Helen Nicholson

title.none: Gilmour-Bryson, ed., The Trial of the Templars in Cyprus (Nicholson)

identifier.other: baj9928.9905.010 99.05.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Helen Nicholson , Cardiff University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Gilmour-Bryson, Anne, ed. The Trial of the Templars in Cyprus: A Complete English Edition. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Bril l, 1998. Pp. xvii, 502. $168.00. ISBN: 9-004-10080-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.05.10

Gilmour-Bryson, Anne, ed. The Trial of the Templars in Cyprus: A Complete English Edition. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Bril l, 1998. Pp. xvii, 502. $168.00. ISBN: 9-004-10080-6.

Reviewed by:

Helen Nicholson
Cardiff University

This is an English translation of the surviving records of the trial of the Templars in Cyprus, as preserved in the Vatican Archives. Anne Gilmour-Bryson's translation is based on a complete transcription from the original documents, supplemented where these are now indecipherable from the transcription by Konrad Schottmueller, published in 1887. The Cypriot proceedings are of particular interest because they include the depositions of many non-Templars as well as Templars, and because all witnesses, with the sole exception of the prior of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem on Cyprus -- whose order was notorious for its rivalry with the order of the Temple -- declared the order not guilty as charged. As Gilmour-Bryson admits (p. 41), the fact that the order was found not guilty on Cyprus does not prove that none of the brothers anywhere in Europe was guilty, but taken with the trial proceedings from England and Spain it is very persuasive evidence. In addition, when one considers that many of the brothers in France denied that they were guilty of certain charges such as sodomy and worshipping an idol but said that these were practised in Cyprus -- where the charges were flatly denied -- it seems reasonable to conclude that these charges had little factual basis.

Gilmour-Bryson is already well known to scholars working on the Military Orders for her work on the trial of the Templars, 1307-1312, and she has already published an edition of the latin text of the trial proceedings in the Papal State and the Abruzzi (1982). She is therefore well-qualified to produce this translation. The introduction outlines to the background to the trial proceedings here translated, but the author's obvious intention to be brief has meant that certain points are left unclear. For example, reference is made (p. 6) to the "rumours of heresy" and other serious offences against God which Philip IV of France claimed had prompted him to arrest the Templars. Yet, to my knowledge, the earliest surviving evidence of such rumours is Philip IV's letter of 14 September 1307 ordering the arrest of the Templars. On the contrary, the incredulity with which King Edward II of England greeted the papal command to arrest the Templars indicates that before the end of 1307 no such rumours were known in England, where the Templars played a vital role in royal government. Certainly the Templars had been long accused of pride and greed and not being sufficiently enthusiastic about recovering the Holy Land from the Muslims, but the charges brought against them in 1307 were quite different, involving heresy and idolatry with shades of sorcery. It is now well-established through the work of historians such as Norman Cohn, Malcolm Barber, Richard Kieckhefer and R. I. Moore that by the early fourteenth century charges of heresy and magic were often used as a means of attacking political opponents. Mention of political propaganda would be more appropriate here than referring to rumours for which there is no solid evidence in the crucial pretrial period. More could have been made of the fact that many of Philip IV's contemporaries, particularly those outside France, believed that his motives for attacking the Templars were either financial or political, or both.

Again, in discussing the history of the Templars on Cyprus, a quotation is given from the work of the historian Leontias Makhairas, which refers to the Templars as heretics (p. 14). The uninformed reader will conclude that the Templars were believed by some Cypriot contemporaries to have been guilty as charged. In fact, Leontias Makhairas was not by any means a contemporary of events. He wrote a century after the trial and much of what he recorded about the Templars was either distorted or completely wrong. Makhairas had his own political, nationalist agenda which dictated how he presented his material, and for which the Templars were best depicted as heretics.

These omissions pose no problems for scholars familiar with the subject, but as translations are generally used by students and non-specialists they may lead to undesirable misconceptions. In the author's defence, it is only fair to point out that there is insufficient space available to discuss these problems. The author has made the deliberate decision to print the testimonies in full, rather than summarising them where they simply repeat earlier statements, as Schottmueller did in his edition of the latin text. The result is a very lengthy book, in which further discussion has had to be kept to a minimum. However, giving the testimonies in full certainly makes the work more readable. Again, given the deteriorating condition of the original documents, it is probably wise to give a complete translation, as the originals will become completely illegible within the next century.

General summaries are provided of the testimonies of non-Templar and Templar witnesses. There is no complete analysis of testimonies, as provided by Anne-Marie Chagny-Se`ve for her publication of the trial of the Templars in the Auvergne, but presumably, again, limitations of space prevented this. A complete list of witnesses is provided, as is a list comparing the accusations used on Cyprus with those used elsewhere.

Some important points are discussed. Gilmour-Bryson does point out (p. 6, note 26) that the initial orders to arrest the Templars allowed force to be used if necessary to make them confess, which some scholars have sought to deny. Obviously the fact that torture was used to extract confessions in France casts serious doubt over the truth of those confessions. There is also some discussion of the most contentious problem of the Templar trial in Cyprus: its date. While the trial began in May 1310, some of the non-Templar witnesses were in exile from Cyprus at that time and must have been examined in May 1311. It appears, then, that the trial was in two sessions, May 1310 and May 1311.

The translation itself requires little comment as a translation. As Gilmour-Bryson explains, the Latin is straightforward; the problem is in deciphering the manuscripts to produce the latin text to be translated. Her insistence on giving the title of the order as "the militia of the Temple" is irritating, given that contemporaries were quite happy to refer to the order as the "knighthood of the Temple," even though that produced the latin or french equivalent of "X, knight of the knighthood of the Temple." This said, all translators, the present writer included, have their own preferences which may irritate their colleagues.

The testimonies themselves are of enormous interest, as they give much invaluable information about the Templars in Cyprus. With the one exception noted above, all witnesses agreed that the Templars were innocent of the charges, although they pointed out that the Templars did not give hospitality to all and sundry, because the Templars' rule did not require them to give hospitality; this was after all a Military Order. Nevertheless, the order did give hospitality in appropriate cases, and distributed alms regularly to poor men and women. It is observed (p. 35) that the order would not have given hospitality to women because women were not allowed to join the order. However, as Francesco Tommasi has demonstrated convincingly, this regulation was ignored, and the order would therefore have given hospitality to women as well as men.

Among the testimonies of lay witnesses, one is of particular interest. Lord Raymond of Bentho recounted a miracle (pp. 61-2) he had seen when he was attending mass recently with some Templars, after the Templars' arrest. He explained that hitherto he had thought that the Templars were guilty as charged, but now he was convinced that they were completely innocent.

Anne Gilmour-Bryson deserves the grateful thanks of all academics who teach the trial of the Temple, and all those without a knowledge of Latin who have an interest in the Templars. The translation is essential reading for anyone without Latin who has an interest in the Military Orders, or in medieval religious life in general. Because this translation is based on a complete transcription of the text it will also enable all scholars to check the parts of the text summarised by Schottmueller in his 1887 edition, and will assist them in identifying errors in Schottmueller's transcription. In short, although the introduction would have been more useful had space been allowed for fuller explanations of some points, the translation itself will prove invaluable. It is a pity that the cost will put it beyond the means of most potential purchasers, and hence few copies will be found outside university libraries.