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Jacques de Molay

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Jacques de Molay
Born c. 1240–1250[1]
Died 18 March 1314
Paris, France
Nationality Burgundian
Known for Grand Master of the Knights Templar
This article is about the Templar Grand Master. For the Mongol general, see Mulay.
Armoiries Jacques de Molay

Coat of arms of Jacques de Molay

James of Molay (French: Jacques de Molay) (c. 1240/1250 – 18 March 1314[1]) was the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from 1292 until the Order was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1312.[2] Though little is known of his actual life and deeds except for his last years as Grand Master, he is the best known Templar, along with the Order's founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens (1070-1136). Jacques de Molay's 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. As European support for the Crusades had dwindled, other forces were at work which sought to disband the Order and claim the wealth of the Templars as their own. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, had Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into making false confessions. When Molay later retracted his confession, Philip had him burned at the stake on an island in the Seine river in Paris, on 18 March 1314. The sudden end of both the centuries-old order of Templars, and the dramatic execution of its last leader, turned Jacques de Molay into a legendary figure. The fraternal order of Freemasonry, which came to prominence in the 1700s, has also drawn upon the Templar mystique for its own rituals and lore, and today there are many modern organizations which draw their inspiration from the memory of Jacques de Molay.


Little is known of his early years, but Jacques de Molay was probably born in Molay, Haute-Saône in the county of Burgundy, at the time a territory ruled by Otto III as part of the Holy Roman Empire, and in modern times in the area of Franche-Comté, northeastern France. His birth year is not certain, but judging by statements made during the later trials, was probably between 1240 and 1250. He was born as most Templar knights were, into a family of minor or middle nobility.[1]

In 1265, as a young man, he was received into the Order of the Templars in a chapel at the Beaune House, by Humbert de Pairaud, the Visitor of France and England. Another prominent Templar in attendance was Amaury de la Roche, Templar Master of the province of France.

Around 1270, Molay went to the East (Outremer), and there spent all his career as a Templar, though little is remembered of his activities for the next 20 years.

Grand Master

After the Fall of Acre to the Egyptian Mamluks in 1291, the Franks (Europeans) who were able to do so retreated to the island of Cyprus. It became the headquarters of the dwindling Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the base of operations for any future military attempts by the Crusaders against the Egyptian Mamluks, who for their part were systematically conquering any last Crusader strongholds on the mainland. Templars in Cyprus included Jacques de Molay and Thibaud Gaudin, the 22nd Grand Master. During a meeting assembled on the island in the autumn of 1291, Jacques de Molay spoke of reforming the Order, and put himself forward as an alternative to the current Grand Master. Gaudin died around 1292, and as there were no other serious contenders for the role at the time, Molay was soon elected. In spring 1293, he began a tour of the West to try and muster more support for a reconquest of the Holy Land. Developing relationships with European leaders such as Pope Boniface VIII, Edward I of England, James I of Aragon and Charles II of Naples, Molay's immediate goals were 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 Knights Hospitaller. The Grand Masters of both orders opposed such a merger, but pressure increased from the Papacy.

It is known that Molay held two general meetings of his order in southern France, at Montpellier in 1293 and at Arles in 1296, where he tried to make reforms. In the autumn of 1296 Molay was back in Cyprus to defend his order against the interests of Henry II of Cyprus, which conflict had its roots back in the days of Guillaume de Beaujeu.

From 1299 to 1303, Jacques de Molay was engaged in planning and executing a new attack against the Mamluks. The plan was to coordinate actions between the Christian military orders, the King of Cyprus, the aristocracy of Cyprus, the Cilician Armenia, and a new potential ally, the Mongols of the Ilkhanate (Persia), to oppose the Egyptian Mamluks and retake the coastal city of Tortosa in Syria.

For generations, there had been communications between the Mongols and Europeans towards the possibility of forging a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Mamluks, but without success. The Mongols had been repeatedly attempting to conquer Syria themselves, each time being forced back either by the Egyptian Mamluks, or having to retreat because of a civil war within the Mongol Empire, and having to defend from attacks from the Mongol Golden Horde to the north. In 1299, the Ilkhanate again attempted to conquer Syria, having some preliminary success against the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar in December 1299. In 1300, Jacques de Molay and other forces from Cyprus put together a small 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, and the heads of the military orders, with the ambassador of the Mongol leader Ghazan also in attendance. The ships left Famagusta on July 20, 1300, and under the leadership of Admiral Baudouin de Picquigny, raided the coasts of Egypt and Syria: Rosette,[3] Alexandria, Acre, Tortosa, and Maraclea, before returning to Cyprus.[4]

The Cypriots then prepared for an attack on Tortosa in late 1300, sending a joint force to a staging area on the island of Ruad, from which raids were launched on the mainland. The intent was to establish a Templar bridgehead to await assistance from Ghazan's Mongols, but the Mongols failed to appear in 1300. The same happened in 1301 and 1302, and the island was finally lost in the Siege of Ruad on September 26, 1302, eliminating the Crusaders' last foothold near the mainland.

Travel to France

In 1305, the newly elected pope Pope Clement V asked the leaders of the military orders for their opinions concerning a new crusade and the merging of the orders. Jacques de Molay was asked by the Pope to write two memoranda, one on each of the issues, which he did during the summer of 1306.[5] On 6 June, both Order's leaders were officially asked to come to the Papal offices in Poitiers to discuss these matters. Molay left Cyprus on 15 October, arriving in France in late November or early December; however, the meeting was delayed until late May due to the Pope's illness.

King Philip IV of France was at war with the English, and deeply in debt to the Templars. He was in favor of merging the Orders under his own command, to make himself Rex Bellator or War King, but Molay rejected this idea. Philip was already at odds with the papacy, and had been attempting to assert his own authority as higher than that of the Pope, for which he had been excommunicated by Pope Boniface VIII. Philip then had Boniface abducted and charged with heresy. When the elderly Boniface died shortly thereafter, so did his successor, probably poisoned via Philip's councillor Guillaume de Nogaret. The following Pope, Clement V, was also under strong pressure to bend to Philip's will, and had moved the Papacy from Italy to France, where Philip continued to assert more dominance over the Papacy and the Templars.

While waiting for the arrival of the Grand Master of the Hospitaller order, Molay met with the Pope on other matters, one of which was the charges by an ousted Templar of impropriety in the Templars' initiation ceremony. When Philip learned of these rumors, he decided to exploit them for his own purposes. Jacques de Molay had spoken with the king in Paris on June 24, 1307 about the accusations against his order and was partially reassured. Returning to Poitiers, Molay asked the pope to set up an inquiry to quickly clear the order of the rumours and accusations surrounding it, and the pope convened an inquiry on 24 August. On 14 September, Philip took advantage of this to make his move against the Templars, sending out a secret order to his agents in all parts of France to implement a mass arrest of all Templars on a single day in October. Philip wanted the Templars arrested, and their possessions confiscated, to incorporate their wealth into the Royal Treasury. Jacques de Molay was in Paris in October, attending the funeral of Catherine of Courtenay, wife of the Count of Valois. In a dawn raid on Friday, October 13, 1307, Jacques de Molay and sixty of his Templar brothers were arrested. Philip then had the Templars charged with heresy and many other trumped-up charges, most of which were identical to the charges which had previously been leveled by Philip's agents against Pope Boniface VIII.


Interrogation of Jacques de Molay. 19th century print

During forced interrogation by royal agents on October 24, Molay confessed that the Templar initiation ritual included "denying Christ and trampling on the Cross". He was also forced to write a letter asking every Templar to admit to these acts. Under pressure from Philip IV, Pope Clement V ordered the arrest of all the Templars throughout Christendom.

Templars Burning

Jacques de Molay sentenced to the stake in 1314, from the Chronicle of France or of St Denis (fourteenth century)

The pope still wanted to hear Jacques de Molay's side of the story, and dispatched two cardinals to Paris in December 1307. In front of the cardinals, Molay retracted his earlier confessions. A power struggle ensued 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 Faciens 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, and he returned to his forced admissions made in 1307. In November 1309, the Papal Commission for the Kingdom of France began its own hearings, during which Molay again recanted, stating that he did not acknowledge the accusations brought against his order.


Marker from the site of his execution in Paris. (translation: At this location, Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burnt at the stake on March 18, 1314), located by the stairs from the Pont-Neuf bridge

Any further opposition by the Templars 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 again recanted. Along with Geoffroy de Charney, he proclaimed his order's innocence. Philip ordered both to be executed as relapsed heretics. On the eve of 18 March 1314, Jacques de Molay and Geoffroy de Charnay were taken to the Isle des Juifs, now incorporated into the Île de la Cité in the Seine River, where they were burned at the stake. According to legend, Jacques de Molay asked to be tied in such a way that his hands were together in prayer, and he faced the Notre Dame Cathedral. Another oft-told tale is that he called out from the flames that both Philip and Clement would soon meet him before God. Within a year, both had died.

Chinon Parchment

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 absolved Jacques de Molay and other leaders of the Order in 1308. This includes Geoffroy de Charney and Hugues de Pairaud. She published her findings in the Journal of Medieval History in 2004.[6]


The sudden arrest of the Templars, the conflicting stories about confessions, and the dramatic deaths by burning, generated many stories and legends about both the Order, and its last Grand Master.

Conquest of Jerusalem


"The capture of Jerusalem by Jacques de Molay in 1299", by Claude Jacquand, Versailles, Musée National Chateau et Trianons. This depiction was commissioned in the 1800s, but is about an event in 1299 that did not actually occur. There was no battle, and Molay was nowhere near Jerusalem at the time.[7] In reality, after the Christians lost control of Jerusalem in 1244, it was not under Christian control again until 1917, when the British took it from the Ottomans.

In France in the 19th century, false stories circulated that Jacques de Molay had captured Jerusalem in 1300, and a painting was even commissioned for the Versailles, entitled "Jacques de Molay takes Jerusalem, 1299." These rumors are likely related to the fact that the 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. [8] The Mongol Mulay and the Templar Jacques de Molay were entirely different people, but some historians regularly confused the two.

The confusion was enhanced in 1805, when the French playwright/historian François Raynouard made claims that Jerusalem had been captured by the Mongols, with Jacques de Molay in charge of one of the Mongol divisions.[8] "In 1299, the Grand-Master was with his knights at the taking of Jerusalem."[9] This story of wishful thinking was so popular in France, that in 1846, a large-scale painting was created by Claude Jacquand, entitled Molay Prend Jerusalem, 1299 ("Molay Takes Jerusalem, 1299"), which depicts the supposed event, and today the painting hangs in the Hall of the Crusades in the French national museum in Versailles.[10]

In the 1861 edition of the French encyclopedia, the Nouvelle Biographie Universelle, it even lists Jacques de Molay as a Mongol commander in its "Molay" article:

"Jacques de Molay was not inactive in this decision of the Great Khan. This is proven by the fact that Molay was in command of one of the wings of the Mongol army. With the troops under his control, he invaded Syria, participated in the first battle in which the Sultan was vanquished, pursued the routed Malik Nasir as far as the desert of Egypt: then, under the guidance of Kutluk, a Mongol general, he was able to take Jerusalem, among other cities, over the Muslims, and the Mongols entered to celebrate Easter"
Nouvelle Biographie Universelle, "Molay" article, 1861.[8]

Modern historians, however, state that the truth of the matter is this: There are indeed 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 that year, rumors flew through Europe that the Mongols had recaptured Jerusalem and were going to return the city to the Europeans. However, this was only 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 itself.[11][12] And regardless of what the Mongols may or may not have done, Jacques de Molay was never a Mongol commander, and probably never set foot in Jerusalem.

The Shroud of Turin

Freemasons often weave legends around the life and legacy of Jacques de Molay, claiming with little or no proof that he was a key figure connected to other stories of mystery. In the 2001 book The Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud, and the Great Secret of Freemasonry, is a claim that the Turin Shroud is actually an image of Jacques de Molay, not of Jesus Christ as is common belief.

There is no reliable basis for saying that the Shroud depicts Molay; however, it is true that there is a connection between 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; Geoffroi's uncle, Geoffrey de Charney, was Preceptor of Normandy for the Knights Templar, and was the associate of Jacques de Molay who was both sentenced to lifetime imprisonment with him, and then burned at the stake with him in 1314 after both proclaimed their innocence.


It is said that Jacques de Molay cursed Philippe le Bel and his descendants from his execution pyre. The story of the shouted curse appears to be a combination of words by a different Templar, and those of Jacques de Molay. An eyewitness to the execution stated that Molay showed no sign of fear, and told those present that God would avenge their deaths.[13] Another variation on this story was told by the contemporary chronicler Ferretto of Vicenza, who applied the idea to a Neapolitan 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.[14]

It is true that Philip and Clement V both died within a year of Molay's execution, Clement finally succumbing to a long illness, and Philip in a hunting accident. Then followed the rapid succession of the last Direct Capetian kings of France between 1314 and 1328, the three sons of Philippe IV. Within 14 years from the death of Jacques de Molay, the 300-year-old House of Capet collapsed. This series of events forms the basis of Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings), a series of historical novels written by Maurice Druon between 1955 and 1977, and which was also turned into two French television miniseries in 1972 and 2005.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Demurger, pp. 1-4. "So no conclusive decision can be reached, and we must stay in the realm of approximations, confining ourselves to placing Molay's date of birth somewhere around 1244/5 – 1248/9, even perhaps 1240–1250."
  2. Jacques de Molai, Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. Demurger, p. 147
  4. Schein, 1979, p. 811
  5. Read, The Templars, p. 262
  6. Frale, Barbara (2004). "The Chinon chart - Papal absolution to the last Templar, Master Jacques de Molay". Journal of Medieval History 30 (2): 109–134. doi:10.1016/j.jmedhist.2004.03.004.!&_cdi=5941&view=c&_acct=C000053912&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1589142&md5=cc8dc869d6bc4326929c25a42c118a60. 
  7. Demurger, Last Templar
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Demurger, pp. 203–204
  9. "Le grand-maître s'etait trouvé avec ses chevaliers en 1299 à la reprise de Jerusalem." François Raynouard (1805). "Précis sur les Templiers". 
  10. Claudius Jacquand (1846). "Jacques Molay Prend Jerusalem.1299" (painting). Hall of Crusades, Versailles. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  11. Demurger, Last Templar
  12. Schein, "Gesta Dei per Mongolos"
  13. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, 2nd ed. p. 357 "The account given by the continuator of William Nangis is confirmed by the clerk, Geoffrey of Paris, apparently an eyewitness, who describes Molay as showing no sign of fear and, significantly, as telling those present that God would avenge their deaths."
  14. Ferretto of Vicenza, 'Historia rerum in Italia gestarum ab anno 1250 as annum usque 1318', c. 1328) in Malcolm Barber's, The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 314–315.
Cross of the Knights Templar

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Preceded by
Thibaud Gaudin
Grand Master of the Knights Templar
Succeeded by
Order abolished

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