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Authors: Katherine Kurtz

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It is more likely, however, that more conventional treasure occupied the attention of the vast majority of the knights, as their fortunes shifted in the Holy Land following the fall of Jerusalem. Gradually forced to withdraw westward, their energies focused increasingly on trade and financial services.

Templar galleys had long provided secure transport for pilgrims and crusaders as well as the Templars themselves—at a price. Rather than returning empty, Templar captains now began to establish new regular trade routes between their Mediterranean and Atlantic ports.

So secure were the Templar treasuries that they became safe depositories for the wealth of kings as well as their own. Templars often served as advisers, diplomats, ambassadors. Richard Lionheart became almost an honorary Templar. The Master of the English Temple stood at the side of King John when he signed the Magna Carta in 1215, and also signed it. Two knights were requested to serve in the household of Pope Alexander III. So well regarded was the fiscal integrity of the Order that the Temple often became agents for the management of properties and trusts, the negotiation and expediting of ransoms, and even the collection of taxes.

As mortgage bankers, the Templars got around the church’s prohibition against usury by taking the revenues of a mortgaged property until it was redeemed. Interest on cash loans was secured by writing the note for more than the actual amount of the loan. Their system of security and verification for written draft demands enabled credit to be moved between Templar establishments with minimal risk of loss, foreshadowing the development of checks and other financial instruments. Such a financial network melded well with the confidentiality required for intelligence gathering, which had been a mainstay of the Templar military presence in the Holy Land.

So the Temple prospered, generating increasing wealth both from financial services and from constant charitable bequests and donations by pious individuals. Rarely was a will of importance drawn that did not include an article in the Temple’s favor, and many were the illustrious men who, on their deathbed, took Templar vows so that they might be buried in the habit of the Order and thus accrue benefits in heaven. So great was the power and prestige of the Order that the Grand Master ranked as a sovereign prince among the nobility of Europe, taking precedence over all ambassadors and peers in the general councils of the church. Answering only to the pope, and immune from all lay and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the Order came to represent a power outside the usual limitations under which lesser mortals were forced to operate.

It was inevitable that this immunity and power should cause resentment, and Philip IV of France was the man who finally decided to do something about it.

He had come to the throne in 1285, at the age of twenty-six. Known as Philip le Bel or Philip the Fair—for his physical appearance, not any appreciation of justice—he found himself frequently bailed out of trouble by the Temple. It was the Temple that advanced him the money for his daughter’s dowry, when she was betrothed to the future Edward II of England. The Temple had supported him in his confrontations with Pope Boniface VIII, who would have asserted the superiority of the papacy over any secular ruler. And it was in the Paris Temple that Philip had been forced to take refuge for three days in June 1306, because of the Paris riots. Yet these favors from the Temple seemed to breed only resentment.

Furthermore, Philip was a religious zealot, still fired with hopes of organizing a new Crusade to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Land. It could not be done without vast financial resources, and it could not be done without the cooperation of the Military Orders.

To secure both, Philip embroidered upon a plan already under consideration by the pope: the amalgamation of the Temple and the Hospital into a single Order to be called the Knights of Jerusalem, with concurrent appointment of a combined European commander of all secular forces, to be known as the Rex Bellator, or “War King.” Philip countered with the proposal that
should be that Rex Bellator, and further, that the kings of France should become hereditary Grand Masters of the merged Order, with full access to their combined wealth and resources.

The Grand Masters of both the Temple and the Hospital flatly rejected the notion; nor was the pope enthusiastic. Philip was furious. He had all but deposed one pope, Boniface VIII; a second, Benedict IX, had died very conveniently, under somewhat suspicious circumstances; and Philip subsequently had put his own man, Clement V, on the papal throne and moved its seat to Avignon. But now the man who owed him for a papal tiara seemed reluctant to do anything about these troublesome Templars. Fortunately, Philip had a proven weapon at his disposal.

Philip’s previous nemesis, Pope Boniface VIII, had been accused of heresy, sodomy, blasphemy, and a variety of magical practices including sexual congress with a pet demon said to dwell in the pontiff’s ring. The author of these extraordinary charges—who sought a postmortem trial of the dead pope, with his remains to be exhumed and burned if convicted—was a royal favorite called Guillaume de Nogaret, whose parents (or grandfather, or close relatives) were said to have been burned as heretics during the Albigensian Crusade. Subsequently educated by the church, perhaps in an attempt to stamp out any latent heretical leanings, Nogaret was to use his legal training as a sword to strike back at the church that had burned his relatives.

Undeterred by the excommunication pronounced upon him by the short-lived Pope Benedict IX, and unrepentant regarding his role in the harrying of Boniface VIII, Nogaret had few qualms about taking on the Temple. If the king wanted the Military Orders broken, and their wealth diverted to the royal coffers, Nogaret would do it for him—and destroy whomever stood in his way, especially the arrogant Templars. Perhaps Nogaret might even get his excommunication lifted by the present pope, Clement V.

Eagerly Nogaret set about assembling a suitable list of accusations against the Temple, aided by half a score of infiltrators and disaffected knights who had been expelled, usually for good cause. (In a trial run of the methods that later would be used against the Templars, Nogaret effected the arrest and imprisonment of every Jew in France, on July 22, 1306, and shortly thereafter confiscated their property and expelled them from France.) Meanwhile, under cover of discussing plans for the new Crusade, the Masters of the Temple and the Hospital were summoned to attend the pope in Poitiers.

The Master of the Hospitallers declined, pleading urgent business in Rhodes. Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Temple, was well aware of the merger being considered, but was eager to present his views about how a new Crusade might come about without the merger, confident that the pope would protect the Order. In late 1306 or early 1307, he arrived at Marseilles with an escort of six Templar galleys and proceeded overland to Paris—not incognito as the pope had requested, but accompanied by sixty mounted knights with their accompanying sergeants and squires and servants, and a baggage train of twelve packhorses laden with gold and jewels to the value of 150,000 gold florins. Had he been expecting serious trouble, it is doubtful he would have brought this much of the Order’s wealth back into France, though he doubtless thought the treasury of the Paris Temple safe enough.

He went first to see the king, who received him courteously enough, listened to his views about a new Crusade, and gave no hint of the treachery already being set in motion. Reassured that the king’s intentions were not so threatening after all, de Molay returned briefly to the Paris Temple before setting out for Poitiers and his papal audience.

But the king was several steps ahead of him. Before de Molay could reach Poitiers, Philip had his own audience with the pope. Feigning dismay and shock that he must be the one to bear such tidings, the king confronted the pontiff with a stunning list of accusations against the Temple, indicating that his agents believed this to be only the surface of the rot. He left the incredulous pope with orders to investigate the allegations—for with all the Temple’s immunities, only the pope could do so.

Pope Clement was appalled, and told the Grand Master of the charges upon his arrival, in May 1307. De Molay was aghast at first, but then became more puzzled than alarmed, for the charges seemed so outrageous to him that he could not countenance that anyone would believe them. Nor had any intimation of the charges been conveyed to him in his meeting with the king. Besides, what danger could there be? The Order of the Temple was responsible only to the pope, and could not be disciplined by any secular ruler for any offense; and as a holy Order, they were exempt from torture. Furthermore, the wealth of the Temple was backed by a well-disciplined standing army answerable only to the Grand Master.

Still, the signs were becoming more and more difficult to ignore Though de Molay continued to maintain the outward conviction that nothing could happen, one must wonder just when he began to see … an end in sight.

End in Sight

Lawrence Schimel

ven the Grand Master was not allowed to eat alone. To fast was temptation, to consume a penance, and at dusk a brother knight came and politely broke Jacques de Molay’s meditations on the state of the Order. De Molay smiled up at the younger knight, remembering that it was equally his duty to watch and make sure that his companion ate. The Knights Templar had been founded on this system of balances, and of late it seemed the only thing which kept the Order going.

As they walked down the corridor toward the refectory, de Molay could not help continuing his musings, wondering if the Order had become obsolete, if it could survive now that the Crusades were over. They were deprived of their purpose: to protect travelers to the Holy Lands, to fight the Saracens in the name of the Lord. Already, de Molay had noticed among the men a furtive restlessness, for they lacked an outlet for their passions and desires. They were fighting men, and without an enemy to fight, they would turn upon themselves.

The companion system had therefore been more rigorously enforced. Templars went abroad into the world in pairs, lest they find themselves embroiled in a conflict with nonbrothers. With two knights looking out for each other, one could calm the other down should his temper rise too close to boiling over. But the tension within the Order continued to rise, and without release it threatened to disrupt the Order entirely.

De Molay did not yet know what he might do to solve these problems, and in the meantime he clung to the traditions and habits that had been established by wiser men before him. If it had not been for this young knight, he reflected, he would have stayed absorbed in his contemplation all evening, without even noticing the missed meal. He tried to recall the youth’s name, but could not; silence was not one of their official vows, but it had become an almost unspoken one within the Order. Too often, too much discussion led the men toward brawls, or the subject of women, while quiet contemplation left them to dwell upon the spirit of the Lord within them and their mission to fight in His name.

De Molay stared down at his bowl of soup, with hardly the appetite for even a spoonful. He stirred its contents, still musing on the dilemmas of the Order. He wondered if things would change, if they would need to change for the Order to survive. And that terrified him. Vegetables swirled within the clear liquid and seemed to form the image of a face, a familiar face, the face of … was it his father? De Molay peered more closely. No, it was Hugues de Payens! Not his own father, but father and founder of the Order of the Temple of Jerusalem!

De Molay wondered if he should share his discovery with his companion, or even the hall at large. But he wondered, too, if perhaps the vision was strictly personal, if the first Grand Master was trying to speak to his current successor of grave and important matters concerning the Order.

De Payens did not speak with words, but when de Molay bent his attention to his predecessor’s image, intent on fathoming his message, the image in the soup’s surface changed. De Molay watched as the familiar stones of the building around him came into view within his bowl, and a feeling of dread began to form in the empty pit of his stomach, gnawing at his soul. As the first pink rays of dawn came arching over the horizon, so, too, came the officers of King Philip IV, hordes upon hordes of armed men, who lay hold of the complex and its inhabitants, throwing them all into chains. The scene again shifted, to King Philip’s dungeons, where Templar Knights were being tortured for confessions de Molay imagined were so vile, he was glad that Hugues de Payens’s dire forebodings were silent.

When the waters of his bowl cleared of visions, de Molay considered what actions he must now take. He did not know how soon this attack would come, so he must attack swiftly. He would send the fleet immediately away from La Rochelle, of course. It was too powerful a weapon to let fall into King Philip’s hands, and as long as it stayed free, there remained hope for the Templars and the fight against the enemies of God. And, of course, he would have to send the Templars’ various treasures with the fleet, since they would need the money to rebuild their ranks when it was again time for them to reestablish themselves. Besides, King Philip’s attack was no doubt based largely on the rumors that the Templar treasury was vaster than his own, rumors that were not ungrounded in truth.

But what of the men? Certainly, de Molay would not himself be leaving. The Grand Master’s place was at the post of highest danger, leading his men to victory from the forefront of the battle.

Would there be a victory for them this time? de Molay wondered. He had seen disaster in de Payens’s warning vision, and he did not for a second doubt its validity. His men would be taken by the thousands during King Philip’s raid, and many of them would die.

But was there another choice for them? Could he disband the Order, and send them back to their homes, where they would be worse than the Saracens as they crossed over the land like a swarm of locusts, unburdened by any code of restrictions?

BOOK: Tales of the Knights Templar
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