The Trial of the Knights Templar


The trial of the Knights Templars in the early fourteenth century
was one of the most brutal travesties of justice known to mankind
and the dissolution of the order was one of the saddest tragedies
chronicled in the history of civilization. The trial began suddenly
and was conducted with unrelenting animosity until the ruin of the
Templars was achieved. Owing to the real or fancied connection of
that Medieval order with the Knights Templars of today an
examination of the historic trial may be of interest to the readers
of "The Builder."


Shortly after the end of the first crusade, in the year 1119, eight
knights under the leadership of Hugo de Payens assumed the task of
forming themselves into guards for the safe-conduct of pilgrims
from Europe traveling between the Eastern Mediterranean sea coast
and Jerusalem. The associates of De Payens were Godfrey de St.
Omar, Roval, Godfrey Bisol, Payens de Montidiel, Archembald de St.
Amand, Andrew de Montbarry, and Gundemar who took the regular
monastic vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, and lived
together according to the rules of the Augustianian friars said to
have been made by Bernard of Clairvaux. So eminently useful was the
service of these eight knights that Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem,
bestowed favors upon them and provided them with headquarters in a
part of his-palace located near the spot where the Temple of
Solomon is said to have stood. The association of the incipient
order with this historic site gave to the knights the name of
Knights of the Temple. Their number increased normally at first,
the most illustrious addition being count Hugo of Champagne who
became a Templar in 1125. In 1128 the council of Troyes witnessed
the papal confirmation of these knights as a religious order and
then their numbers increased rapidly. (1)

The insignia of the Templars were: a white mantle, symbolizing
purity, and a red cross signifying their readiness to endure
martyrdom. They ate their meals in common, were permitted to keep
horses, but not more than three for each knight, and were entitled
to have one servant per knight. They were allowed to hunt lions but
were forbidden to go on the chase with falcons. Correspondence with
relatives was prohibited and every form of communication with
women, including mothers and sisters, was denied. Any infraction of
the rules was punished by expulsion from the order.

From its inception the order proper was composed of knights of
noble descent, born in honorable wedlock, innocent of grave
offenses, and sound in body and mind. New members of this class
were admitted without passing through a novitiate; but at an early
date two other classes became identified with this order: the
clergy, or priests, and the servientes, or servants.

Accessions from secular knights by scions of noble families tended
to change the monastic character of the Templars and make them not
only secular but worldly. Then we find at their head a Grandmaster,
ranked as a prince, and other ministeriales such as a seneschal, a
marshall, a president of the war office, a Grand-Preceptor, a
treasurer of the order, a drapier, and a commander of the light
cavalry. Their organization spelled efficiency and won for them the
good will of the papacy. Eugene III in 1148 remitted one-tenth of
the pennance to all who made bequests to this order. Alexander III
in 1163 allowed them their own clergy, and Innocent III in 1209
prohibited the use of the interdict against them except by papal
consent. Such favors implied obligations by the recipients which
the popes were not slow in demanding of their beneficiaries: aid
for the papal agents in breaking down the independence of local
churches. This service being performed the papacy compensated the
Templars again in 1266 by decreeing that gifts to this order
entitled the donors to the benefits of indulgences in the Holy
Land. Consequently many gifts were bestowed upon them, such as
manors, villages, and towns, and their possessions were multiplied
in Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, Cyprus, and Morea in the East,
while in the West they held lands in France, Spain, Portugal,
Italy, Germany and England. In all these countries they built their
temple courts and engaged in financial enterprises.

They were the leading bankers of Paris and London; the Templars of
Paris acted as bankers for Blanche of Castile, Alphonso de
Poitiers, Robert of Artois, and many other nobles. The order also
furnished ministers of finance to James I of Aragon and Charles I
of Naples. The Templar Thierre of Geleran was the chief adviser of
Louis VII of France, and the order's treasury at Paris was the
financial center for the French kingdom. (2)

But the material prosperity of the Templars was their undoing. From
the days of Phillip Augustus to the reign of Philip IV princes and
prelates as also the Knights of St. John were jealous of the power
wielded by the Templars, and it was to be expected that at the
first opportunity the envious would harm them. Unfortunately the
Templars were not sufficiently alert to maintain the order above
reproach. They committed a grave blunder when they permitted an
unreasonable increase in the lowest ranks, that of the servientes,
which had been limited to one for each knight. By and by so many
churls of every degree, mechanics, shepherds, stablehands, and
swineherders joined this class that they eventually constituted
nine-tenths of the entire order. (3) Among these were naturally
enough many of coarse habits and those who had "the vices of
monks." The popular mind did not distinguish between these "heweres
of wood and carriers of water" and the knights proper. In France it
became customary to describe an intemperate man by saying: "boire
comme un templier," i.e. he drinks like a Templar; and in Germany
the old word "Tempelhaus" was equivalent to a house of
prostitution. Their immense possessions had made all Templars
conscious of their wealth and power, a fact not especially
conducive to the cultivation of the Christian virtue called
humility. Hence it became customary to characterize a man of great
pride by saying: he is as proud as a Templar. Toward the end of the
thirteenth century public opinion held that the Templars and the
Knights of St. John were not needed in the West but that they ought
to sell their possessions in western Europe and after effecting a
union of the two orders locate in the East and direct all their
efforts against the enemies of Christ. Phillip IV of France was
especially anxious to eliminate them from his kingdom in order to
carry out his centralizing policy. They had resisted the same aim
on the part of Louis VII in 1149 and blocked Phillip's political
program in 1190. The failure of the crusade led by Louis IX was
laid at their door, and they had opposed Charles of Anjou in the
conquest of Naples sanctioned and invited by the pope; moreover
they had taken part in the Sicilian vespers against the French, and
had united in expelling the French regent and aided in inviting the
Aragonese to the throne of Sicily. In 1295 they refused to pay a
tenth to Phillip IV, and in 1296 during the bitter struggle between
Boniface VIII and the same king over the right to tax the clergy
they exported the precious metals to the pope in violation of the
royal edict. When Phillip IV demanded their aid against the pope in
1303 they refused obedience, and in 1306 when the king urged an
amalgamation of Hospitalers and Templars they declined to consider
his suggestion. (4) Such resistance to the royal will on the part
of a strong king was more than he would tolerate. Fortuitous
circumstances had arisen to make possible the destruction of this
hated order within his realm, and Phillip was not slow to see the

The year 1305 marks the beginning of the so-called Babylonian
Captivity of the papacy, a phrase which signifies the residence of
the popes at Avignon in France for almost seventy years, i.e. until
1378. This transfer of the papal See from Rome to French soil came
about as the result of the controversy between Phillip IV and
Boniface VIII. Eleven months after the death of Boniface VIII the
cardinals elected the archbishop of Bordeaux to be head of the
church. The new pope took the name of Clement V and started for
Rome; but at Lyons Phillip IV met him and persuaded him to take up
his residence at Avingnon, He created twenty four new cardinals,
mostly Frenchmen and relatives of the pope. During the quarrel
between the French king and Boniface VIII the former had charged
the pope with heresy, sodomy and simony. He had accused him of
obtaining the papacy by fraud and demanded that he should be
removed from the Holy See. The reason for this charge is that the
predecessor of Boniface, Celestine V, a former hermit, had been
elected to the papal throne much against his own will July 7, 1294.
After a few months he issued a decree declaring the right of any
pope to abdicate. He was encouraged to issue this decree and to
abdicate by Beneditino Gaetani, one of the leading cardinals, who
thereupon was elected his successor and assumed the papal name of
Boniface VIII, December, 1294. Now after the election of Clement V
in 1305 when the king had the new pope living on French soil he
used this threat of calling a council to inquire into the legality
of the election of Boniface VIII and his successor, and the
question of the morals and orthodoxy of Boniface, as the means of
compelling Clement V to obey the wishes of the king.

When Clement received the papal tiarra at Lyons the king had a
conference with him and submitted a plan for the dissolution of the
Templars. Another meeting about the same subject occurred by these
parties in the spring of 1307. Phillip prepared to strike the fatal
blow. On the twelfth of October, 1307, the head of the Templars in
France, Grandmaster Jacques de Molai, was an important functionary
at the burial of the king's sister, Catherine; the next day he was
arrested by order of the inquisitor general of France, William
Imbelt, the chaplain to the king, and thrown into prison.


The sudden arrest of the Grandmaster startled all France. In order
to appease the enraged public which felt kindly disposed toward the
head of the order, and to secure a favorable opinion for his action
in France and abroad, Phillip issued an explanation setting forth
the reasons for his procedure against the Templars. In short, he
charged them with immorality and heresy, naming five specific

1. That upon being received into the order every neophyte must spit
on the cross and deny Christ thrice. (5)

2. That the receptor and the novice exchanged indecent kisses, i.e.
on the navel and the posteriors, while disrobed.

3. That they pledged themselves to practice sodomy.

4. That the priests of the order did not pronounce the words of
consecration when administering the mass.

5. That the cord which the Templars wore over their shirt day and
night as a symbol of purity had been consecrated by wrapping it
around an idol they worshipped in the chapters. (6)


After being arrested the Templars were placed in solitary
confinement for periods varying from a few days to years. One by
one they were brought before the inquisition without the benefit of
legal counsellors. The five general accusations were then read to
them and amplified until they covered one hundred and twenty
statements or questions. (7) They were then informed that a frank
admission of the points on which they were accused and a promise to
return to the church would secure pardon and liberty, but refusal
to do this would be followed by the death penalty. The church, it
is true, forbade the use of torture to secure evidence, but in
order to obtain the damaging testimony necessary to establish a
list of crimes and errors on which to convict the accused the
inquisitor general resorted to torture. When the desired evidence
had been secured by this procedure the witness was asked to state
that his testimony had been given voluntarily and without
constraint. Then it was written down by two clerks. If he refused
to perjure himself by making such false statements as were demanded
he was handed over to the tormentors until he declared no force had
been employed in obtaining his testimony, or he was tortured to
death. Some witnesses were exposed to the sufferings of the rack
three and four times before the inquisition could extract the
answer wanted.

When Clement V heard of the drastic measures taken by Phillip IV he
appears to have repented of the concession he had made to the king
and wrote a reproachful letter to him. But the threat of calling a
council to inquire into the legality of the last two papal
elections and to investigate the orthodoxy of Boniface VIII quickly
forced Clement to surrender to Phillip. On August twelfth, 1308,
the pope issued a Bull, "Faciens Miselicoldiam," directing an
investigation of the Templars in all countries where they had
chapters by a Commission of Inquiry composed of the archbishops of
Canterbury, Mayence, Cologne and Treves. Before this Commission
Molai was tried November 22, 1309. After stoutly maintaining the
innocence of the order he at last was overcome in his enfeebled and
emaciated condition by the wiles and torture of his foes. Committed
to prison again he was brought forth once more in the spring of
1314 and burned at the stake. Meanwhile church councils in various
countries found verdicts in favor of the Templars. The archbishop
of Magdeburg in May, 1308, arrested a number of Knights but
released them in November of the same year owing to the protests of
the lay and ecclesiastical princes. The king of Portugal boldly
defended the order; Edward I of England proceeded against the
Templars in a half-hearted way; James of Aragon and Ferdinand of
Castile imprisoned a few Knights, but the council of Salamanca
pronounced the order innocent, October, 1310. (8) The same judgment
was rendered by the council of Ravenna in June, 1310, and at
Mayence, July 1, of the same year. The first council of Canterbury
did not convict them, and the second council pronounced them guilty
only after resorting to torture, October, 1310.

If the investigations in the countries outside of France resulted
generally in favor of the Templars, King Phillip prevented such an
issue for the order in France. On August 20, 1308, he obtained from
the pope a second Bull, "Justum et laudabile," which authorized him
to watch over the Templars and to hold them in disposition to the
church. (9) Thus the great pastor at Avignon had appointed a wolf
to guard his sheep. What he would do was a foregone conclusion. In
October, 1310, fifty Knights were burned at the stake in Paris, and
the council of Senlis the same year pronounced the order guilty.
The council at Vienne in France was tampered with by both king and
pope to compel them to pronounce against the order, October, 1311,
and March, 1312. Thus in France the Templars experienced neither
mercy nor justice.


The Grandmaster Molai when first arrested admitted, as well he
might, that certain disorders existed in the chapters. He well knew
that the order had drifted away from the lofty ideals of its
founders. But he nowhere incriminated his fellow knights with the
offenses the inquisitors were determined to fasten on the order. To
the very last, even at the stake, he denied the charges. His
enemies, however, seized upon the admissions of his first trial,
perverted the testimony to suit their purpose and then sent this
doctored confession to the Templars of France, representing it as
a communication from the head of their order asking them to join
him in admitting guilt. (10) To the evidence obtained by violence
and by fraud we will now direct our attention.

1. As to the accusation that they had renounced Christ thrice and
had spit on the cross.

a. Some, believing that Molai's altered confession and the forged
order to admit the charges were genuine, obediently declared
themselves guilty.

b. Others yielded admission of the charge only after threatenings
and false promises.

c. Some confessed these outrages only when they could endure the
torture no longer, while those refusing D admit the charge were
martyred unto death.

d. Almost all who admitted the accusations belonged to the class of

e. Their statements were contradictory; some said that upon
entering the order they were commanded to deny Christ; others
declared they were asked to deny God; again some said they were
compelled to renounce the Saints, and still others avowed they had
to blaspheme the Virgin Mary and our Lord.

f. One confessed he had urinated on the cross.

g. This was done: in full view of the assembled brethren; in a dark
room; in a field; in a grange; in a coopershop; in a room for the
manufacture of shoes. Sometimes the witness declared he himself had
done this, others again asserted they had not been guilty of such
misconduct but had witnessed it in their brethren. Some said these
things were done as a joke; others averred these acts were required
as a test of their obedience, and that they had denied Christ "ore
non corde," i.e. with the mouth but not with the heart. Some said
they had spit near the cross, others that they expectorated over
it, and still others declared they adored the cross on Good Friday.
One who had endured the rack and torture declared that if he would
be obliged to undergo the ordeal again he was prepared to confess
that he had "murdered the mother of God." (11)

2. The accusation about the indecent kisses. Respect for general
decency will prevent us from entering into details; but here again
we must note that the witnesses did not agree. Some professed
absolute ignorance of such a practice, others admitted they had
kissed the receptor, while still others asserted such osculation
was mutual. A Templar in England confessed there were two
receptors, the one was good but the other fellow a wicked man. (12)

3. Concerning unnatural lust. This charge was the subject for a
searching examination. Again torture was used to secure evidence.
Some vowed they lad never heard of such a sin; some admitted they
were told it was permissable but they had never indulged in it;
others asserted they had been commanded to practice sodomy but had
not obeyed the order. The stablehand of the Grandmaster Molai
accused his master of practicing this sin with him, but he recanted
when freed from the torture and witnessing before the papal
commission, saying he could not remember ever having made such a
statement. (13)

4. As to the omission of the consecrating words in saying mass. At
the trials in Spain and in Cyprus numerous priests testified that
they witnessed many celebrations of the mass by the order but that
they had always been in proper form. Some testified they had
observed a slight deviation from the general practice, but said
that when the Templars received their rules it was not customary to
elevate the cup or the host, this form having been directed as late
as the Lateran Council in 1215. (14) In France, however, torture
secured the testimony that the mass had not been celebrated by the
order according to the proper ritual.

5. The testimony about the idol. On this subject all sorts of
admissions were obtained. Some declared the Templars worshipped it
and that it was produced whenever a neophyte was received; others
said it was worshipped in secrecy in the chapters. Its form was of
every imaginable character. It was a "quoddam caput," i.e. a sort
of head of reddish color; it resembled a human being; it was black
and had a human form; it had sparkling eyes that lighted up a dark
room; it was made of gold and had a long gray beard; it had a
double face; it had three faces; it looked like a beautiful woman;
it was garbed like a Templar in a priestly robe. An English
Minorite described it as a calf; some said it was the statue of a
boy about three feet tall and had two or four legs joined to the
face. A few persisted they had never heard of the idol while some
admitted they had heard about it but had never seen it. Others were
positive it looked like a tom-cat; a raven; a painting; a drawing.
The testimony of a few reads that the idol would answer any
questions put to it by the president of the chapter; and some swore
that the devil himself or demons in the form of pretty women came
to them with whom they had sexual intercourse.


In summing up the main points brought out by the trial we must
consider the following facts:

1. That the majority of the witnesses belonged to the class of
servientes whose confessions were obtained chiefly by torture and
that the same witnesses at different times contradicted their
statements. In 1307 there were from fifteen thousand to twenty
thousand Knights Templars in France, and of that number only
fourteen knights proper were tried as compared with one hundred and
twenty-four servientes. In 1310 out of five hundred and forty-six
called before the inquisition only eighteen were knights, all the
others belonged to the servientes. (16)

2. At Paris, Rheims, and Sens one hundred and thirty-three died
from torture because they would not perjure themselves and
incriminate their order.

3. The eight Grand Preceptors of Apulia, Provence, Normandy,
England, Upper and Lower Germany, Aragon and Castile, all persisted
in maintaining the innocence of the Templars, while only three
preceptors, those of France, Guienne and Cyprus admitted the
charges, and then only after severe torture.

4. A large number of those who confessed under constraint recanted
after they were free again, and others stated before the tortures
began that any confession wrung from them by violence would be

5. The nature of the crimes admitted was conditioned by the
severity of the torture.

6. Numerous church councils declared the order innocent of the

7. Two neophytes in England refused to leave the 'order despite
threats and flattering promises. Would they have remained loyal to
the Templars had they been subjected to humiliating ordeals upon

8. The worship of the idol was said to have been service to a new
religion established by the Templars. And yet no Templar was
willing to profess his supposed faith and endure martyrdom for this
cause. Is it likely that thousands who had been unwillingly forced
to abjure the Christian faith and to worship an idol would - have
refused the opportunity to return to mother church when that was

9. In spite of all the searching investigations made in the
different chapters in all the countries only one image or idol was
found, and that was in the fol m of a small locket which a Templar
had obtained in the orient as a trinket.

10. The Bishop of Beirut who had administered communion to the
Templars for forty years had found no fault with them. And the
priests to whom they had gone for confession swore they had never
heard about the errors charged against the order.

11. The crimes of which they were accused were the same as were
laid up against all heretics in the Middle Ages, such as the
Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Knights of St. John, and were the
same as the king of France, Phillip IV, had not hesitated to charge
against Boniface VIII.

12. If we are to believe the testimony of the Templars with respect
to sacrilege and immorality then we must believe their statements
about intercourse with the devil or demons in the form of
voluptuous women. That is utterly absurd.

13. Finally we must not forget that the prime movers in the process
against the Templars were the two most unscrupulous men in Europe,
Phillip IV and --his subservient minister, William Nogaret.

There can be no doubt that the servientes were guilty of certain
irregularities, and it is quite possible that even among the
knights proper gross offenses were committed occasionally. They had
become proud, greedy, conscious of their power, and sometimes
arrogant. But what human organization has even had a perfect
membership? The Christian ministry on the whole is composed of men
of high ideals and noble character, and yet, if any man were to
make a searching examination of crimes perpetrated by a small
number of professed preachers of the Gospel he could, without much
difficulty, at the beginning of the twentieth century, establish a
catalog of sins which would make the ministry appear one of the
most corrupt organizations in modern society. But no one thinks of
blaming on the entire church the moral errors of a few hypocrites
or degenerates.

The fact is that Phillip IV had determined to destroy the Templars.
The trial served only as an excuse for his action; no testimony
favorable to the order was admitted in the evidence obtained by the
persecutors; the procedure was absolutely one-sided, the one object
constantly pursued being conviction. It may be that the Knights
Templars had outlived the time of their usefulness, nevertheless
from beginning to end in France the trial was a farce, nay it was
worse than that, it was a travesty of justice without parallel in
history, and the dissolution of the order was a tragedy.


The following works may be recommended for further investigation of
this subject and have been used in preparing this paper.

1. Finke, Papsttum und Untergang des Tempelordens.
2. Gmelin, Die Tempelherren.
3. Lea, H.C., History of the Middle Ages, Vol. III.
4. Langlois, in Deux Mondes, Vol. 103.
5. Langlois, in Revue Historique, Vol. 40, 177-8.
6. History of Masonry and Concordant Orders, Henry L. Stillson,
7. Perkins, in English Historical Review, Vol. 24. 8. 
8. Schottmueller, Untergang des Templerordens. 
9. Le Roulx, J. D., in Revue des Questions Historique, Vol. 48.
10. Prutz, Tempelherren Orden.
11. Wilcke, Geschichte des Ordens der Tempelherren.

Important documentary evidence may be found in Schottmueller, III:
A. Processus Poiteriensis.
B. Excerpta Processus Anglici.
C. Inquesta faca et habita Brundisio.
D. Processus Cypricus.
E. Processus in Patrimonio.

In Finke, Papsttum und Untergang des Templerordens, Vol. II, are
letters, addresses and opinions on the history of the fall of the
Templars, reports of the Aragonese ambassador relative to the
General Council at: Vienne, and the answers of the king.

(1) Langlois, in Deux Mondes, Vol. 103, p. 384 
(2) Langlois, in Deux Mondes, Vol. 103, p. 386.
(3) Lea, History of the Middle Ages, Vol. 3, p. 243. 
(4) Finke Papsttum and Untergang des Tempelordens, P. 6. 
(5) Schotimueller, Untergang des Tempelordens, p 132. 
(6) Lea, Vol. 3, p. 263.
(7) Finke, p. 330. 
(8) Schottmueller, 191. 
(9) Le Roulx, Revue Quest. Historique, Vol. 48, 43-45.
(10) Finke, 341.
(11) Lea, 270-273, Schottmueller, 141, 200.
(12) Perkins, English Historical Review, Vol. 24, p. 441.
(13) Schottmueller 630; Fink 335.
(14) Schottmueller, 632.
(15) Schottmueller, 633; Lea, 270.
(16) Finke, 335; Schottmueller, 237.


I made them lay their hands in mine and swear
To win the heathen and uphold the Christ.
To ride abroad redlessing human wrongs,
To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it;
To lead sweet lives in purest chastity.
--Lord Tennyson.