In Europe the Templars had countless properties and castles and when their crusading ventures to the Middle East came to an end, they focused their energies on this part of the world. They continued their banking ventures in western kingdoms, acted as diplomats and policy advisors and expanded their influence. In the end they were perceived to be fabulously rich and powerful.
The Knights Templar had always followed a strict code of conduct, apparently with some mystical rituals added for uniqueness. Because of their alleged riches and their secretiveness the French king, Philip IV, and Pope Clement V decided to act against them at the beginning of the 14th century and they eventually confiscated their castles and belongings.
Based on the original agreement reached with Pope Innocent II in 1129, the Knights Templar were responsible solely to the Papacy and not to any secular powers. In this way, for instance, the Knights Templar with their military forces were able to move about freely through any sovereign state without hindrance. This is rather like someone having access to a property without the owner having any say in the matter. It could not have been to everyone’s liking, and with the power the Knights Templar had wielded, they most probably displayed a degree of arrogance and entitlement. After the crusades they became displaced knights with an illustrious past and a less glorious present.
As the majority of their activities and property holdings were located in France, Philip IV, the French King, was most affected and decided to put an end to their existence. He also intended to benefit financially from their demise.
Other interesting events occurred simultaneously: For fiscal and political reasons King Philip IV and Pope Boniface VII in Rome were at loggerheads and in a letter to Philip the Pope had written, “Listen, my son, God has set Popes over Kings and Kingdoms……” This did not go down well with the French monarch and made the feud even more intense. By the end of 1302 Boniface issued a bull, declaring that spiritual and temporal powers were under his jurisdiction, and that Kings were subordinate to the power of the church.
In reply to the Pope’s letter, Philip, aided by the Colonna family in Italy, which had some private issues with the Pope, demanded Boniface VIII’s resignation. The Pope refused and was assaulted by Colonna and his henchmen. He was badly beaten and humiliated and died shortly afterwards.
Clement was elected as the new Pope with the assistance of French Cardinals, over whom King Philip IV had great influence. The new Pope, now being in the pocket of the French king, no longer felt safe in Italy and the seat of the Papacy was transferred from Rome to Avignon.
Philip IV, now ruling with a sympathetic Pope close by, needed funds. He owed the Knights Templar vast amounts, which had been loaned to him to finance the crusades and other skirmishes.
Heresy, with its trumped-up charges against the last remaining Cathars, was still practiced and the French authorities probably saw enough reason to extend similar oppressive treatment to the Knights Templar.
With the Pope being the only legitimate authority to which the Knights answered, Philip persuaded him to accuse the Order of heresy, just as the church had done with the Cathars,. On Friday the 13th October, 1307, (hence Friday the 13th having a bad reputation) hundreds of Knights Templar in France and other parts of Europe were arrested, interrogated and tortured.
The warrant stated “God is not pleased; we have enemies of the faith in the Kingdom”. False confessions were extracted under pain and suffering – a common practice during inquisitions. When the Pope and his Bishops eventually came to their senses and questioned the guilt of the Knights Templar, Philip, seeing a fortune slipping through his fingers, threatened the Pope militarily in Avignon and the Pope relented and disbanded the order in 1312.
On their demise, the Pope declared that most of their properties and Castles be transferred to the Knights Hospitaller and in the end King Philip IV was not able to enrich himself as he had expected – but at least his debt to the Order was written off.
In March 1314 the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay and some of his followers were slowly burnt alive upon a scaffold on an island in the middle of the Seine in Paris. According to legend, when engulfed by the flames, de Molay shouted the following words: “God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death” – – – Pope Clement died only a month later and Philip died from a hunting accident before the end of the year.
It appears that the Knights Templar had prior warning of their imminent arrest in 1307. Many fled in advance and joined other similar orders in various countries. It is said that before they lost control, the Knights Templar shipped out a great part of their fortunes from La Rochelle, in France, where their main fleet was anchored. These treasures have never been found. There are, however, other theories which suggest that the Knights Templar never really amassed great treasures and that they remained devoted Christians and lived simple lives rather than lives of luxury. The belief that they were wealthy might have arisen because, being bankers, they administered vast amounts of their clients’ money ‒ not their own.
The Roman Catholic Church currently accepts that the persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust and that there was nothing inherently wrong with the order or its rule. Pope Clement V had been pressured to act against them by the dominating influence of King Philip IV.