Trials and Excommunication
Following their arrests, the Templars in Paris were kept in solitary confinement. The Templars were read the charges placed against them and were instructed admission was the only possible chance of liberty, whereas denial would mean certain death. Evidence available suggests the Templars faced torture on the rack before the inquisition was effective.
De Molay faced the inquisition on 24-25 October at the University of Paris, during which time he confessed before a large assembly that he denied Christ and spat on the cross during the initiation ritual. Under further pressure from Philip, Clement V issued a papal bull, the Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, on 22 November ordering the arrest of Templars throughout Europe and seizing of their assets. Arrests occurred on a limited and delayed basis, though confessions were nonexistent as torture was forbidden.
The Pope’s insistence that any confession made by the Templars be subject to Papal Inquisition led to a further Papal Committee being set up on Christmas Eve. De Molay and his senior Templars were all present, all of whom withdrew their confessions as they were no longer under threat of torture. The Pope brought proceedings to a halt in February, following which Philip took the case against the order to doctors at the University of Paris. The lack of momentum in the case against the order was slow. When Clement arrived in Poitiers in June, Philip ordered his men to close off the town, leaving Clement isolated. By August the Pope reluctantly agreed to participate in convictions and persecution of the order, leading to individuals being judged by the Pope and the order as a whole by the king. Another Papal Bull, the Fasciens misericordiam, which brought proceedings to a long awaited beginning. In late 1308 a council met at Vienne, set up to decide the future of the order.
The Pope questioned de Molay at Chinon, though still in the presence of agents of the king. De Molay admitted his guilt. After another year in prison, the Papal Commission for the Kingdom of France began its hearings. De Molay spoke that he would speak for the defence of the order. It has often been argued that the Templar Rule, forbidding its members from being literate, contributed massively to de Molay’s inability to mount a defence, regardless of the order’s abilities in other areas.
In total 127 charges were made against the order in France. In 1310 the commission resumed with over 600 Templars coming forward to defend the order. In reality the situation was beyond hopeless, with most of those who defended the order already guilty of confessing to the charges under torture. In May 1310, 54 Templars were executed at the stake, as punishment for defending the order. Further military pressure from Philip saw Clement release a further series of Papal Bulls, including the Vox in excelso, at the Council of Vienne in 1312, officially dissolving the order. Another, the Ad providam, issued their remaining assets be transferred to the Knights Hospitallers.
In England, arrests were slow to gather pace. Despite the order going out on 22 November 1307, in England it was not until 26 December the King finally sent out the order. Arrests finally took place on 9-10 January 1308, by which time only 115 members of the order were recorded as being in England.