The Acre disaster and the subsequent Christian retreat to Cyprus, completed in August 1291, fell like a jug of cold water in Rome. Pope Nicolás IV was forced to take measures and put on the table the recovery of the Holy Land, but also the unification of military orders. The failure to defend the Holy Places ended up convincing the Pontiff that the rivalry between Templars and Hospitallers should be ended , as well as making more effective use of their resources in the military mission of the Latin East. However, the death of Nicolás IV postponed the question of the reform of the orders. Aware of their precarious situation, the Templars decided to move the file. The grand master of the order, Jacques de Molay, traveled to Europe to promote a new crusade, despite knowing their limited chances of success.
When the Mamluks delivered the final blow to the last Christian strongholds in the Holy Land, the military orders did not expect anyone to come to their aid. At that time, Europe had other priorities. England and France were at war in Aquitaine, Germany without emperor and the papacy worried about the loss of their influence in Sicily. For the same reason, Molay did not achieve the firm commitment of European monarchs and Pope Boniface VIII with the cause crossed.
His chances waned even more when the pontiff rained down his troubles after getting entangled in a bitter dispute with the King of France, Philip IV the Fair. What initially was a dispute over the collection of taxes to the French clergy became one of the greatest conflicts between the temporal and spiritual powers of the Middle Ages. Crown and papacy were engaged in a war of slanders and bulls that lasted seven years and culminated with the threat of excommunication to the French sovereign and the forced captivity of the pontiff in his court in Anagni (Italy). Boniface VIII was finally freed, but he was so moved by it and died shortly afterward, in the turn of the 14th century.
His successors, the ephemeral Benedict XI and the weak Clement V, inherited a papacy in crisis. Questioned by the most powerful monarch of the time, he was also discredited by his squabbles in Italy and Sicily and his inability to help Latin Christians in the East. To make matters worse, the political situation in Rome was so critical that Clement V had no choice but to accept Philip IV’s offer to take refuge in France. He settled in Poitiers, under the watchful and interested gaze of the king.
Neglected, the Templars persisted on their own in the attempt to reconquer the Holy Land . They occupied the island of Aruad, off the Syrian coast, but the Mamluks again expelled them two years later. The reverse made Molay concentrate his efforts on trying again to England and France to start the crusade. But Edward I had to quell a revolt in Scotland, and Philip IV put as conditions that France was privileged in the expedition and that he himself played the leading role. The demands of the French monarch stirred up the other European kingdoms and the company was parked. Nor did the Templars in Cyprus have better luck, where King Henry II viewed with suspicion the pretension of the order to use his domains as the center of operations.
Clement V reopened the debate on the reform of military orders and the organization of the crusade.
Recovered certain tranquility, Clement V could reopen the debate of the reform of the military orders and the organization of the crusade. Jacques de Molay opposed the idea of unification on the grounds that the rivalry between the orders had been beneficial for Christianity, since both competed to defend it better. He also warned that the unification would raise quarrels within the orders, since many officers would lose their position. In reality, the rejection of the grand master obeyed other fears. The identity of the Temple would be diluted in the new order and, worse yet, this could be exploited by the civil power , a risk more than likely, given the vehement stance of Philip IV regarding the crusade. Molay could not know it then, but if he had accepted and expedited the merger of the orders, perhaps he and his brothers would have been saved from their tragic fate.
In the end, the papal project to unify the orders and undertake the crusade never materialized . But the fact that the Church still wanted to have them – that is, reformed – shows that military orders were still well considered in Europe, despite their responsibility for the loss of the Holy Land, its ultimate raison d’être. They had their detractors, who accused them of having moved away from their original vocation and accumulating wealth, but not the bad reputation and unpopularity that has always been blamed on them. The Templars, for example, continued to receive donations and, after almost two centuries of activity, they formed an important and respected part of the Christian world, both civilian – they were common in all European courts – and religious.
Harassment and demolition
Therefore, the arrest of all the brothers of the order in France caught almost everyone by surprise. Certainly not to Philip IV, who ordered the arrest, nor to his faithful chancellor, Guillaume de Nogaret, the true architect of the operation. The origin of such a sudden attack was the accusations of blasphemy and sodomy poured into the Temple by Esquieu de Floyran, a former Templar expelled from the order. Nogaret and the agents of the King gathered alleged evidence that justified before Felipe the arrest and the beginning of the prosecution of the Templars by heretics.
Philip IV wanted the money and possessions of the Templars, but not so much for greed as to finance his ambitions for glory.
It is not known for sure if the sovereign believed in the truth of the accusations, if he was deceived by Nogaret or if he was deceived by him. In any case, it was convenient for him to attack the Templars. Continuing a long family tradition of religious fanaticism and service to the Christian cause, Philip could not allow heresy in his domains. But neither that the refusal of the Temple to merge with the other military orders would ruin its plans to control the resulting order and lead the great crusade to reconquer the Holy Land. Felipe wanted the money and possessions of the Templars- that same year he had asked for a loan-but not so much out of greed as to finance his ambitions for glory. It was also the perfect occasion to end an organization exempt from the payment of taxes and thus cease in its pulse of power with the papacy. As already happened with Boniface VIII, Felipe IV asserted his status as the most powerful ruler and Christian king of Europe .
However, the Crown did not have the power to judge the members of a religious order that was also under the direct jurisdiction of the pope. So Nogaret persuaded the Dominican Guillaume de Paris, inquisitor of France and loyal confessor of the sovereign, that he should investigate the Templars. The French Inquisition proceeded to the interrogation of the detainees, who were guarded in the royal prisons. They were charged with more than a hundred charges, from renouncing Christ and spitting on the cross at the ceremony of admission to the order to exchange obscene kisses in that rite, practice sodomy, worship an idol, dishonor mass or excessive secrecy. All these “errors of faith” were false. They derived from medieval popular beliefs about heresy and magic or were crude manipulations of the practices of the order. Many Templars preferred to die rather than confess, but most, subjected to torture, pleaded guilty . Those who were not tortured, as the Grand Master Molay was in France at that time, ended up admitting the charges to fear for their integrity.
A slipstream of the king
Clement V protested before Philip IV and rebuked the inquisitor for acting without his consent. He said he had heard of the rumors that were running against the order and that he planned to start his own investigation, a dubious allegation, since he had done nothing about it. Feeling unauthorized, the Pope tried to take charge of the situation . He ordered all the Catholic kings to arrest and interrogate the Templars, but his request was met with a dilatory attitude in England and Aragon. Suspicious of the intentions of Felipe IV, the monarchs Enrique I and Jaime II did not give credit to the accusations to the templarios, an order to which they trusted a good part of the administration of their kingdoms. Meanwhile, in France, Clemente sent a delegation to Paris. Jacques de Molay and the other high officials of the order took the opportunity to retract their confessions, alleging that they had done them for fear of being tortured. The pontiff was not convinced of the guilt of the order and suspended the inquisitorial process to interrogate the Templars personally.
Felipe IV was not intimidated and launched a campaign of intoxication against the Temple and the Pope, as he did in his day with Boniface VIII. He obtained the legal support of the University of Paris and the public of the three estates of his kingdom in the States General, gathered in Tours. Then he tried to mislead Clement V by sending Poitiers to 72 specially chosen templars to confess their alleged crimes in the presence of the pope, while confining Molay and the other leaders of the order in Chinon. But Clement was finally able to meet with them and acquitted them , after they formally repented and asked for the forgiveness of the Church. Faced with the doubt that some members of the order might have committed certain abuses, he decreed that the Templars be tried individually by diocesan commissions. A pontifical commission would be in charge of studying whether the order as a whole was guilty or not, while the pontiff would judge the responsibility of the high dignitaries.
The papal investigation spread throughout Europe and even to the East. In Portugal, Castile, Aragon, Germany, Italy and Cyprus, the Templars were declared innocent. In France, on the other hand, many diocesan commissions were directed by bishops committed to Philip IV and considered the previous confessions valid. They limited themselves, however, to condemn the repentant guilty to various canonical punishments, including life imprisonment. Those who tried to defend the order before the pontifical commission, retracting their confessions, ran worse luck. The ministers of Philip IV could not consent to the discovery of the iniquity of the first interrogations of the Templars, carried out by the inquisitor at the dictation of Nogaret. They indicated to the archbishop of Sens, brother of the chamberlain of the king and maximum authority of the diocese of Paris, that he accused of heretics relapses (recidivists) to the Templars who disdained . The penalty reserved for the relapses was death at the stake , so the archbishop ordered the burning of 54 of them. The result was as expected: the other Templars declined to speak in favor of the order or decided to plead guilty.
The pope made a Solomonic decision in his bull: he did not condemn the order, but he dissolved it.
In October 1311 the council convened by Clement V to decide the future of the order began in Vienne (France). There it was stated that the guilt of some Templar, even manifested, did not imply that of the order as a whole. Nor could it be proved that the Temple professed any heretical doctrine or that its rules were secret or distinct from official ones. Despite this, since most of the delegates were favorable to the maintenance of the order, the pope made a Solomonic decision in his bull: he did not condemn it, but he dissolved it . Why? No doubt the presence of Felipe IV and his army in Vienne influenced, in clear sign that he was not going to allow the continuity of the order. But on the agenda of the conflict between the king and the pontiff there was an even more important grievance than the unjust trial against the Templars. The monarch intended that Clement V condemn his predecessor Boniface VIII for heresy, which would have been the dishonor of the papacy. Clement refused, and chose to sacrifice the Templars in what was his only and pyrrhic victory against Philip IV.
In another bull, the Pope decreed the transfer to the order of the Hospital of all the goods of the Templars, except in the Iberian Peninsula , where their properties would end up passing into the hands of two new orders, that of Christ in Portugal and that of Montesa in the Crown of Aragon. The Temple brothers declared innocent, as well as confessed of their guilt but reconciled with the Church, would receive a pension and could live in the old houses of the order or join another military order. Those found guilty but who had not confessed their guilt and relapses would be tried.
Among the latter were the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and three commanders of the order in France, imprisoned in Paris. In March 1314 a commission of cardinals appointed by the pope condemned them to life imprisonment for relapses. Upon hearing the sentence, Molay and the commander of Normandy, Geoffroy de Charney, proclaimed their innocence shouting. The cardinals, astonished at the recidivism of the accused, resigned to issue a final verdict and left the last word to the pontiff. But Felipe IV decided for him that same night. After consulting with his advisors, he delivered the coup de grace to the ill-fated order: Molay and Charney, with another 35 members, were burned at the stake .
According to a narrative attributed to the chronicler Geoffroy of Paris, Jacques de Molay predicted before dying: “God knows that my death is unjust and a sin. Well, before long, many ills will fall on those who have condemned us to death. God will avenge our death . ” Whether this testimony is true or not will never be known, but the truth is that Clemente V died a month later, Nogaret in May and Felipe IV in November. Written around 1316, Geoffroy’s story in Paris concludes: “You can deceive the Church, but you can not deceive God. I do not say more. Draw your own conclusions. “