The Templar trials - more than one

It is often thought that the Templar trial in France, which commenced after the arrest of many Templars on October 13, 1307, was a single trial, carried out by either King Philip the Fair of France or the Pope. The latter being the one who had the sole jurisdiction on the Order of the Temple and its member. In reality, their were several investigations which succeeded each other in time, one secular and several ecclesiastical.

Of the various secular trials held in France, the first, and one of the larger trials, ran from October 19 to November 24, 1307, and was held in Paris. These trials were initiated by the French King although he employed religious inquisitors as he foresaw that under church law he had no right to prosecute Templars. A total of 138 prisoners gave a full testimony and almost all admitted guilt to one or more charges. Since torture was used to elicit these confessions, the reliability of their testimony before this and other inquisitional tribunals remains an open question.

The Pope did not like the Kings initiatives. After negotiations in May 1308 in Poitiers between the king's people and Pope Clement V, a double eclesiastical trial began: one, against the order itself, led by the pontifical commissioners and which was to lead to the decision of suppression taken at the Council of Vienna in 1312; the other, against individuals, entrusted to diocesan commissions to which the Pope in July 1308 had given the mission of carrying out investigations and pronouncing sentences of condemnation or reconciliation. (...) 

The trial conducted in the diocese of Clermont against the Templars of Auvergne and Limousin had remained unpublished. Preserved in a long original scroll, it was of the greatest interest given its early date (June 1309) and the fact that the procedure rested on Bishop Aubert Aycelin, who was none other than the nephew of Cardinal Gilles Aycelin, the advisor of the king, well known for his attitude in the Templar affair. In addition, more than 60 brothers had testified at length, including 49 from Auvergne and 17 from Limousin, and among them 9 commanders. Finally, a certain number of them were subsequently brought to Paris and we had the exceptional opportunity to be able to compare the statements given at that time to those they had given previously.

These are the key dates of the different trials and related papal decisions and bulls, the latter showing the the Pope's struggle to get a handle on events:

  • October 13, 1307: arrest of all the Templars of France on the secret order of King Philip the Fair.
  • October-November: interrogation of the Templars by the king's people and the inquisitors; confessions of several dignitaries of the order, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay.
  • November 22, 1307: bull Pastoralis preeminentie , from Clement V, enjoining Christian princes to arrest the Templars of their States
  •  February 1308: suspension by the Pope of the procedure carried out by the inquisitors and the bishops
  • May 1308: meeting of the States General of Tours;
  • May to July 1308: negotiations between Philip IV and Clement V in Poitiers, at the end of which two kinds of crimes are distinguished: those of the Order of the Temple and those of its members, hence two kinds of procedure:
    • some against the order: pontifical commissions are called to bring together in each State the documents appropriate to enlighten the Ecumenical Council, which will have to decide the fate of the order;
    • the others against the members of the order: the investigations initiated by the bishops and the inquisitors, to whom the Pope had made aware of the affair on July 5, must be continued; in view of the results, provincial councils will judge the people;
  • August 12, 1308: bull Faciens misericordiam, establishing the pontifical and episcopal commissions;
  • 1309 and 1310: sessions of the various diocesan commissions;
  • May 11, 1310: condemnation as relapse by the provincial council of Sens of fifty-four Templars who had retracted their previous confessions; they are burned the next day;
  • 1309 to 1311: sessions of the pontifical commission of inquiry for France;
  • October 1311: opening of the Council of Vienna responsible for regulating the fate of the Order of the Temple;
  • April 3, 1312: bull Vox in excelso, suppressing the Order of the Temple by “provisional means”, with the approval of the council;
  • May 2, 1312: bull Ad providam, deciding the return of Temple property to the order of the Hospital;
  • May 6, 1312: bull Considerentes dudum, ordering the provincial councils which had not yet pronounced on the persons of the order, to continue their task by showing mercy towards those who had confessed and by applying the canonical rules to the unrepentant.
  • November 22, 1312: handing over to a commission of three cardinals the judgment of the dignitaries, which the Pope had reserved for himself;
  • March 19, 1314: sentence condemning dignitaries to life imprisonment; retraction of Jacques de Molay and Guillaume de Charnai, immediately followed by their condemnation to the stake by the king's council, and their torture. (without Papal consent, TN)

This blog quotes an English translation of sections of Procès des Templiers from Illustration shows Pope Clement during the Templar trial, source.

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