The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 7

Author: F. C. Woodhouse  | Date: A.D. 1314

Extinction of the Order of Knights Templars;
Burning of Grand Master Molay

A.D. 1314


The quarrel between Philip the Fair of France and Pope Boniface VIII, concerning the taxation of the clergy, and the right of nomination, to vacant bishoprics within the dominions of Philip, had far-reaching effects. It led, in 1302, to the convocation of the first properly so-called Parliament in France, to offset the actions of the Pope, who excommunicated the King; and also to an expedition into Italy of a small body of French troops which made the Pope prisoner at Agnani, but were subsequently expelled with great loss of life. The Pope was reinstated, but died shortly afterward from brain fever; he was succeeded by Benedict XI, whom the King of France sought to placate, but unsuccessfully. Within nine months Benedict died, presumably from poison, and Philip, by his intrigues, was enabled to secure the election to the pontificate of Bertrand de Goth, who became pope as Clement V, and was pledged to the service of the French King.

Philip, who had obstructed the operations of commerce by debasing the coin of the realm to meet the exigencies of the state, was always in want of money. His cupidity was excited by the wealth of the order of Knights Templars, and, emboldened by his successes over the spiritual power, he now entered upon the career of intrigue which resulted in the destruction and plunder of the order.

The famous Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, rounded in 1118 by a small band of nine French knights, sworn to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Sepulchre, had become, in almost every kingdom of the West, a powerful, wealthy, semimilitary, semimonastic republic, governed by its own laws, animated by the closest corporate spirit, under the severest internal discipline, an all-pervading organization, independent alike of the civil power and of the spiritual hierarchy.

During two centuries as crusaders, the knights fought valiantly and shed their blood in defence of the Sepulchre of our Lord, earning the devout admiration of Western Christendom, and receiving splendid endowments of lands, castles, and riches of all kinds as contributions to the cause of the holy wars.

But despite their valor, Mahometan persistency prevailed, and the total expulsion of the Templars, with the rest of the Christian establishments from Palestine, followed the downfall of Acre in 1291.


The loss of Palestine led indirectly to the ruin of the order of the Templars. The record is one of the dark episodes of history, encompassed with contradictions, full of surprises, painful to contemplate, whatever view may be taken, whichever side espoused.

It is difficult to understand how an order of men who for nearly two hundred years earned the thanks and praise of Christendom for their bravery and devotion; who had shed blood like water to defend the places dearest to all Christian hearts; who had been recruited from the noblest families in every country in Europe, and had had princes of royal blood in their ranks; who claimed to act upon the purest and most exalted Christian principles; and who proved the sincerity of their professions by their lives of self-sacrifice, and their deaths, for the cause they had taken up; who had been honored and favored and dowered with gifts and privileges, in gratitude for their exploits—should suddenly have fallen into the blackest crimes. So it is no less difficult to understand how public opinion should turn against them as it did, and how all Europe should set itself to disgrace and despoil, to malign and execrate, those who had so long been its favorites and its champions. It is not easy to understand this, and it is painful to read the story in its sad and miserable details.

But there are other pages of history that more or less correspond with this; and there are well-known characteristics of human nature that explain how such revulsions of feeling come about. It has never been found difficult to get up a case against those whom the great and powerful have made up their minds to destroy. The best men are fallible and have their weak side. Large bodies of men must contain some unworthy members. A long history can hardly be without blots, mistakes, and crimes. No man’s life, if narrowly scrutinized by an unfavorable and prejudiced criticism, but will afford ground for accusation. Then, too, facts may be perverted, circumstances may be madeto bear a meaning that does not really belong to them, and fear and torture may force the weak to say anything that they are required. And, finally, the evidence and the judgment of those who have everything to gain by the condemnation of those whom they accuse, must always be viewed with suspicion by sober and truth-loving minds. Moreover, in judging the Templars, we must not forget the lapse of time and the change of circumstances that separate our age from theirs.

After the loss of Acre a chapter of the surviving Templars was gathered, and James de Molay, preceptor of England, was elected grand master. One more attempt was made to recover a footing in the Holy Land, but it was defeated with great loss to the order, and all hope of restoring the Latin kingdom in Palestine seems to have been abandoned. The occupation of the Templars was gone. They had been banded together to fight upon the sacred soil of Palestine, and to defend pilgrims, but now they had been driven out of the country, and they could no longer execute their mission or fulfil their vows. We soon hear of them being engaged in civil or international wars, which seems to be a violation of their oath not to draw sword upon any Christian. Thus we read of Templars fighting on the side of the King of England, in the battle of Falkirk, 1298, and similar occurrences are recorded in the French wars of the time. Those against whom the Templars fought would not be slow to complain of them.

But the real cause of the downfall of the Templars was probably the enormous wealth of the order. There had not been wanting indications for some years of covetous eyes and itching hands turned toward the possession of the Knights. Sometimes complaints were made because the rents of their estates were all sent out of the country; sometimes the grievance alleged was that they were exempted from paying taxes and other levies, civil and ecclesiastical. Sometimes open acts of spoliation were committed upon their property, and that even by royal hands.

But it was in France that the final attack was made. Philip the Fair was king at this time, a man of bad character and unscrupulous as to the means by which he attained his ends. The country was exhausted and the treasury empty, and the ideaseems to have occurred to him, as it did later to Henry VIII of England under similar circumstances, that an easy way to fill his own purse was to put his hand into the purses of others. But even kings cannot appropriate the property of a religious order without offering some apology or justification to the world. And so it began to be whispered that the Holy Land would never have been lost to Christendom if its sworn defenders had not failed in their Christian character. The whole blame of the defeat of the crusades was laid upon the Templars. It was said they had treacherously betrayed the Christian cause, that they had treated with the enemy, and by their personal sins, especially by secret, unhallowed rites, had provoked the just wrath of God, and so brought about the ruin of the dominion of the Cross in the East.

When Ahab has determined to put Naboth to death, that he may seize his coveted vineyard, it is not difficult to find witness that he is a blasphemer of God and a traitor to the King; and so Philip found his first tool in a man guilty of a multitude of crimes, who secured his own pardon by a denunciation of the Templars.

But even a king could not ruin a great religious order without the aid of the ecclesiastical authorities. The Templars had always been favored and protected by the popes, and nothing was in itself so likely to evoke that protection again as an attack upon the order by the secular powers. But Philip was prepared for this. The Pope of the day, Clement V, had been a subject of his own. As bishop of Bordeaux, he owed his election to the pontificate to Philip’s own intrigues, and had been easily induced to quit Rome and live in France, so as to be more completely under the dictation of the King. Moreover, the majority of the cardinals were also French and entirely devoted to the King’s interests.

Clement V was one of the worst of those miserable men who have from time to time disgraced the papal chair, and was guilty of almost every crime. There are, indeed, authorities worthy of credit who assert that before his election he had been made to promise to perform six favors to the King, and that the last was not to be divulged till the time for its execution came. This last was then found to be the suppression of theorder of the Templars. There was no difficulty, under these circumstances, in getting the so-called sanction of the Church for an inquiry into the crimes of which the Templars were accused.

Accordingly, in 1307, Philip issued letters to his officers throughout the kingdom, commanding them to seize all the Templars on a certain day, that they might be tried for crimes of which he and the Pope had satisfied themselves they were guilty. They had apostatized from the Christian religion, worshipped idols in their secret meetings, and had been guilty of horrible and shameful offences against God, the Church, the State, and humanity itself. Philip professed the most pious horror at what he had discovered; he lamented the grievous necessity laid upon him, and urged upon the guilty men the expediency of a full and immediate confession of their wicked doings as the only way to secure pardon and escape the just and extreme penalty of such outrageous wickedness.

It was during the night of October 13, 1307, that the King’s orders were executed. Every house of the Templars in the dominions of the King of France was suddenly surrounded by a strong force, and all the Knights and members of the order were simultaneously taken prisoners.

At the same time a strenuous endeavor was made to arouse popular indignation against the order. The regular and secular clergy were commanded to preach against the Templars, and to describe the horrible enormities that were practised among them. It is incredible to us in these days that such charges should be made, and still more that they should actually be believed. It was said that the Templars worshipped some hideous idol in their secret assemblies, that they offered sacrifices to it of infants and young girls, and that although every one saw them devout, charitable, and regular in their religious duties, people were not to be misled by these things, for this was only a cloak intended to deceive the world and conceal their secret rites and obscene orgies.

It was hoped that some confession of guilt might be readily obtained from some of the weaker brethren in order to receive the pardon which was promised by the King. But no such confession was made. All the prisoners denied the charges broughtagainst them. Then the usual medival expedient was resorted to, and torture was used to extort acknowledgments of guilt. The unhappy Templars in Paris were handed over to the tender mercies of the tormentors with the usual results. One hundred and forty were subjected to trial by fire.

The details preserved are almost too horrible to be related. The feet of some were fastened close to a hot fire till the very flesh and even the bones were consumed. Others were suspended by their limbs, and heavy weights attached to them to make the agony more intense. Others were deprived of their teeth; and every cruelty that a horrible ingenuity could invent was used.

While this was going on, questions were asked, and offers of pardon were made if they would acknowledge themselves or others guilty of the monstrous wickednesses which were detailed to them. At the same time forged letters were read, purporting to come from the grand master himself, exhorting them to make a full confession, and declarations were made of the confessions which were said to have been already freely given by other members of the order.

What wonder, then, that the usual consequences followed. Those who had strong will and indomitable courage stood firm and endured the slow martyrdom till death released them, maintaining to the last their own innocence, and the innocence of their order, of the crimes with which they were charged. But some weaker men broke down. In hope of release from the agony which they could not endure, they confessed anything and everything that was required of them, and these things were at once written down as grave facts and made matter of accusation of others. Often these unhappy men almost immediately recanted, and as soon as the torture ceased withdrew their confessions, and repeated their original denial of the accusations one and all.

We have long ago ceased to set any value upon confessions extorted by torture, and the system has happily been abolished by all civilized nations, but in those days this was not understood; torture was relied upon as a means of extracting truth from unwilling witnesses when all other means failed; indeed, it was simpler and more expeditious than the calling of many witnesses, the testing of evidence by cross-examination, and other surer but slower methods; and especially when conviction, not truth, was the end in view, torture was a welcome and efficacious ally.

All this was but too sadly exemplified in the proceedings against the Templars in France. No sooner were those who had made confessions of guilt while under torture released from their tormentors than they disavowed their forced admissions and proclaimed their innocence and the purity of their order, appealing to history and the testimony of their own day for evidence of their courage and devotion to the Catholic faith.

Upon hearing of this Philip immediately ordered the re-arrest of the Templars, and, proceeding against them as relapsed heretics, they were condemned to be burned alive. In Paris alone one hundred and thirteen suffered this terrible punishment, and many more were burned in other towns. In Spain, Portugal, and Germany, proceedings were taken against the order; their property was confiscated, and in some cases torture was used; but it is remarkable that it was only in France, and in those places where Philip’s influence was powerful, that any Templar was actually put to death.

Everywhere else the monstrous charges were declared to be unproved, and the order was declared innocent of heresy and sacrilegious rites.

In October, 1311, a council was held at Vienna to dissolve the Order of the Temple, but the majority of the bishops were decidedly opposed to such a proceeding against so ancient and illustrious an order, till its members had been heard in their own defence in a fair and open trial. The Pope was furious at this and dismissed the council, and in the following year, 1312, by a papal brief, abolished the order and forbade its reconstitution. The property of the order in France was nominally made over to the Hospitallers, but Philip laid claim to an immense sum for the expenses of the prosecution, and by this and other means he obtained what he had all along desired—the greatest part of the possessions of the order. Similar proceedings took place in other countries. In some, new orders were founded in the place of the Templars, with the sovereign at their head, by which means the estates came into the possession of the Crown as completely as if they had been actually confiscated.

In France the Templars who survived their torture and the horrors of their prisons were either executed or left to linger out a miserable existence in their dungeons till death released them. The grand master and a few other brethren of the highest rank were thus kept in prison for five years. They were then taken to Notre Dame in Paris, and required to give verbal assent to the confessions which had been extorted from them under torture. But the grand master, James de Molay, the grand preceptor, and some others seized the opportunity of declaring their innocence, and disowning the alleged confessions as forgeries. The old veterans stood up in the church before the assembled multitude, and, raising their chained hands to heaven, declared that whatever had been confessed to the detriment of the illustrious order was only forced from them by extreme agony and fear of death, and that they solemnly and finally repudiated and revoked all such admissions.

On hearing of this, Philip ordered their immediate execution, and the same evening the last grand master of the Temple and his faithful comrades were burned to death at a slow fire.

Impartial men had formed their own judgment, and a very strong feeling prevailed that justice had not been done. It was remarked that those who had been foremost in the proceedings against the Templars came to a speedy and miserable end. The Pope, the kings of France and of England, and others, all soon followed their victims and died violent or shameful deaths.

We have somewhat anticipated the order of events, and must return to the earlier stage of the proceedings against the Templars. As soon as Philip had determined upon his own course of action, he desired to find countenance for it by stirring up other sovereigns to imitate it. He therefore wrote letters to the kings of other European states, informing them of his discovery of the guilt of the Templars, and urging them to adopt a similar course in their own dominions. The Pope, too, summoned the grand master to France, but with every mark of respect, and so got him into his power before the terrible proceedings against the members of his order were made public.

The King of England, Edward II, acted with prudence. He expressed his unbounded astonishment at the contents of the French King’s letter, and at the particulars detailed to him by an agent specially sent to him by Philip, but he would do no more at the time than promise that the matter should receive his serious attention in due course.

He wrote at the same time to the kings of Portugal, Aragon, Castile, and Sicily, telling them of the extraordinary information he had received respecting the Templars, and declaring his unwillingness to believe the dreadful charges brought against them. He referred to the services rendered to Christendom by the order, and to its unblemished reputation ever since it was founded. He urged upon his fellow-sovereigns that nothing should be done in haste, but that inquiry should be made in due and solemn legal form, expressing his belief that the order was guiltless of the crimes alleged against it, and that the charges were merely the result of slander and envy and of a desire to appropriate the property of the order.

At the same time Edward wrote to the Pope in similar terms. He declared that the Templars were universally respected by all classes throughout his dominions as pious and upright men, and begged the Pope to promote a just inquiry which should free the order from the unjust slander and injuries to which it was being subjected. But hardly was this letter despatched than Edward received another from the Pope, which had crossed his own on its way, calling upon him to imitate Philip, King of France, in proceeding against the Templars. The Pope professed great distress and astonishment that an order that had so long enjoyed the respect and gratitude of the Church for its worthy deeds in defence of the faith should have fallen into grievous and perfidious apostasy. He then narrated the commendable zeal of the King of France in rooting out the secrets of these men’s hidden wickedness, and gave particulars of some of their confessions of the crimes with which they had been charged. He concluded by commanding the King of England to pursue a similar course, to seize and imprison all members of the order on one day, and to hold, in the Pope’s name, all the property of the order till it should be determined how it was to be disposed of.

King Edward, notwithstanding his recent declaration of confidence in the integrity of the Templars, yielded obedience to this missive of the Pope. Whether he was overawed by the authority of the Pontiff, and deferred his own opinion to that of so great a personage, or whether, as some suppose, he desired to give the Templars a fair and honorable trial, and the opportunity of clearing themselves; or whether he gave way to the evil counsels of those who whispered that the great wealth of the Templars would be useful to the Crown, and that he might avail himself of the opportunity of taking all—as his predecessors had taken some—of their treasure; whatever may have been his real motive, and the cause of his change of conduct, it is certain that he issued an order for the arrest of the Templars, and the seizure of all their estates, houses, and property.

The greatest caution and secrecy were adopted. Instructions were sent to all the sheriffs throughout England to hold themselves in readiness to execute certain orders which would be given to them by trusty persons on that day. Similar arrangements were made in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; and on January 8, 1308, every Templar was simultaneously arrested.

It was not till October in the following year that any trial took place. All this time the Templars had been suffering the miseries of imprisonment. More than two hundred men of high rank, many of them veterans who had fought and bled in Palestine, and who were now grown old and feeble after a life of hardship and privation, maimed with wounds, bronzed with exposure to the Eastern sun, languished under the tender mercies of jailers, with no opportunity of defending themselves or of raising up friends to say a word for them. Some were foreigners who happened to be in England on the business of the order. A few managed to evade the vigilance of the King’s emissaries, notwithstanding the secrecy and suddenness of the arrest, and escaped in various disguises to the wild and remote mountain districts of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

The court appointed by the Pope commenced its proceedings in London, in October, 1309, under the presidency of the Bishop of London. Several French ecclesiastics had come over to take their seat upon the bench as judges—an ill omen for the English Templars. After the usual preliminaries, which werelong and tedious, the articles of accusation were read. They stated that those who were received into the order of the Knights of the Temple did, at their reception, formally deny Jesus Christ and renounce all hope of salvation through him; that they trampled and spat upon the cross; that they worshipped a cat(!); that they denied the sacraments, and looked only to the grand master for absolution; that they possessed and worshipped various idols; that they practised a variety of cruel, degrading, and filthy customs and rites; that the grand master and many of the brethren had confessed to these things even before they had been arrested. Such is a brief summary of the accusation, the original documents of which have happily come down to us.

It is not easy for us to understand how such a farrago of absurdity, profanity, and indecency could ever have been gravely produced in a so-called court of justice in England as a state paper—a bill of indictment against a body of noblemen and gentlemen; against an order that for two hundred years had been the right arm of the Church and the defender of Christianity against its most dangerous and ruthless enemies. No writer of fiction would have ventured on inventing such a trial, and no one unacquainted with medival history would credit the record that grave prelates and learned judges drew up such a document, and then set themselves to prove the truth of its monstrous allegations by the use of torture.

Students of the Middle Ages know well that such things were done in those days. They remember Savonarola and Beatrice Cenci in Italy, Jeanne d’Arc in France, Abbot Whiting and others in England. They call to mind the cruelties and exactions practised so often upon the Jews in every country in Europe; and with the contemporary records in their hands, they do not hesitate to accept as undoubted historical fact what would otherwise be rejected as a slander upon humanity and an outrage upon common-sense.

If the Templars had been accused of the crimes vulgarly supposed to attach themselves to religious orders; if they had been charged with falling into the sins to which poor human nature by its frailty is liable; if erring members had been denounced, men who had entered the order through disappointment, or from some other unworthy motive, men such as SirWalter Scott depicts in his imaginary Templar, Brian de Bois Guilbert, in his novel, Ivanhoe, we might well believe that some at least of the accusations against them were true.

It is singular that no such charges are alleged against the Templars, though they were freely brought, two hundred years later, against the regular monks by the commissioners of Henry VIII. This fact has been noticed by most thoughtful historians, and has been considered to tell strongly in the tribunal of equity in favor of the Templars. Instead of these probable or possible crimes, we find nothing but monstrous charges of sorcery, idolatry, apostasy, and such like, instances of which we know are to be found in those strange times; but which it seems altogether unlikely would infect a large body whose fundamental principle was close adherence to Christianity; a body which was spread all over the world, and which included in its ranks such a multitude and variety of men and of nationalities, among whom there must have been, to say the least, some sincere, upright, and godly men who would have set themselves to root out such miserable errors, or, if they were found to be ineradicable, would have left the order as no place for them.

Even Voltaire acknowledges that such an indictment destroys itself. It recoils upon its framers, and proves nothing but their intense hatred of their victims and their total unfitness to sit as judges.

When this extraordinary paper had been read, the prisoners were asked what they had to say to it, and, as might be expected, they at once and unanimously declared that they and their order were absolutely guiltless of the crimes of which they were accused. After this the prisoners were examined one by one.

It would be tedious to follow the long and wearisome questionings and to record the replies given by the several brethren of the Temple during their trial in London. One and all agreed in denying the existence of the horrible and ridiculous rites which were said to be used at the reception of new members; and whether they had been received in England or abroad, detailed the ceremonies that were used, and showed that they were substantially the same everywhere. The candidate was asked what he desired, and on replying that he desired admission to the order of the Knights of the Temple, he was warned of thestrict and severe life that was demanded of members of the order; of the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; and, moreover, that he must be ready to go and fight the enemies of Christ even to the death.

Others related details of the interior discipline and regulations of the order, which were stern and rigorous, as became a body that added to the strictness of the convent the order and system of a military organization. Many of the brethren had been nearly all their lives in the order, some more than forty years, a great part of which had been spent in active service in the East.

The witnesses who were summoned were not members of the order, and had only hearsay evidence to give. They had heard this and that report, they suspected something else, they had been told that certain things had been said or done. Nothing definite could be obtained, and there was no proof whatever of any of the extravagant and incredible charges. Similar proceedings took place in Lincoln and York, and also in Scotland and Ireland; and in all places the results were the same, and the matter dragged on till October, 1311.

Hitherto torture had not been resorted to; but now, in accordance with the repeated solicitations of the Pope, King Edward gave orders that the imprisoned Templars should be subjected to the rack in order that they might be forced to give evidence of their guilt. Even then there seems to have been reluctance to resort to this cruel and shameful treatment, and a series of delays occurred, so that nothing was done till the beginning of the following year.

The Templars, having been now three years in prison, chained, half-starved, threatened with greater miseries here, and with eternal damnation hereafter; separated from one another, without friend, adviser, or legal defence, were now removed to the various jails in London and elsewhere, and submitted to torture. We have no particular record of the horrible details, but some evidence was afterward adduced which was said to have been obtained from the unhappy victims during their agony. It was such as was desired; an admission of the truth of the monstrous accusations that were detailed to them, which had been obtained, for the most part, from their tortured brethren in France.

In April, 1311, these depositions were read in the court, in the presence of the Templars, who were required to say what they could allege in their defence. They replied that they were ignorant of the processes of law, and that they were not permitted to have the aid of those whom they trusted and who could advise them, but that they would gladly make a statement of their faith and of the principles of their order. This they were permitted to do, and a very simple and touching paper was produced and signed by all the brethren. They declared themselves, one and all, good Christians and faithful members of the Church, and they claimed to be treated as such, and openly and fairly tried if there were any just cause of complaint against them. But their persecutors were by no means satisfied. Fresh tortures and cruelties were resorted to to force confessions of guilt from these worn-out and dying men. A few gave way, and said what they were told to say; and these unhappy men were produced in St. Paul’s Cathedral shortly afterward, and made to recant their errors, and were then "reconciled to the Church." A similar scene was enacted at York.

The property of the Templars in England was placed under the charge of a commission at the time that proceedings were commenced against them, and the King very soon treated it as if it were his own, giving away manors and convents at his pleasure. A great part of the possessions of the order was subsequently made over to the Hospitallers. The convent and church of the Temple in London were granted, in 1313, to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, whose monument is in Westminster Abbey. Other property was pawned by the King to his creditors as security for payment of his debts; but constant litigation and disputes seem to have pursued the holders of the ill-gotten goods.

Some of the surviving Templars retired to monasteries, others returned to the world and assumed secular habits, for which they incurred the censures of the Pope.


The tragedy of the Templars had not yet drawn to its close. The four great dignitaries of the order, the grand master Du Molay, Guy, the commander of Normandy, son of the Dauphinof Auvergne, the commander of Aquitaine, Godfrey de Gonaville, the great visitor of France, Hugnes de Peraud, were still pining in the royal dungeons. It was necessary to determine on their fate. The King and the Pope were now equally interested in burying the affair forever in silence and oblivion. So long as these men lived, uncondemned, undoomed, the order was not extinct. A commission was named: the Cardinal-Archbishop of Albi, with two other cardinals, two monks, the Cistercian Arnold Novelli, and Arnold de Fargis, nephew of Pope Clement, the Dominican Nicolas de Freveauville, akin to the house of Marigny, formerly the King’s confessor. With these the Archbishop of Sens sat in judgment on the Knights’ own former confessions. The grand master and the rest were found guilty, and were to be sentenced to perpetual imprisonment.

A scaffold was erected before the porch of Notre Dame. On one side appeared the two cardinals; on the other the four noble prisoners, in chains, under the custody of the Provost of Paris. Six years of dreary imprisonment had passed over their heads; of their valiant brethren the most valiant had been burned alive; the recreants had purchased their lives by confession; the Pope, in a full council, had condemned and dissolved the order. If a human mind—a mind like that of Du Molay—could be broken by suffering and humiliation, it must have yielded to this long and crushing imprisonment. The Cardinal-Arch-bishop of Albi ascended a raised platform: he read the confessions of the Knights, the proceedings of the court; he enlarged on the criminality of the order, on the holy justice of the Pope, and the devout, self-sacrificing zeal of the King; he was proceeding to the final, the fatal sentence. At that instant the grand master advanced; his gesture implored silence; judges and people gazed in awestruck apprehension. In a calm, clear voice Du Molay spoke: "Before heaven and earth, on the verge of death, where the least falsehood bears like an intolerable weight upon the soul, I protest that we have richly deserved death, not on account of any heresy or sin of which ourselves or out order have been guilty, but because we have yielded, to save our lives, to the seductive words of the Pope and of the King; and so by our confessions brought shame and ruin on our blameless, holy, and orthodox brotherhood."

The cardinals stood confounded; the people could not suppress their profound sympathy. The assembly was hastily broken up; the Provost was commanded to conduct the prisoners back to their dungeons. "To-morrow we will hold further counsel." But on the moment that the King heard these things, without a day’s delay, without the least consultation with the ecclesiastical authorities, he ordered them to death as relapsed heretics. On the island in the Seine, where now stands the statue of Henry IV, between the King’s garden on one side and the convent of the Augustinian monks on the other, the two pyres were raised—two out of the four had shrunk back into their ignoble confessions. It was the hour of vespers when these two aged and noble men were led out to be burned; they were tied each to the stake. The flames kindled dully and heavily; the wood, hastily piled up, was green or wet; or in cruel mercy the tardiness was designed that the victims might have time, while the fire was still curling round their extremities, to recant their bold recantation. But there was no sign, no word of weakness. Du Molay implored that the image of the Mother of God might be held up before him, and his hands unchained, that he might clasp them in prayer. Both, as the smoke rose to their lips, as the fire crept up to their vital parts, continued solemnly to aver the innocence and the Catholic faith of the order. The King himself sat and beheld, it might seem without remorse, this hideous spectacle; the words of Du Molay might have reached his ears. But the people looked on with far other feelings. Stupor kindled into admiration; the execution was a martyrdom; friars gathered up their ashes and bones and carried them away, hardly by stealth, to consecrated ground; they became holy relics. The two who wanted courage to die pined away their miserable life in prison.

The wonder and the pity of the times which immediately followed, arrayed Du Molay not only in the robes of the martyr, but gave him the terrible language of a prophet. "Clement, iniquitous and cruel judge, I summon thee within forty days to meet me before the throne of the Most High!" According to some accounts this fearful sentence included the King, by whom, if uttered, it might have been heard. The earliest allusion to this awful speech does not contain that striking particularity,which, if part of it, would be fatal to its credibility, i.e., the precise date of Clement’s death. It was not till the year after that Clement and King Philip passed to their account. The fate of these two men during the next year might naturally so appal the popular imagination, as to approximate more closely the prophecy and its accomplishment. At all events it betrayed the deep and general feeling of the cruel wrong inflicted on the order; while the unlamented death of the Pope, the disastrous close of Philip’s reign, and the disgraceful crimes which attainted the honor of his family seemed as declarations of heaven as to the innocence of their noble victims.


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Chicago: F. C. Woodhouse and Henry Hart Milman, "Extinction of the Order of Knights Templars; Burning of Grand Master Molay," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 7 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), 52–67. Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023,

MLA: Woodhouse, F. C., and Henry Hart Milman. "Extinction of the Order of Knights Templars; Burning of Grand Master Molay." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 7, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, pp. 52–67. Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Woodhouse, FC, Milman, HH, 'Extinction of the Order of Knights Templars; Burning of Grand Master Molay' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 7. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN, pp.52–67. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from