The last master of the Order of the Temple (1293-1307), which he entered in 1265 at Beaune in Burgundy.
From around 1275, James served in the East, and in 1292 he was elected master. Thereafter, from his base in Cyprus, he organized naval raids against the Palestinian coast, and in 1301-1302 he attempted to reoccupy the island of Ruad (mod. Arwād, Syria), off the coast of Syria near Tortosa. At the same time, he obtained privileges and material help from the papacy and leading secular rulers.
James twice visited the West for these purposes, in 1293-1296 and in 1306-1307. On the second occasion, he was responding to a request from Pope Clement V for advice on two controversial issues: the union of the military orders and the organization of a new crusade. James wrote short reports on both of these subjects. In October 1307, in Paris, James was among the Templars arrested by officials of King Philip IV for a range of heretical crimes. He confessed to the denial of Christ and to spitting on a crucifix, a confession he repeated before an assembly of university masters. However, at Christmas, in the presence of papal representatives, he recanted, leading Clement to suspend the whole trial.
Nevertheless, when the proceedings were restarted in August 1308, James apparently returned to his original confession, and in November 1309, in three appearances before the papal commission appointed to investigate the order as a whole, he failed to offer any convincing defense, instead relying on a personal hearing. It was not until March 1314, when he was brought before three cardinals representing the pope, that he was condemned to life imprisonment. He then denied the charges again, asserting that the order was pure and holy. Handed over to the secular authorities at Paris, he was burned as a relapsed heretic on 18 March 1314.