The Curse of the Knights Templar

Why is Friday 13th unlucky? Because King Philip IV of France strong-armed Pope Clement V into helping him launch a secret attack on the Knights Templar at dawn on Friday, 13 October 1307, leading to their persecution and destruction, which brought down a curse upon the 300-year-old ruling House of Capet. The curse and scandal were so huge that this day is STILL feared more than 700 years after the events occurred.

Why did King Philip, who was know as Philip the Fair because he was so handsome, have such a bug up his butt regarding the Templars? Money, naturally. The king was “deeply in debt to the Templars from his war with the English” and he didn’t want to pay it back. The easiest way to default on the loan was to kill all the knights of the order. Not only would that erase his debt, it would allow him to steal the huge amount of money the Templar’s had in their treasury. (This was a pattern for Philip. The year before the king had expelled the Jews from France because he owed them a lot of money, too. Philip the Fair was really quite the asshat.) Philip used the rumors regarding the Templar’s secret initiation into the order to accuse them of Devil worship and murder them. 

Philip IV the Fair

Philip didn’t simply kill the Knights Templar, either. Nope. His guilt and resentment that they were more respected in France than royalty drove him to be mean about it. He had them all tortured until they “confessed” to the crimes of “usury, credit inflation, fraud, heresy, sodomy, immorality and abuses”, and then had Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, condemned to being SLOWLY burned to death.

One of the worst parts of this travesty is that Pope Clemet V knew for certain they were innocent, but was so afraid of Philip waging a war on the Papacy that he went along with the slaughter:

In September 2001, a document known as the “Chinon Parchment” dated 17–20 August 1308 was discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives by Barbara Frale, apparently after having been filed in the wrong place in 1628. It is a record of the trial of the Templars and shows that Clement absolved the Templars of all heresies in 1308 before formally disbanding the order in 1312, as did another Chinon Parchment dated 20 August 1308 addressed to Philip IV of France, also mentioning that all Templars that had confessed to heresy were “restored to the Sacraments and to the unity of the Church” … The current position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the medieval persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust, that nothing was inherently wrong with the order or its rule, and that Pope Clement was pressed into his actions by the magnitude of the public scandal and by the dominating influence of King Philip IV, who was Clement’s relative.

On 18 March 1314, seven years after they had been imprisoned and tortured to confess, Grand Master Jacques de Molay, Geoffroi de Charney (Master of Normandy), Hugues de Peraud (Visitor of France), and Godefroi de Gonneville (Master of Aquitaine), were burned to death with agonizing slowness on a small island in the Seine, the Ile des Juifs.


However, it seems as though Jacques de Molay did not go to his death meekly. Before his brutal execution he allegedly cursed both the pope and the king to die soon: “S’en vendra en brief temps meschie sus celz qui nous dampnent a tort; Diex en vengera nostre mort.” (Let evil swiftly befall Those who have wrongly condemned us; God will avenge our death.) According to legend, de Molay additionally promised Philip that as part of God’s punishment the whole House of Capet would be destroyed.

Sure enough, the king and the pope had both keeled over within a year.

Pope Clement V died a few weeks later, on 20 April 1314, in a rather horrid manner. Clement had advanced bowl cancer, which was agonizing, and his life ended in one last extreme round of dysentery. In short, the pope shit himself to a bloody death while racked with a high fever and enjoying the added excitement of vomiting.  I don’t know if that’s as bad a being burned to to death, but it wasn’t fun.

Speaking of burning, historical scuttlebutt has it that while Clement’s “body was lying in state, a thunderstorm developed during the night and lightning struck the church where his body lay, igniting the building.” This was, people suspected, the Almighty’s way of indicating the afterlife destination of this particular pope. (Hint: it involved fire.) For Clement’s many, many crimes against both secular jurisprudence and God’s mandates, Dante would immortalize him in the Inferno portion of his epic Medieval poem Divine Comedy as a resident of the eighth circle of Hell with other frauds, “a shepherd without law, of uglier deed”,  condemned “to be placed head-downwards in round, tube-like holes” in rock while flames consume his feet.

Philip’s death was less painful, but it came with the shock of a thunderbolt from the clear blue sky. The king was a healthy man in his 40s, with no signs of illness, when he died suddenly “to the great astonishment of his physicians”.  This may have been a stroke, or aortic embolyism, or heart attack, but it certainly looked like the wrath of God.  Some sources alternatively record that Philip was killed in a hunting accident when his horse rammed him into a tree, or after being savaged by a wild boar.

At any rate, the king was dead swiftly and unexpectedly, just as de Molay had requested. Henry Charles Lea noted that even “in distant Germany [the king’s] death was spoken of as a retribution for his destruction of the Templars”.

Nonetheless, Philip had left three sons and a daughter to carry on the Capet line. How could the Capet kings of France go extinct!

As it so happens, they could go extinct with surprising quickness. After Philip’s death, his eldest son became Louis X, known as Louis le Hutin or Louis the Headstrong Quarreler. He died in June of 1316 from either pneumonia or pleurisy, “although there was also suspicion of poisoning”. Louis X’s wife, Clementia, was pregnant at the time of his death, so the dead king’s younger brother Philip acted as regent until the baby was born. If the baby a boy, then he would be king; if it was a girl then Philip would become the new king.

The baby was a boy, and upon his first breath became King John I of France. Sadly, he died 5 days later, becoming known as John the Posthumous. Louis X’s brother became King Philip V but his reign was a short one – he was monarch for less than 6 years and he died without a male heir.

The crown then went to the last of Philip the Fair’s sons, Charles IV, who also died without male issue and also with a pregnant wife. This time the baby lived, but the infant was a daughter, Blanche, and under Salic Law she couldn’t inherit the French throne.

Thus the crown went to the cousin of these three unfortunate monarchs, Philip of Valois.


The House of Capet was no more, and the House of Valois had begun.

Now, Philip the Fair’s last living child was a daughter, Isabella. She had wed King Edward II of England and born him several fine children, including two sons.

The eldest son, Edward III of England, would later invade France and demand the French throne because although Salic Law would not give the crown to a daughter it did not say a daughter’s SON couldn’t inherit the crown. The new king of France, Philip of Valois, disagreed of course. The ensuing contest for the French throne became the Hundred Years War (1337–1453) and tore all kinds of hell out of the country.

Everyone knew that France’s bad luck was the direct result of Philip IV’s destruction of the Knights Templar. To this day, Friday 13th is considered unlucky, because it was the day that brought down the Templars and called down God’s curse upon their tormentors.

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