Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Trial of the Templars

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Trial of the Templars

Article excerpt

The Trial of the Templars. By Malcolm Barber. Second edition. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp.x, 398. $75.00 cloth; $27.99 paperback.)

The first edition of this book (1978) is thirty years old, and as the author explains in both the new preface (p. viii) and the addendum on "Recent Historiography on the Dissolution of the Temple" (pp. 294-311), the last three decades have seen an explosion of scholarship relevant to the history of the Order of Knights Templars. Much of this scholarship has concentrated on the crusades and the role of the Templars in these wars. Some has focused on the leading figures involved in the demise of the order, men such as King Philip IV the Fair of France and Pope Clement V Other works have explored many of the issues generated by study of the trial records, such as medieval attitudes toward sodomy, heresy, and the appropriateness of torture as a mode of proof. The scholarship on these and related issues justifies the second edition.

As in the first edition, Malcolm Barber tells a fascinating story, and he tells it cleanly, without needless editorializing. Barber, although trying to be as evenhanded as possible, makes clear his own stance, and I think he is absolutely right. The Templars were honorable and mostly courageous men who ran afoul of a few malcontents who made up a great many stories about them, largely drawn from a repertory of slurs men used for centuries against their enemies.The Knights were particularly vulnerable in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century to people's willingness to believe these stories because they were blamed for the loss of the Holy Land to the Muslims in 1291. It was their supreme misfortune to endure these slurs while a vacillating pope reigned and a seemingly obsessive French king, the most powerful man in Europe, ruled. Perhaps the pope's vacillation was courageous in its own right. …

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