Page images

Art. V. Nicolai Gurtleri Historia Templariorum. Amstelodam. 8vo. 1703.

“ There is scarcely,” says Fuller, “ a harder question in later history than this, whether the Templars were justly or unjustly condemned to suffer.” It is, nevertheless, a matter of great curiosity, and of no mean advantage, to inquire into so singular and so terrible a persecution, in which all the parties concerned were so illustrious and conspicuous, and the sufferings of the accused so aggravated ; and which, at the same time, is so intimately connected with the history of the age in which it took place. Nor does this problem seem to us of such a difficult complexion as to preclude all hopes of a successful solution, dissenting as we do from the opinion of the “ brace of Spanish writers," quoted by the historian of the Holy Wars, who give us the following advice.—“ Concerning these Templars, whether they were guiltie or not, let us suspend our censures till the day of judgement, and then, and not sooner, shall we certainly be informed therein.”

The general outlines of the history of the valiant order of Knights-Templars are well known. The little volume, at the head of this article, presents a succinct view of their origin, their progress, and their suppression.; but it is to the latter part of their history that, at the present moment, we intend more particularly to apply ourselves.* The institution is well known to have originated in the zeal of certain French knights, who, observing the miseries to which the pilgrims to the Holy Land were exposed from the cruelty of the Saracens, formed themselves into a body for their protection. By degrees, the order acquired numbers and strength, and power and riches soon followed. In the crusades, of course, the soldiers of the military orders acted a conspicuous part. With their valorous exploits on the plains of Syria, and before the walls of her cities, the chronicles of the time and the pages of later historians are filled. In every deadly onset, the standard of the Temple still waved over the foremost Christian ranks, while the dreaded

There are several French works on the subject of the condemnation of the Templars. Much information may be gained from that of M. Raynouard, entitled Monumens Historiques relatifs à la condamnation des Chevaliers du Temple ; 8vo. Paris, 1813. It contains extracts from the MS. processes against the French Templars, which we have occasionally quoted.

war-cry of Beauseant chilled the hearts of the infidels. And on that disastrous day, which saw the Holy Land again abandoned to the Saracen arms, the red-cross knights were the last of the Christian chivalry that attested, by their blood, their gallant but mistaken zeal. Of the proceedings which led to their suppression, we shall now give a very brief account. • The history of the proceedings against the order in France will fully illustrate the character of this persecution. The measures pursued in the other countries of Europe were, in a great degree, similar, only attended with circumstances of less cruelty. On the 13th of October, 1307, the Grand-Master and a number of knights were arrested in the palace of the Temple at Paris. On the same day, a general seizure of the persons and possessions of the knights took place throughout France. They were cast into prison; all counsel was denied them; and an inquisitor, Guillaume de Paris, was directed to interrogate several of them respecting their guilt. The application of exquisite tortures drew from many the necessary avowal. Throughout all France, Philip the Fair authorised certain persons, bearing no commission from the papal court, to examine the accused. The pope, Clement V., jealous of these measures, suspended the authority of the royal commissioners. The scruples of his holiness were, however, speedily overcome by the numerous confessions which Philip had provided ; and, in the month of June, 1308, the investigations received his sanction. The bishops of France were authorised not only to proceed against such of the order as resided within their own dioceses, but even against strangers found within that jurisdiction, and, at last, the powers of the bishops were extended beyond the limits of their ordinary jurisdictions; while the pontiff, to debar the victims from every hope of escape, published a bull against all who should afford them assistance, counsel, or favour.

To inform the conscience of his holiness, a commission was appointed to examine into the crimes with which the Templars stood charged. The members of this commission consisted principally of some of the chief of the French ecclesiastics. At the same time, similar proceedings took place throughout nearly the whole of Europe. The pope had directed, that such of the knights as were willing to defend the order should be cited before this tribunal. At Paris, although the commissioners had sate several times, none of the knights appeared before them, and there is no doubt that Philip used means to prevent the favourable impression which the appearance of the accused would have occasioned. At length, on the 26th of November, the Grand-Master, James de Molai, was conducted before the papal commissioners. He requested the means of procuring

counsel, and preparing the defence of the order, but in vain. He then firmly and strenuously denied the crimes of which the knights were accused. These might be comprised under two heads, heresy and immorality. With regard to the first, they were charged with both Idolatry and Islamism. It was alleged, that they worshipped a cat and a calf, and that they paid religious adoration to certain shapeless images of wood. They were charged with renouncing Jesus Christ at the time of their reception into the order, with spitting and trampling on the cross, and with other minor infractions of religious discipline. The accusation of immorality imputed to them every crime which renders man most wicked and detestable, and it was pretended, that these enormous practices were sanctioned and rendered obligatory by the statutes of the order.

At length, several of the knights who had expressed their determination to defend the order, were brought before the papal commissioners, and their conduct, on this occasion, was that of brave and innocent men. On being asked, whether they were willing to take upon themselves the task of defending the order, many of them firmly answered, “Even to death :" at the same time avowing their entire innocence. Seven of the knights, who had confessed their guilt at a previous examination, now boldly retracted that confession. Upwards of nine hundred of the Templars were assembled, all of them anxious to vindicate the innocence and the honor of the order. Seventy-five of the number were appointed by their companions to prepare the defence, and four were allowed to be present during the examination of the witnesses. While these proceedings were carrying on, the new Archbishop of Sens convened a provincial council at Paris, and instituted a personal process against many of the Templars who were prepared to co-operate with their brethren in the common defence; thus depriving the accused of the benefit of their exertions and testimony. At this council, such of the Templars as refused to make an avowal of guilt were declared to be unreconciled heretics, and, as such, condemned to imprisonment. Those who made the requisite confession received absolution, and were reconciled to the church; but all who retracted their false confessions were declared to be relapsed heretics, delivered up to the secular arm, and condemned to the faggot. The four defenders of the order appealed to the justice of the papal commission. They found no redress; and, on the 11th of May, 1310, the victims were delivered up to the flames.* Their conduct on this last

* There seems to be an error in Mr. Mills's account of this transaction. Apparently, he considers the fifty-four knights to have been trial of their fortitude was worthy of the high character which their former renown had purchased. Every art was practised to allure them to life and shame; pardon and liberty were offered by their royal persecutor to all who would brand themselves with guilt; but resisting to the last so mean a degradation, they invoked the name of God, and were consumed in the flames. Fifty-four knights perished on this occasion.

This terrible example was not without its due effect on the survivors. Forty-four of the defenders of the order were induced, through fear, to renounce that honorable character. Proceedings, equal in ferocious cruelty to those of the council of the Archbishop of Sens, took place at various other provincial councils in France. The papal commission prorogued its sittings from May till November, when it re-assembled, and proceeded on the examinations; but numbers of the most intrepid champions of the order had perished, in the mean time, on the numerous piles which were lighted throughout France, while the creatures of Philip had been busily working on the terrors and hopes of others. Notwithstanding this influence, numbers of the knights still persisted in maintaining before the representatives of the pope their own and their companions' innocence.

The period which was to abolish this illustrious and persecuted order now arrived. On the 13th of October, 1311, the anniversary of that fatal day on which, four years previously, the Templars had been cast into chains throughout all France, a council of the church assembled at Vienne, in Dauphiny, to decide, amongst other matters, on the fate of the unfortunate Templars. Before this venerable assembly of the fathers of the church, nine of the knights presented themselves, to maintain to the last, in the name of nearly two thousand of their brothers, the honour of their character and the integrity of their lives. The pontiff, violating every principle of justice, cast these courageous champions of the truth into prison. The prelates convened to the council were scandalized at this new outrage; and Clement, perceiving the evil aspect of affairs, immediately terminated the session. In the spring of the following year, the pope having collected several of the prelates and cardinals, abolished the order, per viam provisionis, in a secret consistory; a measure which was doubtless owing to the representations of Philip the Fair, who, early in the year, had arrived at Vienne, accompanied by his three sons. The second

condemned to the flames by the papal commissioners, which was cer tainly not the case. He has confounded the papal commission with the archiepiscopal council.--See the History of the Crusades, ii. 306.

session of the council was held on the 3rd of April, when the decree for the abolition of the order was promulgated in the presence of the French monarch.

But the consummation of these infamous transactions yet remains to be related. The fate of the Grand-Master of the order, and of some of the preceptors, had been expressly reserved for the pontiff's own judgment. Certain dignified ecclesiastics were appointed by him to perform the office of judges, and on the 18th March, 1313, the trial commenced at Paris. Four knights, amongst whom was the Grand-Master, were brought before the commissioners on a scaffold erected for the purpose. Two of the accused renewed their confession of guilt, but the Grand-Master and Guy, the brother of the Prince of Dauphiny, persisting in maintaining their innocence, received the judgment of the commissioners without being allowed to enter into their defence, and immediately afterwards were condemned, by the royal council, to the flames. In the gradual and exquisite tortures which a slow fire inflicted, the Grand-Master expiated his only guilt, a confession of criminality which had been formerly extorted from him. He and his companion perished with the constancy of those who know themselves to be martyrs to the truth. Thus, at length, was the heart of Philip, though capacious of cruelty, glutted with this last act of blood. His subtle malice, however, overleaping itself by the inhumanity of these measures, changed the tide of public feeling, which, at the commencement of the persecution, he had succeeded in turning against the Templars. The ashes of these last victims, over which many tears were shed, were collected and preserved with religious veneration.

The fate of the order in the other countries of Europe we shall have occasion to mention hereafter. We shall now proceed to inquire more minutely into the origin of the proceedings.

In attempting to investigate the causes of great political phenomena, we often undertake a hopeless task. To suppose, that every important event must have had an adequately important cause, is to presume, that men act only on the suggestions of judgment. It is to the thousand accidents of passions, of feeling's, and of circumstances, unimportant in themselves, but often of the highest consequence in their results, that we are to look for the springs of human action. It is seldom, indeed, that any extraordinary event can be traced up to one powerful cause. As in the physical system the health is often subdued, while it is impossible to point out the various circumstances which have induced the complaint, so in the moral world we frequently find the most surprising changes occurring without our being able to account for them, by re

« PreviousContinue »