the Templars, and what other sources would be needed. This led to a gleeful, clamorous discussion of the sources, as people got stuck in to the sort of information we have about the origins of the Templars, their world and organization, their sources of wealth, their battles with Saladin and others, and how the Templars appeared to contemporaries. Dan moved from group to group, giving personal advice and tips, and then we reconvened as a whole, to consider the value of eyewitness accounts, the way to make the past sing, and how to write linear narrative history about contested material.
The final part of the Masterclass considered the Templars dramatic downfall of the Templars – their torture, interrogation, and confessions, before they were officially abolished.
And then some of us went to enjoy lunch from The Ivy’s famous kitchen.
This was a Masterclass in both medieval history and how to write history. Everyone who attended was full of praise for Dan and for the format of a Masterclass, and thoroughly animated and excited by all they had learnt over their three hours in the company of a leading historian and their fellow Masterclassers.