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The Real History Behind 'Knightfall'

Updated May 18, 2020 4k views13 items

Templars chasing the Holy Grail, a clash between France's king and the pope, and a steamy affair between the queen of France and a Templar. While all three make up major plot points on the History show Knightfall, only one event really occurred. What's fact and what's fiction when it comes to Knightfall and the Knights Templar? Like any historical drama, Knightfall history isn't the same as real history. In reality, the Templars spent more time amassing wealth than looking for Jesus's mythical cup. And while an affair helps explain King Philip's obsession with the Templars, the reality had more to do with money than infidelity. 

Knightfall uses history as the starting point for its drama - as do many other shows like Knightfall. The grizzled veteran played by Mark Hamill in Knightfall is a fictional character based on historical accounts. Similarly, the fictional affair lines up with medieval Europe's rules about sex - though sleeping with your best friend's spouse is pretty bad in any period. There are numerous other places where Knightfall deviates from history, including the gruesome end to the Templars. 

  • Photo: History

    The Holy Grail Was Probably More Myth Than Reality

    Knightfall's Templars spend most of their time searching for the Holy Grail. The relic, thought to be the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper, appears in many medieval legends. It's often linked with the Templars, whom many believe protected the grail.

    But according to Dan Jones, the historical consultant for Knightfall, the grail almost certainly didn't exist:

    All of this was high fantasy, which people in the Middle Ages would have recognized as such. Bogus pseudo-history became confused with the real history of Christianity, and of crusading. But the Holy Grail myth is a brilliant starting point for fiction.

  • Photo: Bedford Master / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    King Philip IV Persecuted The Knights Templar Because He Owed Them Money

    Why did King Philip IV turn on the Templars? It wasn't because his wife was sleeping with a Templar, a plotline invented for Knightfall. Historians point, instead, to a different motivation: Philip was broke. After instigating conflicts with England and Flanders, the French king needed money. He saw the wealthy Templars as a source of revenue and planned to take their riches. 

    The Templars were a natural target for Philip, who spent his kingship fighting with the pope over the reach of papal authority in France. Philip demanded complete obedience from everyone in France, but the Templars, as a religious order, owed allegiance to the pope first. That made them an easy target for the king.

  • Photo: History

    Queen Joan Was Dead Before The Templars Fell

    In reality, Queen Joan of France and Navarre was a powerful woman. Heir to the kingdom of Navarre and married to King Philip IV of France, Joan gave birth to three future kings: Louis X, Philip V, and Charles IV. 

    Knightfall depicts Joan as an influential queen who betrays her marriage vows with the Templar leader Landry. There's just one problem: Joan passed in 1305, a year before Knightfall's major action takes place. And since Landry is fictional, Joan's affair with him is doubly invented.

  • Photo: Alphonse de Neuville / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    King Philip IV Ordered The Imprisonment Of The Pope

    The power struggle between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip IV was even more intense than what's shown in Knightfall. In 1303, Philip ordered the pope's detainment, the ultimate way to prove Philip's superiority. The king, sick of the pope's meddling, sent William de Nogaret to flee with the pontiff. 

    William de Nogaret teamed up with Sciarra Colonna, a Roman patrician who hated Boniface. With an army of hundreds, the pair marched on Anagni, the pope's hilltop retreat. According to legends, when they found the pope, Colonna slapped him in the face.

    Boniface was humiliated during three days of captivity, as his keepers argued over what to do next; de Nogaret proposed hauling him to France to stand trial and Colonna suggested doing away with the pontiff. Although he eventually escaped, Boniface passed only weeks later due to the ordeal.