The End of the Crusades
The loss of Acre proved a decisive moment not only for the future of the Crusades, but also the Templars. Despite the gallantry of the last garrison, and the reluctance of remaining Templar strongholds in Outremer to surrender to the Mamluks, the Templars' role came under the microscope. In certain quarters elements of dissent were escalating. The aim of blame for the loss of the crusades was squarely at the Templars’ failures, arrogance and at times strained relations with other orders. In reality, attempts by the Templars to protect pilgrims while maintaining a stronghold in the coastal regions far surpassed the efforts of the rest of the crusader armies. Yet, in the eyes of the monarchs, they proved a convenient scapegoat. The failures in the Holy Land had proven an expensive exercise for the rulers of Europe. In contrast, the Templars' flair for financial development, coupled with their exclusion from taxes, left them secure. During the last century, the order had thrived on the donations of wealthy crusaders, in particular inheriting estates of those who died in battle.
Following the loss of Acre, the Templars maintained a presence in the East, defending Armenia and Cyprus, still under Christian rule. A small presence also continued in the Holy Land, where they attempted to ensure the survival of Christian refugees while also supporting the Hospitallers.
Back in Rome, Pope Nicholas IV publicly criticised both the Templars and Hospitallers for their escalating rivalry, and declared his belief that the orders should merge. The rising impact of the Hospitallers as a military force was put forward as the main reason, and was partly blamed for the loss of Acre. Neither order took the news with any great enthusiasm. By 1291 the Templar Grand Master died, and his successor was gone within two years. In 1293 Jacques de Molay was elected fourteenth Grand Master of the order, on location at the new headquarters in Cyprus. De Molay was in many ways lacking the personality of some of his predecessors and saw the retaking of Outremer as the crusaders’ principle goal. In 1294 he met with the new Pope, Boniface VIII, who granted the order the same privileges at Cyprus as they had previously held in Outremer. For a time talks turned to that of a tenth crusade but impetus was slow. In 1300, raids on cities in Egypt and Syria were planned. However, by the time allies had arrived from Armenia or Mongolia, the Templars were once more stationed in Cyprus and unprepared for an attack.
In Europe, the possibility of a new crusade seemed unlikely. In France, King Philip IV, often known as ‘le bel’ for his youthful looks, was more concerned with strengthening France’s economic position, depleted after more than a century of ongoing war and crusade. Attempting to raise further money, the king tried to tax the French clergy one half of their income, prompting Pope Boniface VIII to issue the Clericis Laicos in 1296, forbidding the transfer of clergy income to the crown. In a similar vein, Philip recalled all coinage and reissued new ones at a devalued figure.
The aftermath proved a major embarrassment. Following the devaluing of the currency, Philip was forced to flee angry mobs by taking shelter in the Paris Temple. Despite his piety, Philip’s relations with Templars had been strained by his jealousy. He had asked to become an honorary member in his youth, like Richard I, but his request was refused.
Like Pope Nicholas, Philip supported the idea of merging the Templars and the Hospitallers, though most likely his motivation was for self-gain. Without the Crusades, the Templar position in Europe was vulnerable. The original goal of protecting pilgrims in the Holy Land was more remote than ever, and numbers had dwindled in the last fifteen years. Nevertheless, the order’s numbers and wealth was still high. By 1306 the Templars were considering forming their own state, in keeping with the Hospitaller state of Rhodes and the Teutonic Knights state of Prussia. Politically, the idea was threatening to Philip, who was severely in debt to the order.