The Medieval Review 11.05.12

Burgtorf, Jochen, Paul F. Crawford, and Helen J. Nicholson. The Debate on the Trial of the Templars (1307-1314). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010. Pp. 399. $99.95 ISBN 978-0-7546-6570-0. .

Reviewed by:

William Chester Jordan
Princeton University

Serious scholarly research on the military orders, including the Hospitallers, Teutonic Knights, and their Spanish and Portuguese counterparts, has been flourishing for several decades, and our understanding of the place of the orders in medieval life has been profoundly enriched as a result. No order has received so much attention as the Knights Templar. In part this is because the Knights' story--especially their demise--is fascinating in itself. In part, however, it is because their story has captured the imagination of mythographers, who want to believe in or make money from writing as if they believed in a vast conspiracy at the heart of the order, or at the heart of medieval Catholic Christianity, or at the heart of the whole medieval world. John Walker's essay, the last substantive article in the collection under review, preceding the editors' short conclusion, makes this point exceedingly well. Yet, no one is going to persuade the mythographers of the error of their ways or convince the vast reading public to turn away from legends and lies and immerse itself in scholarship. So, scholars press on--veritas gratia veritatis.

This collection is preceded by a clear introduction offered by Malcolm Barber in which he situates the various articles in the wider historiography of the crusades. Although, unlike Barber, I shall not be mentioning by name the authors of every single article, I would say that every single article will repay careful reading. Indeed, this collection is one of the best contributions to discussions of the military orders I know of.

The articles by Alan Forey, Thomas Krämer, Dale Streeter, and David Bryson systematically show, by taking various approaches, that there is no trustworthy or at least no unbiased proof in favor of the extreme charges of idolatry, blasphemy and sodomy made against the Templars. The collection is relentless and relentlessly effective in demonstrating the problems of evidence taken under torture (see especially Krämer's essay). And, by covering a vast territorial swath, it emphasizes a compelling point that earlier scholars have stressed, namely, that outside of the areas where the king of France, Philip IV the Fair, had authority, the charges against the Templars had little or no independent currency. Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the collection is its coverage: besides the requisite dozen or so articles on the background to and the trial itself in France, there are three on the Iberian peninsula, three on Britain (including Ireland), and one each on Cyprus, northern Italy, Sicily, Flanders, and Poland.

Two other major achievements of the essays in this collection are the successful laying out of a variety of contexts for understanding the crisis that the Templars faced in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the longer term reallocation of resources after the order was suppressed in 1312 at the Council of Vienne. As to the first, Sebastian Salvadó looks at the history of Templar devotional objects, raising the question as to whether deviation from spiritual norms among the Knights is likely given the traditional nature of their devotional possessions, which were wholly typical except for an over-representation of Holy Land relics. Alain Provost reminds readers of the growing sensitivity and concern with sorcery and its political spinoff in understanding why some outsiders may have countenanced the charges against the Knights. He uses the well-known case of Guichard, the bishop of Troyes, whom Philip IV loathed and accused of sacrilegious practices. Jeffrey Hamilton puts the English crown's behavior into the context of English royal politics in the reign of Edward II. Edward comes across as a vacillating prince, frequently distracted because of his own problems, and often quite unconcerned with any alleged Templar depravity. And Bernard Schotte offers up a very interesting inquiry into how Franco-Flemish rivalry may have affected Philip IV's and his courtiers' attitudes toward the military orders, some members of which were Flemish partisans. Finally, Ignacio de la Torre explores the shortage of silver as a possible factor in Philip IV's attack on the order.

As to the second issue, the longer term reallocation of resources after the Templar order was dissolved, one can turn to Maria Starnawska's essay on Poland, Clive Porro's on Portugal, and Theresa Vann's on the relationship between Clement V's mandates in general on the transfer of the Knights' property and the obstacles to the enforcement of the mandates. Most of the regionally focused articles in the collection also typically end with discussions of the always stressful nature of the transition.

One issue that might have been treated but is largely absent is the biographies (or prosopography) of the former Templars who survived the suppression. An up-to-date exploration of the evidence covering various regions, as the present collection does, and comparing their biographies with those of other displaced religious, like the Sack Friars and Pied Friars earlier or the monks of the various dissolutions in the Reformation, would be wonderful. A conference or a series of sessions on this matter, similar to the origin of the present collection, might generate another book. I for one would love to read it, even if it were only half as good as the wonderful volume now before us.