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2.6 Trial of the Templars

At sunset on Friday 13 October 1307 all the Templars were arrested in their 3000 commanderies in France. Sixteen years have gone by since the defeat of Saint-Jean-d’Acre and the Master Guillaume de Beaujeu had been followed by Thibaud Gaudin and, at his death in 1295, by Jacques de Molay. The Order had not given up hope to go back in the Middle East. Jacques de Molay spent a lot of time there. He even participated in an ill fated expedition against the isle of Tortose in 1303. He lived in Cyprus in 1307 where the Order had their main house. At that time there was also a project to put together the two military orders, the Templars and the Hospitallers and Jacques de Molay wrote a memorandum to the Pope Clement V on this subject. This was not the first time that the Popes thought about this fusion. Jacques de Molay was not very keen as he foresaw many problems since, in his view, the rule of the Templars was much more demanding that the rule of the Hospitallers. When the King of France had strong disagreements with Pope Boniface VIII in 1295 and 1303, the Templars sided with Philip the Fair. It is also said that they suggested to the King to transfer the Royal Treasure from the Temple to the Louvre in order to avoid them to disobey the Pope in relation with the taxation of the properties of the Church in favour of the royal finances. The King’s decision to arrest the Templars came then as a complete surprise. This operation had been carefully prepared in advance. The order had been given to the Bailiffs and Seneschals one month in advance -on September 14 1307- in sealed envelopes to be opened the day of the arrests. The written instructions mentioned the accusations against the Templars and requested the arrest of all the Templars without exception, to keep them prisoners so that they could be tried by the Church and to confiscate all their properties. The procedure to be followed for their arrest was also described in great details. (r)

A brief description of the main actors seems useful:

.Guillaume de Nogaret, Chancellor of the Kingdom, had been nominated on this post on 22 September 1307. A lawyer, he was soon called to the Court of Philip the Fair. In 1303 he was one of the main participants in the struggle against the Pope Boniface VIII. Among other actions he organised the assault of Agnani on 7 September 1303, when the Pope was slapped by Sciarra Colonna. He was thought to be closely linked to the Cathars. He organised the arrest of the Templars and wrote the accusations against them: heresy, sacrilege, betrayal of the Church, … Before, he had already accused the Templars of the responsibility of the lost of the Holy Land. He had even suggested to confiscate their wealth to finance a new expedition.

.Pope Boniface VIII had a very strong personality and entered in conflict with the French King Philip the Fair. To his first two crowns (representing the double power of all the Popes since Peter that is the Holy Order and Jurisdiction symbolised by the two keys) he wanted to add a third one to represent his Temporal power. He died suddenly on 11 October 1303 after being liberated from the French by a popular uprising. He was succeeded by Benoit XI who died soon after on 7 July 1304 the day before he was supposed to excommunicate Nogaret.

.Clement V succeeded Benoit XI as Pope after a conclave of the Cardinals that lasted eleven months. This delay can be explained by the rivalry between the Orsini and the Colonna. In the end they elected the French Archbishop of Bordeaux, Bertrand de Got, on 5 June 1305. As he feared the Roman atmosphere he chose to call the assembly of the cardinals in Lyon where he was crowned on 14 November 1305 in the presence of Philip the Fair. He is the first Pope of “Avignon”. He nominated many French cardinals and at his death there was only six Italian cardinals on a total number of twenty-four.

.Philip the Fair was a very aloof king. He was really unknown to most people. The need for money was his obsession. He modified the rate of exchange of the French money to suit his needs. He attacked the Flanders and was defeated in Courtrai in 1302. He expelled the Jews from France after taking their properties. One year before he arrested the Templars he went to the Temple to escape a popular riot following another devaluation. He was at war with Boniface VIII for many years. He was the first king to act as a sovereign and he did not hesitate to call assemblies to expose his position and to have them approved. He is the first head of state to use the public opinion and the pressure groups to impose his politics. The last seven years of his life were devoted to destroy the Templars. (r)

.Jacques de Molay (1243-1314) was the last Master of the Templars. He was born in Molay, Jura, France. He entered the Order in 1265 and fought in Syria. He was elected Grand Master in 1298. He was summoned to France in 1306 or 1307 to discuss the amalgamation of the Templars and the Hospitallers. He was opposed to this union. He was arrested with all the Templars in France on 13 October 1307 as ordered by the King Philip the Fair. On 24 October 1307 he admitted under strong interrogation to have denied Christ. He denied committing sodomy. He urged his Brothers Templar to confess. But when interrogated by the Pope’s delegates he came back on his admissions saying that he had made them under torture. He asked to be judged by the Pope but this was refused. After the Pope Clement suppressed the Order in November 1312, Jacques de Molay and other dignitaries were condemned to perpetual imprisonment by a commission of three cardinals on 18 or 19 March 1314. On hearing the sentence he and Geoffrey de Charnay again retracted their confession. He was burned on the Stake in Paris the same day with Geoffrey de Charnay.

.Geoffrey de Charnay has been received in the Order by Amaury de la Roche a friend and favourite of Saint Louis. Geoffroy de Charnay became Commander of Normandy. He was arrested as all the other Templars in France and submitted to heavy torture. Like Jacques de Molay he was finally condemned to perpetual imprisonment. He denied his previous confessions and was burned on the stake with his Grand Master in Paris in March 1314. (i)

The decision to arrest the Templars was based on strong presumptions and suspicions of irregularities among the Brothers as well as the denunciation of Esquieu de Floyran. Accordingly he would have received some confidences of a Templar prisoner. After reporting these confidences to Jaime II, King of Aragon, who refused to act he went to Philip the Fair who informed the Pope Clement V. Philip said that the Pope agreed with him but this is not true. Clement V asked the king to delay the investigation of the accusations. There is also the inquiry of the Inquisitor Guillaume de Paris but this was limited to the interrogation of a few Templars on 22 September 1307, eight days after the decision to arrest the Templars had been sent to the Bailiffs and Seneschals on 14 September. From that date Nogaret and Guillaume de Plaisians started to gather hostile witnesses.

The chronology of the events following the arrest of the French Templars on 13 October 1307 can be summarised as follow:

-On 14 October 1307 a Royal Manifesto is distributed in Paris to explain the accusations against the Templars. The Templars are accused of apostasy, of insult to Christ, of obscene rites, of sodomy and idolatry. It is said, specifically, that they obliged the new recruits to abjure three times the Christ and to spit on the cross. After that their clothes were taken off and they were kissed on the lower back, on the navel and on the mouth by the Brother who received the recruits. They were also ordered to submit to sodomy if required to do so. Finally they were required to worship a small statue called Baphomet and to wear a piece of string that has been first put on this statue. Historians believe that this manifesto has been written by Nogaret. The next day, a Sunday, some preaching brothers and royal officers explained the reasons of the arrest to the people of Paris. On 16 October Philip the Fair wrote to the foreign Princes and the to the heads of the Church asking them to arrest the Templars in their States. Only three princes agreed to follow his example while the others said that this was the Pope’s responsibility. The King of England, Edward II, even wrote about his doubts concerning the accusations.

– One hundred and thirty-eight prisoners were interrogated in the Paris Temple between the 19 October and the 24 November 1307 by the Inquisitor Guillaume de Paris. Before that they had been detained by the King’s Officers that were authorised to use torture, if required. Thirty-six of them died as a result of these preliminary interrogations. In front of the Inquisitors only three denied the crimes of which they were accused.

Geoffrey de Charnay was interrogated in the Old Louvre Palace on 21 October 1307 by the King’s lawyers or Inquisitors. Previously he had been submitted to torture during many days. His legs were covered with hot oil during many hours. He told the story of his reception in the Order. The first accusation of homosexuality he denied strongly. He also said that he did not know anything about the imposed ritual adoration of a black cat or of a mysterious “Head” in a silver or vermeil cup. However he admitted to deny the Divinity of Jesus. During his reception he was shown a cross with a picture of Jesus-Christ and Brother Amaury told him that he did not have to believe anymore in Him as he was a false prophet, it was not the real God. Geoffrey was not the only Templars to make these revelations. (i)

– On 27 October 1307 the pope Clement V wrote to Philip the Fair a letter of complaint in relation with the ill treatment, including torture, inflicted to the prisoners.

– Clement V’s Bull of 22 November 1307, “Pastoralis praeeminentiae”, gives the order to all the Christian Princes to arrest all the Templars present on their lands. He changed his mind on the base of the admissions made by the French Templars as well as from what some Templars working for the Curia told him. An ecclesiastic trial should ascertain their guilt and if found not guilty, their properties would go back to them. If found guilty, the proceed of their sale would be used to defend the Holy Land. At that stage the king of France could think that he had won. However the Pope sent two Cardinals to him to take in charge the French Templars as well as their properties. The King agreed to give the Templars but not their properties. However in February 1308, before the Templars were to be handed to the Pope’s emissaries, the Master and the higher Templars authorities asked the prisoners to revoke their confession as they were doing it themselves. As a result the Pope took the case in his own hand.

– The States General were summoned by Philip the Fair in Tours on 25 March 1308. The letter of convocation recalled again the presumed crimes of the Templars and suggested that the Christian people required their punishment.

– Philip the Fair met the Pope Clement V in Poitiers on 26 May 1308 before the Consistories foreseen for the 29 May and the 4 June. He wanted to participate personally to this assembly. Guillaume de Plaisians asked the Pope to condemn all the Templars and to cancel their Order because useless and corrupt.

– From the 27 June to the 1 July 1308 seventy-two Templars appeared before the Pope. The King of France had agreed to let them go but he kept their properties under his control. The evidences given were very bad for the Order but it was also noticed that no dignitaries of the Order were present. Only lower grade and new recruits were released by the King. The King justified himself by saying that the dignitaries were too ill to travel and could not leave Chinon where they were kept in prison. The Pope sent three Cardinals to Chinon and the minutes of the interrogations show that the dignitaries confirmed their previous confession. The Pope left Poitiers at the end of August without condemning the Templars. For him they had admitted their errors and as a result they had to be considered as repented sinner. However later on Clement V gave in little by little to the King’s requests. Guillaume de Paris and his colleagues were confirmed as Inquisitors, local Commissions under the authority of the Bishop were charged to try the Templars and he accepted that they stay in the King’s prisons.

– The first ecclesiastic commission met in Paris at the Sainte Geneviève Monastery on 8 August 1309. Most of its members are bishops linked to the French authorities. The commission enquired on the culpability of the Templars. It heard witnesses pro and contra the Order. The authorities were very reluctant to let Templars appear before it. In fact the first one, Jean Melot, came on 22 November. He was a very simple man and his deposition was next too useless. Hughes de Pairaud appeared the same day and confirmed his previous confession. The Master Jacques de Molay came to the Commission on 26 November 1309 and denied his previous confession. He came back on 28 November but was unable or unwilling to clarify his position. In the meantime Ponsard de Gisy, Commander of Payns in Champagne, described the tortures inflicted on him and said that if they were resumed he would admit anything he would be accused of.

– The ecclesiastic Commission resumed its work on the 6 February 1310 and the number of Templars who wanted to be interrogated increased. On 28 March the number of would be witnesses amounted to 546 and on 2 May it reached 573. Most of them mentioned the tortures they had been submitted to in their prisons. The Templars succeeded to organise their defence. They nominated four delegates to talk for them: Renaud de Provins, Pierre de Boulogne, Guillaume de Chambonnet et Bertrand de Sartigues. They wrote a declaration that has reached us. It is a very good defence. They mentioned the tortures used to obtained the confessions wanted. They pulled the attention of the Court on the fact that a lot of credit is given to the Brothers who talked under torture and the complete lack of consideration given to those who refused to talk under these difficult conditions. They also underlined the fact that no Templars out of France accused the Order. Would it be that the torture induced the French Brothers to talk?

– On 13 May 1310 the Templar delegates asked the Commission to hear them straight away as they learned that a Provincial Council was to meet soon in Sens under the Chairmanship of the new bishop Philip de Marigny, a King protégé. The Commission refused to ask for a delay in the decision expected from the Council. The next day this council met and condemned to death 54 Templars who had rejected their confession. They were burn to death the next day, 12 May 1310, near the St Anthony’s Door just outside Paris. On 13 May, the first witness, Aimery de Villers-le-Duc retracted his previous confession given under torture. He also begged the Commission not to inform the King’s men as he fell he would admit everything to stop the torture. The Commission realised the uselessness of their work. Some of the delegates of the Templars were not allowed to come in front of the Court by the French authorities. The Commission suspended its work until 3 November hoping that the Council foreseen to take place in Vienne in 1310 would have clarified the situation. It fact it was delayed by one year.

– The Commission from that date was only able to collect testimonies from low grade Templars from the Reims and Sens provinces. The Brothers interrogated confirmed their previous declarations: they denied Christ but only in words, they were told to spit on the cross but they spat beside it, … The willing witnesses for the defence were not heard. The Commission inquiry was closed on 5 June 1311 in the Maubuisson Abbey in presence of the King.

– Pope Clement V opened the Vienne Council in the Rhone valley on 16 October 1311. The participants were informed of the results of the Commission of enquiry and were allowed to discuss the results. Nine Templars asked to be heard but the Pope put them in jail without listening to them. On the other hand the Templars dignitaries were not allowed to go to Vienne by Royal order. The cardinals present at the Council voted in majority to allow the Templars to hire defenders. However the Pope did not dare to inform the King of this decision.

– Philip the Fair nominated a delegation (Nogaret, Plaisians, Enguerrand de Marigny, ..) to discuss with the members of the Council. On 2 March 1312 Marigny handed the Council a letter from the King asking the abolition of the Templar Order and the transfer of their properties to another order. Philip came to Vienne on 20 March to defend his proposal and the 22 March 1312 Clement V convinced a secret consistory to suppress the Order of the Templars by the Bull “Vox in excelso”. On 2 May 1312 the Bull “Ad providam” transferred the properties of the Templars to the Hospitallers.

– Clement V had succeeded to transfer the Templars properties to the Hospitallers against the opinion of Philip the Fair. On the other hand he did not help the brothers. On 6 May he ordered the Provincial Councils to continue with their trials, keeping for himself the trial of the dignitaries. With the help of torture, psychological pressure prison, chains and the thread of eternal hell 207 brothers confessed to the inquisitors. On 22 December 1312 he delegated his power to three cardinals (Nicolas de Fréauville, Arnaud d’Auch and Arnaud Novelli) all of them close to the French King.

– The three cardinals delivered their sentence on 18 March 1314 (or the 11 March according to the Julien calendar). In the meantime Nogaret and Guillaume de Plaisians had died in 1313. Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master, Hughes de Pairaud, “visiteur de France”, Geoffrey de Charnay, preceptor of Normandy, and Geoffrey de Gonneville, preceptor of Poitou and Acquitaine were condemned to prison for life. They were not condemned to death due to their previous confession. Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charnay declared that their confessions were false and made only to save their life. They also declared that the Order and the rules of the Templars were sane, just and Catholic. They said there were not guilty of heresy and did not commit the sins they were accused to have committed. As a result of denying their previous confession both were burned to death at the stake in Paris the same day proclaiming their innocence until the end. They died courageously for theirs believes. The legend goes on that Jacques de Molay, before dying in the fire, would have said that the Pope and the King of France would appear before their Lord the first within 40 days and the King within six months. The Pope Clement V died one month after Jacques de Molay in the night of 19 April 1314 in the Roquemaure Castle in the Rhone Valley. King Philip the Fair died of apoplexy the 29 November 1314 forty-seven years old.