Death on Friday the thirteenth
Although most of the Templars were arresied in 1307, the trials against them lasted for the next seven years. In March ,1314, the last Grand Master of the order was burnt at the stake.
In destroying the powerful Order of the Knights Templar and seizing their assets, Philip the Fair of France was able to solve his debt crisis at a stroke. The date of their downfall has been regarded as an omen of bad luck ever since.
On Friday, October 13, 1307, agents of Philip IV simultaneously arrested all the members of the order the Knights Templars in France. They were tortured into admitting heresy and hundreds were condemned to death and executed in show trials. The order was completely destroyed.
The Templars had long been victims of vicious rumours in France - including heresy and various depraved acts - but with the protection of the Pope, as well as their immense wealth, they must have considered themselves untouchable. A combination of public ill-will and a debt-ridden but powerful king, were to prove their undoing.
THE TEMPLARS COME INTO BEING
Following the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, pilgrims could travel to the Holy Land for the first time in years. Many never made it as far as Jerusalem, victims of bandits and brigands along the pilgrimage routes. In 1118 nine knights founded a new order in the city. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience its members were obliged to protect pilgrims. When Baldwin II of Jerusalem bequeathed them his former palace in the city, built on the site of the ancient Temple of Solomon, they immediately became known as the 'Knights Templar' or 'Templars'.
POOR KNIGHTS, BUT A WEALTHY ORDER
On joining the Templars, a knight would take a vow of poverty and bequeath his worldly goods to the community. In this way and also through donations from rulers and other wealthy individuals, the Templars amassed an enormous fortune. In around 1135, the Templars began to make loans from their holdings. Sixty years later, the interest on such loans had become their main source of income - an enterprise expressly sanctioned by the Pope even though ordinary Christians were not allowed under any circumstances to act as usurers. The Templars proved canny bankers. At the height of their power the 15,000 members were managing more than 9000 estates throughout Europe.
Philip IV ruled France from 1285 to 1314. Dubbed 'Le Bel' because of his handsome appearance, he was a corrupt and ruthless king with ambitions to be head of a European Empire. Before destroying the Templars he had already persecuted the Jews and the Lombards.
When the Templars withdrew from the Holy Land in 1291, their commitment to protect pilgrims and pilgrimage routes became superfluous. The moneylending business continued unabated and the order's great wealth ensured that its members could lead a comfortable life in Europe. But unlike the Knights Hospitallers, who had taken control of the island of Malta, or the Teutonic Order which had established the state of Prussia, the Templars still relied on the power of their wealth alone.
A KING IN NEED OF CASH
In the 80 years since the foundation of the order, states had become far more consolidated entities. Kings and emperors began to resent the power of the Church. And one of them, the ambitious Philip IV of France was in desperate need of money and was willing to do anything to get hold of it. In 1305, there had been a plan to unite the religious fighting orders into a single order known as the Knights of Jerusalem. Philip was keen to be the supreme ruler and control the revenues of the proposed order and even made this suggestion to Rome, although the plan eventually came to nothing.
The order of the Knights Templar was founded in Jerusalem in 1119. it took as its uniform a white tunic emblazoned with a red Maltese cross.
Pope Clement V dissolved the Templars on March 22,.1312.
The Templars reformed in Scotland, Portugal and Northern Italy. They were even readmitted to France under Napoleon.
The Templars today
The headquarters of the charitable order, which is still not recognised by the Pope, is Jerusalem. It has around 5000 members.
At the start of the 14th century, the Templars' wealth in France was so great that Philip feared them as potential political rivals. When it was suggested to him that he could eradicate the order and use its wealth to clear the state's mountain of debt, he found the idea irresistible. Initially, the king tried to get Pope Boniface VIII to excommunicate the Templars. When he refused, Philip had him kidnapped and so ill-treated that he died shortly afterward. Boniface IX, who replaced him, was reputed to have been poisoned by the king's agent. Pope Clement V agreed to Philip's demands and later moved the papacy to Avignon. Once he had papal approval, Philip's operation against the order quickly swung into action. First, he undermined their reputation with propaganda. It was claimed that on their initiation to the order the Templars were expected to spit three times on the Cross, deny Christ's resurrection and enter into homosexual relationships.
TORTURE AND SHOW TRIALS
Then the king really went onto the offensive; almost all the Templars were thrown into jail. Torture was used to extract confessions, many of which were later retracted.
The trials were a sham, at which the verdict was a foregone conclusion: death by burning at the stake.
On March 22, 1312, Pope Clement V dissolved the Templars. Their possessions were impounded and transferred to the Knights Hospitallers, but not before the state had stripped out the exorbitant cost of the trials. And even the Hospitallers were not granted the possessions of the Templars for free, but instead had to pay large sums of money to the king. By the time the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacob de Molay, was burnt at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314, and invoked the wrath of heaven on the king and Pope, Philip had managed to completely clear his debts.
He did not have long to savour his success; both he and Clement V died later that year - Jacob de Molnay's curse apparently having wrought its revenge on both of them.
The Templars had four categories of brothers: knights, with heavy cavalry; sergeants, with light cavalry and of a lower social order; farmers, who administered the property; and chaplains, who were ordained priests.