Was Jacques De Molay really the last Grand Master of the Templars?

In 1314, on an island in the middle of the river Seine in Paris, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar – Jacques de Molay – was burnt at the stake. His agonising death ended an incredible two centuries old order of warrior monks – brought down by a money grabbing French king and a craven, gutless Pope. The Templars were no more.

Or is that really the truth?

Not according to an awful lot of people out there. Ever since De Molay breathed his last, rumours and stories have abounded to suggest the Templars continued in some or other guise. One of the most curious is that De Molay verbally appointed another Grand Master before he was executed. This was a man called Johannes Marcus Larmenius.

In February, 1324 – ten years after the death of De Molay – Larmenius, a Templar born in Outremer, issued a charter claiming that he was the rightful Grand Master. But now in his seventies, the old man wanted to transfer this onerous responsibility to younger shoulders. He proposed that the next Grand Master should be Franciscus Theobaldus – who was still in charge of a Templar institution of some sort in Alexandria, Egypt.

Palaprat – charlatan or Templar Grand Master?

This began a phase of underground activity in the history of the Templars. Grand Masters continued to be appointed but very much out of the public eye. That was until a chap called Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat revealed the existence of the Larmenius Charter, in the year 1804, that included his name as the latest of 22 successive Grand Masters.

Needless to say there was some scepticism about Palaprat’s extraordinary boast that he owned a ‘charter of transmission’ – as he termed it – written by Larmenius and naming him as the current Grand Master. But Palaprat was not to be dismissed so easily. He produced the sword of Jacques De Molay and some of his charred bones. Everything he said was true – how dare anybody question him!

At a time when France has experienced a revolution; a century of Enlightenment thought; the undermining of traditional church and royal authority and the emergence of the Freemasons – it’s perhaps not surprising that somebody like Palaprat emerged. He was feverishly mixing bits of the Templars with gnosticism, Freemasonry and an unswerving loyalty to Napoleon. It was an eclectic hodge-podge that suited the times.

The French revolution of 1789 had briefly replaced Catholicism with a cult of the Supreme Being. Now, Palaprat used his status as Grand Master to launch a new Templar order and later what was termed a Johannite church. His religion had its own version of the bible, loosely based on the gospel of John, and a belief that Jesus had been initiated into ancient Egyptian rites.

Few believe the Larmenius Charter was authentic or that he even existed. Today, the document can be viewed in London as a curiosity.



Templar hero: André de Montbard

Right at the beginning of the Templar story, nine knights gathered to found a new order of warriors who would take monastic vows. One of them was a man called André de Montbard. So, what do we know about him?

montbardWell, he was the uncle of a very influential religious figure called Bernard of Clairvaux – later to be made a saint. Bernard was a really unusual individual. He was constantly plagued by illness including what appear to have been severe migraine attacks and high blood pressure. But far from adopting a healthy regime, Bernard tortured his own body with punishing routines of fasting, sleep deprivation and intense prayer. The sort of thing that impressed people in the Middle Ages!

Bernard had joined an order of monks called the Cistercians who wanted to bring back some discipline and modesty to medieval monasticism. He hated twiddly ornamentation in churches and illuminated bibles and believed monks should eat very plain food. So not much fun to be holed up in a monastery with Bernard – unless you shared his point of view.

Crucially, he also believed that killing in the name of Christ was OK. You weren’t committing homicide – killing a human in other words – you were killing evil. And that was just fine. So when Bernard got a visit from his uncle André de Montbard in 1126, who wanted to tell him all about the new order of Templars, it was a marvellous meeting of minds. Bernard didn’t need much convincing to swing his support behind his uncle’s friends.

Uncle and nephew wrote to each other over the years exchanging very touching thoughts. Uncle André was busy with the Second Crusade in the Holy Land while Bernard made rousing speeches to huge throngs of peasants urging them to go and fight. The future saint also found time to write the rule book for the Templars and promote the order to the pope as a jolly good idea.

Towards the end of his life, a chronically sick Bernard begged André to come and see him again. Though he also acknowledged that the crusades were in trouble and needed André’s undivided attention:

…I wish even more strongly to see you. I find the same wish in your letters, but also your fears for the land that Our Lord honoured with His presence and consecrated with His blood…

Bernard began to realise he might never see his uncle again and their conversations would have to continue beyond the grave.

But let us mount above the sun, and may our conversation continue in the heavens. There, my Andre, will be the fruits of your labours, and there your reward…

The two never met again. André de Montbard had his work cut out as Muslim armies put huge pressure on the Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. This took its toll on the Templar Grand Masters. Everard des Barres, third master of the Templars, resigned and went to join Bernard as a monk in his abbey.

Des Barres had already been absent from the Holy Land for a while and this clearly annoyed André de Montbard. He was effectively his second in command as Seneschal and wrote a rather testy letter to his boss asking him to come back and show some leadership:

Never has your presence been more necessary to your brothers. And however Providence may dispose of us, do not hesitate to start your journey back.

But Des Barres decided he’d had his fill of dangerous battles in far off lands. Instead, he tonsured his head, put on a plain monks’ habit and went off to pray with Bernard for the rest of his life. The Templars then elected Bernard de Tremelay as Grand Master number four.

But De Tremelay was killed during the siege of Ascalon – controlled by Egyptian forces. A breach in the wall of the city was created and Bernard unwisely rushed in with a band of Templars. This act reflected the first in/last out mentality of the Knights Templar – depicted as courage by their supporters and vainglorious rashness by their detractors. All of these Templars were cut to pieces and their bodies displayed, hanging headless from the walls.

André found himself elected the fifth Grand Master. Unfortunately, he didn’t have long to enjoy his time in that position. Less than three years later he passed away in Jerusalem – the last of the original nine knights who had founded the Knights Templar.


Templar terminology – how they described themselves

Some friends reading my latest book (click HERE to view Quest For The True Cross) have pointed out that the terminology the Templars used can be quite confusing. Let’s have a look at some terms that come up very often.

Preceptory – Also referred to as a Commandery. These were the Templar estates dotted all over Europe and consisting of some form of manor house or fortified building, place of worship, agricultural buildings like barns and dovecotes and possibly even water wheels, mills, etc. They were essentially an agri-business, factory, monastery and bank rolled into one. Their economic activities financed the crusades in the east. And the man in charge was – a preceptor.

Gonfanier – This was the chap who held the Templar standard in battle – a standard bearer in other words. So long as the standard was raised, no Templar could leave the battlefield.

Infirmarer – This medic-cum-soldier-cum-monk looked after the sick and dying Templar brothers. Many Templars, as they advanced in years, might have lived out their final days in quiet preceptories eventually succumbing to the ravages of old age and being cared for by the infirmarer.

Chapter – Like all tightly knit organisations, the Templars had regular meetings held behind closed doors where important matters were discussed and officials elected. These might be held at a country level where, for example, the Master of England might preside – but every few years, the Order would try to hold a global meeting overseen by the Grand Master, who was based in Jerusalem – when that city was under crusader control.

Responsion – I only came across this term recently. This was a percentage of the income from preceptories that had to be paid over to the Order in the holy land.  Estimated to be about a third of revenue made but it’s believed the figure varied quite a bit.

Knights and serjeants – A fully blown Templar was a knight brother. He was allowed to wear the white mantle and was fully trained in the arts of war. Essentially, he was a medieval knight who had taken religious vows. A serjeant was a junior rank who might fight in the holy land but in the preceptories across Europe, a serjeant might be a glorified farm hand. They wore black mantles and the helmets typical of lower ranks like the kettle helmet. They ate separately from the knights.

Turcopole – In my book, the hero Sir William de Mandeville has a turcopole called Pathros. He is a Syrian who is skilled with the bow – as many turcopoles were.  Most books on the Templars portray turcopoles as eastern goat herders turned mercanary auxiliaries for the Order. By creating Pathros, I depicted an easterner who actually came from a well-to-do Syrian background but his family had fallen on hard times. I also made Pathros a Christian who felt rejected by the Saracens and crusaders alike.

If you look at the top of this page – there is a study aids section for the book which gives you more terminology. If anything confuses – ask me to explain!

Friday 13th – unlucky to be a Templar

Two Templars burned at the stake, from a Frenc...
Two Templars burned at the stake, from a French 15th century manuscript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, the story has it that on this day – Friday 13th – the order went out from the King of France to arrest all Knights Templar including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay.  King Philip (the Fair or ‘le Bel’ in French) was heavily in debt to the Templar Order who had been bankers to the French monarchy for two hundred years.

By the year 1307, their raison d’etre – the Crusades – had crumbled in the east with the loss of Jerusalem and most of the territories conquered in the eleventh century.  So they were a diminished power though still wealthy enough.

In effect what Philip did was to kill his bank managers and free himself of his overdraft.  Ah, haven’t we all imagined that scenario?  Tortures and forced confessions followed and this is where we get most of the stories of sodomitic practices between knights, spitting and urinating on the crucifix, kissing on the base of the spine, worshipping goats’ heads, etc, etc, etc.  The end result was the burning at the stake of the Grand Master about seven years later.

One thing to note is that there doesn’t seem to be much written evidence that this Friday the 13th superstition existed before the 19th century.  However, 12 is a number that crops up in many religions and one more suggests an unncessary and possibly malign surfeit.  Contrary to what some people think – Judas Iscariot was not a 13th apostle.

When Braveheart killed two Templar masters

BraveheartThose who have seen the movie ‘Braveheart’ will know that the English army got a pasting at the battle of Stirling Bridge after which a furious King Edward I – ruler of England and his dominions in Wales, Ireland and France – charged back from the latter country to confront William Wallace, now appointed Guardian of Scotland.

Edward was an energetic king who seemed to relish battle on multiple fronts expanding his realm to cover what is now called the ‘United Kingdom’ as well as struggling to hold and increase the ancestral lands on the other side of the English Channel.

Edward expected all subjects to back his campaigns and this included the Templars.  Now, of course that posed – in theory – a little problem for the Order.  Their first loyalty was to the Pope, not any particular king.  They were also forbidden to fight in wars that pitted Christian against Christian.  However these rules didn’t seem to stop the Templar master in England – Brian Le Jay – joining Edward’s side at the Battle of Falkirk.  This was the great clash where Edward got his bloody revenge against Wallace, weakening the great Scottish general.

Le Jay was a rather colourful character.  One of these people in history who seems to have stuck his finger in the wind, worked out which way it was blowing and acted accordingly – to make sure he was on the winning side.  He’d actually been the Grand Master in Scotland before taking over in England.  So by the time Falkirk came round, he found himself with the stronger king, ready to do battle at his side.

ivanhoe-movie-poster-copyEdward had previously insisted, when Le Jay was still Scottish master, that he swear allegiance to him and not the Scottish king and Le Jay, sensing which way that political wind was blowing, duly obliged.  No wonder the Victorian Scottish novelist Walter Scott detested the memory of Le Jay and based his evil Templar characters on him in his novel, Ivanhoe.

To my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but the man who became Templar master in Scotland after Le Jay and was in place for the Battle of Falkirk – John de Sawtrey – also fought with Edward against the Scottish king.  So the Templars were very much on the Angevin/English side against Scotland.  A good decision in that Edward won the battle – a bad decision in that both Templar masters were killed pursuing Scottish solders who were fleeing through a forest.

In spite of the support of these Templar leaders, Edward I had a bit of form when it came to regarding the Templars as little more than piggy banks to be raided when he needed the money.  In his youth, he had attacked the Temple in London to get funds for a civil war against the barons.  This was when Simon de Montfort and the barons had rebelled against Edward’s father Henry III.

London had come out for the barons and Edward had to flee the city with his tail between his legs.  His wife, Eleanor – later revered in saintly terms when she died – was forced to take refuge in Saint Paul’s cathedral from a mob that was pelting her with stones and filth.

On his way up to fight the Scots, Edward I had availed himself of Templar hospitality including a night at Temple Newsam outside Leeds, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  By all rights he and his family should have been well disposed to the Templar Order but as Europe turned against the Templars, so did the Angevin monarchs.  Edward I’s son, Edward II, had no hesitation grabbing Templar property when the opportunity presented itself.

As for Wallace – he had cut down the two most powerful Templars in the kingdom but he himself would be brutally executed in London not long after.  The spot where he was hung, disemboweled, etc is not far from where I work and flowers are still placed there by fans.