The Templar Trials: Did the System Work?

The Templar Trials: Did the System Work?

By Anne Gilmour-Bryson

The Medieval History Journal, Vol.3:1  (2000)

Abstract: The author directs attention to the very element of arbitrariness which the inquisitional procedure implied. Besides the given fact that the French King Philip ’le Bel’ had political as well as material reasons to urge the papacy to act against the Order of the Templars, she suggests that the church institutions had sufficient cause to investigate what appeared to be a serious case and hold hearings. Thus this essay studies two hearings (Abruzzi; Cyprus) which so far have escaped the scrutiny of historians. Although the trials in general were held with enormous personal expenditures and by obviously careful observation of procedural rules, the ’system did not really work’; it was undermined by the dynamics of a legal instrument (that is, torture), which in the end was based on the use of violence.

The hearings into the Order of the Knighthood of the Temple (Ordo militiae Templi), and the trials of the members themselves took place between 1307 and 1311 under the presumed aegis of the Inquisition,  although most scholars would agree that the king of France, Philip IV, played a much stronger role than inquisitionary procedure allowed. In the words of Edward Peters, he ‘consistently outstripped ecclesiastical authority’.  The scholars addressing the issues of the Templar affair have generally been divided into three groups: those who wish to sustain the seemingly dubious behaviour of the pope, Clement V; those who champion the French king; those whose function seems to be to insist that the order itself was innocent of most or all of the charges against it.

Much of the scholarship of the nineteenth century was polemic in nature: obviously aimed to sustain one of the three points of view mentioned above. The late twentieth century has produced much scholarship of a less biased and fairer nature. No matter what one reads, one is liable to end up with the overwhelming impression that the Templars were not guilty of most of the charges against them. There may have been some untoward behaviour on the part of some of the members, especially in rural or isolated areas. On the whole, nevertheless, the evidence does not indicate that, as suggested, all Templars everywhere were participating in acts so well described by the French king in his order of arrest of 14 September 1307, executed on 13 October of the same year.

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