Sodomy and the Knights Templar
Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1996)
In this article, I will analyze testimony relevant to the charges of the Inquisition that members of the order of Knights Templar throughout Christendom practiced homosexual acts of various sorts from illicit kisses to sodomy. I intend to examine the testimony of Templars in hearings that took place in France and Italy for the most part since it was in these areas that confessions of guilt were given. My aim is to illustrate how members of the order reacted to the questions concerning these matters, how they described what occurred, and in what terms.
This evidence is by no means unknown. Once the Vatican Archives were opened to scholars and the texts of the trials began to be published in the late nineteenth century, the depositions were available to scholars who could read Latin. The interpretation of this material is a very different matter. Some historians such as Gershon Legman are convinced of the Templars’ guilt on the matter of the practice of homosexual acts, though not on the reasons for the indecent acts carried out at reception ceremonies. Konrad Schottmuller, unlike Hans Prutz, was convinced of their innocence. Joseph Marie Antoine Delaville le Roulx did not seem able to make up his mind. Heinrich Finke wrote about the entire Templar affair in great detail. None of them really explored the texts related to accusations of occurrences of homosexual practices themselves in order to derive the maximum amount of information from them. But in any examination of Inquisition testimony, it is impossible to lay aside the effect that torture must have had on the answers given.
Work on the answers of all the Templars in all the trials for which we have extant manuscripts has shown that there is a very close correlation between the use of torture, which appears to have been widely used in France and Italy, and confessions of guilt. In other countries, for example, Cyprus, England, Ireland, and the Iberian peninsula, where torture was not used, Templars in the main failed to confess. In spite of the prior existence of torture, attested to by many Templars before the Pontifical Commission, most answers in that hearing seem to have been given in a manner that describes daily happenings in the order in a realistic manner. After all, under the principles of the Inquisition, once a witness had confessed to any of the most serious allegations – the denial of Christ, for example – he had satisfied the criteria to receive absolution provided he promised not to sin again. From that point onward, he could tell the truth without fear of worsening his situation, and this is just what most of the men seem to have done. Notaries, surprisingly, wrote down minor details elicited from the testimony that would never have been deliberately fabricated because there would have been no reason to do so. As an example, various witnesses commented on their specific duties within the order, travels undertaken, the conduct of perfectly normal or standard religious services, and the frequency of attendance at mass. Information of this sort was unrelated to the questioning or to the eventual outcome for the particular witness testifying.