Thursday, October 25, 2007 10/25/07-Philippe and the Knights Templar

In today's encore excerpt--Philippe le Bel (1268-1314), king from 1285 until his death, was one of France's most disastrous kings. He used a king's most onerous methods to deal with the large debt he had incurred to the Knights Templar: he brought trumped up legal charges against them and had them executed:

"Under [Philippe] the cost of running France was six times as much as it had been under Philippe Auguste less than a century earlier, even allowing for inflation. ... All of this led to appalling and recurrent financial difficulties, ... [so Philippe] invented new taxes ... cancelled the Crown's debts, and ruthlessly confiscated personal treasures and fortunes. ...

"[I]n Paris, the Knights Templar ... lived in a splendor rivaling that of the Palais Royal. Their wealth was legendary. The order had been founded after [their service in] the First Crusade ... They were fanatically brave in battle ... Recognized all over Europe by their robes of white with a red cross on the front, in 1128 the Templars had acquired a rule of dedicated austerity as monk-soldiers. But over the course of the intervening two centuries, loot derived from the Crusades enabled the Templars to amass immense riches--and therefore power, making them almost a sovereign state unto themselves.

"Inevitably corruption had set in, and with it the venal envy of the outside world. Over the thirteenth century, the Templars had become de facto bankers to the Crown, rivals to the Lombards and the Jews as money-lenders. ... The Templars' reputation for greed was widespread; so were rumors of some of their vices of the flesh. ... Exploiting their unpopularity, in 1307 Philippe declared war on the Templars, leveling trumped-up charges of heresy, necromancy and sodomy against them. ... The Templars were accused, inter alia, of 'sacrificing to idols,' of 'infecting the purity of the air' and of 'torturing Christ a second time.'

"In a remarkably well-orchestrated raid, all the Templars were arrested one night and their property declared forfeit. One after the other they appeared before inquisitors ... the tortures were so appalling that one Templar saw twenty-five freres die 'under the question.' ... In one of the most deplorable episodes ever to be witnessed in Paris, 138 Templars were burned at the stake ... Proceedings against the Templars went on until the climax was reached in 1314 [when] The Grand Master of the order himself, Jacques de Molay, who refused to answer charges, [was] tortured and [then sentenced to] prison for seven years ... [but then abruptly] immolated. As the flames licked around him, Jacques de Molay is reputed to have uttered a terrible curse: 'Pope Clement, iniquitous judge and cruel executioner, I adjure you to appear in forty days' time before God's tribunal.' ... Within forty days, Pope Clement V had fallen ill of an agonizingly painful disease and died."

Alistair Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Pan Books, 2003, pp. 54-58.


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