Jacques de Molay (1244??-1314)

Translation : Andrew Zolnai

Master of the Order from 1292 to 1312.

The absence of correct archives prevents the exact establishment of the places and date of birth of Jacques de Molay. Nevertheless, indications found in the minutes of the lawsuit, in the archives of European kingdoms of that time, suggest that Jacques de Molay was born about 1245 in the French region of Haute-Saône, in the County of Burgundy, always vassal to the Germanic Empire.

In 1265 ,he is received in the Order at the city of Beaune by Humbert de Pairaud, visitor of France and England and by Amaury de la Roche, Master of France.

Around 1270, he is in the Orient where his activity remains very discrete. It is not known if he is among the survivors of Acre who managed to escape with Thibaud Gaudin to Cyprus, but he participates a chapter which is held in the island in autumn 1291. He is elected Master of the Order before April 1292, shortly after the death of Thibaud Gaudin.
No sooner was elected that Jacques de Molay attends to the most pressing issues, to set up both the government and the defences of the island of Cyprus and the Kingdom of Little Armenia, the last Frankish possessions in the East.

In the spring of 1293, he undertakes a long trip to Europe, where he settles various issues in the realm of the Order, and in particular seeks help from the Western princes and the Church to protect the last Christian States.
During this trip, he forges close ties with several monarchs, among them Edward 1st of England, Jacques II of Aragon and the pope Boniface VIII.
He returns to Cyprus in the fall of 1296 to settle issues that had arisen with the king Henri II.
In 1298, he organises a raid in Cilicia after the fall of Roche-Guillaume, the last fortified town of the kingdom. Unfortunately, the Christian force were unable to benefit from the victory of Ghâzân, Khan of Persia, over the Mameluks at the Homs in December 1299.
In 1300, he continues to reinforce the small island of Ruad opposite Tortose to make it a base of advanced operations together with the Mongols. But they too, preoccupied with their own tribal wars, will never be able to combine with the Christians against the Mameluks.
In September 1302, the Templars of Ruad are massacred by the Egyptian Mameluks.
Jacques de Molay then gives up this strategy of the Mongolian alliance which proves to be a total failure.

In 1305, the new pope Clement V, seeks the opinion of the Masters of the religious Orders in preparation for a new crusade and the unification of the Orders.
On June 6, 1306, Clement V officially convenes them in Poitiers, but because of the pope's ill health, he only meets Jacques de Molay in May 1307.
As he had told the pope before, Jacques de Molay categorically rejects the prospect of uniting the Orders.
This stance will have serious repercussions for the future Order of the Temple. At first, the King of France takes umbrage to this decision, because it interferes not only with his ambitions but also wth the negotiations between Clement V and Philippe IV to condemn the memory of Boniface VIII, and also in organizing new crusades.
On his trip west, Jacques de Molay finds that libellous rumours were spread about the Templars. Philippe IV and his advisers immediately take advantage of this weakness, and set a plan to destroy this uncompromising Order.
On June 24, Jacques de Molay is in Paris to meet with the King of France and discuss the charges against the Order. He returns to Poitiers, reassured by his interview with Philippe IV, but requests of the Pope an investigation to clear Order of any suspicion.
On August 24, Clement V informs Jacques de Molay of a board of inquiry. Philippe IV seeks to precipitate events and remove them from the Pope’s control. On September 14, with the help of Nogaret, he orders in utter secrecy all his bailiffs and seneschals to arrest all Templars of the Kingdom and the confiscation of all their goods.

This wide-ranging operation begins on October 13, 1307 at dawn. All Templars of the kingdom of France are arrested. In some preceptories, Templars are massacred by treachery, because the royal men-at-arms are afraid to face these fierce warriors in direct combat.
Jacques de Molay is arrested in the headquarters of the Order, in Paris.
Something strange occured during the first interrogation of Jacques de Molay on October 24. Instead of denying the charges, he confesses to certain facts, thus giving credence to royal propaganda against the Order.
In December 1307, Clement V sends cardinals in Paris to question the Master of the Order. In front of those, This puts Philippe IV and Clement V at loggerheads, and is only resolved in August 1308 through a compromise sealed by the papal bull "Faciens Misericordiam". In this bull, the pope reserves the right to judge the dignitaries of the Order.
Transferred to Chinon with several other dignitaries of the Order, like Geoffroy de Charney, Hugues de Pairaud and Geoffroy de Gonneville, Jacques de Molay is now interrogated by royal agents. During this interrogation, he will renew his admissions made in October 1307.
Over more than a year, the pontifical commission is set up and begins audiences. Jacques de Molay will be able to make depositions there only twice towards the end of November 1309. On this occasion, he changes his defence strategy, stays silence and relies solely on the judgement from the pope, trusting the contents of the bull "Faciens Misericordiam".

In 1310, several tens of Templars seek to testify before the pontifical commission in favour of the Order and thus cast in doubt the entire indictment.
This protest movement is utterly broken by the sentencing to be burnt at the stake of 54 Templars, judged to have recanted by Philippe de Marigny on May 10, 1310.
Moreover, the leaders of this protest movement disappear without traces from the jails of Philippe IV.
On March 22, 1312, Clement V announces the official abolition of the Order of the Temple at the Council of Vienna.
In spite of his strong will and insistent demands toward his jailers, Jacques de Molay lingers in prison without audience from the pope. The latter nevertheless agrees to send three cardinals to Paris in December 1313 to decide on the fate of the dignitaries.
Arriving in Paris in March 1314, the three cardinals dispense an irrevocable verdict, to condemn the dignitaries of the Order to life imprisonment.
Jacques de Molay and Geoffroy de Charnay hotly contest this verdict, understanding that they had been played since the beginning by a Pope who did not want to hear them. They both revoke all admissions made and proclaim the Order innocent of any charge carried against it.
Jacques de Molay and Geoffroy de Charnay are immediately charged of recanting, and are delivered by the Cardinals to the secular law. A pyre is build the very same day on an island (Île de la Cité) of the Seine, at the foot of Notre-Dame Cathedral.
In the evening of March 11, 1314, (or March 18 according to some historians) Jacques de Molay and Geoffroy de Charnay are set alight.

Previous Master : Thibaud Gaudin

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More references... Bibliography
  1. "Armorial des Maîtres de l'Ordre du Temple"
    Bernard Marillier; Editions Pardès 2000
  2. "Histoire des Templiers"
    J.-J.-E. Roy ; Editions Pardes 1999
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Translation : Andrew Zolnai
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