In 1303, King Philip sent a force of French soldiers to Rome intending to kidnap Pope Boniface VIII. The charges against the pope were unfathomable, ranging from heresy and sodomy to the murder of the previous pope, Celestine V. The mission failed, thanks mainly to the presence of Hospitallers and Templars, but the pope died shortly after, allegedly in shock at the French king’s slanders.
Boniface’s successor, Benedict XI, lasted less than a year. Following this, he was replaced by Raymond Bertrand de Got, a childhood friend of Philip, who took up the name Clement V. Following his inauguration in 1305, the new pope wrote to the heads of both the Templars and the Hospitallers of their views regarding a further crusade and the possibility of merging the orders. De Molay replied in the summer of 1306, stating his negativity regarding the merger and that any new campaign should number at least 20,000. In June, Clement summoned both men to council at Poitiers, though the meeting was delayed on several occasions, eventually taking place in May 1307. Leader of the Hospitallers, Fulk de Villaret was even further delayed, making it impossible to resolve any matters. As a result, talk moved onto other issues, including accusations by former Templars regarding the order’s initiation ceremony. De Molay had already spoken with Philip about the charges, and had been partially reassured.
Clement’s health had deteriorated early in 1307 and was suffering again later in the year, delaying his investigations into charges against the order. While Clement maintained any studies should wait until his health picked up, Philip acted to the contrary. In September he sent out instructions to secret agents that mass-scale arrests of the order would take place on 13 October. The day earlier, de Molay was in Paris, attending the funeral of the king’s sister in law, Catherine of Courtenay, and even served as a pallbearer. Based on indications given, de Molay was unprepared for what came next. The following dawn, a series of raids throughout Paris saw de Molay and sixty fellow Templars arrested on charges of sodomy, heresy, defacing the cross, and denying the crucifixion. The beginning of the warrant read:
Dieu n’est pas content, nous avons des ennemis de la foi dans la Royaume: effectively translating: God is not content, there are enemies in the kingdom.
Throughout Europe, the reaction was of utter shock, though partial scepticism due to the similarity of the charges presented against Boniface VIII. The Italians, writing at the time of the arrests, were entirely convinced the accusations were concocted for Philip’s gain, particularly at a time when he was severely indebted to the Templars to fund his wars. Philip confiscated what was located at the Paris Temple, but interestingly little of value was found. The lack of wealth has convinced many authors and historians that the Templars were aware of the arrests in advance and that the ageing de Molay was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the order.