The Brethren Persecuted: Part Two

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 Two: Revenge Destroys Everything

They spit on the Holy Cross, these Knights Templar. Not only do they deny the divinity of Christ during their reception, they do not even worship God Almighty, but a graven idol instead.

These accusations, well known to many Templars, were the words of a renegade member of the Order named Esquin de Floryan, who – according to some accounts – had been imprisoned and subsequently made his claims known to his fellow inmates out of revenge. But sharing rumours with cellmates is of little benefit to a man longing for freedom. As such, de Floryan was eager to share the juicy gossip with Philip IV. The French King was not his first choice, for he had previously told the story to the King of Aragon, James II, who dismissed the rumours as the rubbish they were. Whether he actually believed the accusations, Philip was all too willing to make use of them to his full benefit, and immediately informed Clement V of all that had come before his ears.

Clement responded to Philip in a letter of 24 August, 1307 letting the king know that he was planning to launch a formal investigation into the accusations in October. Philip, of course, had no intention of letting the matter wait another two months and issued a letter to his bailiffs on 14 September, authorizing them to arrest the Templars 30 days later.

The Arrest of the Templars

On October 13, Philip’s men acted on the arrest orders, launching a series of raids on Templar properties throughout France. One of the more popular myths regarding this period of Templar history is that the Templars learned of the arrest orders early on and escaped in large number. The consensus among modern historians is that the Templars had little to no advance notice, although it is generally agreed that de Molay was aware of the rumours in circulation. Official records record twelve members of the Order who managed to escape and most of these were ultimately captured. Among them was Gérard de Villiers, the former Master of France and Imbert Blanke, the Master of Auvergne, who crossed over into England with a handful of brethren. Blanke was later captured and went on to play a role in defending the English Templars.

Regardless of just how many French Templars snuck away in the quiet of the night, no myth regarding their escape has gained more currency than the notion that the Templar fleet set sail from the French port of La Rochelle. According to the popular tale, the Templars loaded 18 galleys with men and treasure and pulled anchor, sailing for points unknown. The source of this myth comes from the testimony of Jean de Châlons, a serving brother, who said that he had heard that de Villiers had set sail with 18 galleys. De Châlons’s testimony regarding the Templar galleys was not based on first hand knowledge; rather it was merely a repeated rumour. Given that the rest of his testimony was damning of the Order, it is doubtful that there was any truth to his claims. The fact remains that the Templars simply did not have that sort of naval presence at the time. After the dissolution of the Templars in 1312, the Hospitallers became more involved in naval warfare as a result of their occupation of Rhodes; however, at that time they are recorded as having only four galleys. As such, the idea that the Templars had so large a fleet stretches credulity.

The Interrogation of the Templars

De Floryan had told Philip but a handful of lies about the Order, but by the time the French King had the Templars in custody, the laundry list of heresies had expanded to some 87 articles of accusation, including sodomy and the worship of a bearded head. In Paris, 138 members of the Order were put through a series of interrogations beginning on 19 October. Even in this Philip showed his cunning, as the depositions were to be sent to the king in sealed envelopes, but the details were to be widely circulated to help sway public opinion. Of course, it was equally important to make sure that the enclosures had just the right information. The Templars were kept isolated form one another and informed that both king and pope were aware of the scandalous activities of the Order; pardoned awaited the confessed, while certain death awaited the unrepentant. Of course, a little medieval torture was thrown in for good measure; for nothing will make a man say things that are untrue like the crack of a whip. It is hard to imagine how a group of knights who had remained on the field of battle despite incredible odds could cave to such measures, but it is important to remember that the majority of incarcerated Templars were not battle toughened warriors, but serving members of the Order. In all 36 Templars succumbed to the torments of their jailers and died before testifying.

On 27 November, Clement issued the bull Pastoralis praeminentiae, authorizing the arrest of the Templars throughout Christendom. The bull was not met with enthusiasm and even in countries that followed the papal orders, torture was not generally used and the arrests were with great reluctance.

Clement was not at all pleased with Philip’s handling of the matter and suspended the trial in February of 1308, demanding that it be handled by the Church. The pope capitulated to the king’s pressure and resumed the trials in July; however, he insisted that they remain under the Church’s control. In August, Clement issued another bull, Regnans in coelis, calling for a general council to be held at Vienne in October of 1310.

To prepare for the council, a new set of interrogations was commenced by the Church with a true desire to get to the bottom of the matter without the use of torture. Among the many interrogations were those conducted at the castle of Chinon in Tours, which have been made famous with the recent exaggerated claims about the discovery of the Chinon Parchment. In actual fact, the document is well known to historians, having been published in Étienne Baluze’s Lives of the Popes of Avignon in 1693. The papal commission who interviewed de Molay and other Templar leaders at Chinon absolved them from excommunication, but despite recent claims, did not find the Order innocent.

A call was sent out requesting those Templars who wished to defend the Order to assemble at Paris. By February 1310, 600 Templars came forth with a desire to testify, but in so doing they set up a catch-twenty-two for themselves with respect to Philip. Having previously confessed during the first set of interrogations, Philip argued that any subsequent recantations would mark them as lapsed heretics – an offence punishable by death.

On 12 May, 1310, fifty-four Templars were turned over to the king’s men and burned at the stake in Paris. They would not be the last.

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