Professor Helen Nicholson

Professor Helen Nicholson

Professor of Medieval History

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

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

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

2002 elected as a fellow of the Royal Historical Society;

1999–2002 Treasurer of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East; 1999–2004: associate editor of the Society's journal Crusades;

Member of 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 October 2015, ‘Memory and the Military Orders’, at The VIIth meeting on Military Orders at Palmela, Portugal, “Entre Deus e o Rei. O mundo das Ordens Militares”, October 2015: introducing the first session of the conference;

7 July 2015, ‘What the Hospitaller said to the Bishop’, at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, in session organized by Christie Majoros (Cardiff University): ‘Military Orders behaving badly in Britain’;

Also at this conference: organised with Professor Jochen Burgtorf (California State University Fullerton) at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, two sessions on ‘Studies in the History of the Military Religious Orders in Honour of Alan J. Forey’, one of which I chaired; and chaired a round table, ‘Matilda of Tuscany-Canossa: Commemorating the 9th centenary of the Great Countess, IV: The Gregorian Reform and Beyond’;

16 May 2015: ‘ “For empire, glory and religion”: the Great Siege of Malta, 1565’ for the Historical Association Swansea Branch, 40–45 minutes at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, to mark the 450th anniversary of The Great Siege of Malta;

14–17 May 2015: organised a session ‘Gendering Emotion in Medieval Thought’, for Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, MI;

11 April 2015, ‘Conspiracy, intrigue and intelligence: the military religious orders’ involvement in undercover operations’, at “ ‘Cry Havoc!’: War, Diplomacy and Conspiracy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance”, the 12th annual Marco Symposium at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, 9–11 April 2015.

University committees

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

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.

I contribute to teaching the following Part One double module course:

Each year I offer two of the following Part Two courses:

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, I contribute to:

Year two: I teach an option course, currently:

and supervise students for:

Year three: I teach an option course:

and supervise students on:


Together with my colleagues, Professors Peter Edbury and Denys Pringle, I teach an MA course on the History of the Crusades. I also offer postgraduate modules on Heresy and on Gender in the Middle Ages.

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

I played a key role in the modularisation of the M.A. scheme in History and the M.A. scheme in Welsh History.


The Trial of the Templars in the British Isles

The proceedings of the trial of the Templars in the British Isles, 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 have been edited in full, others have not; and those editions which exist are not all easy of access. Scholars have not compared the various manuscripts to produce an overall picture of the trial.

The objective of this project is 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 will advance historical knowledge of the internal workings of the Order of the Temple, and of ecclesiastical inquisitorial procedures.

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

The Knights Templars' English estates, 1308-1311

The Templars' English estates were inventoried at the time of the Templars' arrests early in January 1308. From that time until the dissolution of the Order in England 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 England?
  • What did they produce (such as wool, beef, cider, fish, coal)?
  • What were their relations with local communities?
  • To what extent were they dependent on local bailiffs to run their estates? Is it possible to deduce anything of the skills of such bailiffs?
  • Did the form of the documents recording this information vary from one locality to the next? Were they audited?

The Hospitallers in the British Isles in the Fourteenth Century

This project investigates the role of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England in the 14th century, 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 British Isles 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?

At the time of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, the Prior of the Hospital in England was royal treasurer. He was executed by the rebels and the Order's lands in Essex and Kent were devastated. Some writers have supposed that opposition to the Hospital in 1381 can be traced back to the trial of the Temple of 1307-12. By tracing the changing role and activities of the Order and attitudes towards it I am attempting to put these events into context in the history of the Order as well as clarifying their true political context.

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.