The true motifs behind the Templar arrests, October 13, 1307

As argued earlier, financial affairs, often suggested as the major trigger for the arrests, can only be a marginal reason for conflict between the Templars and the King of France. Alternatively, rumors against te Order of the Temple were. Rumors that led to the request of Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Temple, to Pope Clement V to open an investigation into the charges weighing on the order. In a letter to the King of France dated August 24, 1307 the Pope granted this request.

"The pope also told the King that no decision concerning the order must be taken before the conclusion of the investigation. And he added that, being very ill, he (the Pope) must undertake restrictive medical treatment in September and that the investigation can only be carried out when he has recovered. 

All this did not suit the King, who made alternative plans. In the meantime, King Philip and his council and main operational agent Guillaume de Nogaret decided that the rumor based "Templar affair” would be used for putting pressure on the Pope and the Church. This was to obtain two things: 

  • settle the questions left pending after the Anagni attack on former Pope Boniface VIII, namely the lifting of ecclesiastical sanctions incurred on those responsible for the Anagni attack, and the opening of a trial against the memory of Boniface VIII, who also was accused of herecy. 
  • Affirm the rights of the king over the Church of France, over what is already called the Gallican Church. Not content with being "emperor in his kingdom", that is to say fully sovereign in civil matters, the king also wants to be "pope in his kingdom".

These are the motifs of the royal action against the Templars. It must be emphasized that it is a pretext, a chance to achieve real issues which lie elsewhere. 

Also the king must not leave the initiative to the pope and the time the latter gives himself to act must be immediately taken advantage of. On September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a royal letter was sent to all the royal seneschals and bailiffs. It takes up and amplifies, in bombastic rhetoric which is that of the narrow circle of the king's advisors, the rumors peddled against the Templars and makes a first indictment: 

"A bitter thing, a deplorable thing, a thing certainly horrible to to think, terrible to hear, a detestable crime (...) a thing entirely inhuman, even more, foreign to all humanity...", and again: "the enormity of the crime overflows to the point of being an offense for divine majesty, a shame for humanity, a pernicious example of evil and a universal scandal." 

Then followed the accusations against the Templars: denial of Christ, spitting on the cross, obscene kisses, practice of sodomy, worship of idols. 

The king then justifies his intervention in a Church matter as follows: 

“We who are established by the Lord on the observation post of the royal eminence to defend the freedom of the faith of the Church (...) given the investigation preliminary and diligent made on the data of public rumor (infami publica referente) by our dear brother in Christ William of Paris, inquisitor of heretical perversity (...), given the vehement suspicion resulting against the said adversaries of the social pact (...), acquiescing to the requisitions of the said inquisitor, who called upon our arm (...), we declared that all the members of the said order in our kingdom would be arrested...". 

Attached to this accusatory letter is a memorandum on the manner in which the royal agents responsible for the arrest should proceed on D-Day, the date of which only the royal seneschals and bailiffs know. The king of France had his action, illegal in canon law, covered up by William of Paris, the inquisitor of France who was also his confessor and who belonged to the Dominican order. On September 22, William of Paris wrote to his colleagues in the south of France to encourage them to lend assistance to the royal agents."

This blog quotes English translations by TN of occasionally slightly edited or rearranged quotes from p 91-97 of Les Templiers by Alain Demurger (2018), 127 pp, Editions Jean-Paul Gisserot. Illustration Buste of Guillaume de Nogaret, source

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