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.
In 1307, the Knights Templar were rounded up, imprisoned and tortured under secret orders issued by the King of France. The trials of top Templars would last for years and lead to many being burnt at the stake including the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. He was incinerated in public in front of Notre Dame cathedral.
A string of scandalous accusations were made against the Knights Templar to justify smashing the order. I recommend Malcom Barber’s detailed account of The Trial of the Templars if you want to learn a lot more.
Here were some of the most noteworthy charges:
New entrants to the Templar order had to deny Christ, the Holy Virgin and the saints
Templars were told that Christ was a false prophet and there was no hope of receiving salvation through belief in him
Knights were ordered to spit on a crucifix and even urinate or trample on it
The order worshipped a head of some description, possibly that of a cat or with three faces or an idol called Baphomet
This idol was encircled with cords, which the Templars then wore around their waists
The Knights Templar rejected the sacraments of the Catholic church
It was thought that the Grand Master and other leading Templars could absolve sins even though they were laymen and not priests
New entrants were kissed on the mouth, the navel, the stomach, the buttocks and the spine and homosexuality was encouraged
The Templars were only interested in financial gain and pocketed donations for their own use
Chapter meetings and initiations were held in strictest secret with only Templars present and those that revealed any details to people outside of the order would be punished with imprisonment or death
A short film from the Smithsonian includes a reenactment of what the alleged initiation ritual looked like.
The Knights Templar were accused of being heretics by the Catholic church after two centuries of loyal service to…..the Catholic church! But the church had been busy rooting out and slaying heretics for hundreds of years before the Templars were burnt at the stake.
In fact, the moment the church became the officially sanctioned state religion of the Roman Empire, it set about defining what was orthodox doctrine and what was not.
Those who decided to be unorthodox would be forced to recant their views or face certain death. It’s said that more Christians died at the hands of other Christians in the first hundred years after the Emperor Constantine converted than in the three centuries previous when paganism dominated the empire.
The glory years for the Templars were far behind them, back in the 12th and 13th centuries. By the start of the 14th, it was clear that Jerusalem was unlikely to be reconquered from the Saracens and that the last Christian strongholds taken from Islam in the early crusades were now back in Muslim hands.
This rather left the Knights Templar with a diminishing lack of purpose. It also left the wealth they had raised from all over Europe to fund their activities sitting in their preceptories with nowhere to go. Unfortunately for the Templars, the king of France Philip IV had a very clear idea where the money should go – into his coffers!
Philip had debts – big debts. He’d already had a go at fleecing the merchant classes, the church, the Jewish community and then his attention turned to the Templars. The king owed them money and had no intention of paying them back. Far from it, he was going to raid the Temple’s assets. In order to do that, he rounded up the Templar leaders, tortured them and extracted lurid confessions to damn the order’s good name for eternity.
The arrests and imprisonments took place in 1307 and it would be another seven years before the king rewarded himself with the ultimate Templar scalp – executing the last Grand Master. The shameful deed occurred on March 18th, 1314 – a day of indisputable infamy.
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.
As is often said, the Templars were the first multinational corporation – through a network of preceptories across Europe and the Middle East, engaged in farming, shipping and finance to fund their crusading activities.
The Templar Timeline
1118 – Foundation of the Knights Templar by nine knights
1118 – Hugh de Payens becomes first Grand Master
1127 – First Templar church and preceptory in London
1129 – Council of Troyes establishes the rules that will govern the Templars
1139 – Omne datum Optimum – a papal bull makes the Templars answerable only to the pope
1147 – the Second Crusade with the fall of Edessa and its aftermath brings the Templars centre stage in the Holy Land
1174 – the rise of Saladin
1187 – disaster at the Battle of Hattin and the loss of Jerusalem
1192 – Templars in Acre
1204 – the Fourth Crusade ends with the plundering of Constantinople
1248 – the crusade of King Louis
1291 – Acre falls to the Mamluks and the Templars edged out of the Holy Land
1302 – Ruad falls and Templars massacred
1307 – Templars arrested under orders of the King of France and Pope Clement V
Here’s an interesting video on the origins of the Knights Templar:
In the 1180s, the king of England and Anjou – Henry II – was looking to consolidate his hold on Wales, a troublesome western province of his Angevin empire. Wales would make a renewed bid for independence at the end of the century and only be completely subjugated by Edward I. But even by the 1180s, its church was being absorbed in to that of England.
When aiming to calm any trouble in the border areas between England and Wales, who better to call on than the Templars? After all, they had plenty of experience of holding back the Saracen in outremer and also in Al Andalus, they had taken on the Moors. Where others feared to tread, the Templars could be relied on to doggedly charge in, take control and consolidate rapidly.
So, Henry II gave them a place that had been known as Llangarewi but would now be renamed Temple Garway. Up went the familiar round church with the Lamb of God symbol carved in to the walls with those other symbols that crop up in Templar churches. One image that has aroused considerable interest is that of the Green Man, vine-like strands emerging from his mouth.
The preceptory housed the knight, including a lot of disabled and elderly knights. King Richard and King John, who succeeded the father they so hated, confirmed Templar ownership of the area given by Henry II.
In 1294, Templar Garway had a very important guest. None other than Jacques de Molay. Yep, the last Grand Master whose final moments would be spent tied to a stake in front of Notre Dame cathedral as he and the last of the Templars went to their deaths.
Unfortunately, time has not been hugely kind to Temple Garway and farmers have done what farmers over the years are wont to do – incorporated much of the stonework in to their houses and boundary walls.