WHILE these abominable scenes passed in England, the theatre of France was stained with a wickedness equally barbarous and still more public and deliberate. The order of knights templars had arisen during the first fervour of the Crusades; and uniting the two qualities, the must popular in that age, devotion and valour, and exercising both in the most popular of all enterprises, the defence of the Holy Land, they had made rapid advances in credit and authority, and had acquired from the piety of the faithful, ample possessions in every country of Europe, especially in France. Their great riches, joined to the course of time, had by degrees, relaxed the severity of these virtues; and the templars had in a great measure lost that popularity which first raised them to honour and distinction. Acquainted from experience with the fatigues and dangers of those fruitless expeditions to the east, they rather chose to enjoy in ease their opulent revenues in Europe. And being all men of birth, educated, according to the custom of that age, without any tincture of letters, they scorned the ignoble occupations of a monastic life, and passed their time wholly in the fashionable amusements of hunting, gallantry, and the pleasures of the table. Their rival order, that of St. John of Jerusalem, whose poverty had as yet preserved them from like corruptions, still distinguished themselves by their enterprises against the infidels, and succeeded to all the popularity, which was lost by the indolence and luxury of the templars. But though these reasons had weakened the foundations of this order, once so celebrated and revered, the immediate cause of their destruction proceeded from the cruel and vindictive spirit of Philip the Fair, who having entertained a private disgust against some eminent templars, determined to gratify at once his avidity and revenge, by involving the whole order in an undistinguished ruin. On no better information than that of two knights, condemned by their superiors to perpetual imprisonment for their vices and profligacy, he ordered on one day all the templars in France to be committed to prison, and imputed to them such enormous and absurd crimes, as are sufficient of themselves to destroy all the credit of the accusation. Besides their being universally charged with murder, robbery, and vices the most shocking to nature, every one it was pretended, whom they received into their order, was obliged to renounce his Saviour, to spit upon the cross, and to join to this impiety the superstition of worshipping a gilded head, which was secretly kept in one of their houses at Marseilles. They also initiated, it was said, every candidate by such infamous rites, as could serve to no other purpose than to degrade the order in his eyes, and destroy for ever the authority of all his superiors over him. Above a hundred of these unhappy gentlemen were put to the question, in order to extort from them a confession of their guilt. The more obstinate perished in the hands of their tormentors: several, to procure immediate ease in the violence of their agonies, acknowledged whatever was required of them: forged confessions were imputed to others: and Philip, as if their guilt were now certain, proceeded to a confiscation of all their treasures. But no sooner were the templars relieved from their tortures, than, preferring the most cruel execution to a life with infamy, they disavowed their confessions, exclaimed against the forgeries, justified the innocence of their order, and appealed to all the gallant actions performed by them in ancient or later times as a full apology for their conduct. The tyrant, enraged at this disappointment, and thinking himself now engaged in honour to proceed to extremities, ordered fifty-four of them whom he branded as relapsed heretics, to perish by the punishment of fire in his capital. Great numbers expired after a like manner in other parts of the kingdom. And when he found that the perseverance of these unhappy victims in justifying to the last their innocence had made deep impression on the spectators, he endeavoured to overcome the constancy of the templars by new inhumanities. The grand master of the order, John de Molay, and another great officer, brother to the sovereign of Dauphiny, were conducted to a scaffold, erected before the church of Notre Dame, at Paris; a full pardon was offered them on the one hand; the fire, destined for their execution, was shown them on the other. These gallant nobles still persisted in the protestations of their own innocence and that of their order; and were instantly hurried into the flames by the executioner.
In all this barbarous injustice, Clement V who was the creature of Philip, and then resided in France, fully concurred; and without examining a witness, or making any inquiry into the truth of facts, he summarily, by the plenitude of his apostolic power, abolished the whole order. The templars all over Europe were thrown into prison; their conduct underwent a strict scrutiny; the power of their enemies still pursued and oppressed them; but nowhere, except in France, were the smallest traces of their guilt pretended to be found. England sent an ample testimony of their piety and morals; but as the order was now annihilated, the knights were distributed into several convents, and their possessions were, by command of the Pope, transferred to the order of St. John.
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