Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Curse of the Templars

When Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burnt at the stake in Paris in ....... it is said that even as he was engulfed by the flames he cursed the three men who had brought about his ruin: king Philip IV of France, William de Nogaret, the king's chief minister, and Pope Clement; prophesying that they would all meet him before God's judgement-seat within the year.

The curse appeared to bear immediate fruit. Pope Clement died a month after the burning of the Templar leaders. William de Nogaret also died; poisoned, according to legend, by a former Templar; and in November king Philip also met his end, suffering some kind of seizure whilst out hunting and expiring in a peasant's hut. He was only 46 years old. The Superintendent of Finance, Enguerrand de Marigny, whose brother the archbishop had burned the Templars of Paris, did not survive them long, being hanged for corruption and embezzlement in 1315. But for those who believed in the power of the curse, there was much more to it than this.

King Philip had a daughter, Isabella, who had married Edward II of England, and three sons: Louis, Philip and Charles. But just weeks after the end of the Templars a shattering scandal rocked the French throne. The wives of the three princes were all convicted of adultery and sentenced to life imprisonment, but not before they were compelled to watch while their lovers, young nobles of the court, suffered hideous public execution in Paris.

For more than 300 years, son had succeeded father on the throne of France without a break. But the new king, Louis X, died after only two years of notably incompetent rule, during which time his adulterous wife expired with official assistance, so he was able to remarry. But he left only a posthumous son, who died almost immediately, and a five-year-old daughter, Joan by his first marriage,whose parentage was inevitably in doubt following the adultery. What was to be done? Philip, his brother, took control. The lawyers were able to unearth the tradition that amongst the Salian Franks back in the Dark Ages, no woman had been allowed to succeed. This was now elevated to become the “Salic Law”, and with the agreement of the French nobles he was crowned as king Philip V. But he was hoist with his own petard, for he had fathered only daughters when he died in 1322, and his brother, who then succeeded as Charles IV, did no better before himself dying in 1328. The throne then passed to their cousin, another Philip, count of Valois, who began the Valois dynasty.

But there remained Isabella, Philip IV’s daughter, the wife of Edward II of England, who was now the centre of more sensational events. In 1327 the “she-wolf of France”, as Isabella was sometimes nicknamed, together with her lover, Roger Mortimer, deposed king Edward and, according to legend, had him gruesomely murdered in Berkeley castle. Isabella’s son, now Edward III, was only fifteen at the time, but a few years later he was able to stage his own coup, arrested Mortimer in Nottingham and had him executed for high treason. In 1340 Edward denounced the Salic Law as a legal nonsense and claimed the throne of France for himself, as Philip IV’s only grandson. The Hundred Years’ War was on, France was ruined and did not recover until the early sixteenth century. (Because of Edward's claim, the English royal coat-of-arms after 1340 always contained the French fleur-de-lys. This was not abandoned until 1802!)

The papacy fared no better. For almost seventy years, no Pope set foot in Rome. All the popes were Frenchmen, living lives of luxury and corruption at Avignon. When finally Pope Urban VI was persuaded by Saint Catherine of Siena to return to Rome, the situation deteriorated even further, because there followed a disgraceful period in which there was one pope in Rome and a rival pope in Avignon: indeed, at one point there were three rival popes! Only with the election of Martin V in 1417 was there once again a unified papacy in Rome. It can be argued that the Catholic church never recovered the prestige it had once enjoyed.
Indeed, all Europe seemed to be under a curse. In the 1340s the Black Death swept through the continent; perhaps a third of the population dying in the first great epidemic. In some regions population levels did not recover for centuries.

The Templars have always been an ideal subject for writers of occult fiction. But could there be any fact behind the senstaional allegations? I think we can immediately discard the notion that the Order was in possession of some terrible and shattering secret truth about Jesus Christ, which they had discovered in Jerusalem. For how could the proof any such secret have survived for a thousand years? Most of the early Templars were illiterate, and in any case, no-one at that time had any notion of reliable historical evidence as we understand the concept. (The Templars' understanding of the past can be illustrated by the fact that they believed the Moslem Dome of the Rock to be the Temple of Solomon, and thought the vast platform it stood on had been built by Solomon - in fact it was built by king Herod!)
It is quite likely that the Templars survived in some shadowy and unofficial form for a few years after their suppression. Many must have escaped, especially in the lands outside France, where the persecution was distictly half-hearted. It is also likely that many of them would seek revenge upon king Philip and his family. But the disasters that befell France and the papacy can only be attributed to them if we believe some occult or magical force was at work. (Incidentally, I know of no contemporary source that attributes these disasters to the curse of the Templars. The great witch-hunts, where victims of the Inquisition were accused of casting malevolent spells and curses of terrifying power, did not start until the early 15th century, many years after these events)
Many organisations since then have claimed, or perhaps even genuinely believed in, some link back to the Templars (for instance Britain's self-styled "black magician", Aleister Crowley). But the notion that since the days of the Templars there has always existed an immensely rich and powerful society which is the secret manipulator of great historical events (the French Revolution, for instance, has been linked to the curse of the Templars, and variously blamed on the Freemasons, the Rosicrusions or whoever) - such a notion, though making an ideal subject for occcult thrillers, cannot be supported by any evidence whatsoever.


  1. If there were evidence, it (the society) wouldn't be secret. Who is behind the Bilderberg club, the Club of Rome, etc?

  2. Obviously people are free to believe what they like. But a historian, like any scientist, has to ask what evidence there is to support a particular theory. If there is no evidence, then there is, by definition, no reason to believe in it. A basic rule of philosophy states that just because a theory cannot be disproved, that does not constitute a reason to believe it. (I cannot disprove the existence of unicorns, but this is no reason to believe that they do exist)