Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, by Thomas Keightley, , at sacred-texts.com
Examinations in England--Germany--Spain--Italy--Naples and Provence--Sicily--Cyprus--Meeting of the Council of Vienne--Suppression of the order--Fate of its Members--Death of Molay.
THE time fixed for the meeting of the council at Vienne was now at hand, in which the fate of the order was to be decided. Before we proceed to narrate its acts we will briefly state the result of the examinations of the Templars in other countries.
The pope sent, as his judges, to England, Dieudonné, abbot of Lagny, and Sicard de Vaux, canon of Narbonne; and the examinations commenced at York, London, Lincoln, and other places, on the 25th November, 1309. The inquiry continued till the council held in London in 1311; the number of Templars examined was two hundred and twenty-eight; that of the witnesses against the order was seventy-two, almost all Carmelites, Minorites, Dominicans, and Augustinians, the natural foes of the order. The Templars were treated with great mildness; and in England, Ireland, and Scotland, they were unanimous and constant in their assertion of the innocence of the order. The evidence against the order was almost all hearsay: its nature will be shown by the following specimens.
John de Goderai, a Minorite, had heard that Robert de Raxat, a Templar, had once gone about a meadow crying "Wo, wo is me! that ever I was born. I have been forced to deny God, and give myself up to the devil."
A Templar had said to William de Berney, in the presence of several respectable people, at the funeral of the parish-priest of Duxworth, near Cambridge, that a man has no more a soul, after death, than a dog.
John De Eure, a secular knight, said that he once invited the prior William de Fenne to dine with him. After dinner the prior took from his bosom a book, and gave it to the knight's lady to read. She found on a paper which was fastened into the book the following words, "Christ was not the Son of God, nor born of a virgin, but conceived by Mary, the wife of Joseph, in the same way as all other men. Christ was not a true but a false prophet, and was crucified for his own crimes and not for the redemption of mankind, &c." The lady showed this paper to her husband, who spoke to the prior, who only laughed at it; but, being brought before a court of justice, he confessed the truth, excusing himself on the grounds of his being illiterate and ignorant of what the book contained.
Robert of Oteringham, a Minorite, said, "One evening my prior did not appear at table, as relics were come from Palestine which he wished to show the brethren. About midnight I heard a confused noise in the chapel; I got up, and, looking through the keyhole, saw that it was lighted. In the morning I asked a brother who was the saint in whose honour they had celebrated the festival during the night? He turned pale with terror, thinking I had seen something, and said "Ask me not; and if you value your life say nothing of it before the superiors."
Another witness said that the son of a Templar had peeped through the slits of the door into the chapter-room, and seen a new member put to death for hesitating to deny Christ. Long afterwards,
being asked by his father to become a Templar, he refused, telling what he had seen: his father instantly slew him.
John of Gertia, a Minorite, was told by a woman named Agnes Lovecote, who said she had it from Exvalethus, prior in London, that when in one of the chapters a brother had refused to spit on the cross, they suspended him in a well and covered it up. This witness also deposed to some other enormities which he said he had heard of from the same woman, herself speaking from hearsay.
In June, 1310, the pope wrote to King Edward, blaming his lenity and calling on him to employ the torture in order to elicit the truth. The council of London, after a long discussion, ordered it to be employed, but so as not to mutilate the limbs or cause an incurable wound or violent effusion of blood. The knights persisted in asserting their innocence.
In Germany the different prelates examined the Templars in their respective dioceses. Nothing was elicited. At Mentz the order was pronounced innocent. The Wildgraf Frederic, preceptor on the Rhine, offered to undergo the ordeal of glowing iron. He had known the Master intimately in the East, and believed him to be as good a Christian as any man.
The Templars in the Spanish peninsula were examined, and witnesses heard for and against them in Castile, Leon, Aragon, and Portugal, and nothing was proved against them. The council of Tarragona in Aragon, after applying the torture, pronounced the order free from the stain of heresy. At the council of Medina del Campo in Leon, one witness said that he had heard that, when some Minorites visited the preceptor at Villalpando, they found him reading a little book, which he instantly locked up in three boxes, saying, "This book might fall
into hands where it may be very dangerous to the order."
The influence of the pope may be supposed to have been stronger in Italy than in the countries above mentioned, and accordingly we find that declarations similar to those made in France were given there. Yet it was at Florence that the adoration of the idols, the cat, &c., was most fully acknowledged. In the patrimony of St. Peter some confessions to the same effect were made; but at Bologna, Cesena, and Ancona, nothing transpired. Nine Templars maintained the innocence of the order before the council of Ravenna. It was debated whether the torture should be employed. Two Dominican inquisitors were for it, the remainder of the council declared against it. It was decreed that the innocent should be absolved, the guilty punished according to law. Those who had revoked the confessions made under torture, or through fear of it, were to be regarded as innocent--a very different rule from that acted on by King Philip.
Charles II. of Anjou, the relation of King Philip, and the enemy of the Templars, who were on the side of Frederick, king of Sicily, had the Templars seized and examined in Provence and Naples. Those examined in Provence were all serving-brethren, and some of them testified to the impiety and idolatry of the order. Two Templars were examined at Brindisi, in the kingdom of Naples, in June, 1310; one had denied the cross in Cyprus, he said, six years after he had entered the order; the other had trampled on the cross at the time of his reception. He, as well as others, had bowed down and worshipped a grey cat in the chapters.
In Sicily six Templars, the only ones who were arrested, deposed against the order. One of them said he had been received in the unlawful way in
[paragraph continues] Catalonia, where, as we have just seen, the innocence of the order was fully recognized. His evidence was full of absurdity. He said the cat had not appeared for a long time in the chapters but that the ancient statutes of Damietta said that it used to appear and be worshipped.
In Cyprus 110 witnesses were examined; 75 belonged to the order and maintained its innocence; the testimony of the remainder was also in favour of it.
We thus find that, in every place beyond the sphere of the influence of the king of France and his creature the pope, the innocence of the order was maintained and acknowledged.; and undoubtedly the same would have been the case in France if the proceedings against it had been regulated by justice and the love of truth.
The time appointed for the meeting of the general council was now arrived. On the 1st October, 1311, the pope came to Vienne, which is a short distance from the city of Lyons, and found there 114 bishops, besides several other prelates, already assembled. On the 13th, the anniversary of the arrest of the Templars four years before, the council commenced its sittings in the cathedral. The pope, in his opening speech, stated the grounds of its having been convoked, namely, the process against the Templars, the support of the Holy Land, the reformation of the Church. The bishops of Soissons, Mende, Leon, and Aquila, who had been appointed to draw up a report of the result of the different examinations respecting the order, read it before the assembled fathers, who then once more invited any Templars who wished to defend the order to appear.
Though the order was now broken up and persecuted, and numbers of its ablest members deal or languishing in dungeons with their superiors, yet
nine knights had the courage to come forward in defence of their order, and present themselves before the council as the representatives of from 1500 to 2000 Templars, who were still dwelling or rather lurking in Lyons and its vicinity. The pope was not present when they appeared, but his letter of the 11th November shows how he acted when he heard that defenders of the order had presented themselves. Clement had these brave knights arrested and thrown into prison, and, in real or affected terror at the number of Templars at large, he took additional precautions for the security of his person, and counselled the king to do the same.
To the honour of the assembled fathers, they refused to sanction this flagrant act of injustice. The prelates of Spain, Germany, Denmark, England, Ireland, and Scotland, without exception; the Italians, all but one; the French, with the exception of the archbishops of Rheims, Sens, and Rouen, declared, but in vain, for admitting the Templars and hearing their defence. Instead of complying with this demand of justice and humanity, Clement suddenly put an end to the session. The winter passed away in arguments and negociations.
Philip, whose practice it was always to look after his affairs himself, deeming his presence necessary at Vienne, set out for that place, where he arrived early in February, accompanied by his three sons, his brother, and several nobles and men-at-arms. The effect of his presence was soon perceptible; the pope assembled the cardinals and several other prelates in a secret consistory, and abolished the order, by his sole authority, on the 22nd March, 1313.
The second session of the council was opened on the 3rd April, with great solemnity; the king of France, his sons, and his brother, gave their presence at it, and the royal guards appeared for honour,
for protection, or for intimidation. The pope read his bull of abolition. All present listened in silence. No one ventured to raise his voice in the cause of justice. The wealthy and powerful order of the knights of the Temple was suppressed. On the 2d May the bull was published, and the order as such ceased to exist.
The order being suppressed, persecution became needless, and it consequently ceased in a great measure. The king and the pope converted to their own use the moveable property of the order in France. Its other possessions were, sorely against the will of the king, assigned to the order of the Hospitaliers, who were, however, obliged to pay such large fines to the king and pope as completely impoverished them. This extended to all countries, except the Spanish peninsula and Majorca. The property of the Templars in Aragon was given to the order of Our Lady of Montesa, which was founded in 1317. Its destination was to combat the Moors; its habit was similar to that of the Templars; and it might, therefore, be almost called the same order. Diniz, the able and enlightened king of Portugal, did not suppress the order, whose innocence his prelates had recognised. To yield a show of obedience to the papal will, he made it change its name, and the great-prior of the Templars in Portugal became the master of the Order of Christ, which has continued to the present times.
With respect to the remaining Templars, who were in prison, it was ordered in council that those who should be found guiltless should be set at liberty, and maintained out of the property of the order; that the guilty, if they confessed and lamented their offences, should be treated with mildness; if they did not, dealt with according to the ecclesiastical law, and kept in custody in the former temple-houses
and in the convents. Those who had escaped were, if they did not appear within a year before the council or their diocesan, to be excommunicated.
Most of the knights were immediately set at liberty; but the property of the order was all gone, and no means of support remained for them: they were, therefore, reduced to the greatest distress, and many of them obliged to submit to the most menial employment in order to gain a livelihood. A great number were received into the order of St. John, on the same footing as they had stood on in their own order--a strong proof that the guilt of the order of the Templars was not, by any means, regarded as proved. Gradually, as the members died off, or merged into other orders, the name of the Templars fell into oblivion, or was only recollected with pity for their unmerited fate.
While the noble order over which he had presided was thus suppressed, its members scattered, its property bestowed on others, the Master, James de Molay, with his three companions, the great-prior of Normandy, Hugh de Peyraud, visiter of France, and Guy, brother to the Dauphin of Auvergne, still languished in prison. Molay had there but one attendant, his cook; the allowance made to him was barely sufficient to procure him common necessaries, and life had now lost all its value in his eyes. The pope at length determined to inform the captives of the fate destined for them.
A papal commission, composed of the bishop of Alba and two other cardinals, proceeded to Paris, not to hear the prisoners, but, taking their guilt for proved, to pronounce their sentence. To give all publicity to this act, probably in accordance with the desire of the king, a stage was erected in front of the church of Notre Dame, on which the three commissioners, with the archbishop of Sens and several other prelates,
took their places, on the 18th March, 1314. An immense concourse of people stood around. The four noble prisoners were conducted from their dungeons, and led up on the stage. The cardinal of Alba read out their former confessions, and pronounced the sentence of perpetual imprisonment. He was then proceeding to expose the guilt of the order, when the Master interrupted him, and thus spoke, taking all the spectators to witness:--
"It is just that, in so terrible a day, and in the last moments of my life, I should discover all the iniquity of falsehood, and make the truth to triumph. I declare, then, in the face of heaven and earth, and acknowledge, though to my eternal shame, that I have committed the greatest of crimes; but it has been the acknowledging of those which have been so foully charged on the order. I attest, and truth obliges me to attest, that it is innocent. I made the contrary declaration only to suspend the excessive pains of torture, and to mollify those who made me endure them. I know the punishments which have been inflicted on all the knights who had the courage to revoke a similar confession; but the dreadful spectacle which is presented to me is not able to make me confirm one lie by another. The life offered me on such infamous terms. I abandon without regret."
Molay was followed by Guy in his assertion of the innocence of the order; the other two remained silent. The commissioners were confounded, and stopped. The intelligence was conveyed to the king, who, instantly calling his council together, without any spiritual person being present, condemned the two knights to the flames.
A pile was erected on that point of the islet in the Seine where afterwards was erected the statue of Henry IV., and the following day Molay and his
companion were brought forth and placed upon it. They still persisted in their assertion of the innocence of the order. The flames were first applied to their feet, then to their more vital parts. The fetid smell of their burning flesh infected the surrounding air, and added to their torments; yet still they persevered in their declarations. At length death terminated their misery. The spectators shed tears at the view of their constancy, and during the night their ashes were gathered up to be preserved as relics.
Click to enlarge
Portrait of last Grand Master.
It is mentioned as a tradition, by some historians, that Molay, ere he expired, summoned Clement to appear within forty days before the Supreme Judge,
and Philip to the same tribunal within the space of a year. The pontiff actually did die of a cholic on the night of the 19th of the following month, and, the church in which his body was laid taking fire, the corpse was half consumed. The king, before the year had elapsed, died of a fall from his horse. Most probably it was these events which gave rise to the tradition, which testifies the general belief of the innocence of the Templars. It was also remarked that all the active persecutors of the order perished by premature or violent deaths.
It remains to discuss the two following points:--Did the religio-military order of the Knights Templars hold a secret doctrine subversive of religion and morality? Has the order been continued down to our own days?
We have seen what the evidence against the Templars was, and it is very plain that such evidence would not be admitted in any modern court of justice. It was either hearsay, or given by persons utterly unworthy of credit, or wrung from the accused by agony and torture. The articles themselves are absurd and contradictory. Are we to believe that the same men had adopted the pure deism of the Mahommedans, and were guilty of a species of idolatry * almost too gross for the lowest superstition? But when did this corruption commence among the Templars? Were those whom St. Bernard praised as models of Christian zeal and piety, and whom the whole Christian world admired and revered, engaged in a secret conspiracy against religion and government? Yes, boldly replies Hammer, the two humble and pious knights who founded the order were the pupils and secret allies of
the Mahommedan Ismaelites. This was going too far for Wilike, and he thinks that the guilt of introducing the secret doctrine lies on the chaplains; for he could discern that the doctrines of gnosticism, which the Templars are supposed to have held, were beyond the comprehension of illiterate knights, who, though they could fight and pray, were but ill qualified to enter into the mazes of mystic metaphysics. According, therefore, to one party, the whole order was corrupt from top to bottom; according to another, the secrets were confined to a few, and, contrary to all analogy, the heads of the order were frequently in ignorance of them. Neither offer any thing like evidence in support of their assumption.
The real guilt of the Templars was their wealth and their pride *: the last alienated the people from them, the former excited the cupidity of the king of France. Far be it from us to maintain that the morals of the Templars were purer than those of the other religious orders. With such ample means as they possessed of indulging all their appetites and passions, it would be contrary to all experience to suppose that they always restrained them, and we will even concede that some of their members were obnoxious to charges of deism, impiety, breaches of their religious vows, and gross licentiousness. We only deny that such were the rules of the order. Had they not been so devoted as they were to the Holy See they would perhaps have come down to us
as unsullied as the knights of St. John *; but they sided with Pope Boniface against Philip the Fair, and a subservient pontiff sacrificed to his own avarice and personal ambition the most devoted adherents of the court of Rome †.
We make little doubt that any one who coolly and candidly considers the preceding account of the manner in which the order was suppressed will readily concede that the guilt of its members was anything but proved. It behoves their modern impugners to furnish some stronger proofs than any they have as yet brought forward. The chief adversary of the Templars at the present day is a writer whose veracity and love of justice are beyond suspicion, and who has earned for himself enduring fame by his labours in the field of oriental literature, but in whose mind, as his most partial friends must allow, learning and imagination are apt to overbalance judgment and philosophy ‡. He has been replied to by Raynouard, Münter, and other able advocates of the knights.
We now come to the question of the continuance of the order to the present day. That it has in some sort been transmitted to our times is a matter of no
doubt; for, as we have just seen, the king of Portugal formed the Order of Christ out of the Templars in his dominions. But our readers are no doubt aware that the freemasons assert a connexion with the Templars, and that there is a society calling themselves Templars, whose chief seat is at Paris, and whose branches extend into England and other countries. The account which they give of themselves is as follows:--
James de Molay, in the year 1314, in anticipation of his speedy martyrdom,, appointed Johannes Marcus Lormenius to be his successor in his dignity. This appointment was made by a regular well-authenticated charter, bearing the signatures of the various chiefs of the order, and it is still preserved at Paris, together with the statutes, archives, banners, &c., of the soldiery of the Temple. There has been an unbroken succession of grand-masters down to the present times, among whom are to be found some of the most illustrious names in France. Bertrand du Guesclin was grand-master for a number of years; the dignity was sustained by several of the Montmorencies; and during the last century the heads of the society were princes of the different branches of the house of Bourbon. Bernard Raymond Fabré Palaprat is its head at present, at least was so a few years ago *.
This is no doubt a very plausible circumstantial account; but, on applying the Ithuriel spear of criticism to it, various ugly shapes resembling falsehood start up. Thus Molay, we are told, appointed his successor in 1314. He was put to death on the
[paragraph continues] 18th March of that year, and the order had been abolished nearly a year before. Why then did he delay so long, and why was he become so apprehensive of martyrdom at that time, especially when, as is well known, there was then no intention of putting him to death? Again, where were the chiefs of the society at that time? How many of them were living? and how could they manage to assemble in the dungeon of Molay and execute a formal instrument! Moreover, was it not repugnant to the rules and customs of the Templars for a Master to appoint his successor? These are a few of the objections which we think may be justly made; and, on the whole, we feel strongly disposed to reject the whole story.
As to the freemasons, we incline to think that it was the accidental circumstance of the name of the Templars which has led them to claim a descent from that order; and it is possible that, if the same fate had fallen on the knights of St. John, the claim had never been set up. We are very far from denying that at the time of the suppression of the order of the Temple there was a secret doctrine in existence, and that the overthrow of the papal power, with its idolatry, superstition, and impiety, was the object aimed at by those who held it, and that freemasonry may possibly be that doctrine under another name *. But we are perfectly convinced that no proof of any weight has been given of the Templars' participation in that doctrine, and that all probability is on the other side. We regard them, in fine, whatever their sins may have been, as martyrs--martyrs to the cupidity, blood-thirstiness, and ambition of the king of France.
327:* Almost every charge brought against the Templars had been previously made against the Albigenses, with how much truth every one is aware.
328:* Our readers will call to mind the well-known anecdote of King Richard I. When admonished by the zealous Fulk, of Neuilly, to get rid of his three favourite daughters, pride, avarice, and voluptuousness,--"You counsel well," said the king, "and I hereby dispose of the first to the Templars, of the second to the Benedictines, and of the third to my prelates.'
329:* Similar charges are said to have been brought against the Hospitallers in the year 1238, but without effect. There was no Philip the Fair at that time in France.
329:† Clement, in a bull dated but four days after that of the suppression, acknowledged that the whole of the evidence against the order amounted only to suspicion!
329:‡ We mean the illustrious Jos. von Hammer, whose essay on the subject is to be found in the sixth volume of the Mines de l’Orient, where it will be seen that he regards Sir W. Scott, in his Ivanhoe, as a competent witness against the Templars, on account of his correct and faithful pictures of the manners and opinions of the middle ages. We apprehend that people are beginning now to entertain somewhat different ideas on the subject of our great romancer's fidelity, of which the present pages present some instances.
330:* See Manuel des Templiers. As this book is only sold to members of the society, we have been unable to obtain a copy of it. Our account has been derived from Mills's History of Chivalry. That this writer should have believed it implicitly is, we apprehend, no proof of its truth.
331:* This has, we think, been fully prayed by Sr. Rossetti. It must not be concealed that this writer strongly asserts that the Templars were a branch of this society.