Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: The Rise And Fall Of The Templar Knights

Susan Smith Columnist
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Let us, just for a moment, harken back to the days, long ago and far away, of Barack Hussein Obama, when we were told that the Crusades were a very bad thing caused by very bad men to hurt innocent members of a very peaceful religion not hurting anyone in a very peaceful region of the earth.

Thank heaven we are no longer subject to the revisionism, well, untruths, oh, I’ll just say it as we’re in a non-politically correct day and age now, lies of the Obama era – the Crusades were a truly noble exercise fought largely by sincere Christians who cared deeply about the Holy Land, its sacred religion of Christianity and its equally sacred properties.

What started the centuries’ long wars to protect the Holy Land against the infidel in the year 1065 was that 3,000 Christian pilgrims were massacred by the Islamic Turks in Jerusalem, after they had been promised safe passage, which was an act which outraged all of Christendom.  This awakened a desire in the Christian nations of Europe to “rescue the Holy Land from the grasp of the infidel.”  Thus the Christian pilgrim was changed into a warrior, and the First Crusade was formed, with the initial such military expedition marching to the Holy Land in 1096, with the blessing of the Pope and the participation of military forces of just about every European nation at the time.

There were several more Crusades to follow the first, nine to be exact, some with more altruistic motives than others.  One of the leaders of what was to become the last Crusade was the great monk and soldier Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the warrior Christian Order, the Knights Templar.

At the very beginning of the 14th Century, support for the Crusades was dwindling in Europe, primarily because it was becoming yet another endless war.  Such was not the case with Jacques de Molay, however, as this exemplary knight and man of God was not only devoted to God, he was devoted to his Order and its, and his, Christian duty.  The Knights Templar was a centuries’ old Order, a chivalrous and warlike one, and de Molay embodied it superbly as its perfect warrior knight.  In fact, after decades fighting the Crusades in the Holy Land, he had decided to return to France to secure the permission of his Sovereign and the Pope, not only to improve the Templar Knights, but also to mount another Crusade “to strengthen the defense of Cyprus and rebuild the Templar forces.”   Also, there was pressure from his King and his Pope to merge certain Orders with his own, so de Molay knew it was the right time to return to France.  He was also taking home a considerable treasure he had accumulated while fighting the ninth Crusade for Christianity and for France.

Following de Molay’s departure, in what turned out to be the last great battle of the Crusades, Templar knight and leader of the remaining Christian forces, Peter de Sevrey, negotiated a safe withdrawal from the area for all Christians involved.  When de Sevrey appeared before the Muslim leader to implement the plan, the Templar knight was captured and immediately beheaded in front of the entire Christian populace, who were, in turn, all either massacred or sold into slavery.  This turned out to be the end of Christian military involvement in the Holy Land; there were to be no more such military forces in the area again until 1917.

By the time de Molay arrived in France, in early 1307, his King, Philip IV, known as The Fair, was deeply in debt due to the many wars in which he had been involved for his entire reign.   He was also perpetually at odds with the Papacy, and had made a very serious effort to try and tax the church, for at which, the Pope at the time, Pope Boniface VII, tried to have Philip excommunicated.   Philip countered by having Boniface abducted and charged with heresy, and though the elderly Pope was rescued, he soon died from the shock before following through on his threat to the French King.  His successor, Benedict XI, did not last long, dying in less than a year, it was thought from poison administered by an agent of Philip the Fair.

Philip the Fair would stop at nothing to achieve his goals, all of which involved avarice and grasping more and more power.  The next Pope, Clement V, proved to be more cooperative, even to the point of following the French King’s orders and moving the Papacy, along with the majority of its entourage, to the newly built Papal Palace in Avignon in the south of France.

Joined in greed, Philip and Clement also worked together in total secrecy.  Thus, on Friday, October 13, 1307, (it is still popularly believed that these arrests are why Friday the 13th is considered to be an unlucky day), the French forces of the King captured a stunned Jacques de Molay and 60 of his brother Templar knights, wherever they were in France, and imprisoned them in whatever dungeon was handy, on heresy and other trumped up charges.  They were tortured until they confessed, or died, and at the same time, Pope Clement V issued a papal declaration ordering “the arrest of all the Templars throughout Christendom.”  Some of the knights, after they had confessed, and had survived the torture, were released and later recanted their confessions; these monks were immediately recaptured by the King and burned at the stake.  The French King, during this time, was also applying pressure to other European monarchs, especially Edward II of England, asking that they make similar efforts with  any Knights Templar they could find in their countries.  This was met with varying degree of success, though Philip the Fair, due to his strenuous personal efforts, achieved total success against the Templars in France.

Philip, after several years and after confiscating just about all the wealth of the Templars, finally persuaded Clement to end the matter by disbanding the Order.  Thus in March, 1312, the Order of the Knights Templar, after centuries of faithfully serving their God, their countries, their Pope, and their Order’s leaders, was abolished by papal decree.  The knights who were left who hadn’t been either crippled, killed by torture or immolation, were assigned to another order, the Knights of the Hospitallers, whose Order was later charged a considerable fee by Philip for the cost of disbanding the Templars.

Philip wasn’t yet finished with Jacques de Molay, however.  After 7 years of residing in the unspeakable conditions of his King’s dungeon, after seeing his beloved fellow knights devastated and/or destroyed along with his beloved Order, having his Order’s entire carefully collected treasure stolen away, and seeing his decades’ long honorable military efforts in the Holy Land all for naught, the former Grand Master finally learned his ultimate fate.  Jacques de Molay was to be burned at the stake in the center of Paris, not in the kind, quick way, but in the painful, slow way.  Philip the Fair was his despicable self to the last, a trait he would come to regret in this particular case.

Showing no sign of fear, the 72-year old, physically broken, soldier mounted the steps to his fiery fate on March 18, 1314.  He told the King and the Pope that “they would be obliged to answer for their crimes in God’s presence.”

He then declared what has become known as the “De Molay Curse.”   He informed the two not only that they would they both die within a year and a day from that exact day, but that all of Philip’s heirs would also die, and that the House of Capet would cease to exist.  Here is what actually happened: Clement V died of an illness, it was said, on April 20, 1314, and Philip IV died of a stroke while hunting later that year on November 29, 1314.  Philip’s three sons, and his only grandson, died between the years 1314 and 1328, by various means, bringing to total collapse the 300-year old ruling House of Capet.

It was not until the year 2007 that the Roman Catholic Church officially apologized for what was done to the Knights Templar.  Seven days before the 700th anniversary of the persecution of the Order, which was on October 13, 1307, the Vatican “absolved the Knights Templar and confirmed their innocence.”

Though Jacques de Molay fought the enemy of the infidel with courage and faith for decades in the ninth and last Crusade, he came home to work to continue the fight only to find an even more evil enemy in his sovereign and his church.

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.

Susan Smith