Post-classical history

Fall and Trial (1291–1314)

Theobald Gaudin did not long survive the loss of Acre. He died on 16 April, either in 1292 or 1293, and was succeeded by the man who – along with Hugues de Payen – is perhaps the best known Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay. Jacques was probably around 50 years old when he was elected to the position, almost certainly in a Chapter Meeting at the Order’s new headquarters at Limassol on Cyprus. He had joined the Templars some three decades before, being initiated at Beaune in Burgundy in 1265 by Humbert of Pairaud, then Master in England, and Amaury La Roche, Master in France. From what is known about him, he appears to have been very much an ‘old school’ Templar, being a Master who was concerned solely with the restoration of Outremer, a position in marked contrast to that of the political machinations of Guillame de Beaujeu (but in fairness to Guillame, the Holy Land was still in Christian hands during his tenure as Master, and Molay faced a very different set of circumstances upon his accession to the post). Molay supported Pope Nicholas IV’s calls for a new crusade, and much of his Mastership until 1307 was concerned with trying to re-establish a Frankish presence on the mainland (the only Christian-held territory being the Templar garrison on the small island of Ruad, just off the coast from Tortosa).27

The Templars after 1291

With the seemingly only temporary loss of Outremer, talk was rife that the main military orders would have to merge, as the incessant bickering between the Temple and the Hospital was seen as one of the causes of the loss of the Holy Land. Neither order was keen on the idea, and the years immediately following 1291 saw the Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights trying to establish themselves in new territories and, in the case of the latter two orders, redefining their objectives. The Hospitallers cast themselves in a maritime role, making the Mediterranean their main sphere of operations. While initially based on Cyprus, in 1306 they invaded the island of Rhodes, making it their base three years later, a move that ensured them a relatively high degree of autonomy away from the interference of Rome and the kings of Europe. The Teutonics, meanwhile, decamped first to Venice and then to Marienburg in Prussia, where they devoted themselves entirely to the crusade against the pagans in the Baltic. Not only were they far away from Rome, they also fortified their position by the creation of Prussia as the Ordensland: this was literally a country created and run by a military order, something the Templars had long wanted to do.

The Languedoc had been the Templars’ favoured location for a state of their own for some decades before the Fall of Acre, but they found themselves in the short term also on Cyprus. Although they had sold the island back to Richard the Lionheart in 1192, they had retained properties there, and Limassol became their new headquarters. However, the ghosts of the 1190s had not been entirely laid to rest, and the Order soon found itself enmeshed in local politics. King Henry of Cyprus was far from delighted to have the most powerful and feared military machine of the day arriving on his doorstep, and in 1298 he made an official complaint about the Templars’ behaviour, citing the usual offences of arrogance and greed. In 1306 there was a coup, in which Henry was forced to abdicate in favour of his brother Amaury, who was supported by the Templars.

Jacques de Molay’s first major undertaking as Grand Master was to travel to the West in 1294–95 to reinforce support for the Order. He arrived in Rome in December 1294, just as a new pope, Boniface VIII, was being invested. Boniface granted the Templars the same privileges in Cyprus as they had held in Outremer, which pleased Jacques de Molay, if not King Henry. Further help was at hand on the Italian peninsula: Charles II of Naples exempted the Order from paying taxes on exports of food. With such offers of help coming in, Jacques wasted no time in writing to every other monarch in Europe. He travelled to Paris and London, where Edward I promised that he would provide a crusading army once he had dealt with the French and the Scots. He also exempted the Order from paying export tax on funds that were going from the London Temple to Cyprus.

As with earlier crusades, the Templars played a central role in the build-up of a military presence in the East beginning in 1300. It was widely believed that the Mongols would return to the Holy Land, wrest Jerusalem from Mamluk control, and hand it back to the Franks. The Templars began to pave the way for a possible attack with a series of raids during the summer of 1300 on the coastal cities of Egypt and Syria, and in November they began preparations for an invasion of the mainland. Six hundred knights were sent to Ruad with orders to wait for news of the expected arrival of a combined force of Mongols under the Il-khan Ghazan and Armenians under King Hetoum. When the Mongols and Armenians did finally reach Tortosa in February 1301, they found no one there to greet them – with no sign of the reinforcements, the Templars had given up and gone back to Cyprus. To make the situation worse, the use of Ruad in this abortive campaign had alerted the Mamluks in Egypt to the strategic importance of the island, and, in 1302, the garrison there was wiped out by a Mamluk attack. It was the loss of the very last Templar holding in Outremer.

The Arrests

The spectre of merging the Temple with the Hospital returned with the investiture of Clement V as pope in November 1305. He invited both Jacques de Molay and Fulk de Villaret, the Grand Master of the Hospital, to write and explain their views on the matter. To Jacques de Molay, the idea was untenable. In his mémoire to the Pope, dictated in 1306, he examined the case for and against a merger, and concluded that the two orders, while having similar goals, would function better if they remained independent. Clement also requested de Molay’s opinion on a new crusade, to which the Grand Master responded with a second mémoire. Crusades in the past had generally been either a passagium generale, where everyone was free to join, such as the First Crusade, or a passagium particulare, in which a limited number of professional soldiers would attack a specific target, which was usually the case with most of the later crusades. De Molay went against the prevailing opinion of the time and suggested that – given the loss of Ruad – the passagium generale was the only viable option. Clement was not convinced, and summoned both de Molay and de Villaret to France to meet to discuss the matter further. The meeting – planned for All Saints’ Day 1306 – had to be postponed when the Pope suffered an attack of gastro-enteritis. De Molay arrived in the West in either late 1306 or early 1307. Fulk de Villaret, detained by the Hospital’s campaigns on Rhodes, did not arrive until late summer.

It was while de Molay and Clement were waiting for the Hospitaller Grand Master to arrive in France, that a third matter was discussed: two years earlier, allegations of gross impropriety had been made against the Templars by several knights who had been expelled, and de Molay asked the Pope to look into the matter to clear the Order’s reputation. On 24 August, the Pope wrote to the French king, Philip IV, stating that he could scarcely believe the accusations made against the Order, but, as he had heard many strange things about the Templars, had decided, ‘not without great sorrow, anxiety and upset of heart’28 to instigate an inquiry. He told Philip to take no further action.

But the French king did not listen. At dawn on Friday, 13 October, his agents arrested all the Templars then in France, including Jacques de Molay, who was seized at the Temple in Paris, on charges of heresy, sodomy, blasphemy and denying Christ.

The Trial

Philip’s actions caused disbelief amongst the crowned heads of Europe. James II of Aragon was not alone in believing that the charges made against the Order were trumped up, in order for the notoriously insolvent Philip to get his hands on the Templars’ vast wealth. It was not the first time the French king had shocked his contemporaries with his audacity and arrogance. In 1303, he had tried to kidnap the then pope, Boniface VIII, and bring him back to France to face charges similar to those levelled at the Templars; the attempt failed, but the shock killed Boniface. Philip also mounted a long-running campaign against the Italian bankers, the Lombards, finally arresting them and stripping them of all their assets in 1311. In July 1306, the Jews had been arrested, and all their wealth had been seized before they were thrown out of the kingdom. In addition, Philip had debased the coinage several times, which had proved highly unpopular. In 1306, he had had to take refuge in the Paris Temple to escape from an angry mob, and it is possible that it was while he was inside the Templar compound that he began to scheme of finding a way to appropriate their wealth to alleviate his own, seemingly never-ending, financial problems. By the time Clement wrote to Philip in August 1307, it seems that the French king’s mind was already fully made up, and the instructions to arrest the Templars went out on 14 September.

That the main charge against the Templars should be heresy suggests that, for Philip, his campaign to eradicate the Order was a personal crusade which would put him on a par with his grandfather, Louis IX (whom Boniface VIII had declared a saint in 1297 at the French king’s insistence). Philip was not only an arrogant bully, he was also fanatically religious, as was the other main figure behind the arrests, the Keeper of the Seals, Guillame de Nogaret. If anything, de Nogaret was even more of a zealot than Philip, and he is sometimes seen as the main instigator of the campaign against the Templars. (Interestingly, he is rumoured to have had a Cathar relative who died during the Albigensian Crusade – see below.) In the early fourteenth century, the fear of heresy and magic was real, and extended right the way through society, from peasants in their hovels to paranoid popes and kings. This is reflected in the heresy charges against Boniface – according to Philip and de Nogaret, the Pope was in league with the Devil – and the similar accusations levelled at the Templars.

Clement, although often seen as a weak pope who was a puppet of the French crown, did not, much to Philip’s anger, comply with the campaign against the Templars. Indeed, Clement was outraged. As the Order was answerable only to Rome, Philip’s action in arresting the Templars within his domains was illegal; not only that, but de Nogaret at the time was excommunicate.29 In an angry letter to Philip written on 27 October, Clement states that Philip has ‘violated every rule’ by arresting the Templars, which was a blatant ‘act of contempt towards ourselves and the Roman Church’.30 Clement’s feeling that the Church itself was under threat became, for him, the real struggle that was now about to unfold.

Two days before Clement’s letter to Philip, on 25 October, Jacques de Molay confessed before an assembly from the University of Paris that he had denied Christ and spat on the Cross. Other confessions followed from all the other senior Templars in captivity. There was scandal and outrage in Paris, with mobs showing their anger against the Order. This played into Philip’s hands, and he renewed pressure on Clement to issue the command for Templars everywhere to be arrested. On 22 November, Clement finally acquiesced, and issued the bull Pastoralis praeeminentiae, which ordered the arrest of all Templars in Europe.

If Philip had hoped that other rulers would follow his example, he was very much mistaken. King James II of Aragon was incredulous, Edward II of England did as little as possible for as long as possible, in Germany there was widespread disbelief, and in Cyprus the charges were simply not believed at all. In Italy the situation varied from state to state: Naples and the Papal States acted at once, while in Lombardy, there seemed to be widespread support for the Order. Arrests were eventually made in all countries, but the success in extracting confessions depended upon whether the particular country or state allowed torture. Thus, in England and across the Iberian peninsula – where torture was either legally prohibited or used very reluctantly at the behest of Clement – very few confessions were elicited from captive Templars. In Naples and the Papal States, however, the Inquisition was allowed to use what was euphemistically known as ‘ecclesiastical procedure’; the number of confessions here was, unsurprisingly, higher, although not as high as in France, where every Templar arrested – including de Molay – had been subjected to torture.

Templar confessions ranged in content, no doubt depending upon the extremities of torture applied. Most confessed to spitting, trampling and urinating on the Cross during their reception ceremony, and denying Christ on the grounds that he was a false prophet. (One Templar admitted that he had been told ‘Put not thy faith in this [the crucifix], for it is too young.’) The reception ceremony also included obscene kisses, usually on the navel and the base of the spine, although some confessed to kissing on the buttocks or penis. The words of consecration were said to have been omitted from the Mass. Most also confessed to worshipping an idol called Baphomet, which, depending on who was confessing at the time, was a severed head, or was one head with three faces; in other cases it was said to be the face of a bearded man, and in others, a woman or a cat. There were also admissions of having sex with demonic women, and even killing newborn children.

Clement insisted that the confessions should be heard before a Papal committee, and on 24 December, Jacques de Molay and other senior Templars appeared before it. Now seemingly safely out of the hands of Philip, de Molay retracted his confession on the grounds that he had only confessed in the first place after being tortured. The other Templars with him did likewise. Needless to say, this put a major spanner in the works of what Philip and de Nogaret had both hoped would be a swift and decisive campaign to eradicate the Order once and for all, seize its wealth and declare the French Crown the de facto leader of Europe and the Defender of the One True Faith.

Clement was not to be bullied, and in February 1308, suspended proceedings. Philip immediately approached doctors at the University of Paris to try to bolster the legal standing of the case for the prosecution. In their reply of 25 March, the doctors did not feel that Philip had much of a case. The King was becoming apoplectic. In May, he called a meeting of the Estates General in an attempt to win over the majority of public opinion. This too met with mixed success, and general public support for the Templars seemed to be growing alongside a distrust of the King.

Matters came to a head in June when Clement arrived at Poitiers to try to wrest control of the whole affair away from the French Crown and back into the hands of Mother Church. Philip sent 72 Templars to confess before him. On 27 June, Clement heard the confessions and agreed to set up two inquiries to handle the case: one would look at the Order as a whole; and the other would examine the case of individual Templars. That he was under virtual house arrest, with French troops sealing the town off, was without doubt a major factor in Clement’s willingness to at last go along with Philip’s wishes. The rest of the summer was spent in a whirlwind of bureaucracy, with summonses going out in order to get the two commissions up and running. Indeed, on one day in August, nearly 500 such letters were issued in a single day. De Molay and other Templar leaders, held at Chinon, retracted their retractions (no doubt after suffering further torture), and things at last seemed to be going Philip’s way.

But it was not to be that easy. Collating all the evidence took far longer than expected, a fact which exasperated Philip, and the Papal hearings did not formally open until over a year later, on 22 November 1309. Jacques de Molay appeared before the committee on 26 November and expressed his wish to defend his Order, but felt unable to do so as he was a ‘poor, unlettered knight’. Unlike the other military orders, which seemed to be much more in tune with the increasing legalism of the period, the Templars under de Molay had seemed blithely unconcerned with the changing political climate in the West, and as a result, had no legal counsel at their disposal, a fact which now appeared to be their undoing. De Molay gave further evidence two days later, and repeated that he felt unable to defend the Order. He also made a further gaffe when he announced that he would not talk to anyone but Clement in person, as he firmly believed that he could exonerate both himself and his Order with a personal appeal.

Philip’s agents let imprisoned Templars know that their Grand Master had failed to defend them, in the hope that it would break their morale, and, for a while, the ploy seemed to work. However, when the hearings began again in February 1310, two Templars, Peter of Bologna and Reginald of Provins, both of whom had had legal training in the years prior to 1307, stepped forward and announced that they wished to defend their Order against all charges made against it. Philip had no choice but to allow the Templars to make their defence. On 1 April, they made a convincing case for the Order’s innocence, with Peter of Bologna in particular making a powerful appeal that the Templars were not only innocent of all charges, but had been the victims of a cruel plot. He railed against the use of torture, which had merely given the Inquisitors the confessions they wished to hear (one Templar admitted that he would have even confessed to murdering God in order to stop his torments), despite the fact that they had been promised by Philip that no torture would be used.

In a move that recalled his coercion of Clement at Poitiers in June 1308, Philip now once more turned to outright bullying to get his way. On 11 May, with support growing among the imprisoned brothers for their defence, it was announced that 54 Templars who had retracted their confessions were to be burnt to death as relapsed heretics. The following day, 54 members of the Order went to the stake protesting their innocence as the flames wrapped around them. Reginald of Provins disappeared from prison, but just as mysteriously turned up again, while Peter of Bologna went missing and was never seen again. (He was probably murdered by Philip’s henchmen.) The Order had no one left to defend it, and the Templar defence promptly collapsed.

The End of the Order

The Council of Vienne, which had been scheduled to meet in October 1310 in order to suppress the Templars, had to be postponed as there was still no sign of the Papal hearings coming to an end. Finally, on 5 June 1311, they did. The Council of Vienne finally began its sessions on 16 October 1311. The turn-out was low, partially due to bad weather and also due to the lack of decent accommodation in the town. After dealing with two other pressing matters – a new crusade and Church reform – the council turned its attention to dissolving the Templars. Rumour was rife that the Temple would mount a last-minute defence, and, much to everyone’s surprise, seven fully armed knights who had evaded arrest four years earlier appeared to defend the Order. Clement asked the council if they should be allowed to do so, and the majority agreed that the knights should be allowed to speak.

Needless to say, Philip was enraged, and even Clement himself seems to have been surprised by the decision to let the Templars have their say. The Pope wanted to end the whole matter once and for all. Disease was by now rampant in Vienne, with several Church fathers having succumbed, and the thought of Philip putting in another appearance did nothing for the Pope’s confidence. On 20 March, Philip and a small armed force did indeed arrive in Vienne, and the Pope knew that he had to act quickly. Two days later, in a secret consistory, Clement issued the bull Vox in excelso, which, while not finding the Templars guilty as charged, dissolved the Order forever, such was the shame and infamy that had been brought upon it. There was still dissent among the Church fathers, with the Bishop of Valencia declaring that the suppression of the Templars was ‘against reason and justice’.31 On 2 May, a second bull, Ad providam, was issued, which – against Philip’s wishes – transferred the Temple’s possessions to the Hospital. Four days after that, a third bull, Considerantes dudum, gave the provincial councils the power to decide the fate of individual Templars. The fate of the Order’s leaders was reserved for Papal judgment alone.

Jacques de Molay and three other senior Templars remained in prison, awaiting the Pope’s decision. In late December 1313, Clement finally set up a council to decide the fate of the four men. The cardinals appointed by the Pope called for a meeting of doctors of theology and canon law to decide the matter, and the council finally met in Paris on Monday, 18 March 1314. Facing the doctors alongside Jacques de Molay were Geoffroi de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, Hugh de Pairaud, the Order’s Visitor [ambassador] in France and Geoffroi de Gonneville, Preceptor of Aquitaine and Poitou. All were old men: de Molay was at least 70; de Pairaud and de Charney were in their 60s; while de Gonneville was probably still in his 50s. They were led out to a platform in front of Notre-Dame, where the sentences were read out. As all four men stood guilty of heresy, they were condemned to ‘harsh and perpetual imprisonment’.32 Hugh de Pairaud and Geoffroi de Gonneville accepted the sentence, and were led away to die miserably in jail.

At this moment, perhaps dreading the thought of being reimprisoned (he had spent the last four years in solitary confinement), Jacques de Molay began shouting that he and his Order were innocent of all crimes, and he publicly retracted his confession. This astounded the cardinals and doctors, and they suddenly did not know what to do. After seven years of captivity, during which time he had consistently failed to defend his Order, Jacques de Molay’s finest hour was suddenly at hand. He adamantly refused to confess his guilt. Geoffroi de Charney rallied to his Master, and likewise insisted on the Order’s innocence. The two men were taken back to their cells while news of the unexpected turn of events was rushed to Philip. The King now had a legal and ecclesiastical emergency on his hands. He summoned the lay members of his Council and the matter was resolved. As the two Templars were insisting upon their innocence, they were guilty of being relapsed heretics, and there was only one punishment for that – death by fire.

At around the hour of Vespers, Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney were led out on to the Ile-des-Javiaux in the Seine. In front of a crowd who had gathered to watch the two Templars in their last moments, the Grand Master and the Preceptor were stripped to their shirts. Witnesses reported that both seemed very calm, almost glad that their torment was now over. As he was fastened to the stake, de Molay asked to be turned towards the cathedral of Notre-Dame, and that his hands be freed so that he could die in prayer. His request was granted. As the flames grew about him, de Molay is said to have once more protested his innocence and that of the Order, and he called both Clement and Philip to meet him before God within the year. (Philip may in fact have been watching from an upstairs window in the nearby palace.) Geoffroi de Charney likewise protested from the stake:

‘I shall follow the way of my master

As a martyr you have killed him

This you have done and know not

God willing on this day

I shall die in the Order like him.’33

After nightfall, when the two men were dust and ash and the crowd had dispersed, a number of friars from the nearby Augustinian house and certain other people – who have never been identified – went to the place of execution and collected the bones of the two Templars, intent on preserving them as relics.

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