Every Templar enthusiast knows the story of the trial of Jacques de Molay and other Templar leaders in Paris, their torture, recanting and subsequent burning at the stake. A very brutal and sad end to two hundred years of Templar service to the French crown which then turned against the Order in a spectacular manner. And all, if the truth be told, for money. A French king who coveted Templar bullion.
But – the story was somewhat different in England. Now I’m not going to resort to characterisations of the English being terribly reasonable and pragmatic compared to those doctrinaire French – because there’s plenty of blood and violence in English history – but it’s certainly true that the English trial of the Templars was a more benign affair. The expert on this subject is Dr Helen Nicholson and I can highly recommend her 2009 book ‘The Knights Templar on Trial: the trial of the Templars in the British Isles 1308-1311’ which you find out more about here. Dr Nicholson, I think, is also behind this amusing look at the British trial at this website.
In essence, Dr Nicholson found in her extensive research that there were no burnings and on three confessions after torture. Some Templars went missing but then reappeared – one assumes they decided to lie low for a while and who wouldn’t? There were the usual accusations of bizarre rituals, murders and secret meetings but all turned out to be with little foundation.
In 1312, Pope Clement ordered that Templar assets should be transferred to the rival Order of the Hospital. But some major foot dragging in England meant that those assets were only transferred – and not all of them – by the 1330s. King Edward II had shown a marked unwillingness to squash the Templars though eventually saw their wealth as a useful tool for funding his Scottish campaigns. But in spite of officially handing over Templar estates to the Hospital, he didn’t enforce his own law – not with any enthusiasm anyway.
Should anybody wish to see an original account of the Templar trial in England, a version is held by the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Failing that, Dr Nicholson is the guru and her writings are thoroughly reliable.