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Fall of the Templars |
The fair Philip

Fall of the Templars is drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 224, of Volume Seven, A Glorious Disaster of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

The Knights Templar, once heroes of Europe, become instead Europe’s rich bankers; France’s king liquidates them; their last master meets a fiery death, fuming defiance

Fall of the Templars - The fair Philip’s final outrage

Fall of the Templars – The fair Philip’s final outrage
This undated illustration shows Jacques de Molay, the last grand master of the Templars, being burned at the stake. While the flames licked at his feet, he famously uttered three curses–against Pope Clement, King Philip, and France.

That the Knights Templar had in their day been Christian Outremer’s most courageous and dependable defenders few by the dawn of the fourteenth century would have denied. Yet times had changed, and so had they. Outremer was gone, they were based now on the island of Cyprus, and they had acquired a strange quality that excited intense envy and suspicion. That quality was wealth. They had become, in fact, the world’s first international bank.

The order, officially known as the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, had changed considerably since its inception after the First Crusade (see sidebar, pages 35­—37). What once was a small troop of devout pilgrim protectors had become a secretive multinational company, numbering ten thousand people or more. By bankrolling crusaders, taking their property as collateral, they had become rich through inheritance. Their extensive land holdings and more than one hundred branch offices (or temples) stretched from Scotland to the Middle East. There was no richer organization in Europe.

This guaranteed them covetous enemies. One in particular was King Philip IV of France, who ruled what was now Europe’s largest kingdom and whose expenses far outstripped his revenues. His people were being taxed to the limit; he had already expelled the country’s Jews and seized their property. Philip (called “the Fair” for his looks, not his ethics) saw the Templars’ wealth as the solution to all his problems.

Therefore, on the pretext of launching a crusade and setting up his own order of knights, Philip recruited the help of the papacy, which he now regarded as a French possession since his victory over Pope Boniface VIII (see accompanying chapter). The new pope, Clement V, a Frenchman much in Philip’s thrall, approved the plan to destroy the Templars and seize their treasure. As justification the king cited ostensible depravity and heresy, which, he charged, had come to characterize the order in its latter years.

Thus on Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip unleashed an impressively choreographed police action. Every Templar in France was rounded up, and the torturers went to work. Limbs were slowly racked from their sockets, feet smeared with fat and set on fire, fingernails pulled out one by one. Soon Templars were confessing to all manner of depravity, which included spitting on the cross, black magic, sodomy, and initiation rites involving the “kiss of shame” (wherein initiates supposedly had to kiss the genitals, buttocks, and lips of the order’s prior).

Though Pope Clement registered discomfort with this process, at Philip’s behest he nevertheless ordered the rulers of all countries where Templars were resident to arrest and try them. Most complied. At Templar headquarters King Henry II of Cyprus insisted on a fair trial, which acquitted the order. Pope Clement immediately ordered a second trial, however, and sent along a legate to make sure that “justice” was done. Its proceedings remained unrecorded, but the Cypriot Templars were jailed for life.

On March 12, 1312, Clement formally decreed the suppression of the Templar order and the distribution of their goods to their rivals, the Hospital-lers. Sensing that they would be the next target for plunder, the Hospitallers set up a monastic state on the island of Rhodes, guarded by the strongest fortress in the Middle East.

Jacques de Molay, grand master of the Templars, by then was in his late sixties. Arrested by Philip four years earlier, he had confessed under torture to heretical acts, but he now recanted these confessions. The enraged king ordered him burned at the stake. The execution took place on March 13, 1314, on an island in the Seine in Paris. As the flames rose around him, de Molay is said to have called down a curse upon Pope Clement, Philip, and France.

Pope Clement died suddenly a month later. Seven months after that Philip died at age forty-six, mauled by a wild boar while hunting. The following year brought the Great Famine, followed by the death of Philip’s heir, Louis X, and then a peasants’ revolt. Louis’s brother and successor, Philip V, died prematurely in 1323, followed five years later by his youngest brother, Charles IV, who died without heir.

Thus ended the direct Capetian line of French kings, though not necessarily the Capetian dynasty. (Since their successors, the Valois, were themselves Capetian descendants, some regard the Capetians as having reigned right through into the nineteenth century.) In any event, what lay ahead for the French kingdom was the Hundred Years’ War and a century of agony for all France.

This is the end of the Fall of the Templars category article drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 224, of Volume Seven, A Glorious Disaster. To continue reading more about Fall of the Templars from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at