Why did they actually destroy the Templars?
Philip the Handsome ultimately won the loyalty of the Catholic Church by installing his Pope in Rome to rule the rest of the Catholic world from the city of Avignon in France. He also ended the status quo war with the English King Edward I for the province of Guienne and won a victory, albeit not a complete one, over the rebellious citizens of Flanders. When seen against the background of these events, Philip’s unquestionable triumph was somewhat diminished when he tore the Archbishopric of Lyons from the hands of the HRE and the Papacy; yet, even in this instance, the fight had already been resolved. After this, France would be able to resume normal civilian life. But achieving that goal was not a simple task. Due to the fact that a significant portion of the monarch’s acquired debts came from the population’s properties, this led to strained relations between the King and the populace. Damage done to the currency in excessive amounts during the preceding decade was now superfluous and even dangerous. Over that time period, the livre had lost about twice as much silver as it originally contained, which had already been seen by everyone and prompted the accompanying adjustments in pricing. Because a powerful realm in a time of peace required a powerful currency, King Philip IV of France stated in 1306 that the minting of full-weight coins would once again begin.
On this occasion, solemn prayer services started to be served across the land, and heralds delivered the good news to cities and towns; but, rather than being filled with pleasure, the people just clinched their fists and quietly cursed. Why? Oh, so in the end, human greed has no limits; I’m sure you’re all aware of this fact quite well yourself.
Amusing specifics start to surface as soon as the news is made public: taxes must now be paid with the brand-new full-weight coin; landlords immediately start demanding that rent be paid in full-fledged coin because it pays taxes to them; shop owners also demand a full-weight coin because they have to pay taxes as well. And there may not have been any issues at all if the tax rates and prices had been updated, but unfortunately this was not the case: the 10 livres of tax that you paid in a coin with no weight will now need to be paid in a coin with the full weight.
Then, the populace started to get enraged, to the point that a wave of rebellions spread over the kingdom, and when a bomb went off in Paris, the King found himself in a fairly precarious position. The monarch enjoyed strolling about the city while dressed in ordinary clothing so that he might, in the manner of Caliph Harun al Rashid from the stories of a thousand and one nights, go around and listen to what the people say about him. This is how the whole thing got started.
However, this time he did not hear good things, and the situation quickly spiraled out of control after he was recognized by a member of the crowd while he was standing in the square close to the Templar castle. After this, a variety of things were thrown at the monarch, and the situation became completely out of control. The Templar Knights were able to salvage the situation by removing the King from the ring and transporting him to the castle, where he remained until the disturbance came to an end. Although these remarks did not yet amount to a full-fledged uprising like the one that would develop into the Jacquerie fifty years later, it was imperative to act swiftly.
Chancellor Nogaret is often credited with having the concept of how to alleviate tension among the people and somewhat lower the strength of their passions, despite the fact that this step was nothing groundbreaking or innovative. It was necessary to find a scapegoat in order to ensure that everyone would immediately believe in the evilness of the situation and who would be directly connected with the reform. Since the excited people were unable to notice certain relaxations in the collection of taxes while the financial situation was settling down, it was necessary to find a scapegoat. It’s likely that you’ve already figured out what we’re talking about.
Another group that was “struck” by the reform were moneylenders, who favored returning loans in full-fledged currency rather than altering the amount of debt owed. The Jews were the ones who put the greatest effort into developing this region because of the restrictions imposed by their religion. On the Jewish island in the Seine, bonfires were lit on which non-Christians were burnt to death while the legists of the King carried out multiple trials of usurers who sought to profit from the misery of the people (by a weird coincidence, all of these usurers were Jews). In addition to this, the Jews of France were ordered to be expelled from the country by a royal decree, and they were only permitted to take a small number of articles of clothing with them.
The remainder of their possessions, along with their financial obligations, were given to the national treasury. Bankers from Italy and France started buying large amounts of financial obligations from Jews, stole their money to keep it safe, and acquired their homes in return for hazy assurances, taking advantage of the Jews’ precarious circumstances. But the people of Israel had nowhere to go since, on the one hand, there was a proclamation from the King and, on the other hand, there were riots raging across the kingdom that was planned by the crowd, which disguised various crimes in addition to their financial commitments. Bankers from Italy and France started buying large amounts of financial obligations from Jews, stole their money to keep it safe, and acquired their homes in return for hazy assurances, taking advantage of the Jews’ precarious circumstances.
This operation only resulted in a treasury revenue of two hundred thousand livres, which was comparable to the sums that during the war it was feasible to extract from the Jews virtually every year. The Jews were the target of this operation. Therefore, the magnitude of the crown’s revenues that have passed through your hands should be crystal evident to you at this point. In a matter of a few short weeks, Philip was able to secure a fourth of the yearly budget in return for very hazy projections on potential tax increases in the future.
However, once you begin the process of expropriation, it is difficult to halt. And Philip was still keen to stock the treasure chest with a properly struck currency, notwithstanding his earlier success. He was victorious in the war for money against the Church, and he plundered usurers till they were skin and bones. However, there was one group that united these two characteristics into one, and that organization was the Templars.
The papal bull on the protection of the crusaders’ property is good, but the filthy devil’s beginning in a person is still too strong. The Order of warrior knights took it upon themselves during the crusades to ensure the safety of the pilgrims’ finances, both on the road and left at home. The Knights Templar were not true moneylenders in the traditional sense; rather than taking a margin on loans, they would merely charge a fee for “servicing a personal account,” as people would say today. However, this was not as significant as the fact that later events generated such a curiously skewed picture of the Templars that many common people, being held in his shackles, are unable to comprehend the true extent of the sorrow that the Order endured. This was of far more significance.
The Templars were not servants of Satan, nor were they supporters of the ideology of absolutism and totalitarianism, as the series of games Assassin’s Creed tells us. Furthermore, they were not all-powerful moneylenders who held the monarchs of Europe by the throat, nor were they innocent sheep. Rather, the Templars were a group of warriors dedicated to the service of God and the protection of the innocent.
The Templar order had a highly distinct place in both the political and economic structure of Europe throughout that time. As soon as the Crusades started, they wasted no time in establishing commanderies throughout Europe to meet the exceptionally high demand for their services. It became apparent all of a sudden that the services of the Templars for the storage of cash, as well as their transportation and transfer, are in demand in Europe itself. It is generally agreed upon that it is far preferable to entrust the safety of your funds to armed knights, who, in the event that they are lost, will also reimburse you for everything. As a result, since the Templars were constrained by commitments to protect the riches entrusted to them, they started investing in firms with varying degrees of “resolution.”
They did become a financial and military corporation, but the extraction of funds wasn’t done for the sake of their accumulation or the process itself; rather, it was done for the sake of the Order’s highest goal, which was the reconquest of the Holy Land. This goal was the driving force behind the formation of the Order. At the very least, the leadership of the Order attempted to communicate this concept to the regular members of the Order.
But at the same time, despite the fact that the Order was required, its position was rather precarious. On the one hand, the military monastic orders operated with the blessing and assistance of the Papacy. On the other hand, without the goodwill of the rulers of the lands, their rights in Europe were as small as they were great in the Holy Land, despite the fact that there, knights templars frequently faced boorish violation of their rights and holy mission. It was not unusual for a secular ruler to be able to get access to the Templar treasure if it became necessary; at first, this was done freely, and eventually it was done forcibly.
In particular, the German principalities were affected by legal nihilism in regard to the Templars. In these principalities, some princes seized lands from knights in favor of other orders (for instance, in Brandenburg in favor of the Teutons), while others even confiscated their property to their treasury for imaginary and not very serious offenses. Therefore, what occurred to them later in France was not anything out of the usual; but, if it weren’t for the very position of the Order in the state of the French, it would have been something out of the ordinary.
The Templar Order occupied a significant position in the financial system of the lands of France from the very beginning of its appearance in those lands. Given that the majority of crusaders left from France to reconquer the Holy Land, it follows that the services of templars were utilized predominately in those lands. Since the monarch and his vassals were required to make use of the services of warrior monks, the kingdom saw the establishment of a great number of commanderies under the patronage of the King and his subordinates. Because of the close and fruitful collaboration between the secular authorities of France and the Templars, the Order became deeply ingrained in the administrative structure of the state.
It was in the Paris Temple of the Templars that some of the most precious treasures of the crown, including international treaties, were stored for an extended period of time. The Knights Templar were given prominent roles at the royal court, including those of messengers.
By the beginning of the fourteenth century, this rapprochement, which strengthened the Order’s position within the country, had turned from a strength to a weakness. The Order was a credit to the crown, a donor of personnel and a source of information, but it was totally unaccountable to the King. Double loyalty – to the Pope and the crown was fraught with danger, and even the fact that in the confrontation with the Papacy, the Order sided with Philip did not add credibility to the Knights – too powerful they were inside France, too closely intertwined their financial interests with the royal. And Philip, whose main aim was to centralize the state, having thrown off the yoke of conflict, decided to get rid of the last major problem.
The relationship between the Knights of the Temple and the French King was never smooth. The Order did not fit into the monarch’s picture of the world, especially since the loss of the Holy Land had rendered it incapable of fulfilling its primary function. But, Philip first tried to negotiate with the Order and offered to make it an honorary member, probably believing he could also become its head in the future. But the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, refused the monarch, arguing that kings had no business being among the “poor” brother knights. And then the indefatigable Nogaret again enters the scene.
In the Christian world, there has long been a debate about what to do about the fall of Jerusalem. Christian monarchs, the leaders of chivalric orders and simply concerned citizens sent Rome their designs on how to recapture the east.
So in 1306, the De Bois plan appeared, which involved uniting the spiritual knightly orders into a single secular structure that would be the army of the new kingdom of Jerusalem, which would be financed from the secularization of the Order’s property. This plan was not the work of Nogaret, and, what is more, it may even have appeared without the participation of anyone close to the King, but how well it suited the aspirations of the French monarchy. Even if Nogarèt and Philip were unaware of De Bois’ treatise, which is doubtful, their next actions corresponded so well to it that one could argue that De Bois was not expressing his ideas personally, but the sentiments of the entire French political elite.
“You see, they do not want to invest in the common cause, they do not want to stand under the banners of the most Christian Crusader King Philipp, but only profit from the grief and suffering of people, like the Jews” – about this content of propaganda against the Order was conducted in those days.
Finally, in 1307 Nogaret was all set – there had been gathered denunciations showing that the Order was steeped in heresy, professed either devil-worship or, oh God Almighty, Islam, and that it was the Templars who were guilty of surrendering Jerusalem to the Saracens. It is this evidence that will be key to the accusation brought by Nogaret against de Molay. Pope Clement V, elected with the direct participation of the French, agreed to the arrests of the Templars and the trial of their leaders. The events that followed are well known to all – a secret order sent throughout the country, ordering the arrests of the knights, torture and an unholy trial at the same hour, and then the burning of Jacques de Molay and the curse he uttered that would destroy the King. But behind all this was a specific calculation, again not fully realized.
While it is commonly believed that all Templars in France were arrested, this is far from the truth: mostly only members of the Order’s Paris branch and captains of the commanderies were arrested, while ordinary members of the Order were promised leniency if they joined other chivalric orders or local church structures.
Philip hoped to secure a bull from Clement V, creating a new purely French order with himself as head, but the idea encountered considerable opposition from the still rather independent Papacy, so it was put on the shelf for the time being and had Philip not died, he might have revisited it a few years later. Moreover, Pope Clement was able, using the laws of France and the ancient rights of the Church, to transfer much of the Templar property into the possession of the Church and the Hospitaller Order. The French treasury thus received only a third of a million livres from this action, which again was much less than the expected revenue and gave rise to the myth of tons of gold hidden by the Templars.
What did it lead to? Along with de Molay, not only the Templar Order perished, but also the hopes of recapturing Jerusalem – the forces and resources of the remaining orders would not have been enough to organize a serious campaign, and European kings were increasingly drawn into wars with each other rather than with the Saracens. Philip was able to correct the financial situation in the country for a while, but 4 years later, expenses again ceased to match the income and again began the process of coin corruption, which will not be stopped in the next decades – on the eve of France already loomed the strongest internal crisis and the heaviest external in the face of the Hundred Years’ War.