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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Dramatic Events

As we approach the floor of the basement below Montfort's Grand Hall, exposing the huge and beautifully cut ashlars, the first fragments of stained glass, the still preserved wooden beams and piles of bones of animals or animal carcasses that had been stored here in the final days of the fortress, my mind takes me to a time some 27 years prior to those drama-filled days and to an event that probably took place directly above where we are digging.

Gerhard von Malberg, formerly the marshal of the Teutonic Order, was appointed as Grand Master (Hochmeister) in 1240-41. During his rule he attempted to improve the relationship between the order and the papacy while retaining good ties with the Holy Roman Empire, but in 1244 he was forced to abdicate. Some historians believe that this was because of his efforts at mediation and diplomacy, and his having taken an overly friendly stance towards the pope, but others see it as having been due to his dragging the order into his personal financial difficulties and his debts, part of which the order was required to cover. One way or another, his dismissal, which took place in a Grand Chapter held at Montfort Castle, must have been a dramatic event, with, as is the nature of such events, displays of high emotion. I recall the tribunal scene in the film version of Umberto Ecco's Name of the Rose, though that perhaps was a touch more theatrical than the chapter at Montfort.

Nonetheless, as it this the only important event that took place at the castle, or at least, the only one that has been recorded in historical sources (other than the beginning of construction in 1227/28 and the two sieges of 1266 and 1271), this bit of medieval drama achieves a magnified importance in the minds of those who are interested in this beautiful castle and its history (no doubt in the forty something years of its existence there were many other dramatic events, but none of them found their way into written sources). And if we are imagining (always a good thing to do), we can imagine the debates that took place during the desperate days in 1266 when two of Baybars' generals arrived on the scene and began to besiege Montfort, or the brothers meeting in chapter to discuss why the Muslims suddenly departed and what it might mean, or the tense meetings when they considered whether to try to take a stand or reach terms as, with the kingdom collapsing around them, they witnessed Baybars' return with siege machines in the summer of 1271.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall!

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