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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, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
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. I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

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;
  • Queen Sybil of Jerusalem (1186-1190).

Impact and engagement

Research blog on the Knights Templar estates

In past years I have regularly given 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

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

12 June 2019: as one of the Scientific Committee for the Military and Religious Orders conferences at Palmela, Portugal, I shared in the award of a Council Medal of Muncipal Merit by the Municípo Palmela. This award was to acknowledge thirty years of these conferences.

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 eighteen months)

  • 15 November 2019: ‘The Trial of the Templars in Britain and Ireland’ at the conference ‘Gli Ordini di Terrasanta: questioni aperte, nuove acquisizioni (XII–XVI secolo)’ at Perugia, Italy, 14–15 November 2019

  • 16 October 2019: ‘The Hospitallers in medieval Britain: champions, churches and charity’, 2019 Jonathan Riley-Smith Memorial Lecture for the St John Historical Society, St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell, London

  • 11 October 2019: ‘Queen Sybil of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade’, Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies seminar, University of Reading

  • 4 July 2019 at International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds in session 1616, New Approaches to the Third Crusade II: ‘A Queen Alone: Queen Sybil of Jerusalem between Hattin and Acre, 1187–1189’

  • 1 June 2019, ‘Women connected with the Knights Templar and Hospitaller’, at ‘War and Welfare in Late Medieval England’, a Study Day organised by the Gloucestershire Branch of the Richard III Society

Committees and reviewing

2018–20: Chair of SHARE Research Ethics Committee;

2017–18: Chair of the Board of Studies for Integrated degrees 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 of Studies 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

2019– : member of Council of the Royal Historical Society (elected for five years);

2019– : Editorial Advisory Board, British Journal for Military History

2018– : Editorial Board, Crusades, Journal of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East;

2017–: Editorial Board, Ordines militares – Colloquia Torunensia Historica. Yearbook for the History of the Military Orders

2017–: Editorial Board, Advances in Crusades Research

2015–: Editorial Board, The Military Religious Orders

2007–: Editorial Board, Outremer: Studies in the Crusades and the Latin East

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

Peer reviewer of papers on medieval studies for a range of scholarly journals



  • Nicholson, H. J. 2022. Sybil, Queen of Jerusalem 1186-1190. Rulers of the Latin East Vol. 5. London: Routledge.
  • Nicholson, H. 2022. The trial of the Templars in Britain and Ireland. Presented at: Convegno internazionale di studi Perugia/Perugia International Study Conference, 14-15 November 2019 Presented at Baudin, A., Merli, S. and Santanicchia, M. eds.Gli Ordini di Terrasanta: Questioni aperte nuovi acquisitioni (secoli XII-XVI). Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi Perugia, 14-15 novembre 2019. Perugia: Fabrizio Fabbri Editore pp. 487-500.


  • Nicholson, H. 2021. The Templars and ‘Atlit. In: Fishhof, G., Bronstein, J. and Shotten-Hallel, V. R. eds. Settlement and Crusade in the Thirteenth Century: Multidisciplinary Studies of the Latin East. Crusades Subsidia Vol. 15. London: Routledge, pp. 71-90.
  • Nicholson, H. J. 2021. The Knights Templar. Past Imperfect. Leeds: ARC Humanities Press.
  • Nicholson, H. J. 2021. The trial of the Templars in Britain and Ireland. In: Burgtorf, J., Lotan, S. and Mallorquí-Ruscalleda, E. eds. The Templars: The Rise, Fall and Legacy of a Military Religious Order. The Military-Religious Orders: History, Sources, and Memory London: Routledge, pp. 209-233., (10.4324/9781003163510-13)









  • Nicholson, H. J. 2013. The Templars in Britain: Garway and South Wales. In: Baudin, A., Brunel, G. and Dohrmann, N. eds. L'économie templière en Occident: Patrimoines, commerce, finances - Actes du colloque international. Langres: Éditions Dominique Guéniot, pp. 323-336.
  • Nicholson, H. J. 2013. The Knights Hospitaller. In: Burton, J. and Stober, K. eds. Monastic Wales: New Approaches. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp. 147-161.
  • Nicholson, H. J. 2013. The hero meets his match: Cultural encounters in narratives of wars against Muslims. In: Jensen, K. V., Salonen, K. and Vogt, H. eds. Cultural Encounters during the Crusades: Proceedings of the First Medieval Conference at the Danish Institute in Damascus, 2009. University of Southern Denmark Studies in History and Social Sciences Vol. 445. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, pp. 115-118.
  • Nicholson, H. J. 2013. The military religious orders in the towns of the British Isles. In: Carraz, D. ed. Les ordres militaires dans la ville méduévale (1100-1350). Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal, pp. 113-126.
















Teaching profile


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 have offered 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 have also contributed to various taught MA programmes in SHARE involving Medieval History.


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?

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.

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 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.


Current supervision

Nicholas McDermott

Research student

Pierre Gaite

Pierre Gaite

Research student

Past projects

  • 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)
  • First supervisor (60%) for Gregory Leighton, 'Terra Matris: Crusading, the Military Orders, and Sacred Landscapes in the Baltic, 13th–14th Centuries’ (PhD, awarded 2018)
  • Second supervisor (40%) for Louise Tingle, ‘Royal Women in late fourteenth-century England’ (first supervisor Bronach Kane) (PhD, awarded 2019)
  • I am also currently supervising three PGR students.