In 1307, the leaders of the Knights Templar were rounded up and arrested in France. Over the next five years, the wave of suppression spread across Europe and England was no exception. There’s an impressive list of Templars who were sent to the Tower of London – a Norman structure you can still see in the city that was a royal palace, prison, treasury and fortress.
The names included Brother William de la More, master of the Temple in England. Others arrested in London were the prior of the New Temple, Brother Ralph of Barton and a sergeant-brother called William of Hereford.
Templars from outside London were dragged to the Tower including a number from the preceptory at Denny in Cambridgeshire. One of them, Brother John of Hauwile, was noted as having gone insane.
And what were the charges? They were asked whether the Order’s initiation ceremony was secret and if so – why? The interrogators wanted to know if such ceremonies were held at night, whether the existence of God was denied and if false idols were worshiped.
Interrogated at different churches in London, the Templars mainly denied the charges and affirmed that they knew of each other. They were then brought back to be questioned again – possibly after a bit of softening up. Some of the questioning was bizarre by our standards. William de la More was asked, for example, what words were uttered when a brother who had transgressed the rules was forced to bare his back to be “flogged three times with thongs”. De la More said the words were “Brother, ask God that he may remit the punishment due to you”.
Like all political trials, the conclusion had been decided before the trial started. An official from York, Master John of Nassington, said he’d attended a banquet at Temple Hirst where the brothers “adored a certain calf” (!). Another witness gave the damning testimony that a cross in a Templar place was filthy and the Templars refused to wash it.
Sodomy came up a lot in the trial with various people saying Templars had attempted to lie with them. Robert the Dorturer alleged that Brother Guy of Forest, Grand Commander of the Temple, had tried to have sex with him – but he fled in time from the chamber.
A friar claimed he had overheard a Templar called Brother Robert of Bayset walking through a field muttering the words: “Alas, alas that I was ever born because I have had to deny God and bind myself to the Devil“.
Most damningly of all, one witness claimed that all Templars were traitors because through them the sultan – the leader of the Saracens in the crusades – was told what the crusaders were going to do next. This was an often repeated accusation by the Templars’ critics – that they were consorting with the Muslims.