In the two centuries of their formal existence the Knights Templar served under 23 Grand Masters. It is Jacques de Molay however, whom is best known with the possible exception of the orders founder, Hughes de Payens.
It is generally considered that Jacques de Molay was born in the year 1244 in an area called Vitrey, Department of Haute Saone, France. Little is known of his childhood, but what is known is that in 1265 at the age of twenty-one, he joined the Knights Templar. As in Freemasonry today, twenty-one years of age was the youngest a candidate for admission into that Order of knighthood could be.
Like many that sought out the order of the Temple, de Molay joined seeking the thrill of battle with the infidel. In his later years he reflected on how he and his fellow knights silently grumbled about then Grand Master William of Beaujeu and his pacific attitude towards the Mamlukes who at that time occupied the Holy Land. It seemed that the young Templars were not found of King Edward’s truce with the enemy, for it did little to add their blood to the Templar’s swords.
De Molay rose through the ranks quite quickly and spent a great deal of time in Britain. He was first appointed the position of Visitor General and latterly to the post of Grand Preceptor of all England.
On the death of the 22nd Grand Master, Theobald Gaudin, de Molay was installed as the head of the Order. Almost immediately he moved from England to the island of Cyprus, which the Knights Templar had owned at one point.
In the reign of Grand Master Robert de Sable, the Templars bought the island for the sum of 100,000 Saracen Bezants from Richard I for which they put a down payment of 40,000 bezants. Unfortunately they left a small garrison there who tried to overtax the populace which ultimately led to a revolt which caused the Templars to quickly turn the island back over to King Richard. Richard did not want the Island and sold it to Guy of Lusignan. After the fall of Acre in 1291, the island became an important base for the order.
It would be on the island of Cyprus that de Molay would remain until Philip IV and Clement V summoned him to France in the autumn of 1307.
The story of the orders downfall is too well know to readers of this Web Site to recount in detail, but what may not be known is that prior to the arrest, Phillip le Belle made Jacques de Molay Godfather of his son. The day before the arrest de Molay also acted as Pallbearer at the funeral of Philip’s sister in law. Perhaps the king didn’t want the order to suspect his motives or perhaps he was simply adhering to the old adage, “keeps your friends close and your enemies closer.”
After the arrest on the morning of October 13th 1307 de Molay spent the next seven years in prison during which time he and his Templar knights were dealt tortures that were unbearable. The inquisitors would go to any means to extract the confessions that would damn the order in the eyes of the people and the Catholic Church.
Although de Molay confessed to denying Christ and trampling on the Holy Cross, he steadfastly denounced the accusations that the initiation ritual consisted of homosexual practices.
On March 18th, 1314 de Molay was led out before the people to publicly confess his and the order’s sins. He recanted his earlier confessions and said the only crime he was guilty of was lying about his Brethren to relieve his own tortures. He was then taken to an island on the Siene and burned along with Geoffrey de Charney the Preceptor of Normandy.
There are many accounts of de Molay’s dying words, but the 19th century historian, Charles Addison; perhaps one of the foremost Templar scholars records them as follows:
“To say that which is untrue is a crime both in the sight of God and man. Not one of us has betrayed his God or his country. I do confess my guilt, which consists in having, to my shame and dishonor, suffered myself, through the pain of torture and the fear of death, to give utterance to falsehoods imputing scandalous sins and iniquities to an illustrious Order, which hath nobly served the cause of Christianity. I disdain to seek a wretched and disgraceful existence by engrafting another lie upon the original falsehood.”
– Charles Addison Knights Templars
Many latter day writers have claimed that de Molay in his dying breath summoned both the King of France and Pope Clement to meet him in a tribunal before God within the year. True to the claim both men did indeed die within that time.
Whether a statement made by the Last Grand Master or an apocryphal account of Divine justice served, it will forever remain part of the Mythos surrounding Grand Master Jacques de Molay.