Today, journalists and politicians rank lowest in public esteem according to opinion polls. It wasn’t that different at the time of the Knights Templar. King Philip of France was widely regarded as nothing more than a liar, bully and rather effective spin doctor.
He lied to get his hands on Templar wealth. He bullied a Pope to make it happen. And then he got his chief minister Guillaume de Nogaret to spin like crazy to justify what he had done. King Philip was a Machiavellian despot always in need of some ready cash. But equally appreciating the need to have a compelling narrative to cover his dirty tracks.
Let’s have a look at how the French king brought down the Knights Templar.
Sodomy – a charge against the Templars
In 1307, the Templars were accused of some terrible crimes – by medieval standards. Christ’s divinity was being denied in their secret initiation ceremonies. They venerated idols, possibly including the head of a cat. Templars were encouraged to be homosexual and in their rites, kissed each other at the base of the spine, on the navel and the mouth. The holy sacraments were ignored because the Templars thought they were a sham. And so it went on. But were any of these charges true?
King Philip IV of France – Philip the Fair – had form when it came to trumping up charges against those who crossed his path. Pope Boniface VIII refused to be bullied by the French king so Philip unleashed his spin doctors to characterise the pontiff as a heretic, sodomite, wizard and magician.
FIND OUT MORE: Who destroyed the Knights Templar?
Bullied bishop got the same treatment as the Templars
But it’s an example of the king’s bullying of a French bishop that suggests the crimes against the Templars may have been made up. In his book on the Templar trials, Malcolm Barber gives the example of Guichard, the bishop of Troyes, who had fallen out with Philip’s wife Joan of Navarre and her mother Blanche.
Philip’s spin doctors set to work dreaming up some pretty steamy charges. Guichard was accused of making a wax image of the queen, baptising it and then sticking pins in the dummy. This apparently resulted in the queen’s death in 1305. He then made a potion from snakes, scorpions, toads and spiders with the intention of poisoning the royal princes. The bishop was thrown into prison and witnesses were tortured to back up the allegations.
By 1313 however, the king was distracted by the Templar trials and the bishop was released from jail later that year. He died after being transferred to a bishopric in modern day Bosnia. The manner of his treatment and over-the-top charges sounds very familiar. A king who wanted somebody out of the way got his advisers to set about total character assassination throwing everything they could at the bishop.
So – could the same tactics have been employed against the Knights Templar?