In search of the true history of the Templars

Poster Templars conference, MGHAfter four years of blogging it is truly time to bring in one of these subjects of medieval history that inevitable turn up in conversation about the Middle Ages. The rise and fall of the military order of the Templars was already a spectacular theme before bestseller authors as Dan Brown came along to give them yet another dimension. The Dutch twist in this post is surely Dan Brown’s recent visit to my country! In Munich the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, since nearly two centuries most active in editing sources on Germany’s medieval history, will host from February 24 to 27, 2014 an international conference with the title The Templars, their sources and their competitors (1119-1314). An addition in German to this title, Die Templer (1119-1314). Bilanz und Perspektiven der Forschung, underlines the need for a balanced view and multiple perspectives in researching the history of the Templars. The program of the Munich conference is impressive. In this post I will not try to do things better than the scholars presenting their work in Munich, and restrict myself to pointing out for you some online resources concerning the Templars. By the way, the MGH published recently a book by William J. Courtenay and Karl Ubl, Gelehrte Gutachten und königliche Politik im Templerprozeß (Hannover 2010; MGH Studien und Texte, 55) on learned medieval opinions concerning the Templars written at the university of Paris for the French king.

Balance and perspectives

For some reason we tend to think of the Templars as a French organization, and thus my eyes, too, looked first in the direction of France. In the ARCHIM database of the Archives nationales with digitized sources a whole section has been devoted to the trial of the Templars. In the fonds “Trésor des chartes” the numbers J 413 to J 417 stem from this trial. The great French historian Jules Michelet edited some of these sources in his Procès des templiers (2 vol., Paris 1841-1851; reprint 2 vol., Paris 1987; online for example in the Internet Archive, the Hathi Trust Digital Library (direct link), and in the Digitale Sammlungen at Munich). The ARCHIM database presents in this section the following documents:

  • J 413, no. 18: the procès-verbal of the interrogation held at Paris from October 19 to November 24, 1307 – 44 parchments forming a roll with a length of 22 meter; among the Templars interrogated was Jacques de Molay (around 1245-1314), the grand-maître of the order – this document was published in the second volume of Michelets study
  • J 413, no. 20: a procès-verbal of the interrogation of thirteen templars from the bailliage of Caen (Normandy) by four Dominican friars from Caen and two royal commissioners; October 28 and 29, 1307 – 1 charter
  • J 413, no. 22: an authorized copy (vidimus) of the official royal order for the arrest of Templars in September 1307 in the bailliage of Rouen (Normandy), the official accusations, and the order of Guillaume de Paris, the grand-inquisitor of France for the inquisitors at Toulouse and Carcassonne to proceed against the Templars – September 14 and 22, 1307; the accusations are not dated; official copy October 21, 1307 – edited by Georges Lizerand, Le dossier de l’affaire des templiers (Paris 1923, reprint Paris 2007), document no. II, p. 16-29.
  • J 413, no. 23: the procès-verbal of the interrogation of five Templars from Saint-Étienne de Renneville (now département Eure) and two Templars from Sainte-Vaubourg (now département Seine-Maritime); October 18, 1307 – 1 charter
  • J 413, no. 29: an inventory of goods and men belong to the bailliage of Rouen of the Templars; October 13, 1307 – 6 charters – the goods and houses were located in the modern départment Calvados

The Archives Nationales held in 2011 an exhibition on the Templars affair. In the accompanying leaflet L’affaire des Templiers: du procès au mythe they showed an interesting selection of manuscripts, with also a concise bibliography on the trial of the Templars, its impact and afterlife. When I first mentioned here – in 2011 and in particular in 2012 – these documents digitized at ARCHIM I overlooked an important element of the notices, the fact that you can click on the mots clés , the keywords, to get more results. Clicking on the keyword Temple brings you forty results. To my surprise apart from the five documents already encountered here just one of them has anything to do with the Templars. It seems that the labeling here is not as perfect as you would like it to be. At first the only additional document seemed to be AE/II/213, an act of the clergy in the diocese Bourges dated April 19, 1308 sending deputies to the assembly of the French États Généraux convoked by the French king Philippe IV le Bel. However, among the mots clés added to this document are Ordre du Templetemplier and procès des Templiers. This helped me tracing three further digitized documents in the AE/II series kept at the Musée de l’histoire de France in Paris, one of the institutions under the aegis of the Archives nationales:

  • AE/II/146: a confirmation of a gift to the Templars by Guillaume, chatelain of Saint-Omer, of two churches in Flanders, in Slype and Leffinge; Jerusalem, 1137 – 1 charter – edited by André d’Albon, Cartulaire général de l’ordre du Temple , 1119?-1150 (Paris 1922; reprint Madrid 2010) no. 141, p. 99 – online at Gallica)
  • AE/II/311: interrogation of Templars in the sénéchaussée of Carcassonne; November 13, 1307 – notices on paper, 13 pages
  • AE/II/1634: the papal bull of pope Clemens V attributing to the Knights Hospitaller of St. John all goods of the Templars; May 2, 1312 -1 charter

Another series at the Archives nationales contains three digitized registers with information about the Templars:

  • JJ/35: Convocations, mandements and commissions issued by king Philippe le Bel, 1302-1305, mainly concerning the wars in Flanders; on fol. 114r-115v two acts about the redemption of goods belonging to the Cistercians and the Templars, 1304
  • JJ/36: a copy of register JJ/35 with additional material; the two acts from 1304 are here at fol. 91r-91v
  • JJ/43: Register of royal acts concerning Flanders, the Templars (fol. 45r-52v), the papacy (fol. 37r-44v) and money; 1305-1314

Of course more can be found in the various archival collections of the Archives nationales. You can search online in many inventories in the Salle des inventaires and in a second section with other inventories. Royal charters from the reign of Philip IV the Fair mentioning the Temple can be searched online in the Actes royaux database of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes in Paris with summaries (regestes)57 charters of the 4,900 charters in this database mention the Temple. They show very clearly the pivotal financial role of the Templars for the king. No. 2864 is the act about the Temple in JJ/35 (no. 203). The edition in the Corpus philippicum of the 6,000 royal charters issued between 1285 and 1314 has not yet been completed.

Is there a quicker way to find these digitized resources at the Archives nationales? Only as a second thought I used the search engine at the French cultural heritage portal Culture to look for the Templars. It surprised me indeed that I could quickly filter from the many thousand results those from for the reign of king Philipp the Fair, and arrive immediately at nine items digitized by the Archives nationales. In this post I mention twelve digitized items, and thus it seems the three items from the AE/II series at the Musée de l’histoire de France are not yet harvested by the search engine at Culture. In the ARCHIM database is a separate sections for the Grands documents de l’histoire de France where the three AE series appear online.

French regional archives

Outside the buildings of the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, Paris and Fontainebleau other French archives also have records touching upon the Templars. Viewing the sheer number of regional archives – only few French towns have a municipal archive – you might consider it an impossible task to find these records. At the international portal e-Corpus based at Arles, however, you can benefit immensely from the research done to build a Bibliothèque virtuelle des Templiers – MILITES TEMPLI. In this virtual library you find extensive information on the Templar records kept in the fonds of the Grand-Prieure de Saint Gilles of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John at the Archives départementales des Bouches-des-Rhône at Marseille. With the goods of the Templars their archival records, too, came to this military order. The second part of the virtual Templars’ library are the notices assembled by Bruno Marty from the catalogues of French regional archives about their archival records for the Templars. You can view the relevant digitized pages. Marty gives a very useful overview written in 2005 of archival records in the Provence and also elsewhere, and an extensive bibliography concerning the Templars (PDF, 44 p.). The digital collection at e-Corpus for the Templars contains four digitized historical documents, among them in particular the “Authenticum Domus Militiae Templi sancti Aegidii”, a register with documents from 1139 to 1259 from Saint-Gilles-du-Gard of which the original at Arles, Archives municipales, GG 90, has been digitized. More information about e-Corpus can be found on a blog at Hypotheses. At the time of finishing this post I could not reach the e-Corpus portal to check again and give you more details. Many sources for the Grand-Prieure of Saint-Gilles are kept at Marseilles in the Archives départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône. You can search the inventories of the various fonds online.

The Patrimoine numérique portal to digitized French cultural collections can bring you to at least four collections concerning the Templars. We have met here already the AE/II series at the Musée de l’histoire de France. Due to a broken link I could not reach at first the eighteenth-century Atlas du Petit et du Grand Saint-Jean (ADH, 55 H 3) kept at the Archives départementales d’Hérault in Pierresvives, a register with maps of possessions of the commanderie of Montpellier. At Puy-en-Velay the Archives départementales de la Haute-Loire keep a register from the seventeenth century of the Commanderie de Chantoin. The sources said to be digitized, including charters of the Templars at Larzac, are unfortunately untraceable at the website of the Archives départementales d’Aveyron in Rodez.

A multitude of books and resources

Sofar I have already a few times indicated online versions of books and editions. It is quite a feat to trace those scholarly books still worth using between all kind of other publications. Some of them can be found conveniently in L’histoire des moines, chanoines et religieux au Moyen Âge edited by André Vauchez and Cécile Gaby (Turnhout 2003), a volume of the French series L’atélier du médiéviste. Laurent Dailliez published a Bibliographie du Temple (Paris 1972) in which he followed earlier attempts by Périme Dessubre (1928) and Heinrich Neu (1965). Alain Demurger’s Vie et mort de l’ordre du Temple (third ed., Paris 1994) has a bibliographic supplement. The French guide to the history of religious orders mentions editions of the rule and statutes of the Templars and relevant studies about them. Surely the most publicized new edition concerning this military order was that of the Chinon document in 2008 [Barbara Frale et alii (eds.), Processus contra Templarios (Città del Vaticano, 2008)] and some accompanying documents kept at the Archivio Segreto del Vaticano [A.A. Arm. D 208-210, 211, 217(A), and Reg. Aven. 48]. These documents show that the investigation held between August 17 and 20, 1308 at the castle of Chinon led to the absolution by the pope of Jacques de Molay and the pope’s clear intent to rehabilitate the Templars. In 2011 Nathan Dorn told the story of the Chinon document in a fine blog post at In Custodia Legis.

A quick way to discern the scholarly quality of publications about the Templars is their presence in the online literature catalogue for medieval history of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz. Needless to say that you will eventually have to use other bibliographical resources, too, but this catalogue is most helpful. If you have found for example a digitized book in the Hathi Trust Digital Library you can easily check for it in this catalogue. The Online Medieval Sources Bibliography can help you to find more recent printed and online versions of editions and translations; for the Templars you need to choose the subject “Military orders”.

One of the serious digitized modern books about the Templars is the study by Alan J. Forey, Templars in the Corona de Aragón (Oxford 1973), online at LIBRO, the Library of Iberian Resources Online hosted by the University of Central Arkansas. Forey’s book has a very valuable section on manuscript resources in Spain. Last year I published a post about Aragon with a long paragraph about the Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón (ACA) in Barcelona. The ACA is home to many archival collections (fondos documentales) which are listed rather summarily but useful in a 25-page leaflet.

Forey mentions at p. 457 registro ACA, Real Cancilleria, 291 of the 343 (!) registers from the reign of king Jaime II concerning the trial of the Templars [Jaime II. Varia 5. Processus contra magistrum militesque Milicie Templi]. This register with more than 700 pages can now be searched online at the Spanish PARES archive portal. On the PARES search screen you select the ACA from a drop down list and you can start navigating through a tree structure - admittedly a bit cumbersome – to the fondos and items within them. At PARES the actual register 291 starts at fol. 22r. You can enlarge the pages of this document very much, but the quality of the images remains less than you would want it to be. Of course much more can be found in the ACA. In the Actes royaux database I found a notice (no. 3372) about a letter of king Philip the Fair to Jaime II of Aragón, written on October 26, 1307, about the interrogation of Jacques de Molay the day before. The letter is kept at the ACA, Templarios 39, and the notice has a reference to a copy of this interrogation held at the ACA [Real Cancilleria, Pergaminos 2481]. At the ACA, too, you will find records of the Templars within the fondo of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John, the Gran Priorado de Catalunya. Forey has written also about the fall of the Templars in Aragon [The fall of the Templars in the Crown of Aragon (Aldershot, etc., 2001)].

Myths and history

Were the Templars heretics? What were the motives of the French king to act against them? Doing research on the Templars bristles with a lot of questions for which I prefer to put aside the novels of famous authors. I promised to make this post not too long. Websites do not bring everything. I have kept on purpose a safe distance from specialized websites on the history of the Templars, because it is often very difficult to ascertain the quality of the information presented on them. A second reason is simply the lack of space in a single post! There is nothing against using printed studies, editions and translations. English readers can turn with confidence to the classic account by Malcolm Barber, The trial of the Templars (Cambridge, etc., 1978; often reprinted), and to the selection of translated documents edited by Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, The Templars. Selected sources (Manchester, etc., 2002). The collection of scholarly articles edited by Jochen Burgtorf, Paul Crawford and Helen J. Nicholson, The debate on the trial of the Templars (1307-1314) (Aldershot, 2010) will give you a recent impression of the various subjects facing scholars. Dutch readers might start with Jan Hosten’s book De tempeliers : de tempelorde tijdens de kruistochten en in de Lage Landen (Amsterdam 2006) or Krijgers voor God : de orde van de tempeliers in de Lage Landen (1120-1312) by Michel Nuyttens (Leuven 2007). In this post I aimed simply at drawing your attention to some online resources which bring you to the original documents. I hope to have made you curious about the true history of the Templars which involves more than only the spectacular events between 1307 and 1314.

A postscript on manuscripts

By focusing on archival records in this post you would almost forget that manuscripts, too, are a very important source for our knowledge of the Templars. I will offer here a nutshell guide to French (digitized) manuscripts. The manuscripts catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Catalogue collectif de France, with its section for manuscripts, should provide a starting point. In two posts from 2011 on doing research for legal history in Paris and a post on French customary law – with a focus on Normandy – you can find more on manuscripts in some French libraries. You can tune the CCFr to show digitized manuscripts; among them is Paris, BnF, ms. français 1977Le règle dou Temple, written between 1301 and 1325. The portal Biblissima gives you further guidance to projects around medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in France. The Ménestrel portal for medieval studies, too, has a nice overview of French manuscript digitization projects. The project Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux of the IRHT has no search function for content, but otherwise you can find here many digitized manuscripts. Relevant cartularies and editions of them can be found using the online Répertoire des cartulaires médiévaux et modernes with for instance much on the Templars’ cartulary of Saint-Gilles; charters and cartularies were in 2010 the subject of another post here.

More on e-Corpus

A few days after the publication of this post the French portal e-Corpus was again fully visible. Apart from the virtual library about the Templars there are among the 27 virtual collections at e-Corpus digitized books about old Provencal law (Aix-en-Provence), books on (Arabic) codicology from the Centre de Conservation du Livre in Arles, the main institution behind the portal, and digitized books on Islamic law (Marseille). The portal can be viewed in seven languages, including Arabic. Apart from the collections accessible at e-Corpus the organization supports some twenty other websites, with much attention to digitization projects for manuscripts.

On revisiting e-Corpus and the virtual Templars’ library I also found a link to the very sophisticated online version at the Université d’Avignon of Guillaume Mollat’s critical edition of Étienne Baluze, Vitae paparum avenionensium [1693] (4 vol., Paris 1914-1928). It is most interesting to read Baluze’s view of the trial of the Templars. As few others in his time Baluze (1630-1718) was equipped to look deep into the legal matters of medieval history.

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