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Beauséant

Often people ask for an explanation of the word 'Beauséant'. Here is one explanation.

The black and white banner of the Knights Templar (carried by the Standard Bearer B) in the March to and from Knighthood was and is still today called the Beauséant and like many pieces of medieval history, its comprehensive meaning has been lost in the mists of time.

An anonymous pilgrim who visited Jerusalem between the twelfth and thirteenth century had the following to say of the Templars, their banner and battle technique:

"The Templars are most excellent soldiers. They wear white mantles with a red cross, and when they go to war a standard of two colours called balzaus is borne before them. They go in silence. Their first attack is the most terrible. In going, they are the first. In returning, the last. They await the orders of their Master. When they think fit to make war and the trumpet has sounded, they sing in chorus the Psalm of David, "Not unto us, O Lord" kneeling on the blood and necks of the enemy, unless they have forced the troops of the enemy to retire altogether, or utterly broken them to pieces. Should any of them for any reason turn his back to the enemy, or come forth alive [from a defeat], or bear arms against the Christians, he is severely punished; the white mantle with the red cross, which is the sign of his knighthood, is taken away with ignominy, he is cast from the society of brethren, and eats his food on the floor without a napkin for the space of one year. If the dogs molest him, he does not dare to drive them away. But at the end of the year, if the Master and brethren think his penance to have been sufficient, they restore him the belt of his former knighthood. These Templars live under a strict religious rule, obeying humbly, having no private property, eating sparingly, dressing meanly, and dwelling in tents."

The late author John J. Robinson claimed that the term Beauséant was Medieval French for "beautiful." But I can assure you that to the battle hardened knights who were forever in need of a good wash; image certainly cannot be the entire interpretation. Robinson also claimed it was a battle cry:

"The word beau is now generally conceived to mean beautiful, but it means much more than that. In medieval French it meant a lofty state, for which translators have offered such terms as "noble," "glorious," and even "magnificent" As a battle cry then, "Beau Seant" was a charge to "Be noble" or "Be Glorious." In this he may have been a little closer to the truth.

Other suggestions include piebald, piebald means spotted or two colour as in a piebald horse or cat. This certainly fits the description of the Beauséant, for it consisted of a black square above a white one.

Symbolically, the black section depicted the sins of the secular world that the Templar knights had chosen to leave while the second section was white depicting the purity that the order offered them, a sort of transformation of darkness to light. But can hold as many explanations as that of the chequered carpet we have all stood upon when first entering upon our journey of discovery as masons.

Despite many depictions of the banner in later day paintings, the battle standard was not such that it drooped down on its pole. Rather the banner was held in place top and bottom by two poles so that it did not require a breeze to be seen by the Templars and their enemies.

So important was the view of the flying Beauséant, that before battle, the Marshall would select ten Templars to protect him and the banner. If the Marshall were killed during fighting, the Commander of Knights would take the banner that it may fly above battle for all to see. Somewhat of a catch twenty -two was that as long as the Beauséant flew the Templars must fight on and as long as the Templars fought on, the Beauséant must fly.

Its main purpose seems to have been as a rallying point for the Templars. During battle a particular tactic was the heavy horse charging into battle (see my article on the Templar seal). This often caused the Templars to be separated from one another. The flying banner would allow them to easily regroup in order to continue the attack.

In summary the full meaning of the word Beauséant has been lost over time, but it is a battle cry, rallying point and salutation of the black and white standard, that must always be present and always be visible, wherever Templars band together to do their works.