Summary–Templars

Some of you may be familiar with the Templars. Generally, folks know two things about the Middle Ages—the crusades and the inquisition (we can probably thank Monty Python and Mel Brooks for that), and the Templars combine both in their history. The Templars are a hybrid order—they’re a religious order that’s also a military order; they combined the role of monk (someone who’s supposed to be immersed in prayer and contemplation, transcending attachments to this world) with the role of soldier (someone who is immersed in violence and the bloody power struggles of this world). They are the incarnation of the crusading zeal which spread throughout western Europe in the twelfth century, being founded around 1119, with the primary purpose of “winning back the Holy Land for Christ” (according to the western Christian perspective). Things went well for them throughout the twelfth century, as they were successful in their battles and were showered with wealth and privilege by popes and kings. But things went less well in the thirteenth century; by the end (1291), they had lost their last foothold in the Middle East. Fifteen years later, they would serve as scapegoats for the recurring failure of the crusades.

Over the years they had acquired another role, that of banker. You could deposit your money in one Templar house and withdraw it from another, even in another country. This was very helpful for travelers, and it made the Templars even wealthier—and thus extremely attractive targets to Philip IV of France. Philip had already taken on the papacy and largely won in 1303 (calling Boniface VIII a devil-worshipping homosexual, just about the worst thing you could call someone at this time), and he pulled a similar stunt with the Jews, whom he accused of being in league with the devil so he could confiscate their wealth and exile them from his realm, as he did in 1306.

The following year, in the early hours of Friday the 13th of October (which is one of the reasons why Friday the 13th is considered to be unlucky), with remarkable stealth and efficiency, Philip had the Templars throughout his realm rounded up and imprisoned. He then had them tortured into confessing to worshipping demons, violating each other in the vilest ways, including murder and lots of sex, and urinating and worse on the crucifix, because they just hated Jesus so much, which was the real reason they lost the Holy Land. If they recanted and said they confessed only because they were tortured and that’s what their torturers wanted to hear, Philip had them burned at the stake.

The Templars, however, weren’t only in France, but were throughout much of western Europe, and they were also supposed to be under papal protection. So Philip intimidated the pope, Clement V, into going along with his plans for the Templars, and Clement issued decrees ordering that inquisitions be held in every Templar province, which is where England and consequently Ireland come in.

Edward II was the king of England at this time, but had been so for less than a year, and he was also planning his wedding to Philip’s daughter Isabella (who would later kill him in spectacularly brutal fashion), but when he got Philip’s trash-talking letters about the Templars, he didn’t buy it. He replied that he knew the Templars to be noble and virtuous men, and that any who said such filth about them must be acting out of greed and jealousy. But a little while later he received Clement’s decrees and promptly complied. The Templars were arrested in England on January 10, 1308, and those in Ireland were arrested a few weeks later.

It must be kept in mind that the Templar trial in Ireland was a purely colonial affair. The order only came to the island with the English (as part of Henry II’s entourage), and we have no clear evidence that the native Irish were ever involved in the order (although Templehouse, the photo on the front of my book and at the top of my blog, was the one Templar preceptory in native Irish lands, and Anthony O’Hara, a native Irishman, is said to have donated the land and joined the order, although I have not yet found corroborating evidence to support that). All the Templars tried in Ireland and all the witnesses against them were Anglo-Irish.

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The Templar trial in Ireland, Ireland’s first and most complete heresy trial, was held in Dublin from January or February to June of 1310. It’s got its twists and turns, but for the most part, the Templars in Ireland just seem ignorant and confused, simple men living on borrowed glory in an order that prized its secrecy in Ireland as elsewhere. When forces outside of Ireland combined to bring about the order’s downfall, the members in Ireland seem to have acquiesced to their fate. None spoke out in defense of the order, although some of their brothers in Britain did, as did some in France, where such a defense would likely cost your life. Uniquely in the trial in the British Isles, all of the outside witnesses in Ireland spoke negatively about the order; again, no one spoke in its defense, though there is little suggestion of any hostility towards the order before their arrest—showing how quickly your vulnerability increases when powerful folks speak against you.

The trial in England lasted another year, because the English inquisitors (who were foreigners, not Englishmen) were extremely frustrated that they could not apply torture there, or anywhere in Edward’s realm. Ironically for those of us who see the church as representing compassion and charity and the state compulsory force, the opposite is the case here. In canon, or ecclesiastical, law, you could and in some cases should use torture, and the inquisitors kept complaining that the Templars would not confess without it. In common law, which was the law in England and its domains, including the parts of Ireland that it controlled, you could not use torture. The inquisitors and the pope repeatedly harangued Edward to allow the use of torture, until in June 1311 (a year after the trial had concluded in Ireland) he relented.  Three Templars in London were tortured into providing the kind of confessions that were common in France, and the trial in Britain came to a close.

As for the order, it was dissolved the following year, in 1312, at the Council of Vienne, not because guilt was established, but because such scandal had accrued to the order that it was decided that it couldn’t be rehabilitated.

The second heresy trial in Ireland followed hot on the heels of the first.  For this one, you need to consider a map of medieval Dublin.

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The church at the bottom center of this image is St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  That’s where the Templars’ inquisition was held.

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The dean of St. Patrick’s, Thomas de Chaddesworth, was the one local inquisitor involved in the trial of the Templars in Ireland.  He also ruled the archdiocese of Dublin in all but name, and had for most of the past 40 years.  The current archbishop of Dublin, Richard de Haverings, hadn’t even bothered to get consecrated when he was elected in 1307, and he spent all his time in France on the king’s business.

Directly up from St. Patrick’s, about halfway between the city walls and the Liffey, is Holy Trinity Cathedral, now known as Christ Church.

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Dublin is exceptional, with its two cathedrals and so close together.  Occasionally, you’ll find a diocese with two cathedrals, but they are in separate towns (like Bath and Wells).  To have two Catholic cathedrals in the same city—and a small city at that—was virtually unprecedented.  It probably happened because the first English/Anglo-Irish archbishop of Dublin, John Cumin, intended to replace the original cathedral of Holy Trinity with St. Patrick’s, in part due to ethnic reasons.  He began the process of elevating St. Patrick’s to cathedral status, but was exiled before he could complete it.  Subsequent archbishops continued the process, but not enough to replace Holy Trinity, so Dublin was stuck in this situation with two cathedrals.  You can imagine how they hated each other—both claimants to the same power source.  St. Patrick’s had much stronger ties to secular leaders (especially the king), but Holy Trinity had claims to antiquity, which counted for a lot.

The rivalry between the two cathedrals reached a fever pitch in 1300, with Thomas de Chaddesworth abusing his position as the vicar of an absent archbishop of Dublin to harass the canons of Holy Trinity.  A leader of these canons was Philip de Braybrook.  Chaddesworth was foiled in some of his vengeance against Holy Trinity’s canons, although he did succeed in having their prior exiled.  You can read all about this drama in my “The Case of the ‘Incorrigible’ Canon: Dublin’s First Conviction for Heresy in an Ongoing Rivalry between its Cathedral Chapters,” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 113C (2013): 163-91.  But as heated as it got—and it got scorching hot—heresy did not enter the drama until after Chaddesworth had served as inquisitor in the trial of the Templars ten years later.

Within three months of the Templar trial’s close in Ireland, the archbishop-elect of Dublin, Richard de Haverings, wrote to Thomas de Chaddesworth, convicting Philip de Braybrook of relapsed heresy purely on the basis of Chaddesworth’s claims against him.  Chaddesworth claimed that Philip had refused to accept the eucharist in both forms (bread and wine), been convicted of this heresy, renounced it, and then returned to it (that’s what made someone a relapsed heretic–they returned to a heresy they had renounced before.  It was a more serious offense than simple heresy, and was often punished by death at the stake).  The letter survives in the Liber Niger, believed to belong to Henry la Warr, the prior of Holy Trinity after Adam de Balsham, the one Chaddesworth had had exiled amidst the most intense points of the inter-cathedral conflict ten years earlier.  It contains striking similarities to letters Chaddesworth wrote during that previous conflict and could conceivably be a forgery by Chaddesworth.  It is our only evidence for any trial of Philip, and a conviction by letter in a foreign country would be a travesty, even in the fourteenth century.  We have no evidence that Philip was ever regarded as guilty or served any sentence, as he continued a life of privilege and honor within his community.

Shortly after this letter was supposedly written, Haverings himself resigned from the office he never actually held, as he never received consecration.  His nephew said his resignation was a response to a nightmare shaming him for taking the diocese’s financial benefits while doing nothing to earn them.  Chaddesworth himself died a few months later.  In 1313, Henry la Warr’s successor John Pekok, one of Chaddesworth’s main opponents in the conflict whom he had tried to subject to a punishment similar to the one Haverings’ decreed for Philip in his 1310 letter to Chaddesworth, allowed Philip to serve as the chapter’s only representative when they sought license to elect another archbishop of Dublin, a clear sign of Philip’s respected position which would be most unusual if he were, as Haverings’ letter would have us believe, Dublin’s one convicted heretic (the Templars were not convicted). Philip clearly died in good standing; he was one of only three canons involved in the 1300 conflict to have his death commemorated in the Book of Obits of Holy Trinity, the other two being the priors Henry la Warr and John Pekok.

While it is possible that Philip de Braybrook’s heresy was a matter of an isolated canon repeatedly challenging the orthodox position on the eucharist, as the only document directly related to the case indicates, the events of ten years previously, Philip’s unique role in them, and Chaddesworth’s tendency to abuse his position in his vendetta against Holy Trinity and its canons strongly suggest otherwise. Philip’s case conforms to the general trend found in Ireland’s heresy cases, resulting from personal vengeance in ongoing disputes rather than actual doctrinal or practical deviations. It exhibits even more extreme irregularities, however, as he seems to have been tried and convicted by letter from across the sea, solely on the basis of a report Chaddesworth could have fabricated. The circumstances surrounding his conviction as well as his quick return to grace indicate that his alleged heresy was little more than the product of a feud with a powerful and bitter man that was dismissed after (or even before) his prosecutor died and the archbishop-elect whom he represented renounced office. Chaddesworth’s abuse of his position as inquisitor to pursue old grievances befits both the nature of the trial of the Templars and the trials Ireland would endure in the next forty-odd years.

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