Netflix is currently also streaming the first season of America Unearthed, and this has spawned a new round of emails from first-time viewers who (a) can’t tell the difference between me and show host Scott Wolter, or (b) are mad at me for criticizing their new crush, or (c) are thrilled that someone has published facts to refute the show’s outrageous claims.
Speaking of which, Scott Wolter turned his blog over to his friend Steve St. Clair on Saturday so St. Clair could discuss DNA results that he believes prove that he is descended from people who were married to people who founded the Knights Templar. St. Clair railed against “the angry skeptics, who take pot shots at the show from the peanut gallery” and demanded they produce evidence to refute his claims, as though the burden of proof somehow this time failed to fall on the claimant. “The facts are the facts. At some point, the pundits must come out with legitimate evidence to dispute my claims, or slink away with their tails between their legs.” Since there is currently only one other science-based skeptic reviewing America Unearthed, and she is still on season one, I presume St. Clair has pluralized me.
St. Clair objects that skeptics fail to understand that at just 44 minutes per episode, America Unearthed has too little time to provide details to support its claims. As someone with a degree in broadcast journalism, I fully understand the limitations of television, and my criticism of the narrative in the shows in which St. Clair appeared this year fell squarely on the fact that the narrative was missing important connecting details and let several threads drop entirely. St. Clair’s claim to be related to the Templars was asserted, for example, and then not a single word of support was provided. This isn’t a function of time but rather of slipshod writing.
Unfortunately, in his blog post St. Clair never actually makes the case that the Sinclair-St. Clair-De Santo Claro family is directly connected to the foundation of the Knights Templar. What he claims is that the family is connected back to the brothers Richard de Vilers and Hamo and William de St. Clair. The three donated land to Savigny Abbey around 1120, according to St. Clair, though this isn’t quite true, according to Sinclair sources. The donation occurred in 1135 and was confirmed in 1139 and again in 1143. St. Clair claims that the abbey was Cistercian and therefore must have been closely connected to the Templars. However, the abbey, now in ruins, was a Benedictine-derived independent Savigniac monastery until about 1148, when due to financial trouble the Congregation of Savigny merged with the Cistercians. The donation of land likely occurred because in 1119 Pope Celestine II placed the site under his personal protection and asked the nobles to support it—which didn’t work since, as noted, they went bankrupt and ended up merging with the Cistercians.
The long and short of it is that the donation of land in 1135 had nothing to do with the Cistercians or the Templars, so the fact that other families who were associated with the Templars also donated to the abbey, which had departed from Benedictine rule to form its own Savigniac order, implies nothing about a connection between the St. Clairs and the Templars. It only shows that noble families competed in public displays of charity and intermarried over the course of centuries. Unless one wishes to argue that these marriages were somehow dynastic alliances designed around a Templar conspiracy rather than the prosaic dynastic politics of European aristocracy, logic dictates that more evidence is needed to suggest anything more than the limited pool of available noble brides in High Middle Ages.
To take a more familiar example: Louis XVI of France, a Bourbon, married Marie Antoinette, a Habsburg. Napoleon I of France married Marie Louise, also a Habsburg. Somehow this failed to make France into an eternal ally of Austria, and despite the Habsburg blood running through Bourbon and Bonaparte veins, this implicates neither Napoleon nor Louis in the trials and tribulations of the Habsburgs, nor French endorsement of the Habsburgs, their great rivals.
Therefore, Steve St. Clair needs to show more than just a genetic relationship to various medieval people; he needs to show that this involved an actual ideological or political relationship, and further that said relationship was tied to the Knights Templar, which the Sinclair family notably failed to join and just as notably testified against in the 1300s.
King Stephen of Scotland’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne, notably patronized both the Knights Templar and the Congregation of Savigny in the 1130s and 1140s, before the merger, and then the Cistercians afterward. But this was widely seen at the time as an effort by the queen to acknowledge the rise of new orders, as rivals to the long-established Benedictines, not as co-conspirators. The donations were entirely separate, and the Savigniac and Templar orders did not work together in those years. It was only after 1149, when Louis VII of France gave Savigny to the Templars at the behest of Bernard of Clairvaux that the Savigny Abbey has anything to do with the Templars—and that was fifteen years after the St. Clair family donation. They wouldn’t have had any idea that the Templars would come calling—unless you posit another conspiracy!
But Steve St. Clair tells us that “Savigny was an unusually important Cistercian Abbey.” Sure, just not at the time he wanted it to be.