September 29, 2023

The Fall of the Knights Templar

Author: owen.pham
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By Richerd Spence Ph.D., University of Idaho

The Knights Templar enjoyed considerable fame, wealth, and power over its lifetime of two centuries. However, this very power and wealth led to its disastrous fall. Once exempted by the Catholic Church and the Pope himself, the Templars could not escape their tragic fate brought about by the King of France. What happened to this powerful band which has been subject to many fantasies and rumors?

Marker at the site of Jacques de Molay's execution in Paris.
The resting place of Jacques De Molay in France. (Image: PHGCOM/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

What was the Cause of the Knights Templar’s Fall?

An ironic cause of the Templars’ fall was their power and wealth. Over the years, they had accumulated large amounts of gold and spread their power and influence throughout Europe. They were accountable only to the Pope himself, which meant unlimited power and freedom. But as it turned out, this power could not save them from disbandment. Their wealth was tempting for their enemies who were so powerful that even the Templars could not resist. The most important enemy was King Philip IV of France, who finally put an end to the order.

The secrets surrounding their religious activities finally
served as an excuse for some of the top Templars’ execution. The accusation of
heretic beliefs and rituals was what persuaded the king and the Pope to torture
the knights to get them to confess. But how and why did King Philip turn
against them?

Learn more about the origins of the Knights Templar.

The Role of King Philip in the Knights Templar’s Fall

Painting of  Templars burned at the stake.
King Philip ordered to burn the Templars at stake. (Image: Giovanni Boccaccio (De casibus virorum illustrium), translated in French by Laurent de Premierfait (Des cas des ruynes des nobles hommes et femmes)/Public domain)

King Philip, or the ‘Plague of France’ as Dante put it, had led France to bankruptcy with futile wars. Highly in debt, he was naturally eager to use any convenient source of money that presented itself.

First, he turned to the Catholic Church. After having two Popes
killed, he finally enthroned Clement V, who was his own man. This gave him influence and power over the church to the point
that he moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon, a city in France.

He did not stop there,
though. The next target was the Jews. He had all the Jews on the kingdom
arrested on a single day and took away their money and banished them from

But this was far from over and nothing compared to what he had arranged for the Templars. He invited the grandmaster, De Molay, to his sister-in-law’s funeral to make sure that he was in his proximity. On Friday, October 13, 1307, he ordered the full arrest of all Templars. What was the reason for their arrest? Hersey. So, he had them imprisoned and tortured to get them to confess.

The Templars’ downfall
had already started since their population had dramatically fallen. They had
lost their headquarters in the Holy Land, so they had to move to France. They
were still wealthy, though. But their arrest was the last straw since the king
wanted to wipe them out from the face of France.

This is a transcript from the video series Secret Societies. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

How did the Fall of Templars Happen?

In his attempt to arrest the Templars, King Philip violated the Omne Datum Optimum decree (i.e., the order that made the Templars answerable to the Pope only). Even the Pope could not prevent him from this arrest. In addition to engaging in blasphemous acts and rituals, the Templars were accused of other heinous acts such as homosexuality, refusing to observe sacred rituals and even worshiping a false idol.

Painting of Jacques de Molay
Jacques De Molay, the Last Grandmaster of the Knight Templars. (Image: Bibliotheque Nationale de France/Public domain)

Most of the Templars had
to confess under torture. Even the Pope tried to save them by interviewing
dozens of Templars and De Molay himself. Although they confessed to some minor
offenses, their acts could not be taken as blasphemy or heresy.  

Some of their seemingly
blasphemous acts were truly justified. For example, spitting and cursing at the
cross was not something that they intentionally committed. They did it to prove
their loyalty to their seniors and to save their own lives. This led Pope
Clement to exonerate the Templars, ruling out the acts of profanity.

However, the Pope’s verdict could not stop the king. He declared 54 Templars guilty and ordered to burn them at stake. The Knights Templar was officially disbanded by the Pope in 1312. De Molay was acquitted but was not released since the king wanted him to reveal what he thought to be the treasure of the Templar. His refusal to do so, as well as his public denial of his previous confessions, led the king to sentence him to death. He was slowly burned at stakes in Île aux Juifs in Paris.

Learn more about Secret Societies.

Common Questions about the Fall of the Knights Templar

Q: Why were the Knights Templar killed?

The fall of the Knights Templar began when they were killed under the direct order of King Philip IV of France. He was in desperate need of money sources and the Templars’ wealth attracted his attention.

Q: What happened to the Knights Templar on Friday the 13th?

This day was the beginning of the fall of the Knights Templar. They were all arrested by the order of King Philip IV. They were accused of heresy and other heinous acts.

Q: Who killed the Knights Templar?

The Knights Templar’s downfall was finalized when they were arrested by King Philip. He tortured them to extract confessions from them. Although exonerated by the Pope, they were killed by the king due to accusations of heresy.

Q: Who was the king of France in 1307?

In 1307, the year of the Knights Templar’s fall, King Phillip IV was the king of France. He is the once responsible for arresting and banishing Jews from France. He also arrested, tortured, and finally burned the Templars to death as a punishment of their blasphemous acts.

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