Jacques de Molay (est. 1244–5/1249–50 – 18 March 1314) was the 23rd and officially last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from approximately 1292 until the Order was dissolved by order of the Pope. He is probably the best known Templar, along with the Order's founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens. His goal as Grand Master was to reform the Order, and adjust it to the situation in the Holy Land during the waning days of the Crusades. With no crusader states remaining to protect, and with other problems surfacing, the right of the Order to exist had come into question. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the organization, had De Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into false confessions. When De Molay retracted his confession, Philip had him burned at the stake on the Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine river in Paris on 18 March 1314.
His exact date of birth is in some doubt, but when interrogated by the judges in Paris, 24 October 1307, he stated that he entered the order forty-two years earlier, which would mean in 1265. The common imperial age for joining an order was minimum 20 years of age, and thus he most likely would have been born in 1244 or 1245. However, there exist several documents proving that men younger than 20-21 years were accepted into the order, hence the birth year confusion. When questioned about the same thing in August the following year by the Pope's envoys at Chinon, he again said he was received into the order forty-two years earlier, i.e. 1266. Jacques de Molay was born into, most likely, a family of minor nobility, as most of the Templar knights were, at Molay (Haute-Saône) in the county of Burgundy, at the time ruled by Otto III.
He was received into the Order at Beaune by Humbert de Pairaud, the Visitor of France and England in 1265. Independently of Guillaume de Beaujeu, who was elected grand master in 1273, Jacques de Molay went to the East (Outremer) around 1270. He spent all his career as a Templar in the East, although he is mentioned to be in France in 1285. It is not known if he held any offices in either the West or the East, or if he was present when Acre, the last crusader city and capital of the Latin kingdom. fell in May 1291 to the Egyptian Mamluks.
Once elected, the rapid establishment of the command of the order was meant to deal with the most serious matters first. Both Cyprus and the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia were under the threat of an attack from the Mamluks. In spring 1293, De Molay began a tour to the West to try and gain more support for a reconquest of the Holy Land. He sought to strengthen the defence of Cyprus, and rebuild the Templar forces. However, European support for the Crusades had dwindled, and there was talk of merging the Templars with one of the other military orders, the Hospital. The Grand Masters of both orders opposed such a merger, but pressure increased from the Papacy.
De Molay held two general meetings of his order, at Montpellier in 1293 and at Arles in 1296, where he tried to make reforms. He also developed built relationships with European leaders such as Pope Boniface VIII, Edward I of England, James I of Aragon and Charles II of Naples. Nothing is known of his relationship with Philip IV of France.
In 1298 or 1299, Jacques de Molay halted a further Mamluk invasion with military force in Armenia possibly because of the loss of Roche-Guillaume, the last Templar stronghold in Cilicia, to the Mamluks. However, when the Mongol khan of Persia, Ghâzân, defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar in December 1299, the Christian forces were not ready to take an advantage of the situation.
In 1300, Jacques de Molay and other forces from Cyprus put together a fleet of 16 ships which committed raids along the Egyptian and Syrian coasts. The force was commanded by King Henry II of Jerusalem, the king of Cyprus, accompanied by his brother, Amalric, Lord of Tyre the heads of the military orders, and the ambassador of the Mongol leader Ghazan. The ships left Famagusta on July 20, 1300, to raid the coasts of Egypt and Syria: Rosette, Alexandria, Acre, Tortosa, and Maraclea, before returning to Cyprus. The raids along the way were directed by Admiral Baudoin de Picquigny, and when the raids took place at Alexandria, they were able to free Christian prisoners who had been captive since the Fall of Acre in 1291.
The ships then returned to Cyprus, and prepared for an attack on Tortosa in late 1300. The Cypriots sent a joint force to a staging area on the island of Ruad, from which raids were launched on Tortosa, while awaiting the arrival of the Mongols. However, Ghazan's forces were delayed, and the Crusader forces ended up returning to Cyprus, leaving a garrison on Ruad. When Ghazan did arrive in February 1301, he was only able to engage in some minor raids before having to withdraw.
Plans for combined operations were again made for the following winter offensive. A letter has been kept from Jacques de Molay to Edward I, and dated April 8, 1301, informing him of the troubles encountered by Ghazan, but announcing that Ghazan was supposed to come in Autumn:
And in a letter to the king of Aragon a few months later:
In November that year, De Molay joined the occupation of the tiny fortress island of Ruad (today called Arwad) which faced the Syrian town of Tortosa. The intent was to establish a bridgehead to await assistance from the Mongols, but the Mongols failed to appear in 1300. The same happened in 1301 and 1302. In September 1302 the Templars were driven out of Ruad by the attacking Mamluk forces from Egypt, and many were massacred when trapped on the island. The island of Ruad was lost in the Siege of Ruad on September 26, 1302, and when Ghâzân died in 1304 Jacques de Molay's dream of a rapid reconquest of the Holy Land was destroyed.
During an interrogation by royal agents on October 24, Jacques confessed only to "denying Christ and trampling on the Cross" as a part of the initiation ritual. Jacques de Molay's possible intention was that this couldn't possibly be very harmful to the order, but when he was forced to repeat this statement in public the next day, the damage was devastating for the Templars. Making things even worse, he was made to write a letter where he expressed that every Templar should admit to these acts. Philippe IV was now in full command of the situation, and in order to regain his authority, Pope Clement V ordered the arrest of all the Templars throughout Christendom.
The pope still wanted to hear Jacques de Molay, and dispatched two cardinals to Paris in December 1307. In front of them, Jacques retracted his confessions made to the agents of Philippe IV. By then, the affair had resulted in a power struggle between the king and the pope, which was settled in August 1308, when the king and the pope agreed to split the convictions. Through the Bull Fasciens misericordiam the procedure to prosecute the Templars was set out on a duality where the first commission would judge individuals of the order and the second commission would judge the order as an entity. In practice this meant that a council seated at Vienne was to decide the future of the Temple, while the Temple dignitaries, among them Jacques de Molay, were to be judged by the Pope. In the royal palace at Chinon, Jacques de Molay was again questioned by the cardinals, but this time with royal agents present. He returned to his admissions made on 24 October 1307, after which there was silence for a year. Slowly the commissions and inquisitions were put in place, and finally, in November 1309, the Papal Commission for the Kingdom of France began its hearings. On two instances, on 26 and 28 November, Jacques explicitly stated that he did not acknowledge the accusations brought against his order. By so doing, he thus turned to a strategy of silence before the Commission, counting on the power of the church to prevail over the will of the king
By remaining silent, Jaques de Molay deprived the Templars of leadership; thereafter, the order was able to offer little resistance to the threat it faced. Any further opposition was effectively broken when the archbishop of Sens, Philippe de Marigny, sentenced 54 Templars to be burnt at the stake on 10-12 May 1310. At the Council of Vienne on 22 March 1312, the order was abolished by papal decree. Almost two years later, on March 18 1314, three cardinals sent by the pope sentenced the Temple dignitaries Jacques de Molay, Hugues de Pairaud, Geoffroy de Charney and Geoffroy de Gonneville to life imprisonment. Realizing that all was lost, Jacques de Molay rose up and recanted. Along with Geoffroy de Charney, he proclaimed his order's innocence, before challenging the king and pope to appear before God before the year was out. Furious, Philippe IV ordered them both burned at the stake. On the eve of 18 March 1314, Jacques de Molay and Geoffroy de Charnay were taken to the Isle des Juifs, now incorporaed into the Île de la Cité, where they were executed. Note the fourteenth century print show the execution on a small island separated from the Isle de la Cite'.)
In 2002, Dr. Barbara Frale found a copy of the Chinon Parchment in the Vatican Secret Archives, a document which explicitly confirms that Pope Clement V secretly absolved Jacques de Molay and other leaders of the Order in 1308. She published her findings in the Journal of Medieval History in 2004.
In France in the 19th century, false stories circulated that De Molay had captured Jerusalem in 1300, and a painting was even commissioned for the Versailles, entitled "Jacques de Molay Takes Jerusalem, 1299." The exact origin of these rumors is not certain, although they may be related to the fact that a medieval historian, the Templar of Tyre, wrote about a Mongol general named "Mulay" who occupied Syria and Palestine for a few months in early 1300.
There are numerous ancient records of Mongol raids and occupations of Jerusalem (from either Western, Armenian or Arab sources), and the Mongols did achieve a victory in Syria which caused a Muslim retreat, and allowed the Mongols to launch raids into the Levant as far as Gaza for a period of a few months in early 1300. During this time, rumors flew through Europe that the Mongols had recaptured Jerusalem and were going to return the city to the Europeans. However, this may only be an urban legend, as the only activities that the Mongols had even engaged in were some minor raids through Palestine, which may or may not have even passed through Jerusalem, a city which at the time was considered a minor location of no strategic importance, as it was still in ruins from earlier battles.
Two Masonic historians, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, have written a controversial book called The Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud, and the Great Secret of Freemasonry, which claims that the Turin Shroud is actually an image of Jacques de Molay, not of Jesus Christ as is common belief. They claim that when King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V seized and dissolved the Order of the Knights Templar, that one of the French king's inquisitors, Guillame de Nogaret, tortured and crucified de Molay in a parody of the crucifixion of Jesus. He then put a cloth on de Molay's head, and de Molay's face was imprinted on the cloth. The authors claim that one of the reasons the Knights Templar were suppressed was because they knew a secret true history of Jesus which had been distorted by the Roman Catholic Church. According to Knight and Lomas, Jesus considered himself not God, but a Jewish revolutionary working to establish God's kingdom on Earth, and that the Templars' initiation ceremony involved a denial of Jesus as God.
Apart from Knight and Lomas' suggested scenario, there is a connection in the provenance of the Shroud of Turin and the Templars. Geoffroi de Charny's widow Jeanne de Vergy is the first reliably recorded owner of the Turin shroud; his uncle, Geoffrey de Charney, was Preceptor of Normandy for the Knights Templar. This uncle is the same Geoffrey de Charney who was initially sentenced to lifetime imprisonment with de Molay, and was burned with de Molay in 1314 after both proclaimed their innocence, recanting torture-induced confessions.
Quoting Templar Historian Malcolm Barber:
A variation on this story was told by the contemporary chronicler Ferretto of Vicenza, who applied the idea to a Neopolitan Templar brought before Clement V, whom he denounced for his injustice. Some time later, as he was about to be executed, he appealed 'from this your heinous judgement to the living and true God, who is in Heaven', warning the pope that, within a year and a day, he and Philip IV would be obliged to answer for their crimes in God's presence. (Ferretto of Vicenza, 'Historia rerum in Italia gestarum ab anno 1250 as annum usque 1318', c. 1328).
When the king's head fell beneath the guillotine, an unknown man is reported to have leaped onto the scaffold. He dipped his hand in the monarch's blood, flung it out over the surrounding throng and cried, "Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!
Holy Blood, Holy Grail is credited in nearly all contemporary works that make reference to the story, and the authors do not cite any credible historical source for it. A decade earlier, reference was made several times to this scene in the Illuminatus! Trilogy. The authors of Illuminatus! also neglected to source the legend.