Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, by Thomas Keightley, , at sacred-texts.com
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Philip le Bel.
Examination of the captive Knights--Different kinds of Torture--Causes of Confession--What Confessions were made--Templars brought before the Pope--Their Declarations--Papal Commission--Molay brought before it--Ponsard de Gisi--Defenders of the Order--Act of Accusation--Heads of Defence--Witnesses against the Order--Fifty-four Templars committed to the flames at Paris--Remarkable words of Aymeric de Villars-le-Duc--Templars burnt in other Places--Further Examinations--The Head worshipped by the Templars--John de Pollincourt--Peter de la Palu.
THE charge of conducting the inquiry against the society was committed by Philip, without asking or waiting for the Pope's approbation, to Imbert, who lost no time in proceeding to action. He wrote to all the inquisitors of his order, directing them to proceed against the Templars, as he had already done himself; and, in case of ascertaining the truth of the charges, to communicate it to the Minorite Friars, or some other order, that the people might take no offence at the procedure; and to send the declarations as soon as possible to the king and himself. They were to use no cruelty towards the prisoners; but, if necessary, they might employ the torture. On the 19th October, six days after their seizure, Imbert commenced his examinations at the Temple of Paris. One hundred and forty prisoners were examined; when, by promises and by the aid of the torture, confessions in abundance were procured. Thirty-six of . he knights expired under the gentle method employed
to extract the truth from them. The zealous Imbert then proceeded to Bayeux, Metz, Toul, and Verdun; in all which places examinations were held and confessions extorted in the same way. It was, however, carefully stated in each deposition, that the witness had spoken without any constraint.
As our readers fortunately cannot be supposed familiarly acquainted with the mild and gentle modes employed by the brethren of St. Dominic, for eliciting the truth, we will present a slight sketch of some of them, that they may be able to form some idea of the value of rack-extorted testimony.
Sometimes the patient was stripped naked, his hands were tied behind his back, heavy weights were fastened to his feet, and the cord which confined his hands passed over a pulley. At a given signal he was hoisted into the air, where he hung suspended by his arms, which were thus drawn out of their natural position: then suddenly the cord would be let run, but checked before the patient reached the ground, and thus a tremendous shock given to his frame. Another mode of torture was to fasten the feet of the patient on an instrument, which prevented his drawing them back; they were then rubbed with some unctions substance, and set before a flaming fire; a board was occasionally placed between his feet and the fire, and withdrawn again, in order to increase his pain by intervals of cessation. The heel of the patient was at times enclosed in an iron heel, which could be tightened at pleasure, and thus caused excruciating pain. What was regarded as a very gentle mode, and only indulged to those who had not strength to undergo the preceding tortures, was to place round sticks between their fingers, and compress them till the bones of the fingers were cracked. The teeth of the Templars were occasionally drawn, their feet roasted, weights suspended
from all parts of their bodies; and thus they gave their testimony without constraint!
What is understood as testimony or confession, by inquisitors, is an affirmative answer to such questions as they ask. They usually assume the guilt of the accused; and no witnesses for the defence are heard. It is useless to prove the absurdity and unreasonableness of the charges; for that would be impugning the sense and judgment of those who gave ear to them; and promises are always held out that, if full and free confession is made, the criminal will he gently dealt with. The accused is, moreover, always confined in a solitary cell; he has none to console and cheer him; he feels abandoned by the whole world;. conscious innocence is of no avail; his only hope is in the mercy of his judge. The Templars, we must recollect, were seized towards the commencement of winter; and at that season a dungeon of the middle ages must have been cheerless beyond description. They were barely allowed the necessaries of life; they were stripped of the habit of the order, and denied the consolations of religion, for they were treated as heretics; and they were shown a real or pretended letter of their Master, in which he confessed the crimes of the order, and exhorted them to do the same. Enthusiasts in religion or politics are supported by the consciousness of rectitude, and bear up against privations or torture in firm reliance on the favour of the Divinity, or the praise and esteem of a grateful and admiring posterity. But the great majority of the Templars were far from being such characters; they were illiterate knights, who had long lived in luxury and indulged in arrogance; they knew themselves to be objects of dislike to many, and felt that their power was gone. Need we then be surprised that, beguiled by the hopes held out, numbers of them readily acknowledged all the charges made
against their order? and must we not so much the more admire the constancy of those who, unseduced by flattering hopes, and undismayed by menaces and torture, yielded up their breath rather than confess a falsehood?
At Paris the knights who confessed acknowledged the denial of Christ (this was the point which the inquisitors were most anxious to establish), but in an uncertain; contradictory manner. as what was said on one examination was retracted on another, or was enlarged or diminished. It was also confessed that an idol was adored in their chapters. At Nîmes, in November, 1307, forty-five knights confessed the guilt of the order. They afterwards retracted; but in 1311 the torture made them revert to their original declaration. At Troyes two knights confessed everything that was required of them. At Pont de l’Arche seven confessed. These and six others were again examined at Caen; they terminated their declarations by imploring the mercy of the Church, and entreating with tears to be spared the torture. Those examined at Carcassonne all deposed to the worship of the image; but some of them afterwards retracted that admission, and died maintaining the innocence of the order. Six Templars at Bigorre * and seven at Cahors confessed; but several of them afterwards retracted.
Philip and his creatures were at this stage of their career, when the pope began to testify some little dissatisfaction at the irregularity of the proceedings. The king instantly wrote to upbraid him
with his lukewarmness in the cause of religion. He stated that the bishops, who were his (the king's) helpers in the government of the Church, were the fittest persons to carry on the business, on account of their local knowledge; and added that neither he nor they could comply with the desires of the pope "he acted," he said, "as the servant of God, and must render to God his account." Clement could not venture to impede the pious labours of such a zealous servant of the Lord; he cancelled the bull which he had prepared on the subject, only requiring that each bishop's inquisitors should be confirmed by a provincial council, and that the examination of the heads of the order should be reserved for himself. Philip then condescended to offer to put the captives into the hands of the papal judges, and to devote the goods of the order to the profit of the Holy Land. The clergy declined taking charge of the knights, and the king and pope managed the property of the order in common.
In the beginning of the year 1308, we are told *, the Master of the Templars, the preceptor of Cyprus, the visiter of France, and the great-priors of Aquitaine and Normandy, were brought before the pope at Chinon, where they voluntarily, and without the application of any torture, confessed the truth of the enormities laid to the charge of the order. They abjured their errors, and the cardinals implored the king in their favour.
M. Raynouard †, we know not on what authority, positively denies that the Master and his companions were ever brought before the pope. He says that, in the month of August following, they were on their way to Poitiers, in order to be examined by the pontiff
in person; but that, under pretext of some)f them being sick, they were detained at Chinon, instead of being brought on to Poitiers, where the pope remained, and were finally conducted back to Paris without having seen him. He does not give the date of this occurrence, but it it would seem to have been in the following autumn.
The proceedings against the Templars were so manifestly contrary to the interest of the pope, that Philip deemed it necessary to keep a strict eye over him. Having, in May, 1308, convoked an assembly of the states at Tom's, and obtained from them a declaration of his right to punish notorious heretics without asking the consent of the pope, and in which he was called upon to act with rigour against the Templars, he proceeded with it himself to Poitiers, and presented it to Clement. During the negotiations which took place at that time, the pope attempted to make his escape to Bordeaux, but his baggage and his treasures were stopped by the king's orders at the gate of the town, and Clement remained in effect a prisoner.
While the supreme pontiff was thus in his power, Philip, who still remained at Poitiers, by way of removing all his scruples, had, on the 29th and 30th June, and 1st July, seventy-two of the Templars, who had confessed, brought before Clement and examined. As was to be expected, the greater part repeated their former declarations of the impiety, idolatry, and licentiousness of the order. From these depositions it appears clearly that the torture had been employed to extract the former confessions.
Pierre de Broel said that he had been stripped and put to the torture, but that he had said neither more nor less on that account. He added that those who tortured him were all drunk.
Guillaume de Haymes had not been tortured, but
he had been kept a month in solitary confinement on bread and water before he made any confession.
Gerard de St. Martial, who confessed to having denied Christ, and spitten beside the cross, said that he had been cruelly tortured, being at first ashamed to acknowledge these facts, although they were true.
Deodat Jafet had been tortured, but it was the inspiration of God and the blessed Virgin Mary, and not the rack, which had made him confess. He acknowledged every crime imputed to the order. Speaking of the idol, he said, "I was alone in a chamber with the person who received me: he drew out of a box a head, or idol, which appeared to me to have three faces, and said, Thou shouldst adore it as thy Saviour and that of the order of the Temple. We then bent our two knees, and I cried, Blessed be he who will save my soul, and I worshipped it." Yet Jafet afterwards retracted this deposition, and stood forth as one of the defenders of the order.
Iter de Rochefort, though he said he had confessed, had been tortured repeatedly, with a view to extracting more from him. He declared that, having been received in the unlawful way, he had confessed himself to the patriarch of Jerusalem, who had wept bitterly at hearing of such wickedness. As Raynouard very justly observes, the patriarch, who could hardly be a friend to the Templars, was not very likely to content himself with shedding a few useless tears had the knowledge of such a heresy come to his ears.
Pierre de Conders had confessed at the sight of the rack.
Raymond de Stéphani had been severely tortured at Carcassonne. Being asked why he did not then tell the truth, he replied, "Because I did not recollect it; but I prayed the senechal to allow me to
confer with my companions, and when I had deliberated with them I recollected."
Who can give credit to depositions like these, most of which were subsequently revoked? Yet it was by these that the pope declared himself to be perfectly satisfied of the guilt of the order, and justified the rigorous measures which he authorized against it. Philip, we are to observe, was all this time at Poitiers: the prisoners were examined before the cardinals, and only those who had not retracted their former rack-extorted confessions were produced in the large concourse of nobles, clergy, and people assembled on this occasion *.
Clement and Philip now arranged the convocation of an œcumenic council at Vienne, to pronounce the abolition of the order. The pope also appointed a commission to take at Paris a juridical information against it; and, on the 1st August, he authorised the bishops and his delegates to proceed in their inquiries. On the 12th August, by the bull Faciens misericordiam, after asserting the guilt of the order, he called upon all princes and prelates throughout the Christian world to assist him in making inquiry into this affair.
The commission appointed by the pope was composed of the archbishop of Narbonne, the bishops of Bayeux, Mende, and Limoges; Matthew of Naples, archdeacon of Rouen, notary of the Holy See; John of Mantua, archdeacon of Trent; John of Montlaur, archdeacon of Maguelone; and William Agelin, provost of Aix, which last was prevented by business from giving attendance. They entered on their functions on the 7th August, 1309, and ordered that the brethren of the Temple should be cited before them on the first day of business after the festival of
[paragraph continues] St. Martin, in November. The citations were to be published in presence of the people and clergy in the cathedrals, churches, and schools, in the principal houses of the order, and in the prisons in which the knights were confined. No one appearing, new citations were issued; and at length the Bishop of Paris was called on by the commission to go himself to the prison where the Master and the heads of the order were confined, and notify it to them. Having done so, he caused the same notification to be made throughout his diocese. The following circumstance, which, occurred at this time, would seem to indicate that impediments were thrown in the way of those who were disposed to defend the order by the royal ministers. The commissioners were informed that the governor of the Chatelet had arrested and imprisoned some persons who were presumed to have come to defend the order. The governor being summoned before them, declared that, by order of the ministers, he had arrested seven persons who were denounced as being Templars in a lay habit, who had come to Paris with money in order to procure advocates and defenders for the accused. He acknowledged that he had put them to the torture, but said that he did not believe them to be Templars.
On Wednesday, Nov. 26, the commission sat, and Molay, the Master of the Temple, was brought before it. He was asked if he would defend the order, or speak for himself. He replied by expressing his surprise that the Church should proceed with such precipitation in this case, when the sentence relative to the Emperor Frederic had been suspended for thirty-two years. Though he had neither knowledge nor talent sufficient to defend the order, he should consider himself vile in his own eyes, and in those of others, if he hesitated to do so; but being the
prisoner of the king and the pope, and without money, he asked for aid and counsel.
The commissioners desired him to reflect on ms offer, and to consider the confessions respecting himself and the order which he had made. They agreed, however, to give him time; and, that he might not be ignorant of what was alleged against him, had the documents containing their powers read to him in the vulgar language.
During the reading of the letters which recited his confession made to the cardinals at Chinon, he crossed himself repeatedly, and gave other signs of indignation and surprise, and said, that, were it not for the respect due to the envoys of the pope, he should express himself differently. They said they were not come there to receive challenges. He replied that he spoke not of cartels, he only wished they acted in this case as the Saracens and Tartars did, who cut off the head and cut the body in two of those who were found to he guilty.
Two circumstances are worthy of note in this examination; one, that William Plasian was present at it, and, as the commissioners expressly declared, without being invited by them; the other, that the confessions, which were imputed to Molay, and which he evidently intimated to be false, were inserted in the bull Faciens misericordiam, which bears the date of the 12th August, although the festival of the Assumption, that is the 16th of August, is given as the day on which they were made *. It was there declared that the heads of the order had confessed and been absolved; yet here we find the
[paragraph continues] Master treated as a heretic who was still unreconciled.
The following day (Nov. 27), Ponsard de Gisi, prior of Payens, appeared before the commission, On being asked if he would defend the order, he replied, "Yes; the imputations cast on us of denying Christ, of spitting on the cross, of authorising infamous crimes, and all such accusations, are false. If I, myself, or other knights, have made confessions before the bishop of Paris, or elsewhere, we have betrayed the truth--we have yielded to fear, to danger, to violence. We were tortured by Flexien de Beziers, prior of Montfaucon, and the monk William Robert, our enemies. Several of the prisoners had agreed among themselves to make these confessions, in order to escape death, and because thirty-six knights had died at Paris, and a great number in other places, under the torture. As for me, I am ready to defend the order in my own name, and in the names of those who will make common cause with me, if I am assigned out of the goods of the order as much as will defray the needful expense, I require to be granted the counsel of Raynaud of Orleans and of Peter of Bologna, priests of the order." He was asked if he had been tortured. He replied that he had, three months before he made his confession.
Next day the Master was brought up again. He demanded to be brought before the pope, appealed to the valour and charity of the Templars, and their zeal in adorning churches, in proof of their piety, and made an orthodox confession of his own faith. Nogaret, who was present, then observed, that it was related in the chronicles of St. Denis that the Master of the order had done homage to Saladin; and that the sultan had ascribed their ill fortune to their secret vices and impiety. Molay declared that he
had never heard of such calumnies; and gave an instance of the prudence and good faith of a former Master, when himself and some other young men wanted him to break a truce. Molay concluded by praying the chancellor and the commissioners to procure him the favour of hearing mass, and being attended by his chaplains.
Orders having been given that all the Templars who were desirous to undertake the defence of the order should be conveyed to Paris, they were brought thither strongly guarded. The commission then renewed its sittings. As the prisoners were successively brought before it, they, with few exceptions, declared their readiness to defend their order--till death, cried some; till the end, cried others; because I wish to save my soul, added one. Bertrand de St. Paul declared that he never did, and never would, confess the guilt of the order, because it was not true; and that he believed that God would work a miracle if the body of Christ was administered to those who confessed and those who denied. Seven of those who had been examined before the pope, and had confessed, now declared that they had lied, and revoked what they then said. John de Valgellé maintained that he had made no confession on that occasion. "I was tortured so much, and held so long before a burning fire," said Bernard de Vado, "that the flesh of my heels was burnt, and these two bones (which he showed) came off"
In the course of these examinations, a Templar, named Laurent de Beaune, showed a letter with the seals of Philip de Voet and John Jainville, the persons set by the pope and king over the prisoners, addressed to the Templars confined at Sens, inviting them to confess what was required, and declaring that the pope had given orders that those who did not persevere in their confessions should be committed to
the flames. Philip de Voet, on being interrogated, said that he did not believe that he had sent that letter; his seal had often lain in the hands of his secretary; he had always advised the prisoners to speak the truth. Jainville was not examined, neither was John Carpini, the bearer of the letter. De Beaune was one of the first afterwards committed to the flames; the supposition is natural, that the letter was a stratagem of the king and his ministers.
The Master having been again brought before the commissioners, and having renewed his demand of being sent to the pope, they promised to write to the pope on the subject, but there is no proof of their having done so.
On the 28th March all the Templars who had expressed their willingness to defend the order were assembled in the garden of the bishop's palace. Their number was 546. The Master was not among them. The articles of accusation were then read over to them in Latin; the commissioners ordered that they should be read again to them in the vulgar tongue, but the knights all cried out that it was enough, they did not desire that such abominations, which were false and not to be named, should be repeated in the vulgar language. Again, they complained of the deprivation of their religious habits and the sacraments of the church, and desired that the Master and the heads of the order should be called thither also. But this reasonable request was not complied with. In vain the Master demanded to be brought before the pope; in vain the knights required to be permitted to enjoy the presence of their chief. Neither the one nor the other suited the interest or the designs of the king.
The number of the Templars in Paris soon amounted to near 900. The commissioners were desirous that
they should appoint agents to manage their defence; but this they declined to do, some alleging that they could not do so without the consent of their chief, others insisting on defending the order in person. At length, after a great deal of argument and deliberation, seventy-five Templars were chosen to draw up the defence of the order; and the priests of the order, Raynaud de Pruino and Peter of Bologna, and the knights, William de Chambonnet and Bertrand de Sartiges, were appointed to be present at the deposition of the witnesses.
The act of accusation against the Templars, drawn up in the name of the pope, ran thus. At the time of their reception they were made to deny God, Christ, the Virgin, &c.; in particular to declare that Christ was not the true God, but a false prophet, who had been crucified for his own crimes, and not for the redemption of the world. They spat and trampled on the cross, especially on Good Friday. They worshipped a cat which sometimes appeared in their chapters. Their priests, when celebrating mass, did not pronounce the words of consecration. They believed that their Master could absolve them from their sins. They were told at their reception that they might abandon themselves to all kinds of licentiousness. They had idols in all their provinces, some with three faces, some with one. They worshipped these idols in their chapters, believed that they could save them, regarded them as the givers of wealth to the order, and of fertility to the earth; they touched them with cords which they afterwards tied round their own bodies. Those who at the time of their reception would not comply with these practices were put to death or imprisoned. All this, it was stated, took place according to the statutes of the order; it was a general and ancient custom, and
there was no other mode of reception. The act of accusation stated farther that the Templars stopped at no means of enriching the order *.
The Templars, in their reply, asserted that all these imputations were false, and that if any of them had confessed them, they had done so under terror and violence, thirty-six having expired by torture at Paris and several others elsewhere. The forms of law had been violated with respect to them; to obtain from them false depositions letters of the king had been shown them declaring that the order had been condemned irrevocably, and offering life, liberty, and pensions, to those who would depose falsely. "All these facts, said they, are so public and so notorious that there are no means or pretexts for disavowing them." The heads of accusation were nothing but falsehoods and absurdities, and the bull contained nothing but horrible, detestable, and iniquitous falsehoods. Their order was pure, and if their statutes were consulted they would be found to be the same for all Templars and for all countries. Their belief was that of the Church; parents brought their children, brothers each other, uncles their nephews, into the order, because it was pure and holy. When in captivity to the infidels, the Templars died sooner than renounce their religion. They declared their readiness to defend their innocence in every way, and against every person except the pope and the king, demanded to be brought personally before the general council, required that those who had quitted the order and deposed against it should be
kept in close custody till their truth or falsehood should be ascertained, and that no layman should be present to intimidate the accused when under examination. The knight, they maintained, had been struck with such terror, that the false confessions made by some were less matter of surprise than the courage of those who maintained the truth was of admiration. Inquire, said they, of those who were present at the last moments of the knights who died in prison; let their confessions be revealed, and it will be seen if the accusations are true. Is it not strange, asked they in conclusion, that more credit should be given to the lies of those who yielded to tortures or to promises than to the asseverations of those who, in defence of the truth, have died with the palm of martyrdom--of the sound majority of those knights who have suffered and still suffer so much for conscience' sake?
On the 11th April, 1310, the hearing of the witnesses against the order commenced. Only twenty-one were produced, two of whom did not belong to the order, the others being principally those who had persisted in their declarations before the pope. As might be expected, all the crimes laid to the charge of the order in the papal bull were again deposed to by these men; but the commission had only got as far as the examination of the thirteenth witness when the impatience of the king manifested itself in a barbarous and illegal act, which had apparently long been meditated.
The Archbishop of Sens, whose suffragan the Bishop of Paris was, had died about Easter, 1309, and the pope had reserved the nomination to himself. Philip wrote to him requiring of him to nominate Philip de Marigny, Bishop of Cambray, brother to Enquerrand, his prime minister, alleging that his youth was no just impediment, and that his acts
would prove how much he was beyond his age. The pope, though very reluctant, was obliged to consent, and in April, 1310, Marigny was installed. No time was now lost in proceeding to operation. On Sunday, May 10, the four defenders of the order learned that the provincial council of Sens was convoked at Paris in order to proceed against the knights individually. They took alarm, and applied to the commission, which, though it did not sit on Sundays, assembled, and Peter of Bologna informed them of what he had heard. He begged that they would suffer him to read an appeal which he had drawn up. This they declined doing, but said that, if he had any defence of the order to give in, they would receive it. He forthwith laid down a written paper, stating the danger which the prisoners were in dread of, appealing to the holy see, and entreating the commission to stop the proceedings of the archbishop and his suffragans. The defenders of the order then retired, and the further consideration of the affair was put off till after vespers, when they re-appeared and gave in an address to the Archbishop of Sens, containing an appeal to the pope. The commissioners, however, declined interfering for the present.
It is to be noticed that the defenders of the order prayed on this occasion of the commission to nominate one or more of its notaries to draw up their act of defence, because they could find no notary who would act for them, owing probably to fear of the royal displeasure, or to the want of funds by the accused.
On Monday and Tuesday two more of the witnesses were heard. One of them named Humbert de Puy declared that, having refused to acknowledge the crimes laid to the charge of the order, he had been tortured three times and kept for thirty-six weeks on bread and water in the bottom of an inected tower, by order of John de Jainville.
While thus engaged, the commissioners learned to their dismay that the council was about to commit to the flames fifty-four of the knights who had stepped forth as the defenders of the order. They instantly sent one of their notaries and one of the keepers of the prison of the Templars to entreat the archbishop to act with caution, as there were strong reasons for doubting the truth of the charges; and representing that the witnesses were so terrified at what they had heard of the intentions of the council, that they were incapable of giving their evidence; that moreover the Templars had delivered in an appeal to the pope.
The archbishop, who was paying the price of his elevation to a hard creditor, was not to be stopped by these considerations. He was making short work of the business. On the Monday he had a number of those who had undertaken the defence of the order brought before the council, and he interrogated them once more himself. Those of them who, having confessed, had afterwards retracted, and now persisted in their retractation, were declared to be relapsed heretics, and were delivered over to the secular arm and condemned to the flames; those who, had not confessed, and would not, were sentenced to imprisonment as unreconciled Templars; those who persisted in their confession of the enormities laid to the charge of the order were set at liberty, and called reconciled Templars.
The next morning the fifty-four Templars who had been declared relapsed were taken from their prison, placed in carts, and conducted to the place of execution, where they beheld the piles prepared, and the executioners standing with flaming torches in their hands. An envoy from the court was present, who proclaimed liberty and the royal favour for those who would even then retract their declarations
and confess the guilt of the order. The friends and relatives of the unhappy victims crowded round them, with tears and prayers, imploring of them to make the required acknowledgment and save their lives. In vain. These gallant knights, who, yielding to the anguish of torture, and worn down by solitude and privations, had confessed to the truth of the most absurd charges, now that they beheld the certain limit of their sufferings, disdained to purchase by falsehood a prolongation of life to be spent in infamy and contempt. With one voice they re-asserted their own innocence and that of their order. They called on God, the Virgin, and all the saints to aid and support them, raised the hymn of death, and expired amidst the tears and commiseration of the by-standers.
Felons convicted on the clearest evidence will, as is well known, die asserting their innocence; but this is when they have no hope of escape remaining. Here life and liberty were offered, and the victims were implored by those whom they most loved to accept of them. May we not then assert that the men who resisted all solicitations were sincere and spoke the truth, and were supported by their confidence of being received as martyrs by that God whom they devoutly adored according to the doctrines of their church?
On Wednesday, Aymeric de Villars-le-Duc, aged about fifty years, was brought before the commissioners. He was quite pallid, and seemed terrified beyond measure. On the articles to which he was to depose being explained to him, he asseverated in the strongest manner his resolution to speak the truth; then striking his breast with his clenched hands, he bent his knees, and stretching his hands towards the altar, spake these memorable words:--
"I persist in maintaining that the errors imputed to the Templars are absolutely false, though I have
confessed some of them myself, overcome by the tortures which G. de Marcillac and Hugh de Celle, the king's knights, ordered to be inflicted on me. I have seen the fifty-four knights led in carts to be committed to the flames because they would not make the confessions which were required of them. I have heard that they were burnt; and I doubt if I could, like them, have had the noble constancy to brave the terrors of the pile. I believe that, if I were threatened with it, I should depose on oath before the commission, and before any other persons who should interrogate me, that these same errors imputed to the order are true. I would kill God himself if it was required of me."
He then earnestly implored the commissioners and the notaries who were present not to reveal to the king's officers, and to the keepers of the Templars, the words which had escaped him, lest they should deliver him also to the flames.
Ought not these simple honest words, the very accents of truth, to prevail with us against all the confessions procured by torture, or by promises or threats, and satisfy us as to their value?
The commissioners, whose conduct throughout the whole affair was regulated by humanity and justice, declared that the evening before one of the witnesses had come to them and implored of them to keep his deposition secret, on account of the danger which he ran if it should be known; and, judging that in their present state of terror it would not be just to hear the witnesses, they deliberated on proroguing their session to a future period.
We thus see that even the papal commission could not protect against the king such of the witnesses as were honest and bold enough to maintain the innocence of the order. Strict justice was therefore out of the question, Philip would have the order guilty
of the most incredible crimes, and death awaited the witness who did not depose as he wished. Meantime his agents were busily engaged in tampering with the prisoners; and by threats and promises they prevailed on forty-four of them to give up their design of defending the order.
On the 21st May the commissioners met, in the absence of the Archbishop of Narbonne and the Archdeacon of Trent, and, declaring their labours suspended for the present, adjourned to the 3d November.
In the interval the conduct of the council of Sens had been imitated in other provinces. The Archbishop of Rheims held a council at Senlis, by whose sentence nine Templars were committed to the flames. Another council was held at Pont-de-l’Arche by the Archbishop of Rouen, and several knights were burnt. The Bishop of Carcassonne presided at a council which delivered many victims to the secular arm. On the 18th August the Archbishop of Sens held a second council, and burned four knights. Thibault, Duke of Lorraine, the close friend of King Philip, put many Templars to death, and seized the property of the order.
On the 3d November three of the papal commissioners met at Paris: they asked if any one wished to defend the order of the Templars. No one appearing they adjourned to the 27th December. On resuming their sittings they called on William de Chambonnet and Bertrand de Sartiges to give their presence at the hearing of the witnesses. These knights required the presence of Raynaud de Pruino and Peter of Bologna, but were informed that these priests had solemnly and voluntarily renounced the defence of the order, and revoked their retractations; that the latter had escaped from his prison and fled, and that the former could not be admitted to defend the order
as he had been degraded at the council of Sens The knights reiterated their refusal and retired. The commissioners then proceeded in their labours without them, and continued the examination of witnesses till the 26th May, 1311.
The whole number of persons examined before the commission amounted to 231, for the far greater part serving-brethren. Of these about two-thirds acknowledged the truth of the principal charges against the order. The denial of Christ and spitting on the cross were very generally confessed, but many said they had spitten beside it, not on it, and also that they had denied God with their lips, not with their hearts.
With respect to the head which the Templars were said to worship, as it was of some importance to prove this offence, in order to make out the charge of heresy, it was testified to by a few. Some said it was like that of a man with a long white beard, others that it was like that of a woman, and that it was said to be the head of one of the 11,000 virgins. One witness gave the following account of it, which he said he had had from a secular knight at Limisso, in Cyprus.
A certain nobleman was passionately in love with a maiden. Being unable, however, to overcome her repugnance to him, he took her body, when she was dead, out of her grave, and cut off her head, and while thus engaged he heard a voice crying--Keep it safe, whatever looks on it will be destroyed. He did as desired, and made the first trial of it on the Grissons, an Arab tribe, which dwelt in Cyprus and the neighbouring country, and whenever he uncovered the head and turned it towards any of their towns, its walls instantly fell down. He next embarked with the head for Constantinople, being resolved to destroy that city also. On the way his nurse, out of curiosity, opened the box which contained
the head. Instantly there came on a terrific storm, the ship went to pieces, and nearly all who were on board perished. The very fish vanished from that part of the sea.
Another of the witnesses had heard the same story. The common tradition of the East, he said, was, that in old times, before the two spiritual orders of knighthood were founded, a head used to rise in a certain whirlpool named Setalia, the appearance of which was very dangerous for the ships which happened to be near it. We are to suppose, though it does not appear that the witnesses said so, that the Templars had contrived to get possession of this formidable head.
We are to observe that the witnesses who thus deposed had been picked and culled in all parts of France, by the king's officers, out of those who had confessed before the different prelates and provincial councils, and who were, by threats and promises, engaged to persist in what they had said. The terror they were under was visible in their countenances, their words, and their actions. Many of them began by saying that they would not vary from what they had deposed before such a bishop or such a council; yet even among these some were bold enough to revoke their confessions, declaring that they had been drawn from them by torture, and asserted the innocence of the order. Others retracted their confessions when brought before the commissioners, but shortly afterwards, having probably in the interval been well menaced or tortured by the king's officers, returned and retracted their retractation.
The case of John de Pollencourt, the thirty-seventh witness, is a remarkable instance. He began in the usual way, by declaring that he would persist in his confession made before the Bishop of Amiens, touching the denial of Christ, &c. The commissioners, observing his paleness and agitation, told him to tell
the truth and save his soul, and not to persist in his confession if it had not been sincere, assuring him that neither they nor their notaries would reveal any thing that he said. After a pause he replied:--
"I declare then, on peril of my soul, and on the oath which I have taken, that, at the time of my reception, I neither denied God nor spat upon the cross, nor committed any of the indecencies of which we are accused, and was not required so to do. It is true that I have made confusions before the inquisitors; but it was through the fear of death, and because Giles de Rotangi had, with tears, said to me, and many others who were with me in prison at Montreuil, that we should pay for it with our lives, if we did not assist by our confessions to destroy the order. I yielded, and afterwards I wished to confess myself to the Bishop of Amiens; he referred me to a Minorite friar; I accused myself of this falsehood, and obtained absolution, on condition that I would make no more false depositions in this affair. I tell you the truth; I persist in attesting it before you; come what may of it, I prefer my soul to my body."
Nothing can bear more plainly the character of truth than this declaration; yet three days afterwards the witness came back, revoked it all, spoke of the cat which used to appear in the chapters, and said that, if the order had not been abolished, he would have quitted it. Had he not been well menaced and tortured in the interim?
The examination of Peter de la Palu, a bachelor in theology of the order of the preachers, the 201st witness, brought from him these remarkable words: "I have been present at the examination of several Templars, some of whom confessed many of the things contained in the said articles, and some others totally denied them; and for many reasons it appeared to me that greater credit was to be given to those who denied than to those who confessed."
296:* In the church of the romantic hamlet of Gavarnie, a few leagues from Barèges, on the road to Spain, in the heart of the Hautes Pyrénées, are shown twelve skulls, which are said to have been those of Templars who were beheaded in that place. The tradition is, .in all probability, incorrect; but the Templars had possessions in Bigorre.
297:* This is mentioned in a private letter from Clement to Philip, of the 30th December, 1308.
297:† Monumens Historiques, &c. p. 46.
300:* Raynouard, p. 253.
302:* Raynouard, 61. This circumstance was first remarked by Fleury, Hist. Eccles., lib. xci. Yet it seems hardly credible that the pope and his secretaries could have made so gross a mistake.
307:* All these crimes had been acknowledged by various members of the order. Yet what can be more improbable than the worship of the cat for instance? This charge, by the way, had already been made against the sect of the Cathari, who were said to have derived their name a catta:--rather their name gave origin to the invention.