It’s one of those weeks again when a Friday 13th occurs and our thoughts turn to the Knights Templar. So why is the 13th so significant?
On the morning of Friday 13th October 1307, a huge dawn raid saw Templars all over France rounded up and imprisoned. Orders to conduct this raid had been secretly circulated to law enforcement officers – bailiffs as they were termed – from the King of France.
King Philip the Fair had resolved to destroy the order with one devastating blow. Each bailiff would have read the king’s words with trepidation:
A bitter thing, a lamentable thing, a thing which is horrible to contemplate, terrible to hear of, a detestable crime, an execrable evil, an abominable work, a detestable disgrace, a thing almost inhuman, indeed set apart from humanity.
The king claimed that while the Templars said they were Christian, they were in effect nothing of the sort. Honest men had informed the royal authorities that these knights were spitting and urinating on crucifixes and worshipping devilish idols. Worse, the Templars were giving each other illicit kisses all over their bodies including the “base of the spine”.
Every member of the Knights Templar was to be held for trial by the church while the King of France would take over all the assets of the Templars – buildings, gold, farms, etc.
Some knights managed to escape including the Preceptor of France, Gerard de Villiers. One has to feel rather sorry for another terrified knight who ditched his white mantle, shaved his beard and got into disguise but was still apprehended by the king’s men.
The evidence suggests that nearly all the Templars had no idea what was about to happen. As the bailiffs kicked down their doors, the knights surrendered to their doom.
They were carted off to grim dungeons where many experienced a range of tortures to extract confessions. The king was determined that they would admit their guilt to the charges of sodomy and heresy.
Many of those taken away to have their feet roasted or hung up with their arms tied behind their back – two common forms of torture – were old men by the standard of the day. They were retired warriors or members of the order who had always been farm managers or administrators.
Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master, was probably the most surprised victim of the Friday 13th arrests. Only the day before, he had been an honoured guest at the funeral of the king’s sister-in-law.
I will be appearing as a guest several times in a special edition of Forbidden History devoted to exposing the secrets of the Knights Templar. Presented by Jamie Theakston and broadcast on UKTV/Yesterday TV, Forbidden History asks the questions you have all been dying to know the answers to.
I will be discussing:
The trial of the Knights Templar in 1307
Pagan rituals that may have become part of the Templar rites
How did the Templars become so rich, so quickly?
Were the Templars influenced by eastern ideas?
Did they reject church authority?
Why was such violence used to put down the Templars?
From mid-June, Jamie Theakston will be presenting the fourth series of Forbidden History on UKTV’s Yesterday Channel and on Discovery AHC in the autumn. The fourth programme in this series will be The Dark Truths of the Templars and yours truly will be appearing as a contributor.
Jamie and the team landed in my study a few months back and we discussed all things Templar for a couple of hours. It’s been in post-production ever since but excitingly is now ready to broadcast.
I haven’t seen the finished programme but issues we covered included:
How did an order of monastic knights pledged to vow of poverty become so hugely rich?
What could have been the real reasons for the formation of the Knights Templar in 1118?
The connections between the order’s founders and some very wealth and influential people
Why did the Templars base themselves on the Temple mount in Jerusalem and what were they doing there?
The salacious charges brought against the Knights Templar during their trial
Did the secular powers, kings and pope, manage to seize all their treasure or did they escape with some of it?
What do we make of persistent accusations that the Templars were influenced in their rites by pre-Christian and non-Christian ideas?
Do feed back to me what you think. There will be other TV appearances later in the year and I’ll keep you posted. Make sure all your Templar fans and friends are watching!
Everybody knows that Friday the 13th is unlucky because it was the day that Jacques de Molay and the last Knights Templar were rounded up and imprisoned by King Philip of France. De Molay would eventually be burnt to death in front of Notre Dame in Paris and with his demise, the order was crushed. But who was Jacques de Molay?
He was born in 1244 in Franche-Comte – in the region of Burgundy, where the first Templars had originated. Aged just over twenty, in around 1265, he became a Templar knight. De Molay came from a noble background, as did most knights in the order, and once initiated, he made his way to the Holy Land.
From 1273 to 1291, the Grand Master was William (or Guillaume) de Beaujeu. Some accounts say that De Molay disliked De Beaujeu and felt his posture towards the Saracens was far too passive and peaceable. Even that the Grand Master was guilty of treachery, betraying the order’s interests in outremer (the term used to describe the Christian crusader kingdoms established along the eastern Mediterranean coastline). De Molay reportedly spoke out against De Beaujeu, making it known that he’d make a far better job of running things if he ever got the chance.
That opportunity presented itself when Acre fell to the Saracens in 1291. De Molay may have been at the siege where De Beaujeu was killed. Reportedly, the old Grand Master was found staggering from the walls of the city. He revealed a fatal wound saying: “I am not running away. I am dead. Here is the blow.” His death led to the short reign of Tibald Gaudin. In 1293, at Gaudin’s death, De Molay was finally proclaimed as the new Grand Master. Things – he declared from Cyprus – were going to change. Not, however, as he intended.
The fall of Acre may have opened up the Templar leadership to De Molay but it also dealt a heavy blow to the image of the Templars. Some argue that the crusader mission in the Holy Land was already of diminishing interest in the west. The world was changing. Old feudal values were being eroded. Increasingly powerful kings were less willing to bow their knee to papal power. Ideas of nationhood were, it’s said, starting to emerge. This not only threatened the universal Catholic church but also an order like the Templars that operated like a state within a state, a church within a church. What late medieval monarch could tolerate such an uncontrolled power within his realm?
De Molay, presumably oblivious to these trends, went on a long journey round Europe drumming up interest in a renewed crusade. Templar chapter meetings were convened in Montpellier (1293), Paris (1295/6) and Arles (1296). He pleaded the Templar cause to the kings of Aragon and England. And De Molay was present at the election of pope Boniface VIII in December, 1294. This was the pope that the writer Dante would portray in hell in his book The Divine Comedy and it was this pontiff who would clash bitterly with king Philip IV of France – the ruler who would prove to be the nemesis of the Templars. Boniface demanded that Philip acknowledge papal supremacy and the king responded by arrested his legate and sending an army to spell things out to the pope.
De Molay discovered that Europe’s rulers were thoroughly preoccupied with fighting each other – pouring money into the Holy Land was not a priority. Back in 1095, Pope Urban had been able to galvanise Europe to defend the holy places in response to an appeal from the embattled Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos. Things had changed though. Byzantium was an obviously declining force. Jerusalem had long been lost to the Saracens. Italians, French and English had their swords drawn at each other’s throats while rulers of what would become Spain were rolling back the Islamic caliphate of Cordoba and Seville. Muslims were being driven back in western Europe – so why waste time on a lost battle in the east?
The Hospitallers, some believe, took the temperature and began to re-invent themselves as a kind of anti-piracy maritime police force in the Mediterranean based in Rhodes. This, however, was not something De Molay was prepared to countenance. The Templars were about conquering the Holy Land for Christ or they were nothing. And so, De Molay persisted with attacks on the Saracens from his island base in Cyprus, which incongruously called itself the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This only reinforced the sad fact that the Templars had no territory on the mainland – they had lost everything.
No money and no support from the west did not seem to daunt De Molay who flung his men into battle with the Saracens. Some say that the Grand Master was pigheaded and even stupid. It’s argued that he was impervious to the changing times and not too bright. But, De Molay clearly felt that his order was not about to go through some re-branding exercise, a cynical change in its mission statement. No – De Molay was going to go down fighting. To hell with reality – there were Saracens to fight!
His one hope in the Middle East was the presence of Mongol armies. They had arrived from faraway China and fanned out over the region terrorizing Muslim armies and wreaking havoc. To the Templars, they seemed to be a godsend. De Molay sent a force of Templars (and Hospitallers joined them) to try and retake Tortosa (in modern Syria) linking up with a Mongol force. The Christian force made their way to the island of Ruad, just off the Syrian shore, and prepared to attack. But the Mongols failed to show on time and the crusaders drifted back to Cyprus leaving a small force behind on the island. In the meantime, the Mamluks – Egypt’s rulers – drove the Mongols back and launched a devastating attack on Ruad. The Templars remaining there were either killed or ended up in Cairo prisons.
This would be the Templars’ last and pretty ignominious battle – hardly a glorious swansong. De Molay was summoned back to Europe by a new pope, Clement V. En route to the pontiff, De Molay went to Paris and met the king. It’s possible he had no idea that something was afoot. But Philip of France was constantly short of money and had not been shy when it came to imposing new taxes, expelling the Jews and confiscating property. Maybe De Molay thought the king would show deference to this great military order with its impressive fortified Temple in the middle of Paris. The Treasurer of the Temple, Hugh de Pairaud, was – after all – the king’s warden of the royal revenues – so why shouldn’t De Molay believe the cash strapped monarch was on the order’s side?
Things – however – were not as they seemed. De Pairaud might have been closer to the king than De Molay realised. The treasurer had run against De Molay to become Grand Master and failed. He had sided with king Philip against Boniface. As for pope Clement V – unlike Boniface, he was a compliant tool of the French king. There were no more demands for papal supremacy and Clement would move the papal court from Rome to Avignon, beginning a period of total French dominance over the popes (though Rome would have rival so-called “anti-popes”).
Poor Clement. No matter how much he tried to appease his French overlord, the king just kept demanding more. Occasionally, the pope would summon up the dignity of his office and try to express his own view but Philip IV was by far the stronger figure. As De Molay – it seems rather innocently and naively – made his way round France, the king was already dripping poison into the pope’s ear. He’d heard some very choice rumours about those Templars – De Molay included. Their secret rituals and initiation ceremonies. Talk of them leaving Cyprus and outremer altogether and moving all their forces and wealth to the west – maybe trying to overthrow kings like….Philip! The Templars were treacherous – the Templars were a law to themselves – the Templars….had to be crushed.
Clement, who comes across as a timid bureaucrat, seems to be have been paralyzed by indecision as the king bullied and cajoled him. He probably suspected that Philip just wanted the order’s fabulous wealth. As pope, he might have felt a little conflicted. On the one hand, the Templars had always been answerable directly to him and he should have protected them. But on the other hand, his election to the papacy had been largely thanks to Philip – who could destroy him as easily as he had raised him. What was a pope to do?
In the end, it was De Molay who may have precipitated the decisive move to official trials. A bluff soldier and not well versed in courtly politics, the Grand Master lost his cool and demanded that all the whisperings about the order be brought out in the open. On the 12th October, De Molay and others carried the coffin of king Philip’s sister-in-law, Catherine of Valois. To the old warrior, he must have felt that two centuries of fighting for Christ must count for something.
The very next day – he and five thousand French Templars were arrested.
Just to be clear that I’m not affiliated to any particular Templar group but I’m aware that many groups visit this site and I hope it’s a place where dialogue and exchange of ideas and experience can take place. But for those of you unfamiliar with today’s Templar scene – it might be worth taking a closer look.
There are many people claiming to be Templars today from the Far Right to Mexican gangsters. Clearly, these have little to do with the original Templars. For example, the mass killer Anders Breivik called himself a Knight Templar during his trial in Norway. But a medieval Knight Templar would scratch his head and wonder what a child killer acting on his own and murdering indiscriminately has to do with a group of knights fighting in the Holy Land.
Here is the Sussex lodge and the East Anglia lodge in England. Members of this masonic organisation must be proposed by two other masons and must be Royal Arch Masons. As of late 2011, here are a list of lodges in the Netherlands.
On the subject of Royal Arch Masons – there is an organisation for Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests and you can click here to visit the United States website.
The Militia Templi is a lay organisation of the Catholic church founded by Count Marcello Alberto Cristofani della Magione in 1979 under the direction of the Archbishop of Siena. It tends to reject the form of mass adopted after the 1960s Vatican II council in favour of the older Tridentine Mass. They follow the Templar rule laid down by Bernard of Clairvaux and their “Protector” at this time is the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert, located in New Mexico, USA. The global headquarters is in Italy at the Castello della Magione in Poggibonsi.
The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem is a Florida based organisation which, in its own words, “seeks to emulate the chivalric and charity traditions of the original Templars; its members apply themselves energetically and selflessly to Christian charitable endeavors”. This organisation is ecumenical but strictly Christian and is not associated with Freemasonry. It’s campaigned for the rights of Iraqi Christians and given donations to the Franciscans, Lutherans, Armenian Patriarchate, Greek Orthodox and Anglicans in Jerusalem – all of whom are involved in running different historical sites (see blog posts here on my visits this year to Jerusalem).
The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar, based in London, advocates research in to the medieval period – much as we do here – and a life of spirituality. Mark Borrington is the current Grand Master and Graham Craddy is the Seneschal.
Facebook has thrown up a huge number of Templar related organisations including the French Ordre du Saint Esprit Templier and the Portuguese Os Cavaleiros da Cruz Azul. Some are just interested in Templar history, others are very Catholic in outlook and some groups seek the restoration of monarchy in Europe and so on.
Finally – and I was dreading this – I have blogged before about the far right and its pseudo-Templar nonsense. AOTK is the organisation to avoid in my view. Though it claims to have never been linked with Anders Breivik – a man who killed children as young as fourteen – he asserts that he had links with various organisations and defence leagues. I’m hoping this is a murky political underworld that most of you have no wish to make contact with.
To truly immerse yourself in the world of the original Knights Templar – purchase my Templar adventure Quest for the True Cross on Amazon.
It was the turn of Channel Four in the UK to look at the Saracen massacre of Knights Templar at Jacob’s Ford in 1179 after this subject was visited by National Geographic earlier this year.
The programme gave some interesting insights in to the way in which warriors died without delving much in to the politics behind the massacre. For the politics, I refer you to my earlier post on this and on the Battle of Hattin – use the search button on this page.
What this programme majored on was the skeletal remains found at Jacob’s Ford and the likely causes of death. There was speculation that one body which showed signs of bad nourishment would have been that of a western low born labourer who had gone on crusade with little by way of military training. He would most likely have had no real knowledge of how to use a weapon effectively. In the dramatisation, he is shown being forced to defend himself against Saracens with a spear and no armour or shield. After a chase through the castle, he is hunted down and ignominiously killed.
A marked contrast to a higher status skeleton, most likely of a Templar knight, who appears to have been beheaded – the traditional mode of execution for the aristocracy. Common people ended up dangling from the end of a rope. While the Saracen leader Saladin was not present at this battle, we know that he enjoyed watching Templars getting executed because a contemporary chronicler tells us in these words:
The Knights of the Temple and of the Hospital, whom the sword had not destroyed on the field of battle, were separated from the other captives, and Saladin ordered them to be beheaded in his presence, and delighted his eyes with this long-coveted enjoyment. The tyrant displayed his personal hatred against that most Christian man Reginald de Chastillon; — celebrated as much for his renown in arms as for the nobility of his mind; he formerly administered with vigor the office of prince of Antioch, and presided at that time with distinction over the Christians on the confines of Arabia; him he fiercely questioned; and being answered with the firmness that became so great a man, he slew him with his own hand, thinking that much of his pleasure would be lost, if any one else but himself should shed such precious blood.
The contemporary account from the same chronicle of what happened at Jacob’s Ford is as follows:
God’s fury was not yet turned away, but his hand was stretched out still. For after Caesarea Philippi (which is now called Belinas, and was, as it were, the key of the Christian territories against Damascus) had fallen into the hands of the enemy, the Templars, is well from their own resources as what they had supplicated from all sides, built an important fortress at a place called Jacob’s Ford, in order to prevent the foe from making unrestrained invasions within the Christian territory from the side of Caesarea. The walls rose daily; and a large party of armed men constantly kept watch there, lest the work should be impeded by any hostile incursion. For a long time this was winked at and endured by the Turks, but with envy and grief of heart, while the Christian force was undiminished; but when they saw them weakened in a measure by their recent overthrow, watching their opportunity, they surrounded the fortress aforesaid, now filled with men and arms, and applying their engines, they began their attack with spirit. The Christian army, however, assembled at Tiberias to raise the siege, but not with its wonted alacrity. Here our chiefs, deliberating on what was to be done, deemed it by no means safe for them to encounter so numerous an enemy, while the holy cross was absent. Persons were sent to Jerusalem to procure that protecting standard immediately. In this interval the fortress was taken; and being quickly demolished, the Turks retired with abundant spoils — for there was captured a large quantity of arms, and Christian blood was shed profusely.
Portraying the Devil in film is not an easy task – as hard as it was to portray him in paint on the wall of a medieval church. Is he a fallen angel or a hairy beast? Does he appear to us as a human or a monster? One Spanish movie – El Dia de la Bestia (released 1995) – depicted him as an enormous goat headed creature. In this rather bizarre film, a Catholic priest discovers that Anti-Christ is to be born in Madrid in the year 2000. To summon up the devil and kill his creation, the priest deliberately sets out to do evil deeds in the hope the devil will take notice of him. It’s a black comedy for sure with typical Spanish anarchic humor.
While the Devil is indisputably a beast in that Spanish movie – he’s in human form for the movie Devil released last year. A group of people trapped in an elevator discover that somebody among them is not quite what they seem. When the lights go out – this individual bites!
There are those like Faust who summon the devil to make a pact they come to regret at leisure – either for riches or in the case of the 1961 movie The Devil’s Partner, for the return of youth. You can watch the entire movie from Openflix at this link:
Of course there are those unwise souls who get together to indulge in black masses or covens to conjure spells and mess with dark forces. One very underrated Horror movie – Blood on Satan’s Claw (released 1971) – shows a group of young villagers in seventeenth century England indulging in Satanic practices at a time when witch burning was at its height. You can see the full movie here: