HISTORY OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR #8
THE TRIAL OF THE TEMPLARS
After the loss of the Holy Land
The loss of Acre in May 1291 was a serious psychological blow to the Templars. The Order had lost its base in the Holy Land, most of its warriors and military equipment, and many valuable fortresses into which the Order had poured its resources for the past century and a half. The Templars' headquarters at Acre alone represented massive investment of money and labour, a testament to the military and political power of the Order in the East: Sited on the western point of the city on the approach to the harbour, its great walls towered over pilgrims arriving by ship from the West. The former secretary of Master William de Beaujeu described the complex as follows:
the strongest part of the town, and it covered a great area by the sea, like a castle, for at the entrance there was a high, strong tower with a thick wall, twenty-eight feet thick, and on each corner of the tower was a turret, and on top of each of these turrets was a lion-passant, huge and gilded. The four lions and the gold and the labour cost 1,500 Saracen besants [the currency most used in the crusader states] and it was a very noble sight to see. There was another gate on the other corner towards the Pisa Road, with another tower, and close to this tower on the St Anne's Road was a noble palace which belonged to the Master. From there above the house of the nuns of St Anne was another high tower, where there were bells, and a very noble, tall church. There was another very old tower next to the sea, which Saladin had built a hundred years earlier, in which the Templars held their treasure. This was actually on the sea and the waves beat against it. There were other beautiful houses within the Temple, very noble, which I will not write about now.
Due to a fall in the land level and rise in the sea level since the fourteenth century, much of the site of the Templars' area at Acre is now under water, although there are some accessible remains being excavated.
The Order had also lost its leading military personnel in the fall of Acre. The Master, William de Beaujeu, was killed in the last battle. The Marshal, Peter de Sevrey, had commanded the final defence of the Templar's part of Acre, and had been executed by the Muslims when he went out to negotiate with the sultan under a promise of safe-conduct. Most of the Brothers either died in the last battle or in the final defence of the Templar's fortress in Acre.
The surviving Templars were in a sorry state. They managed to evacuate some of their treasure from the treasury at Acre, while the precious possessions in their other surviving fortresses were safe, such as the relic of St Euphemia which had been at Castle Pilgrim. But they had lost everything else. Apparently the Brothers did not even send a letter to the West to inform their Brothers there of what had happened, indicating that the Order was in a state of near collapse. After the disasters of 1187, Grand Commander Terricus (Thierry) had written to the West to inform leading authorities of the situation in the East; but in 1291, although the Master of the Hospital, John de Villiers, sent news to the Hospital in the West, nothing survives from the Templars. In May 1291 the remnant from Acre retreated first to their remaining castle of Sidon, where the Grand Commander, Thibaut Gaudini, was elected Master. After the evacuation of Sidon the convent retreated to Cyprus, where the Hospitallers had already set up their headquarters. Cyprus was conveniently situated for use as a bridgehead for attacks on the Syrian and Palestinian coastline, and could act as a mustering point for a new crusade. The Teutonic Order went to Venice, which is halfway between the Order's two crusading fronts: north-eastern Europe and the Holy Land.
The Military Orders could not afford to appear idle. As defenders of the Holy Land, they were first in line to be blamed for its loss. The popes were also anxious to appear to be doing something to recover the Holy Land: partly because they were genuinely concerned about it and partly to deflect criticism away from the papacy for its failure to send aid to the East and diverting would be crusaders to Sicily. So the popes encouraged the Military Orders to remain active in the East - but now at sea, rather than on land.
In August 1291 Pope Nicholas IV called provincial councils to meet in February 1292 to consider how the Holy Land could be recovered. These were assemblies of clergy from each archbishopric. The pope suggested various points for discussion, including the question of whether the Military Orders should be unified. Given the power of papal suggestion, it is not surprising that every single provincial council declared that the Orders, should indeed be unified and steps taken to ensure that they used their resources more efficiently. Yet nothing was done, as Pope Nicholas IV died in March 1292, before the conciliar decisions reached him.
Nicholas IV also ordered the Masters of the Temple and Hospital to build up a fleet, and in January 1292 he authorized them to use their ships to assist the Armenians. The 'Templar of Tyre', however, indicates that the Templars contributed only two ships to an expedition to help protect Cyprus against the Muslims. The Templars' military operations at sea were never large-scale, and apparently they never even established a formal title for the official in charge of naval operations.
Thibaud Gaudini did not make a good impression on contemporaries, but he would have been an old man at the time of his election: he had been active in the Order since at least 1260. He died in 1291 or April 1292. Jacques de Molay was elected in his place. Anxious to do something positive about the recovery of the Holy Land, in 1294 Jacques travelled to the West to see the pope, Boniface VIII (1294—1303), and discuss the possibilities for a new crusade. Boniface issued him with some privileges, to help raise money, and wrote to King Edward I in England asking him to allow the Order to export the supplies needed for Cyprus. Charles II of Naples (son of Charles I of Anjou) also allowed the export of materials to Cyprus. Jacques de Molay then went to France and England to try to raise support for a crusade. Yet neither monarch was able to commit himself to a crusade in the near future. Edward I of England, who had been on crusade before, had taken the cross again, intending to come out on crusade in 1294. But as Philip IV of France had invaded his territories in Aquitaine, Edward now had to make their defence a priority. Jacques de Molay returned to the East with promises and privileges, but no actual military aid and no hope of a crusade to follow.
Meanwhile, Pope Boniface VIII was occupied with European affairs, especially in Sicily, where the attempts by Charles II of Anjou and his papal allies to recover the island had failed to dislodge the Aragonese ruler. After the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282 Sicily was ruled first by King Peter III of Aragon, then his second son James (later James II of Aragon), and then after 1295 by James's younger brother, Frederick. While the Aragonese were not the Sicilian rulers of papal choice it became clear that they could not be easily ejected, and they were clearly preferable to the Hohenstaufen whom Charles I of Anjou had originally displaced. A settlement was eventually concluded, the treaty of Caltabellotta (1302), which ended hostilities and laid down that Frederick would surrender Sicily to Charles II or his successor and be compensated with another kingdom, such as Cyprus or Sardinia. The truce held, but the treaty was not put into effect.
The papacy had other problems in Italy. Boniface was a member of the Caetani family, and he favoured his relatives. The powerful Colonna family were rivals of the Caetani, and resented the pope's favouritism towards their enemies. The result was a war of arms and words between Boniface and the Colonna; including accusations that Boniface was a heretic and had had the previous pope, Celestine V (elected and resigned 1294), murdered. Alongside Boniface's rivalry with his Italian political enemies he was involved in a quarrel with King Philip IV of France over the king's rights to tax the French clergy; by a bull of 1296, Boniface forbad secular rulers to tax the Church without his permission. Philip retaliated by forbidding the French clergy to send any money to Rome. Philip supported the Colonna in Italy against Boniface; Boniface refused to allow Philip to punish the bishop of Pamiers, who had been plotting against the king. The two sides waged a propaganda war against each other, but Philip's ministers were better at this than the pope. Boniface was accused of heresy, buying Church offices ('simony') and of not being a true pope because he had been elected by trickery; he had a private demon as an adviser, he had silver images of himself set up in churches, he was a sodomite; and he did not believe that the French had souls. The mastermind behind these accusations was Philip IV's new adviser, Wilham de Nogaret.
Boniface was about to excommunicate Philip when William de Nogaret and Boniface's enemy Sciarra Colonna turned up at the papal court at Anagni with an army and arrested him. The pope was rescued by the citizens of the city, but shortly afterwards he died of shock.
The crisis left the Church in Italy deeply divided. Boniface's successor, Benedict VIII (1303-4), tried to reconcile the parties, but lived for only eight months. Not until spring 1305 was the next pope elected, Bertrand de Got, archbishop of Bordeaux, who took the name Clement V (1305-14). He was not related to any of the warring families of central Italy. As archbishop of Bordeaux his liege lord was the king of England, so that he was acceptable to the anti-French faction in the Church, yet he was a Frenchman, so Philip IV and his supporters would accept him. Clement was not a healthy man, and he inherited a papacy that had lost both prestige and power over the past decades through its involvement in factional infighting, its involvement in Sicily and its inability to assist the Latin Christians in the East. The political situation in Rome was so heated that Clement decided not to set up his court there. Philip IV offered him a refuge in France, which Clement accepted. In 1309 he established his court at Avignon - in France, but not in territory directly controlled by the king of France. There the papacy remained until 1378.
While the papacy was unable to help the refugees in the East, a hope of assistance for the recovery of the Holy Land had appeared in the person of the Mongol Ilkhan of Persia. When the Mongols had initially erupted into eastern Europe in 1241 western Christendom had been terrified, but by 1280 leading churchmen regarded the Mongols as potential converts to Christianity and allies against the Muslims. The Mongol Ilkhans also regarded the Latin Christians as potential allies against the Mamluks of Egypt. In late 1299 the Ilkhan Ghazan of Persia - a recent convert to Islam - asked King Henry II of Cyprus and the Masters of the Hospital and Temple for their aid in his campaign against the Mamluks in Palestine. Over the next two years the Christian army attempted to cooperate with the Ilkhan's strategy, and although the two sides never succeeded in synchronizing their campaigns, the Templars were able to conquer Arwad Island (also known as Ruad island, formerly Arados), close to their former stronghold of Tortosa (Tartus). In October 1302 the Mamluks attacked and sacked the island, killing or capturing the Templar garrison. The king of Cyprus and the Masters of the Orders assembled a relief force, but too late to save the island.
It has been suggested that the Templars were trying to set up a long-term base on Arwad with the intention of moving their headquarters there from Cyprus. The problem was that Arwad is too small to be self-sufficient and was too close to the Mamluk dominated coast for security. After the loss of Arwad, Jacques de Molay had no confidence in small advance expeditions, and concentrated on trying to raise a large crusade from the Order's base on Cyprus.
Cyprus was a more secure base than Arwad, but the Templars and Hospitallers could not mobilize resources there to support the large forces necessary for advances into the Holy Land. King Henry II's regime was on the defensive, not only because of the threat from Frederick of Sicily (due to receive Cyprus under the Treaty of Caltabellota) but also from his own brothers and vassals, who regarded him as an incompetent ruler. Henry was suspicious of the power and influence of the Military Orders, and restricted their operations on the island. The Templars had once briefly owned the island, and had extensive properties there. They were also allies of the king of Aragon, Frederick of Sicily's brother; and they were friendly with Charles II of Naples, who also had a claim to Cyprus. What if the Templars supported a take-over of Cyprus, to use it as the base for a new crusade? King Henry's suspicions were well grounded: in 1306 the Templars and many Cypriot nobles supported his brother Amaury de Lusignan when the latter overthrew Henry and took over the government of Cyprus.
Although little progress was made in organizing a crusade, various commentators in the West had drawn up tracts suggesting how the Holy Land could be recovered. Some had been prepared for the Second Council of Lyons of 1274, but more appeared after the loss of Acre in 1291. It is hard to say how serious these plans were, and some seem very impractical.
However, they gave the Military Orders an important role: the Orders were to lead the reconquest and were to be a standing army when the land was reconquered. To prevent rivalry between the Military Orders, most writers proposed that the Military Orders should be merged into One Order. The Master of this new Order would become king of the new kingdom of Jerusalem when it was conquered. Some writers suggested that this Master should be a king or a king's son from the West.
In 1306 Pope Clement V called the Masters of the Temple and Hospital to his court at Poitiers in the kingdom of France to submit their own comments on the crusade and the suggestions that their Orders be unified. Jacques de Molay objected to the plans for unification. He said that the rivalry between the Orders had led to the Orders vying to do the best for Christendom - so it was beneficial. Unifying the Orders would cause resentment. As for the crusade, he did not trust small expeditions; he wanted one big campaign. Jacques knew that expeditions were doomed to failure unless substantial support from the West was guaranteed.
The comments of the Master, of the Hospital, Fulk de Villaret, on the question of unification do not survive. His crusade proposal assumes that the Military Orders of the Hospital, Temple and the Teutonic Order will continue to operate as independent entities. Fulk planned a small expedition followed by a large one, a policy he then carried out. He put into train a small expedition to capture Rhodes, with Genoese support. This was successful, but the large expedition which he planned to follow never materialized.
The aim to unify the Military Orders did not proceed as planned; in the event, the Orders combined when the Order of the Temple was dissolved and its properties given to the Hospital. Yet although these plans came to nothing, they show that western Christendom still viewed the Military Orders positively, even though they had failed to defend the Holy Land. Although the Orders needed a few reforms, they were not a hopeless case; they could still do great things for Christendom and fulfil their intended purpose. Even after 1291, they had their critics, as they had always done, but since 1250 there had actually been less criticism of their activities. This was because other religious orders, particularly the friars, were becoming far more unpopular than the Military Orders had ever been. In addition, because the situation in the East had seemed virtually hopeless since the 1250s, while exciting and alarming events were going on in Europe, many commentators wrote about events near to home and ignored what was going on in the East, so did not mention the Military Orders.
Although the Military Orders took their share of the blame for the loss of the city of Acre in 1291, they were not the only parties blamed; commentators also criticized the pope for failing to assist them, the king of Cyprus for ineffectual leadership, and the people of Acre for being sinners (this was a general accusation arising every time Christians were defeated by Muslims). Although the still positive roles given to the Military Orders in fictional literature were dictated largely by certain conventions, the Orders would not have appeared at all if writers and audiences did not have a good opinion of them. 'Templars' continued to appear in the versions of the Grail legend based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival: Wolfram wrote in the first decade of the thirteenth century, and his work was so popular that German authors continued to adapt and develop it throughout the Middle Ages. In Wolfram's version of the story, the Templars appeared as defenders of the Grail Castle and of the Salva Terra, the Holy Land where the Grail castle lies: showing that Wolfram's Grail Castle represents Jerusalem, the holy city guarded by the real Templars. Other Grail authors did not include the Templars, but Templars continued to be depicted in a favourable light in other fictional literature throughout the Middle Ages. In the late thirteenth century and early fourteenth century some commentators observed that the Templars 'used to be the best of all knights but have now declined', but their comments only show that although some contemporaries were disappointed in them, they still wanted to think well of them. In short, while a few writers complained that the Templars and other Military Orders had lost sight of their vocation, most commentators viewed them favourably.
It thus came as a shock to almost everyone when on 13 October 1307 all the Templar Brothers in France were arrested on the orders of King Philip IV in surprise dawn raids. The Brothers were imprisoned and interrogated on a number of charges.
The charges against the Templars
The Templars'" innocence of the charges brought against them in 1307-8 has been generally agreed since the work of the American historian Henry Charles Lea, published in 1889. Most historians now see the charges as an exercise in political propaganda, although in recent years a few have argued that there was some basis in the accusations. The charges were carefully constructed. They all stemmed from popular myth about heretics and magicians, but some were also a malicious misinterpretation of the Order's actual practice.
The charges of irreligious kissing, adoring a cat, active homosexual practices, denying Christ, dishonouring the Mass, the involvement of the worshippers' everyday clothing in blasphemous worship, venerating an idol and excessive secrecy, were all part and parcel of medieval beliefs about heretical religion. The members of the Waldensian movement were accused of being 'horrified at the Holy Cross' and worshipping a cat, while the Cathars were accused of denying the cross, worshipping a four-faced idol and wearing a cord as a symbol of their beliefs.
Heresy can be defined as anything that does not conform to the accepted beliefs of society; in western Christendom in the Middle Ages it was any belief condemned by the Church. The actual beliefs of 'heretics' varied: the Waldensians were condemned for preaching without official Church authority, while the Cathars were dualists, believing that only spiritual things originated with God, while everything physical was created by
Summarized list of charges brought against the Templars
Errors of belief
The Templars denied Christ when they were received into the Order or soon after. They spat on the cross and defiled it.
They exchanged obscene kisses at their reception into the Order.
There were other dubious activities at their reception; they were made to swear that they would not leave the Order, receptions were held in secret, and sodomy was encouraged.
They had to swear not to reveal what was said at their reception.
They adored a cat.
They did not believe in the Mass or other sacraments of the Church. Their priests did not speak the words of consecration in the Mass (so donations for Masses to be said for a donor's soul would be wasted).
They were taught that the Master, Yisitor and Commander (who were laity) could absolve them from sin — which only ordained priests could do.
They practised sodomy.
They venerated an idol, a bearded male head, and said that the head had great powers. Each of them wore around their-waist a cord which had been wound around the head.
They were only allowed to confess, their sins to a Brother of the Order.
They did not correct these errors, which were said to be 'of long and general observance', or 'ancient custom'.
Errors of practice
The Order did not make charitable gifts as it ought, nor was hospitality practised.
The Brothers did not reckon it a sin to acquire properties belonging to another by legal or illegal means.
They did not reckon it a sin to procure increase and profit for the Order in whatsoever way they could.
Perjury was not reckoned a sin if done to win gain for the Order.
Other suggestive evidence against the Order
The Brothers held chapters in secret, at night.
Many Brothers left the Order, 'because of the filth and errors of their Order.'
There was widespread scandal about these things.
This summary is based on the translation of the charges by Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 248-52.
the devil. Devout Christians feared heresy because it was hidden (as no one can know for certain what another person believes) and because Christians believed that if heresy was not destroyed it would bring about the destruction of society. Either God would punish all Christians for not destroying the heretics, or the heretics themselves would destroy society directly, because they did not fear God and so did not respect the authorities whom God had approved. From the eleventh century onwards churchmen wrote of heresy as being a leprosy that was slowly destroying Christendom, or a cancer eating up Christendom from inside, or that heretics were locusts who devoured everything good in society, or scorpions who stung their victims unexpectedly and killed them. Fear of heresy in the Middle Ages was similar to the fear of communism in the United States in the 1950s or fear of satanism in Britain in the 1990s; often irrational and exaggerated, and resulting in the disgrace and misery of many completely innocent people who had been falsely accused. Anxiety about heresy increased dramatically from the eleventh century onwards. Society was becoming more settled and wealthy, and literacy was spreading, so that the population as a whole became more ready and able to think for themselves and develop their own ideas about religion. The Church had not been able to meet the increased demands placed upon it by the increased population and growth of towns, so people turned elsewhere for spiritual support; and through the reform movement of the second half of the eleventh and first decades of the twelfth century the popes had encouraged the laity to question the lifestyle of its priests and to have higher expectations of how the clergy should live. In addition, the authorities of western Christendom were also more on the lookout for heresy. As governments became more organized and systems of administration developed, rulers became more determined to enforce single systems of belief.
Many pious people were accused of heresy; in fact some believed that the best way of identifying heretics was to look for extremely, devout people. One mark of every heretic was their enthusiasm about their beliefs and their conviction that
their beliefs alone were true. Several religious, orders were accused of heresy. In 1238 Pope Gregory IX accused the Hospitallers of having heretics in their midst, and ordered them to reform themselves. At the Council of Vienne in 1312 the decree Ad Nostrum outlawed beliefs that were said to be held by the beguines and beghards, lay groups of woman and men who did not have a recognized rule and did not always live in organized houses. The Council considered condemning the beguines altogether, but decided to allow the organized-houses to remain, provided that they were under proper ecclesiastical authority. Pope John XXII (1316-34) condemned the Spiritual Franciscans, a branch of the Franciscan Friars who tried to follow St Francis's original doctrine of absolute poverty. The problem was that these groups were defying norms of ecclesiastical authority, even though their actual beliefs were orthodox in other respects. Repression could be harsh, and some of the Spirituals, who refused to agree to the pope's decision were burned at the stake.
The Teutonic Order in Livonia was accused of heresy by its political enemies there in a series of appeals to the papacy in 1298, 1300 and 1305: the charges included attacking the Church, the burning of dead bodies (a pagan practice), and killing wounded Brothers. The Order defended itself and brought counter-charges, but the Order in Livonia was excommunicated and Pope Clement V ordered an investigation.
However, the Orders allies were too powerful at the papal court for the case to proceed, and its enemies were too weak; eventually the charges were-dropped.
All in all, there was nothing extraordinary about a religious order being accused of heresy. Once a person had been accused of heresy, the charge could not be refuted unless it could be show that the person who had brought the charge was a personal enemy. It was very difficult to find anyone to defend heretics or to speak on their behalf because anyone defending them was likely to be accused of heresy themselves. It was the responsibility of the local bishop to investigate charges of heresy; he might appoint an investigator, but from the 1230s the pope also sometimes appointed investigators to seek out and deal with heresy in certain specific areas.
Traditionally, the trial by ordeal had been used to find the truth in legal investigations, but because this always required the intervention of God (for example, if the accused was thrown into water they had to sink to prove their innocence) by the late twelfth century canon lawyers were becoming uneasy about using this method. At the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 it was decided that the ordeal should no longer be used. Torture took the place of the ordeal in investigations; Pope Innocent IV licensed its use in heresy cases in 1252. It was not always used, however, since the threat of torture was often enough to gain the required confessions.
Investigators assumed that that inflicting pain on a person would force them to tell the truth, unaware that it was more likely to force them to say what the investigator wanted them to say. Miscarriages of justice in Britain in the 1970s, such as the cases of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, showed that it is not even necessary to use torture, but only to threaten violence and to use certain methods of interrogation, to persuade innocent people to confess to crimes as instructed.
A person accused of heresy who confessed and repented would be given penance and absolved.
A person accused of heresy who was believed guilty but who refused to confess was regarded as 'obdurate', stubbornly sticking to their crime, and worthy of punishment by death. As the Church was not supposed to shed blood, the heretic would be handed over to the secular authority to be punished. The traditional punshment for religious dissidents, going back beyond Roman law to the Middle Eastern Kingdoms of Old Testament times (see Daniel 3), was death by burning, a method of purification from evil.
Heretics who confessed and then went back on their confession were regarded as having returned to their guilt. They were handed over to the secular authorities and punished by burning at the stake. Heretics who confessed in part or who were suspected of not making a full repentance were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Because it was almost impossible to escape from a charge of heresy once it had been made, a virtually certain means of ensuring the speedy fall of a political rival was to accuse him or her of heresy. Such charges increased during the thirteenth century, and the charges against the Templars obviously fit into this pattern.
On another level, the charges against the Templars echo medieval beliefs about magicians. Until the eleventh century the Church had not taken witchcraft and magic very seriously: once active paganism had died out in western Europe, witchcraft was viewed as little more than a collection of superstitious practices indulged in by deluded old women. It could be dangerous, but it was not a major threat to society as a whole. However, with the discovery of the scientific classical Greek and Arabic texts in the library of Toledo (captured by Alfonso VI of Leon-Castile in 1085), this attitude changed. For part and parcel with ancient science were magical texts, based on mathematics and the study of the stars and planets, and on the innate qualities of plants, stones and animals. They claimed to have been written by ancient philosophers, prophets, scientists, even gods, such as Hermes, Aristotle, Moses, Socrates, Plato, Ptolemy. They promised that through knowledge of heavens and the earth and correct application of that knowledge it was possible to control events to one's own will. This was clearly not mere superstition, but, it was believed, serious science. It deserved to be taken seriously; and so magic moved into the realm of the possible, the probable, and the extremely dangerous. Every king needed to know about it, and courtiers used it in an attempt to gain power and influence. But while magicians claimed to work only through the power and assistance of God, the Church as a whole was not so sure.
Magic, which involved controlling the spirits of the stars and other powers, could easily become demon-worship.
Books of medieval magic and esoteric knowledge abound from the twelfth century onwards: books derived or claiming to derive from Persian and Greek astrological lore such as the Cyranides and the Secreta Secretorum, the mixed bag of astromagic, necromancy, spells and philosophy that makes up the Picatrix (translated from Arabic into Castilian Spanish for King Alfonso X, 'the wise', and then into Latin), magical texts such as the Ars notoria, which 'provides a set of magical pictures: claiming to enable the lazy student to learn the seven liberal arts very quickly, and necromancer's handbooks. Such books would be kept secret,-omitted from an owner's library catalogue, passed on quietly through networks of friends. They all emphasize the importance of secrecy, of keeping the book from the eyes of the uninitiated, of hard study and following a pious, austere lifestyle.
As the author of the Picatrix begins: 'To the praise and glory of the highest and omnipotent God whose quality it is to reveal to his predestined ones the secrets of the sciences' (scientiorum, which also means 'all forms of knowledge'). He explains: 'you should know that this secret which we intend to reveal in this book of ours cannot be acquired unless one first learns how to acquire it. And whoever intends to learn how to acquire it must study in the sciences and scrutinise them in proper order, because this secret cannot be gained except through wisdom and study in the sciences in the proper order. Moreover, there is great purity in this secret, which will be of great help to you.' He then goes on to describe necromancy.
Secrecy, study and purity - all contained in a book! The charges against the Templars hinted that the Templars' Rule might be such, a book.
The Templars' operations in the East meant that they had been in frequent diplomatic contact with Muslims. Some Templars may have learned Arabic; the Order employed secretaries and also spies who knew Arabic. For educated Westerners, the obvious use for Arabic was for reading Arabic magic texts. Perhaps (they may have thought) the Templars' Rule was actually a translation of an Arabic magical text, as so many books of magic claimed to be. The fact that the Templars preferred outsiders not to read the Rule and actually stated in their statutes that it could be harmful if outsiders read it (section 326) tended to encourage such a belief. Yet some outsiders did read the Rule: one of the lay witnesses on Cyprus had read it and said that everything in it was good; Pope Clement V owned two copies, the Teutonic Order followed it, and various religious houses had copies of it. These outsiders knew that it was not a magical text. But for anyone not connected to the Order, the charges against the Templars hinted that the Order was actually involved in magical practices.
The charge that the Templars venerated a head also reinforced the charge of magic.
Malcolm Barber has shown that the testimonies about this supposed head during the trial derive from medieval folklore. He has demonstrated that there is no evidence for the existence of a bearded head as described in the Templar trial proceedings. It is true that those framing the charges against the Templars may have been thinking of a specific bearded head. Two masters of the Temple in Germany had Christ's head on their seals: Christ was the King of the Order, so it was reasonable for His head to appear on the seal. But elsewhere the Order used the image of the agnus Dei, the lamb of God, to represent Christ, and in all the rest of the surviving Templar iconography there are no bearded heads, of Christ or anyone else - unless the Templars were venerating their own bearded heads!
The Hospitallers of St John, on the other-hand, did venerate a bearded head, the head of St John the Baptist, which appears on seals of the Order in England. The head of St John the Baptist appears elsewhere in Hospitaller iconography in Britain, for example in the medieval painting of a bearded head now in the church at Templecombe in Somerset - Templecombe became a Hospitaller commandery after the dissolution of the Order of the Temple.
It is possible that this particular charge against the Templars was deliberately designed to confuse outsiders, who knew that the Hospitallers venerated a bearded head and could not always tell the Hospitallers and Templars apart from each other.
But the charge also recalls the magical texts of the period. In particular, Picatrix gives instructions as to how to use a severed human head for magical purposes. Again, there is an implication that the Templars were magicians.
The charge of venerating an idol that was said to have great powers also recalls the conventional picture of the Muslim in the western European writings of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Muslims were said to worship idols of Mohammad, Jupiter, Apollo and other gods. They were also said to blaspheme Christ, spit on the cross and dishonour it in other ways, as the Templars were accused of doing. For instance, Ambroise the trouvere and the author of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum, in their accounts of the siege of Acre of 1189-91, tell how a Muslim soldier stood on the walls of the city of Acre and beat a crucifix, waved it about 'with obscene movements, with filthy and sinful miming actions and blasphemously shouting impious words against our religion', and finally urinated on it. At that point one of the Christians shot him in the groin with a crossbow bolt, and he fell dead.
So the Templars were being accused of behaving like Muslims; but stereotypical Muslims, not real Muslims. Real Muslims do not blaspheme Jesus Christ or His Mother the Virgin Mary, for in Islam Jesus is a great prophet, Isa, 'blessed be he!', and His Mother's virginity is accepted. Islam forbids the use of pictures of animals or people in worship, so the Muslims do not have idols. Thus the charges against the Templars do not indicate that the Templars had adopted Muslim practices, because the charges do not represent real Muslim practice. The Templars were being accused of becoming the stereotypical mythical Muslims of fiction.
Why should any group adopt a completely mythical set of practices, especially when they knew what the real Muslims did (because they had had frequent contact with them in the East) and they knew that according to Christian belief these mythical practices would lead to their damnation? As the Templars and Hospitallers were reported to have protested to Count Robert of Artois in 1250 at Mansurah, this was a ridiculous suggestion.
The charge that that Templars were behaving like Muslims was irrational: if the Templars had become 'contaminated' with Muslim beliefs, they would have started acting like real Muslims, reading the Koran and praying to Allah rather than Christ; but they were not accused of doing this. They were accused of becoming 'fairy-tale' Muslims. As many magical texts had been composed by Muslims or translated into Arabic by Muslims, this accusation reinforced the charge that the Templars were magicians.
There were many known magicians operating during the Middle Ages, most of them either connected with a religious Order or in priestly Orders. Many rulers, including popes, employed magicians, but the only known Templar involvement in magic comes from after the dissolution of the Order, when an ex-Templar appears as one of the necromancers employed by a cardinal of the Church. As the Order had been dissolved, he was taking advantage of the new employment opportunity that had been thrust upon him; but as he failed to produce what his client wanted he does not seem to have been very successful in it. Medieval magic was a supremely literate science, contained in books that were usually in Latin, the language of literacy, designed to be read privately, not aloud. Some were in the vernacular, but Latin was more convenient for wide distribution and for keeping magical texts secret from outsiders. As we have seen, the Templars were not a literate Order. Very few of them could read Latin; books produced for Templars were written in the vernacular and were primarily intended to be read aloud to a group. Hence Templars would not have known anything about magic, let alone become involved in it.
The group-most notorious for their involvement in magic during the Middle Ages was the secular priests.
For a poor priest with an education and a low income, it would have been a great temptation to 'cash in' on his knowledge of Latin and make some money from his more gullible parishioners by performing simple magical tricks and producing 'magic potions'. The other group with a particular interest in magic was the literati, the educated officials who provided the backbone of royal government. They might tinker with magic themselves. In 1315 Enguerrand of Marigny, former chamberlain and advisor of Philip IV of France, was hanged for using image magic against Philip's son and heir. Louis X and Philip's nephew; Charles of Valois. The literati formed the social group which produced the ministers of Philip IV who brought the charges against the Templars. In short, the Templars were accused of the dubious activities that their accusers themselves actually practised in their spare time.
Attacks on political rivals on the basis of a charge of magic increased from the mid-thirteenth century onwards, in the same way as politically inspired charges of heresy. Typically the charge of heresy and magic would be combined together, for magic was regarded as part of heresy.
The charges of magic were more likely to be credible than charges of heresy, as most courtiers would at some time or other have been involved in magic, even if only in having their horoscope cast.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Walter Langton, bishop of Lichfield and treasurer of King Edward I, was accused by one John Lovetot of various crimes, including doing homage to the devil. The grounds for John Lovetot's accusations were personal grievances.
This accusation did not go far because the king was not willing to support it, but it illustrates how it was becoming routine to accuse political opponents of blasphemy and the like, simply as part and parcel of a legal case.
In the notorious Kilkenny witchcraft trial of 1324, during which one of the defendants was burned at the stake as a witch, the original charges were brought so as to obtain a share in a disputed inheritance. During the reign of Philip IV of France and his sons, political accusations of this sort were brought against Pope Boniface VIII, Bishop Guichard of Troyes and Enguerrand de Marigny.
In short, the charges brought against the Templars accused them of heresy and magic, which was normal for political trials of the period.
If the charges came to a trial, normal rules for heresy trials would apply: the Brothers would have little hope of clearing their names, and their only practical option would be to confess quickly in order to save their lives. In France this was exactly what happened.
As the charges against the Templars had no basis in previous criticism, and were clearly standard accusations, why did anyone believe them?
The answer to this is twofold. First, hardly anyone outside the domains of the king of France did believe them. Second, within the kingdom of France the charges were carefully grounded in the actual activities of the Templars.
The charge that the Templars venerated a head was true, since the Templars did venerate the heads of at least two female martyrs, St Euphemia and one of St Ursula's maidens: the former in the East and the latter at Paris. These relics were well known, often seen and fully accounted for. The veneration of saints' relics was a standard part of orthodox Roman Catholic practice, and all religious Orders venerated relics.
But the Order was not being accused of venerating the head of St Euphemia, for this was not a crime. The charges mixed the known Templar veneration for the relics of saints with the known Hospitaller veneration for the bearded head of St John the Baptist and produced the mysterious 'Templar head' that so baffled contemporaries and has misled many commentators since. In so doing, whoever formulated the charge was also mocking the cult of relics, which was coming under criticism from educated people. As the Templars were devoted to the cult of relics, and took great pride in their devotion, presumably whoever formulated the charge saw their devotion as foolish and grounded in ignorance.
The charge that the Templars did not honour the Mass hit the Order at a sensitive point. The Order relied for much of its income and its patrons support on its priests performing Mass for the souls of donors and their families. The Templars were proud of their service for God in their chapels: Jacques de Molay declared to the papal commissioners, in 1308 that he did not know of any Order that had better or more beautiful ornamentation and relics and everything necessary for divine worship or whose priests and clerics performed the divine service better. One of the lay witnesses on Cyprus, Parseval de-Mar, agreed with him: the Templars' 'chapels' were better decorated than those of any other religious Order. Yet the charges, which completely denied all that the Templars were most proud of in their service for God, claimed that the Templars had not upheld Christendom against the Muslims, but had adopted Muslim beliefs and practices. Their beautiful chapels, devoted divine service and well-cared for relics were a sham.
The charges also made fun of the Brothers.
They were known for their ignorance of theology. Some would not have known the difference between the chaplain absolving them from sins against God and the Master absolving them from faults against the Rule. The charge that they were taught that the Master, Visitor and Commander could absolve them from sin, which was theologically unsound, reflects the Brothers' ignorance. The charge that they venerated a bearded head mocked their beards. The charge that they were told at their reception that they could indulge in sodomy poked fun at the Brothers' chastity. Careful reading of the trial records reveals that the Brothers were actually told that if there was a shortage of beds - for instance, when they were travelling on the road - they might have to sleep two to a bed.
Finally, did Jacques de Molay have a pet cat?
It is impossible to know how far the charges against the Templars reflect personal situations at that time. The Brothers were baffled by the accusation that they adored a cat. Some did say that they had seen cats come in to reception ceremonies or to chapter meetings at various times: sometimes a white cat, sometimes black or brown. The Templars' commanderies were agricultural concerns with large barns where food was stored, so the commandery cat(s) would have been important members of the community, with the task of keeping down rats and mice in the barns. It is true that the charge of adoring a cat was a standard charge against heretics, but it would be interesting to know if it also reflected a particular situation within the Order at the time of the trial.
In short, the charges were ingeniously devised to make the most of the Templars' weak points and undermine their strongest points, so it was impossible for them to escape.
Who, then, devised the charges?
The original charges of 1307 were framed by one Esquiu de Floyran of Beziers, co-prior of Montfaucon. In January 1308 he wrote to James II of Aragon in jubilant mood, informing James that his accusations against the Templars, which James had refused to believe, had been taken seriously by Philip IV of France.
Esquiu had made four accusations: the Templars denied Christ at their reception and spat on the cross, they were told at their reception that they could have sex with each other because they could not have sex with women, they kissed their receptor on the base of the spine, the navel and the mouth, and they worshipped an idol.
According to Esquiu, when James had originally dismissed Esquiu's stories he had told him that if he could prove them, he would give him 3,000 livres (pounds). Esquiu reckoned that the Templar confessions under torture in France in late 1307 constituted proof, and was writing to claim his money Esquiu's original accusations fitted the pattern of accusations of devil-worship brought against leading political figures of this period such as Pope Boniface VIII and Walter Langton.
Like these, his accusations were presumably promoted by a personal grievance that had no obvious connection with the accusations.
Just as Edward I of England dismissed the charges against Walter Langton, so James II had dismissed the charges against the Templars. The fact that Philip IV and his ministers took them seriously indicates that they had their own motives for attacking the Templars.
Scholars believe that the final 'worked up' version of the charges against the Templars was devised by William de Nogaret, who masterminded Philip IV's attack on Pope Boniface VIII, and went on to use similar charges against Bishop Guichard of Troyes.
Nogaret knew how to frame the charges to the best effect. In the nineteenth century the French scholar Jules Michelet suggested that the charges involving the denial of Christ and other abuses during the reception of Brothers to the Order actually referred to an obedience test. Michelet and later scholars surmised that the Brothers were told to deny Christ either in commemoration of Simon Peter's denial of Christ, or to ensure that they would obey every command they were given, or because if they were captured by the Muslims they would be put under pressure to deny Christ, so the performance at their reception was to prepare them for this.
This last theory is based on the testimonies of two Templars during the trial. But it does not stand up to examination. If the Templars wanted to test new Brothers' obedience, they could easily have found a difficult test that did not involve denying the very purpose of the Order - the service of Christ. Again, if the Brothers were commemorating Simon Peter's denial of Christ, this should have been generally known in the Order - but it was not.
If the Templars wanted to establish whether Brothers could stand up to Muslim pressure to deny Christ, then surely applicants would not have been admitted to the Order if they agreed to deny Christ. Yet those Brothers who confessed to this charge implied that it made no difference whether they denied Christ or refused to deny. In fact, they seemed completely bewildered as to why they should have been asked to deny. If there had been any truth in the charge, there must have been some reasoning behind this denial; and if there had been some reasoning behind it, at least one of the officials who had admitted Brothers to the Order should have known what it was. But although a few witnesses in France offered explanations, no two explanations agreed; and no one tried to defend this supposed practice.
Outside the areas under the direct control of the king of France or his relations and where no torture was used, hardly anyone confessed to anything.
Brother Imbert or Himbert' Blane, Commander of the Auvergne, was in England at the time of the arrests and gave his testimony without the assistance of torture. Back in France, many Brothers of the Temple said that they had been admitted to the Order by Imbert and that he had insisted that they deny Christ, and so on. Imbert could easily have saved himself by explaining the reasoning behind this procedure, if any existed. But he denied that he had ever admitted anyone to the Order except by the proper procedures laid down in the Order's regulations. His refusal to admit to any of the abuses that his Brothers in France had wished on him meant that he was labelled as a non-confessed heretic and sentenced to lifetime imprisonment: The obvious conclusion is that he was telling the truth: there were no abuses, and he had never received any Brother except by the proper procedures.
It must be said that no real effort was made during the trial of the Templars to discover the truth behind the charges, or the true situation in the Order.
The purpose of a heresy trial was to prove the charges of heresy, not to find out the truth.
So only the Brothers of the Order were arrested: the nuns of Muhlen and any other Templar Sisters, associates of the Order living within the Order's houses, and servants were not. It is true that the charges only affected the Brothers, but the Sisters, associates and servants would have known what was going on in the Order's houses and could have given testimony. The fact that only a few servants of the Order were interrogated indicates that the investigators did not want their testimony, as if they did not believe that it would supposition charges.
Some non-Templars gave evidence during the trial—On Cyprus, third-party evidence was heard at length and was virtually unanimous: the charges were absolutely false.
In France a few non-Templars gave evidence, some in favour of the Order and some against.
In England, Scotland and Ireland, where the Brothers refused to confess to anything, a good deal of third-party evidence was heard, as the inquisitors tried to prove the Templars' guilt through their public reputation.
In England this produced some extraordinary stories reminiscent of twentieth-century gothic horror movies and/or the sort of bawdy humour represented by the British "Carry On" films of the 1950s to 1970s.
Such evidence is fascinating evidence for the tradition of English horror and English humour, but was not very helpful in convicting the Templars: stories were vague, without names or dates, and the people actually involved in the stories were never called to corroborate them.
One friar told a story about some Templars who were staying, with 'a certain matron' — a mature, married woman - in York. She came to take one Templar's dirty clothes for washing, and found that he had hidden his underpants in the latrine. Pulling them out, she found a cross on them. The story was told to demonstrate that the Templars dishonoured the cross by putting it on their underclothes; cynics might add that as Templars were notorious for putting their cross on everything else they owned (to show that it was exempt from paying tithes and certain secular dues) why not their underwear as well? But the woman in question never appeared to confirm the tale.
One lady, however, did appear to give evidence, Agnes Cocacota or Louekete, who claimed to be friendly with one of the Brothers' servants. According to Brother John de Bercia of the Friars Minor, Agnes had been told by the Valet' or serving lad of the commander of the Templars' house in London about someone who had surreptitiously entered one of the Templars' secret chapter meetings. The investigators managed to find Agnes and get her own version of events. She said that she had been told by one Robert, the 'valet' of Brother John de Moun, then commander of the New Temple in London, about how one Walter, a servant of the Order, had managed to overhear a chapter meeting. Agnes had also told Brother John de Bercia that the Templars sexually abused each other. Where was "Walter?" Why was Robert the valet not called to give evidence? Presumably because the whole story was a fabrication.
TO BE CONTINUED