The Brethren Persecuted: Part One

The following article was originally written for Knight Templar Magazine, the official publication of the Grand Encampment of knights Templar (USA)

by Stephen Dafoe

Part One: The End Is The Beginning Is The End

On 28 May, 1291 the Templars relinquished their fortified compound to the Mamlukes who had been besieging the port city of Acre for the past six weeks. The Mamlukes had actually breached the city walls ten days earlier, but the Templars were the last to leave the field, a situation that was a long-standing tradition with the Order.

The loss of Acre was not merely another crusader defeat, for the port had been home to the Templars and Hospitallers for nearly a century; having been captured by Richard the Lionheart on 12 July, 1191. Although the capture of Acre marked the passing of the era of the Crusader States for Christendom, the Templars suffered as well. Not only had they lost their headquarters in the east, they also lost their grand master, William de Beaujeu, who was injured during the battle and died int he arms of a Hospitaller brother.

De Beaujeau was replaced by Theobald Gaudin, who was elected by his brethren at the Templar fortress at Sidon, 60 miles north of Acre. One of de Gaudin’s first actions as head of the Order was to remove himself to the Island of Cyprus to recruit assistance for his brethren. No help was to be received and on 12 July, the knights abandoned their last fortress on the mainland, joining their brethren on Cyprus.

When Pope Nicholas IV learned of the Christian defeat at Acre, he immediately made arrangements to take back the Holy Land. Part of his plan was to unite the military Orders into one cohesive unit. Of course the idea was not an original one, having been tossed around as early as 1274. Although Nicholas appointed a committee to investigate the idea, he died before their report was completed. A year later, Jacques de Molay, who had succeeded Gaudin as grand master, left the Island of Cyprus on a three-year tour of England, France, Aragon and Italy in the hopes of drumming up support for his own plan to recapture the Holy Land. De Molay wasn’t looking for fresh bodies to fight the enemies of Christendom, but to look for arms and aide for the cause. Pope Boniface VIII accommodated the Templars by issuing the Order a series of papal favours in 1297. The fact that the Holy Church was willing to continue its support of the Templars discredits the notion that after the loss of Acre, the Templars lost favour with the Holy See.

Although de Molay returned to Cyprus in 1296, the Templars did not involve themselves in many military campaigns; however, they seem to have become immersed in Cyprian political intrigue at the turn of the century, culminating in a change of Cyprian crowns in 1306.

De Molay and the pope

In the fall of that year, de Molay was once again on the move to France, having been summoned by Pope Clement V, who had resuscitated Nicholas’s idea of uniting the military Orders. It is at this point in the story where some popular Templar mythology needs to be debunked. Many modern works on the Templars make the claim that the real reason for Clement summoning de Molay to France was to lead him into a trap. This notion is apocryphally based on the unfortunate events that followed de Molay’s arrival. To understand the matter, we should understand a bit about Clement V and King Philip IV.

Philip became King of France at the age of 17, was the eleventh in a continuous line of male heirs to occupy the throne and, perhaps most importantly, was the grandson of a saint. But the Capetian Dynasty’s rich lineage had left young Philip with far more than big shoes to fill – massive war debt accumulated by his father’s battles in Aragon had left the country strapped for cash. Philip tried a variety of remedies – fiddling with the currency and even taxing the clergy, the latter of which created a long-standing riff between the king and Pope Boniface VIII. Philip’s remedy for that strife was to have the pope arrested; this was the same man who had proclaimed his grandfather King Louis IX a saint. It would be no surprise when Philip would turn on the Templars, who had helped bail his grandfather out of Egypt when he was captured during the crusades.

But while much of what has been written about Philip and the Templars is accurate, the story of Bertrand de Got – latterly known as Pope Clement V – is not. Although Bertrand and Philip had been childhood friends, their paths departed considerably in later life, de Got supporting Boniface VIII in his struggles with the French king. Many accounts of this period of Templar history have made the claim that Clement’s choosing to fulfil his papal duties from France rather than Rome was directly connected to the marionette strings of his king and master, Philip IV. This is certainly not the case. Clement was a Frenchman by birth and chose Avignon because political conflicts in Rome made Rome an unsafe place to do papal business. This was certainly nothing new, for Pope Urban II, who launched the First Crusade, had experienced similar problems during his rein, forcing his into exile for several years.

Uniting the Orders

From the safety of his Avignon throne, Clement V could focus part of his attention on the concept of uniting the crusading Orders into one all-powerful unit. In 1292, a man named Raymond Lull, who had written several treatises on recapturing the Holy Land, had put forth the idea of uniting the Orders under a Rex Bellator or war king. It was a position that Philip IV was willing to relinquish his monarchy to obtain, perhaps looking to live up the ideals of his crusading grandfather.

Although Philip, longing for the hot Levantine sun, may have loved the concept, de Molay, who had spent many years in the east, was less positive about the notion. In his report to Clement V, de Molay expressed his doubts on the grounds that the Templars and Hospitallers had existed separate for many years and the rivalry between the two Orders had benefited Christendom. Additionally, uniting the two Orders would require a new Rule of Order to be drafted. The Templar master feared that the less strict Hospitaller way of life would pollute that of the Templars.

With such important matters to Christendom being contemplated, it was understandable that the streets of Paris were rife with rumors. But they were not the only rumors involving the Templars – there was also the talk of heresy.


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