The Trial Of The Templars

The frontispiece shows Templars before Pope Clement V and King Philip IV of France.

Much detailed research during a period of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries scarce in reliable sources has been undertaken by Malcolm Barber in his history – first published by Cambridge University Press in 1978 – of “The Trial Of The Templars” which took place against the background of the widespread belief in magic and superstition of the powers of the dead; the influence of the Devil; and condemnation of the sin of heresy, for which people were still being burnt to death in Tudor England.

Barber explains the rise of this militant religious order through the Christian crusades against Islam, the fervour following the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 and decline after the loss of Acre in 1291.

During their rise, the author shows that the Order of the Temple possessed many Houses and Fortresses throughout Europe, especially concentrated in France where they were seen as a threat by King Philip IV, who vied with Pope Clement V for control over their future.

King and Pope were in scarcely veiled conflict as their devious machinations battled over the accusations facing the Templars. Philip wished to eliminate the Order by means of condemning their members and leadership for offences dreamt up and promulgated by rumour and gullibility of the European populace at the time.

The French king was determined to try and punish the members as quickly as possible, without the intervention of the pontiff. This he set about doing virtually overnight with the wholesale arrests in France of October 1307. The consequent trials forced the pope to act, manoeuvring the system of conducting the trials in the Church, handing the guilty to the Sate to administer punishment. This span the process out over five years.

Members of the Order were not all knights; not all were priests; the majority were servants running the establishments.

Torture was an accepted norm in the legal systems, and even sanctioned by the pope. This is how “the truth” of such fabricated offences was established. It was carried out by the Inquisitors, both of Church and State. Barber makes it clear that the results could not be accounted credible. Eventually the Order was suppressed by the pope because of the widespread loss of trust in the organisation believed to have engaged in denying Christ; in idolatry; in obscene practices; and in homosexuality; and in orgiastic rituals – yet without acknowledging the veracity of all this.

To my mind the author writes for professional historians; he establishes as much evidence as possible for his conclusions. As a layman interested in history (I passed A Level GCE in 1960) I appreciated the evidence but found the frequent repetition of the same facts from different witnesses rather tedious – especially as many victims subsequently retracted confessions made under torture or the threat of it. The details of the tortures, sometimes resulting in death, are not for the faint hearted; and the details of the accused behaviour incredible to modern eyes.

Slipped inside my Folio Society edition of 2003 is an article I cut from The Times of the following year by Ruth Gledhill about a movement seeking an apology from the then current Pope. This rather impractical wish was apparently abandoned in 2016.

My book is lavishly illustrated by contemporary artwork.

I have included a selection where I think the captions, when enlarged in the gallery, will help the story