Professor Helen Nicholson
Professor of Medieval History
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.
- 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.
- 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;
- Queen Sybil of Jerusalem (1186-1190).
Impact and engagement
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
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)
- 20 September 2017, ‘The Templars in Herefordshire and Shropshire’, paper presented to the Leintwardine History Society;
- 15 September 2017, ‘‘The Knights Hospitaller in Britain and Ireland in the Middle Ages’, paper presented to the York Medical Society;
- 9 September 2017, ‘The Templars Community at the New Temple (London) in the Early Fourteenth Century’, invited paper presented at the conference ‘The Military Orders: Piety, Pugnacity and Property’, the 7th International Conference on the Military Orders organised by the London Centre for the Study of the Crusades, 7–10 September 2017. I was also a member of the organising committee for this conference.
- 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, gave 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’, invited paper 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.
Committees and reviewing
2017– : Chair of the Integrated Board of Studies in SHARE
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
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
With my colleagues in medieval history, archaeology and religion, I contribute to:
- Medieval Worlds - 20 credits (HS1112)
And I participate in teaching the core modules History in Practice 1 and 2 - each 20 credits (HS1119, HS1120)
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 - 20 credits (HST634)
I also contribute to the core module Approaches to Medieval History (HST642) and the optional module Palaeography (HST833), and teach the module Reading Old French (HST838) -- all 20 credits.
I also contribute to the MA in Ancient and Medieval Warfare, offering the following modules:
- Sources for the History of the Crusades - 20 credits (HST624)
- The Military Orders - 20 credits (HST908)
and contribute to the teaching of the core module Themes in Ancient and Medieval Warfare (HST903) and the option modules Siege Warfare (HST905) and Epic Warriors (HST906) - all 20 credits.
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 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?
Outputs to date include a series of articles on the Templars' estates in Britain and a book, The Everyday Life of the Templars (2017)
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?
Queen Sybil of Jerusalem (1186-1190)
Queen Sybil of Jerusalem, queen in her own right, was ruler of the kingdom of Jerusalem from 1186 to 1190. Her reign saw the loss of the city of Jerusalem to Saladin, and the beginning of the Third Crusade. Yet although her reign began with her nobles divided and crisis looming, by the end of the reign the military forces of Christian Europe were uniting alongside her and her husband, intent on recovering the city. Sybil died before the bulk of the forces of the Third Crusade could arrive in the kingdom, and Jerusalem was never recovered. But although she failed, she went down fighting. This study will trace Sybil’s life, from her childhood as daughter of the heir to the throne of Jerusalem to her death in the crusading force outside the city of Acre. It will set her career alongside that of other European queens and noblewomen of the twelfth century who wielded or attempted to wield power and ask how far the eventual survival of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1192 was due to Sybil’s determination in 1187 never to give up.
Building on my previous work on the Third Crusade and women's roles in warfare, this research project will produce a book-length scholarly study for Routledge's series Rulers of the Latin East and will be complemented by a trade book for Oxford University Press on Women and the Crusades. It will extend our knowledge of medieval queenship, of how far twelfth-century queens had agency and could wield power in their own right. It will also contribute towards understanding of crusading and Catholic attitudes towards the kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the twelfth century.
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: http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/knightstemplarsestates/author/shahjn/
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 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.
I am interested in supervising PhD students in the areas of:
- The Crusades
- The Military Religious Orders (Templars, Hospitallers, Teutonic Knights)
- Women in the Middle Ages
- Medieval Warfare
- Medieval fictional literature, especially Arthurian literature
- Medieval Religious Orders
- Sole supervisor for Jennifer Halliday: ‘Oblation and Recruitment in the Medieval Period’ (MPhil, awarded 2010)
- Sole supervisor for James Jenkins: ‘King John and the Cistercians in Wales’ (PhD, awarded 2012)
- Second supervisor (10%) for Hannah Buckingham: ‘Identity and Archaeology in Everyday Life: the Material Culture of the Crusader States’ (first supervisor Professor Denys Pringle) (PhD, awarded 2016)
- First supervisor (80%) for Christie Majoros, ‘The Function of Hospitaller Houses in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales’ (PhD, awarded 2017)