Professor Helen Nicholson

Professor Helen Nicholson

Professor of Medieval History

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

+44 (0)29 2087 4250
+44 (0)29 2087 4929
5.45, John Percival Building
Media commentator

A former Head of the History Department, I am a world-leading scholar in research into the military religious orders and the Crusades. I have very extensive experience in teaching students at all levels, and a strong record in impact and engagement with the wider public.

Research interests

  • The Military Orders: the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Teutonic Knights;
  • The Trial of the Templars in the British Isles;
  • The Templars' English estates, 1308-1311;
  • The Hospitallers in the British Isles in the fourteenth century;
  • The Crusades in the Middle Ages;
  • Women in the crusades and in religious orders in the middle ages;
  • The use of medieval 'fictional' literature as historical evidence.

Research projects

  • The Trial of the Templars in the British Isles.
  • The Knights Templars' English estates, 1308-1311.
  • The Hospitallers in the British Isles in the Fourteenth Century.

Impact and engagement

Research blog on the Knights Templar estates

The podcast accompanying her article 'The Templars on Trial: A very muted inquisition', in BBC History Magazine, 10.6 (June 2009), pp. 26-31, can be downloaded from the BBC History Magazine podcast archive for June 2009, part 1.

I regularly give talks to general interest groups on the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Crusades.

Details of Professor Helen Nicholson's academic publications

Education and qualifications

1990 PhD (History), for thesis entitled: 'Images of the Military Orders, 1128-1291: spiritual, secular, romantic'. Supervisor: Norman Housley, Department of History, University of Leicester.

1986 Admitted to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

1986 MA (Oxon.)

1979–1982 BA Ancient and Modern History, University of Oxford (St Hilda's College). Class awarded: First.

Career overview

1994–present member of staff in School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff University (1994–96: fixed-term lecturer; 1996 lecturer; 2000: Senior Lecturer; 2004 Reader; 2013 Professor).

1992–1994 Part-time teaching assistant in the Department of History, University of Leicester.

1990–1992 Maternity break.

1986–1989 Open Research Scholarship in the Department of History, University of Leicester.

1982–1985 Employer: Coopers and Lybrand, Chartered Accountants, Abacus House, 32 Friar Lane, Leicester, LE1 5RA. Final position: Audit Senior.

Honours and awards

2003–2004 British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship for 2003–2004

Other awards:

2013 (with Dr Bronach Kane): Royal Historical Society grant for their postgraduate visiting speakers series, subsidising a one-day symposium ‘Conflict in Historical Perspectives’, 23 January 2015;

2009, 1997 Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust grants towards publication of conference proceedings;

2008 Cadw grant to the Cardiff Centre for the Crusades towards conference costs;

2011, 2003 British Academy Overseas Conference Grants towards attending the Ordines Militares – Colloquia Torunensia Historica conferences XII and XVI in Toruń, Poland;

1999 Isaiah Berlin travel award from the Academic Study Group on Israel and the Middle East

Professional memberships

2017 elected as Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales

2002 elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

Member of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, the Ecclesiastical History Society, the International Arthurian Society and Societas Magica

Speaking engagements

I am regularly asked by publishers and the broadcast media to comment on the crusades and the military orders for the general public and for students. I regularly speak at international academic conferences.

Recent research papers and conferences

(presented during the last twelve months)

14 May 2017, organiser and chair of Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, MI, 52nd year. Subject: ‘The Knightly Lifecycle’. Speakers: Pierre Gaite (Cardiff University), Nicholas McDermott (Cardiff University), Elizabeth Ashcroft Terry (Austin College)

13 May 2017, the annual Journal of Medieval Military History lecture at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, MI, 52nd year: 'Holy Warriors, Worldly War: Military Religious Orders and Secular Conflict'

25 April 2017, ‘The picture across the water: the Foundation of military order houses in Britain and Ireland in the twelfth century’ at the conference ‘Jerusalem in medieval Viken’ at Tønsberg, Norway, 24–26 April 2017

22 April 2017, ‘Evidence of the Templars’ religious practice from the records of the Templars’ estates in Britain and Ireland in 1308’, at the workshop: 'The Templars in Britain and Ireland' at Blaydes House, University of Hull. This is the second workshop on this subject organised by Dr John Walker of the University of Hull and myself

22 October 2016, ‘Tenants and workers in Wales and the Welsh March: evidence from the Templars and Hospitallers’: keynote paper at the Eighth Bangor Colloquium on Medieval Wales, 22–23 October 2016

16 September 2016, ‘The Templars’ estates in England and Wales in the light of the surveys and accounts (1308-1313) preserved in the National Archives,’ at the conference ‘The Archaeology of the Latin East: A conference honour of Professor Denys Pringle’, at Cardiff University, 16–18 September 2016

30 June 2016, ‘The construction of a primary source: the historicity of Itinerarium peregrinorum 1’ at the ninth quadrennial conference of the Study for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, Odense, Denmark (27 June–1 July 2016); also organiser of two three-paper sessions at this conference

12 May 2016, organizer of Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion's session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, MI, 51st year (12–15 May 2016), on ‘War, Diplomacy and Material Culture in the Middle Ages’. Speakers: Michael Fulton (Cardiff University), Valentina Grub (University of St Andrews), Michelle Hufschmid (University of Oxford)

1 April 2016,‘The True Gentleman? Correct behaviour towards women according to Christian and Muslim writers during the period of the crusades,’ at: the conference ‘Crusading masculinities’, 30th March – 1st April 2016 at the University of Zurich

Committees and reviewing

2016–17: Chair of the Board of Studies in History & Welsh History;

2012–15: Head of the History Department;

2011–13: Chair of the Board of Studies in History & Welsh History;

2011–14: Member of School Senior Management Team;

2011–12: Member of School Research Committee, Equality and Diversity Committee, Health and Safety Committee;

2010–11: Admissions tutor for Single Honours History;

2004: Postgraduate Tutor in History and Welsh History; Chair of the HISAR Undergraduate Quality Committee; [anti]Unfair Practices co-ordinator;

2002–3: Chair of the Board for Integrated Degrees within the School;

1999–2002: Examinations Secretary for History and Welsh History;

1995–98: Chair of the School Library Committee

External Committees

1999–2004: associate editor of Crusades, journal of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East

1999–2002:Treasurer of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East

I contribute to teaching the following Year One option module:

  • Medieval Worlds - 20 credits (HS1112)

Each year I offer the following Part Two courses:

  • Heresy and Dissent, 1000-1450 - 30 credits (HS1710)
  • The Military Orders, 1100–1320 - 30 credits (HS1805)

I also participate in teaching:

I will also accept suitably qualified PhD students interested in the medieval Military Religious Orders, medieval women, the Crusades and medieval Religious Orders or related fields.

Teaching profile


With my colleagues in medieval history, archaeology and religion, I contribute to:

  • Medieval Worlds - 20 credits (HS1112)

Year two: I teach an option course, currently:

  • Heresy and Dissent, 1000-1450 - 30 credits (HS1710)

and supervise students for:

  • Exploring Historical Debate - 30 credits (HS1702)

Year three: I teach an option course:

  • The Military Orders, 1100–1320 - 30 credits (HS1805)

and supervise students on:

  • Dissertation - 30 credits (HS1801)


I offer postgraduate modules on the history of the Crusades and of the Military Religious Orders and on religious belief and heresy in the Middle Ages.

I contribute to the MA in Medieval British Studies, offering the module:

  • Belief and Disbelief in the Middle Ages (HST634)

I also contribute to the MA in Ancient and Medieval Warfare


The Trial of the Templars in Britain and Ireland

The proceedings of the trial of the Templars in the Britain and Ireland, 1308-1311, contain a wealth of information about national and international mobility of lay religious, religious beliefs among the lay population, and the activities of the mendicant orders in the British Isles in the early fourteenth century. Although some of the manuscripts had been edited in full, others had not; and some of the previous editions remain difficult to access. Scholars had not compared the various manuscripts to produce an overall picture of the trial.

The objective of this project was to make these extensive resources readily available to scholars and, by providing a translation, more accessible to the wider research community. In addition, by comparing these sources and analysing the data that they contain, the project aimed to advance historical knowledge of the internal workings of the Order of the Temple, and of ecclesiastical inquisitorial procedures.

My edition of the proceedings was published in 2011 in two volumes. Additional analysis has been published as a series of articles: see the link above.

Funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship, this project had a value of £ 27,658.79.

The Knights Templars' estates in England and Wales, 1308-1311

The Templars' estates in England and Wales were inventoried at the time of the Templars' arrests early in January 1308. From that time until the dissolution of the Order in Britain in July 1311, the estates were administered by royal keepers. Full records were taken and are preserved in the National Archives (TNA). These records have hardly been studied by scholars. They offer a unique opportunity to study how a non-noble institution exploited its landed property and how it related with its local community, at a time when English landowners were just beginning to run their estates indirectly, employing skilled bailiffs, rather than directly.

This project aims to answer a number of questions, including:

  • What property did the Templars in England and Wales hold in January 1308? Is it possible to establish (e.g. through the Inquisitiones post Mortem or the Hundred Rolls) what this property was worth in earlier years? Is it possible to discover what it was worth in future years (e.g. in 1324, 1338, or in later Inquisitiones post Mortem)?
  • Whom did the Templars employ on their estates, on what terms?
  • How was their property exploited/ developed between 1308-11, when the Order was dissolved in Britain?
  • What did they produce (such as wool, beef, cider, fish, coal)?
  • What were their relations with local communities?
  • Did the form of the documents recording this information vary from one locality to the next? Were they audited?

The Hospitallers in Britain and Ireland in the Fourteenth Century and onwards

This project investigates the role of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland in the 14th century and onwards, and attitudes towards it. This builds on my previous research into attitudes towards the Military Religious Orders in the Middle Ages, and my current research into the Order of the Temple in the early fourteenth century. Much research is being done on the Hospital of St John in the fourteenth century, but the Order in the Britain and Ireland has been largely overlooked.

Questions include: how did the trial and destruction of the Order of the Temple in 1312 affect attitudes towards its sister order, the Hospital? How far did the Hospital replace the Temple in its various functions, from its role in royal administration to its roles in the local community? What was the state of the Templars' estates by the time that the Hospital was able to acquire them – how far had their economic value declined? How far did the Hospitallers continue the Templars' relations with their secular patrons, and with the Church?

Research blog

As my research on the Knights Templars' estates in England and Wales develops, I am developing a blog which explores my latest research findings. You can follow the blog here:

Research group

The Cardiff Centre for the Study of the History of the Crusades

The Cardiff Centre for the Crusades was established in 2000 to encourage and develop Cardiff as a focus for research collaboration, conferences and publications in the field of crusading history. The Centre's interests embrace the history and ideology of the crusading movement, the history and archaeology of the lands conquered by the crusaders, the impact of the crusades on those lands and peoples against which expeditions were directed and from which expeditions were launched, and the history of the Military Orders. All theatres of crusading activity and any crusade from the end of the eleventh century onwards are included.

The Cardiff Centre for Medieval Studies

The Centre for the Study of Medieval Society and Culture is interdisciplinary in approach, bringing together medievalists from a variety of subject areas within the University who wish to co-operate in research and in teaching at graduate level. The Centre runs BA and MA courses in Medieval British Studies, organises seminars, conferences, and workshops, sponsors publications, recruits doctoral students, and brings scholars to the University from overseas. In addition, the Centre organises intellectual and social events for medievalists in the region, enhances resources, and generally promotes the interests of medieval studies at Cardiff University.

Areas of expertise