« PreviousContinue »
occasion; and it has been said, that the existence of so powerful a body of wise and valiant soldiers, who were independent, in a great degree, of those bonds which unite the subject to the sovereign, must necessarily have been productive of a feeling of jealousy in the mind of a prudent monarch. This remark does not appear to us to be entitled to much consideration. It is true that the treasury of the Knights-Templars might vie with the coffers of the prince, and that their renown in arms might surpass that of any of their countrymen, yet their very existence as a body of men, was a guarantee against any attempts on the sovereign power of the state. That power could never have been shared amongst a crowd of claimants, and it does not appear that there ever existed amongst them any individual whose ambition attempted to convert the resources and influence of the order to his own guilty aggrandizement. Another strong proof of the absence of any suspicions of this kind, is, that we do not find, in the articles exhibited against them, any charge of state offences, and it is scarcely probable that Philip, who so lavishly inserted accusations which he found it impossible to prove, would have omitted any, which, if substantiated, might have in some degree justified him in the eyes of posterity. The Knights Hospitallers were fully as powerful a body as those of the Temple, and much more wealthy, and the dangers which were to be apprehended from the latter might, with equal reason, have caused the destruction of the former; and yet we find that the possessions of the suppressed order were bestowed upon the Hospitallers, which, by increasing their riches, must have rendered them still more formidable. The abolition of the rival order of Templars must also have taken away a considerable check on their attempts to usurp or interfere with the sovereign power, as it would always have been an easy task to oppose the rival knights to each other, and thus to neutralize the mischievous intentions of either.
In order to arrive at an unprejudiced conclusion, respecting the guilt or innocence of the Templars, it will be necessary to examine with care the nature of the proceedings which were taken against them, and the mode in which those proceedings were carried on. The order was accused of heresy and immorality; but the former was the principal charge on which their enemies relied for their destruction.* The reason of this is obvious. In those early times, when the Papal authority
Amongst the eighty-four Articles which were exhibited against the English Templars, it is singular that not more than a dozen should involve charges of immorality. See Wilkins's Concilia, ii. 331. There is a translation of the Articles in Dugdale's Monasticon, i. 181.
exercised so powerful an influence over the opinions of men, and when the repeated conflicts with the infidel possessors of the Holy Land had heightened the detestation which the Christian world entertained for those who despised the true faith, into a hatred towards all who were suspected of opinions inimical to the Catholic church, a charge of heresy was well calculated to overwhelm the accused with the weight of popular odium, and, if innocent, to deprive them of that powerful protection against the exertion of unjust power-the influence of public opinion. This crime, also, was more vague and undefined, and admitted more extensive and looser proofs than any more specific accusation. Words and actions, of innocent or of doubtful import, were easily tortured into a signification of heretical tenets, and the witnesses against the accused might speak, without fear of contradiction, to matters which related only to opinion; but that such a charge should have been selected as the principal one against them, clearly shews how unwilling their enemies were to enter into a strict examination of facts. But there was a still stronger reason for preferring this accusation : in matters of heresy it was usual to proceed summarily, without those formalities, which, in other criminal proceedings, are resorted to, as well for the protection of the accused, as for the attainment of the ends of justice; nor was the assistance of advocates allowed, or the forms of judgment preserved.* In examining the origin and history of this order, the spirit of its institution, and the character of its members, an accusation of heresy is certainly the last which we should have suspected it to have incurred.— Founded solely for the purpose of protecting and extending the Christian faith, the names of infidel and enemy were equivalent in their mouths, and from their solemn vow of rendering justice to all, the Saracens alone were excepted. During their long and valiant struggles with the enemies of the cross, they seem never to have forgotten the objects of their institution, and, though occasional jealousies broke out between them and the other Crusaders, their enemies had never the audacity to charge them with deserting the standard of their faith, even in the most perilous extremity of its hazard. Whatever schemes of ambition might have actuated the various sovereigns who, at different times, sought to reclaim Palestine from the hands of the infidels, it could only have been a pure enthusiasm which led these misguided warriors to the burning plains of Syria. Nor did their faith waver on more trying occasions. When six hundred of the knights had been made prisoners by the Sultan of Egypt, who, meting out to the Christian soldiers the same
Proces. contra Templar. cited in Raynouard, p. 60.
mercy which the Saracens experienced at their hands, offered to them the alternative of apostacy or death, the Templars at once preferred all the terrors of the sword to the shame of staining their names with the imputation of cowardice, or the sin of apostacy. It must have required a longer period, and very different occupations from those in which the Templars were engaged, so far to have corrupted the spirit and sentiments of the order as to reduce them to the degree of irreligion and depravity, into which the evidence of their accusers would make us believe they were plunged. As far as regards their moral character, it is probable that the accusations against them were better founded, though the stress which was laid on their lapse into infidelity and heresy, rather tends to shew that the charges of immorality were by no means considered as the strong part of the case.
But the character and treatment of the witnesses, furnish by far the strongest grounds for concluding that the proceedings against this valiant and suffering body of men, were, in the highest degree, unjust and tyrannical. It would be impossible, within the small space to which we are at present confined, to lay open the atrocious machinations of Philip and his creatures, to procure amongst the knights themselves sufficient testimony to ensure the destruction of the order. We shall, however, in a few words describe the daring contempt of all the first principles of justice, the odious promises of reward and favour to those who were willing to destroy their companions, and to pollute their own souls with the aggravated sins of cowardice, falsehood, and treachery,-the dreadful threats of punishment denounced against those whose virtue and firmness were proof against every danger,-and, lastly, the consummation of this scene of wickedness, in the sickening tortures which have stamped so indelible an infamy on the whole of these transactions.
Life, liberty, and riches, were offered to such of the knights as would confess their own guilt and that of their order. The fear of death had few terrors for men who had so often affronted it, with weaker inducements to firmness, and, at last, their persecutors, speculating on the very virtue and fidelity of the accused, presented certain forged letters, which they affirmed had been received from the Grand Master, inviting them to avow their guilt, in hopes that their oath of obedience might thus be turned to their destruction. Even this artifice was unsuccessful, and torture was resorted to, as the speediest method of arriving at the truth. It is revolting to dwell upon scenes like these, and were it not for the awful moral lesson which they inculcate, and the salutary jealousy of all tyrannical power which they necessarily inspire, we should wish that the page of history,
which is blotted with such details, were erased from the volume for ever. The unfortunate Templars, seized and imprisoned, stripped of the habit of their order, and despoiled of the rich possessions which might have rivalled the treasures of kings, were delivered over to the tender mercies of their examiners. With scrupulous fidelity, the secretary noted down, not only their confessions, while enduring the process of the torture, but even their exclamations of anguish, their sighs, their groans, and their tears.* And well might the endurance of the bravest knights sink under the accumulated inflictions of the processes to which they were subjected. All the various tortures of the Inquisition seem to have been applied. Sometimes, the victim, being stripped naked, had his hands tied behind him, and a heavy weight attached to his feet, and was thus hoisted into the air by a rope tied to his hands, and passing through a pulley in the ceiling. This torture was occasionally varied by letting the rope slip, and then suddenly retaining it, so that the shock generally dislocated some of the limbs, and caused the most extreme anguish.† Fire, too, was another expedient of these anxious friends of justice to elicit the truth. The naked feet of the sufferer were placed in an instrument from which he could not disengage them, and, being continually anointed with some unctuous matter, they were thus exposed to a powerful fire. Sometimes, on being questioned upon his guilt, a board was placed between him and the fire, and, if he persisted in his denials, he was again exposed to the blaze. Such, amongst others were the ordinary tortures to which all accused of heresy were occasionally subjected; but, in the case of the Templars, a still more recondite system of torments was employed. One of the witnesses declared, that he had been so long and so frequently exposed to the torture of fire, that the flesh of his heels had been burnt off to the bone. Tortures even of a more shocking description were made use of, from which the heart turns with disgust and abhorrence. Many of the French knights perished under these inflictions, and some, yielding to the weakness of human nature, confessed every thing which their enemies required from them; but of these many afterwards retracted their confessions, thinking it better to suffer the punishments assigned to relapsed heretics, than to preserve their lives and liberty under the heavy load of treachery and consci
* Tutti i suspiri, tutti le grida, tutti i lamenti e le lagrime. Il sacro Arsenale, overo pratica del S. Officio Ant. MASINI. Cited by Raynouard, p. 33.
Proces. contra Templar.
ous guilt. Such were the means used to procure testimony against the order from the knights themselves, and although some other witnesses were produced, yet the question of their guilt was evidently considered by their persecutors to rest almost entirely on these confessions.* Nothing however proves more strongly the weakness and falsity of the charges than the framing of the questions which were put to the witnesses against the order, and which are ingeniously contrived to produce an imputation of guilt, although the testimony may be perfectly true, and the accused entirely innocent.
Thus, amongst the " articuli super quibus interrogandi sunt clerici et laici," we find the following questions-Whether the witnesses know or believe that the Templars wish to keep the reception of new members secret? Whether the witnesses have any suspicion against them on this account? Whether they ever made any enquiries from the brothers respecting the mode of reception, and whether they did not refuse to reveal it? Whether such receptions were not in the night? Whether the chapters were not held at night? Whether in the words or conversation of the knights they had ever heard any thing that savoured of infidelity? Whether or not they knew or had heard that any of the brothers had denied Christ ?+-Calumny and misrepresentation will ever attend the steps of the rich and the powerful, and it would have been strange indeed if the haughty Templars had escaped their envenomed shafts. How could it be expected that truth should be elicited, when it was thus sought for in every false and injurious rumour which folly or malice could invent.
Let us shortly examine the character of the evidence adduced. In addition to the fact, that all the testimony of the knights themselves was given during imprisonment, under threats, and frequently during the operation of tortures, a fact which alone is sufficient to deprive such testimony of the smallest title to credit-in addition to the circumstance of many of the knights retracting the avowals of guilt thus obtained, which ought to have thrown discredit on the confessions of the rest; the conclusive proof against these confessions is the internal evidence of falsity which they contain. It would be tedious to
*The preambles to the pope's letters always mention these avowals of guilt as the ground of the proceedings.
+ Wilkins's Concilia, ii. 347.
Will it be credited that such evidence as the following could be seriously received? "Frater Adam de Heton dicit, quod dum erat juvenis secularis, omnes pueri clamabant publice et vulgariter, unus ad alterum, Custodiatis vobis ab osculo Templariorum!" Wilkins, ii.