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?
Here’s one bit of evidence that says yes – they were.
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.
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?
In 1307, the king of France – Philip the Fair – issued orders to arrest every Knight Templar in his realm. This was done in total secrecy in what one writer has described as the medieval equivalent of a dawn raid. A couple of ex-Templars, disgruntled with the order they had once sworn loyalty to, had spilled the beans to the king’s officials about all manner of dubious practices the Templars were alleged to engage in.
This included the notorious kiss on the base of the spine, the mouth and the navel. There was also the worship of a head – sometimes described as a cat’s head or a three-faced head or the head of John the Baptist or a head in the sand that spoke, etc, etc. The Templars denounced Christ, it was alleged, and stamped, urinated and spat on the cross. This was the very cross that they displayed on their tunics and yet they dishonoured it.
The heresies that the rumour mill attributed to the Templars included being closet Muslims, closet Cathars or closet Mandaeans. The latter were an eastern gnostic sect who revered John the Baptist but rejected Jesus Christ. The stamping on the crucifix was believed to evidence the Templar disdain for Christ. The Cathars were a major heretical movement in France that threatened both royal and church power in the south of the country. Cathars rejected the Catholic church’s hierarchy and sacraments disputing the real nature of Jesus. As regards Islam, it has been argued from the medieval period to the present day by some that the Templars had got a little too close to Muslim belief and the scientific knowledge held in the caliphate’s universities and libraries.
Of course, all of these accusations may be utter tripe. The real reason for the Templars being rounded up, tortured and forced to confess to all of this was that king Philip of France just needed their money. He had bolted to the Paris Temple during a mob riot in the city asking the Templars for their protection but while in their safekeeping, he had seen their wealth at first hand and determined to get his hands on it. Philip had form in this regard having already mugged France’s Jewish population, Lombard merchants and even the church. Why not shake down the Templars?
But in the ‘no smoke without fire’ camp, there are those who think the Templars may genuinely have been influenced by eastern philosophical and religious ideas that crept into their ritual and belief. Maybe not in the lurid terms described by the charges at their trial – but hateful to the western church all the same. The truth is – we don’t know. But what is certain is that the allegations above were upheld at the time and dozens of Templar knights including the last Grand Master Jacques de Molay were burnt at the stake on the basis of their forced confessions.
King Philip of France owed a massive amount of money to the Templars and the Order had a large fortress in Paris reputedly sitting on large stocks of deposited bullion.
During a riot over a currency devaluation, the king fled to the security of the Templar fortress and reputedly, while there, couldn’t help noticing the vast amount of wealth the order possessed.
Having shaken down the Jews in France, and expelled them, plus turned the screws on the church and people – the Templars came into his range of vision. Being a medieval monarch was always an expensive business but Philip was determined to balance his books, even if that was done in a rather violent and unorthodox manner.
Some have argued that like modern banks, most of the wealth deposited with the Templars had actually been loaned out by the Order and the idea they were sitting on great amounts of booty is a myth. The historian Dan Jones writes that there wasn’t something incredibly exceptional about King Philip’s debts though concedes that he was a thoroughly unpleasant character.
Anyway, Philip decided – in effect – to kill his bank managers. Don’t cheer. Charges were trumped up and a Pope who was under the ‘protection’ of the French monarchy was encouraged, in spite of misgivings, to go along with the whole saga.
As we know, the leaders of the Order were put to torture with one even claiming that he carried his charred toes around with him in a box thereafter. They confessed. They retracted their confessions. They were burnt at the stake.
Philip went on to expel the Jews from France – as Edward I had done in England a few years earlier. But unlike Edward, he relented and asked them back again. One assumes that suppressing the Templars and the Jews removed two sources of credit from the medieval French economy, so not such a smart move.
He also picked on merchants from Lombardy thereby assuring that they preferred to transact business in London where there is still a ‘Lombard Street’. He may even have contributed to London’s eventual rise to be the world’s global financial centre (sorry New York).
In fact, when it came to having zero understanding of economics, Philip le Bel really stands out as an A grade cretin. And not just because he slaughtered our beloved Templars. He also debased the coinage – that classic refuge of the spendthrift ruler….how many Roman emperors did the same to pay their armies?
The Templars then were undone not so much because of Satanic rituals and sodomitic initiations but because a cash strapped French king kept licking his lips every time he passed the Paris Temple. It was too much money to ignore!
In 1307, the King of France issued orders to arrest all Templar knights in his kingdom. They were summarily rounded up, tortured in dungeons and confessions extracted. So what was the timeline to termination?
14 September 1307 – King Philip of France issues secret orders to the bailiffs and seneschals in his kingdom to round up the Templars and arrest them when given the signal
13 October 1307 – the signal is given and France’s Templars find themselves clapped in irons
19 October to 24 November 1307 – first round of trials with 138 Templars, most of them confessing to their alleged guilt
24 October 1307 – Grand Master Jacques de Molay makes his first confession of guilt
25 October 1307 – De Molay goes before the University of Paris to restate his confession of guilt
22 November 1307 – De Molay retracts his confessions to cardinals sent to interview him by Pope Clement V
22 November 1307 – Pope Clement V gives up trying to resist the French king and demands that all Christian rulers in Europe follow the French example and arrest their Templars as well as confiscating their property
May 1308 – a letter arrives at Cyprus from Pope Clement V calling for the arrest of Templars on the island
28 June to 2 July 1308 – about 54 Templars tried at Poitiers where the pope was in residence
August 1308 – the Chinon Parchment, revealed in recent times, appears to show the pope absolving the Templars but as a puppet of the French king there was little he could realistically do
13 September 1309 – Two inquisitors arrive in England to question Templars there
December 1309 – Pope Clement V authorises the use of torture to gain rapid confessions
1310 – papal commission into the trials of the Templars
12 May 1310 – 54 Templars are burnt at the stake
May 1310 – the Archbishop of Sens takes control of the trial process until 1316
22 March 1312 – Pope Clement V issues the papal bull Vox In Excelso suppressing the Knights Templar
May 1312 – Pope Clement V issues the papal bull Ad Providam transferring the assets of the Knights Templar to the Knights Hospitaller
21 March 1313 – the Knights Hospitaller pay enormous compensation to the king of France most likely saving their order from the same fate as the Templars
18 March 1314 – Jacques de Molay and the preceptor of Normandy Geoffroi de Charney retract their confessions saying they were extracted under torture. They are burnt at the stake before Notre Dame as heretics
This month’s edition of ‘History Today’ mentions in passing a certain bishop called Adam of Orleton who in a sermon on October 15th, 1327 declared that King Edward II of England, who was in the process of being deposed by his wife and a rebel army, was a sodomite. The magazine says this is the first known reference to Edward II being gay – or a ‘sodomite’ to use the unpleasant terminology of the time.
Orleton didn’t actually specifiy who King Edward had sodomised or when – he was just a sodomite. As History Today then points out, this was a tried and tested way of denigrating somebody and had even been used against a Pope. What makes Orleton’s accusation interesting was that he had previous form. Because just a few years earlier, the good bishop had condemned the Templars as sodomites before the pope at his residence in Avignon.
If only Freud had been alive in the Middle Ages, we might have put Orleton’s obsession with homosexuality down to a latent desire to do some sodomising himself. But hey ho, no psychoanalysis for another six hundred years.
So who was bishop Orleton? Well, he seems to have been something of a serial bishop, starting with Hereford. He got that bishopric in the teeth of opposition from Edward II – who he later accuses of being a sodomite. The pope who appoints him is John XXII – often claimed to be the pontiff who initiated an interest witch-hunting that would take off in succeeding centuries. He would be charged with treason by Edward II and had to be placed under the protection of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
Once Edward II had been overthrown by his wife and her associate Mortimer, Orleton had the joyful experience of visiting the imprisoned king to force him to abdicate. What happened to Edward II next has always been the subject of salacious gossip. The goriest account is that he had a red hot poker shoved up his backside – some say to leave no mark on his body but others as a kind of commentary on his sexual preferences. But the one person who claimed to have witnessed the king’s death later retracted his remarks and some claimed to have seen the ex-king alive years later.
As I said, Orleton had spoken against the Templars a decade before in Avignon accusing them of sodomy. At the trial of the Knights of the Temple, they were said to have kissed each other on the mouth, anus, end of the spine (in anca), naval and ‘virga virilis’. Some say this was done to awaken the ‘kundalini’ serpent of knowledge.
Orleton died in 1345 a wealthy man as bishop of Winchester. His alleged role in the death of Edward II was immortalised by Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe.