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Jacques de Molai

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Born at Rahon, Jura, about 1244; d. at Paris, 18 March, 1314. A Templar at Beaune since 1265, Molai is mentioned as Grand Master of the Templars as early as 1298. He was, as he described himself at his trial, an unlettered soldier ( miles illetteratus ); profiting, however, by the collective experience of his order, he presided in 1306 or 1307 at the drawing up of a very important plan of crusade and went to Poitiers to lay it before Clement V, who had summoned him from the East. This crusading project, based upon personal knowledge of the Orient and the Italian cities, is considered by Renan superior to any other scheme of its kind formulated during that epoch. In it Molai shows his implicit confidence in the King of France, whose victim he was soon to become. At the same time Molai presented to the pope a memorial against the amalgamation of the Hospitallers and the Templars under discussion since the Council of Lyons and accepted in principle by Gregory X. On learning from Clement V the accusations brought against his order, Molai begged the pope to do justice and returned to Paris. On 13 October, 1307, he was arrested there, together with all the Templars of the central house of Paris, by the lawyer Nogaret. Nogaret's captious interrogatories necessarily disconcerted Molai, who, knowing neither law nor theology, was unable to defend himself.

On 24 October, 1307, on his first appearance before the inquisitor general of the kingdom, Molai pleaded guilty to some of the imputed crimes, notably the alleged obligation of the Templars on joining the order to deny Christ and to spit upon the crucifix; but he refused to admit the crimes against chastity. On 25 October, 1307, he repeated these same admissions and denials. It is supposed that his object in making these partial admissions was to save his comrades from the extreme penalty. In 1308 a commission of inquiry of eight cardinals was appointed by the pope ; it was a new form of procedure, and torture was excluded from it. Molai caused to be surreptitiously circulated in some of the dungeons a wax tablet calling upon his brethren to retract their confessions, and in August, 1308, appeared before this commission. What then took place is a most obscure point of history. According to the record of his trial as it appears in the Bull of Clement V, "Faciens misericordiam", Molai would seem to have repeated his admissions of guilt, but, when the Bull was read to him on his appearance before another commission in November, 1309, he was stupefied, made the sign the Cross twice, and exclaimed: "Would to God that such scoundrels might receive the treatment they receive from the Saracens and Tartars!" From this Viollet concludes that the cardinals of the commission of 1308 attributed to Molai admissions which he had not made. But did they intend to injure him? Quite the contrary, M. Viollet thinks: had they reported that Molai would not repeat the admissions made in 1307, Philip IV the Fair would have had a reason for sending him to the stake as "relapsed "; so, from motives of humanity, they perpetrated a falsehood to save him. Before this commission of 1309 Molai displayed true courage. When they spoke to him of the sodomy of the Templars, and of their transgressions against religious law, he answered that he had never heard of anything of the kind, and asked permission to hear Mass. The trial dragged on. In March, 1313, he, with three other high dignitaries of the order, underwent a last interrogatory in Paris before a new commission of cardinals, prelates, and theologians, authorized to pronounce sentence. He was condemned to imprisonment for life, proudly denying the crimes with which the Temple had been charged. Philip the Fair sent him to die at the stake as "relapsed", and he continued unflinching until the last (see TEMPLARS, KNIGHTS).

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