Knights Templar: Papal betrayal and the fall of the Aragonese Templars

The Knights Templar settled in Aragon at the end of the 11th century. Ever since Alfonso I decreed that he wanted them alongside the monarchy of Aragon, so much so that he would hand it over to them on his death, the Knights Templar were one of the key figures of the Middle Ages in the territory. This kingdom grew, southwards and eastwards. It sailed to the Balearic archipelago, conquered the islands and expelled the Muslims from Valencia. Aragon grew and the Knights Templar were always at its side. Supporting military ventures, putting out political fires, governing the most complex territories, educating kings. That is why, when the end came three centuries after the birth of the order, the warrior-monks did not have to face death in this corner of the Iberian Peninsula.

The end of the Templars and the curse of Jacques de Molay

At the end of the 13th century, the Knights Templar was still one of the most important military religious orders on the continent. Their work in Jerusalem, in pursuit of the pilgrims, was not finished. Although they suffered major defeats in the last years of their existence, for example in trying to recapture the Syrian coastal city of Tartus, they also won victories and glories. The people, the Christians, were still grateful to them. They continued to admire their work. The Templars ensured the protection of the Christian faith. They had also shown themselves to be an entity capable of bringing together, organising and governing different population centres.

All this, of course, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they had the defenceless on their side. Also those who, because they were close enough to their power, without aspiring to anything else, benefited from their position. On the other hand, many nobles had not ceased to be suspicious of them. It was this feeling, mixed with resentment, that prompted the King of France to put an end to the Knights Templar. Philip IV, the Fair, tired of their ever-growing power, and also anxious to get his hands on those treasures which, as legend has it, the Templars guarded in all their territories, decided that the time had come to put an end to their existence.

Arma de los templarios

Weapon used by the Templars. | Shutterstock

Philip IV found in the French Pope Clement V more than an ally: he found a puppet. A man to be wielded according to his particular wishes. He had no trouble convincing the pontiff of the rumours that had long been spreading about the Order. They claimed that the Temple practised the most unforgivable forms of heresy. Clement V came to believe the poisoned image that Philip IV shared with him. Thus, in 1307 he issued a papal bull ordering the imprisonment of all Templars in every country on the continent.

They were tried, interrogated and tortured in a trial that lasted seven years. They pleaded guilty to some charges, at least in theory. Perhaps they hoped for a kinder fate by uttering the words their judges wanted to hear. They later recanted all these initial statements and went back to speaking of themselves as innocent. As victims of the king and his conspiracy.

Thousands of men were led to the stake during those years. In 1314, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, died in Paris. Before his death he cast a curse, according to the chronicles: the evil Philip IV and the traitor Clement V would follow in his footsteps in less than a year. The pontiff who allowed the fall of this Order that had fought for the Christian faith died months later. Some time later, the king who initiated it would follow him to the grave.

Aragon: a different destiny

Fragmento del muro de la fortaleza

Miravet Castle. | Shutterstock

James II, known as the Just, was ruling over Aragonese territory when rumours about the sins of the Knights Templar began to spread. The monarch did not, at first, want to listen to a messenger who claimed to have obtained the information from the Templars themselves. Philip IV, as we have seen, did. In Aragon, however, the Templars were never seen by the monarchs as enemies, as competitors or as a source of envy for their wealth, for the population they brought with them. In Aragon they were always allies, companions, mentors. Friends, even.

So James II showed himself, in the first months of turmoil, distant from the conspiracy that took place in France. He could not, in any case, ignore the decree from Rome. Nor could he ignore the first confessions of Jacques de Molay himself declaring his guilt. Once the pontiff had declared that all the Templars were to be arrested, that all their property was to be expropriated, the King of Aragon and Valencia, Count of Barcelona, had no choice but to obey. He accepted the dissolution of the Knights Templar and extended the order to imprison them.

Many barricaded themselves in the castles they had inhabited for hundreds of years. The fortress of Miravet was an example of this initial resistance. Miravet was one of the first enclaves that Ramon Berenguer IV handed over to the Templars; at the origin of their Aragonese glory. A real nucleus of the Order’s power had formed around this castle; and within its walls they defended themselves until 1308, when James II finally ended his attack with a victory. It was long and hard, just as many other Templar resistances in different parts of the kingdom were long and hard. The Knights Templar continued to fight until the end, until Monzón, the last stronghold, fell.

The sentence that led to their extinction was a definitive sentence, as was also understood in Aragon. James II could not, therefore, disobey Rome, nor did he seek to confront Philip IV, but he could do things his own way. He could do things in line with what had been the history of his kingdom in recent centuries. Thus, despite the persecutions and forced battles, the monarch’s goodwill found a way to be effective. Thus, although the end of the Knights Templar also came in Aragon, it did not mean the death of them.

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