THE ‘DA VINCI CODE’ AND THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
FOURTEENTH CENTURY CONFIRMATION OF THE ROYAL CHARTERS TO THE KNIGHTS TEMPLARS
Confirmation of the Royal Charters to the Knights Templars by King Charles IV of France, July 1326, officially transcribed by the Garde de la Prevoste de Paris, Hugues Aubirot, February 20, 1372. On vellum, 17 by 21 inches.
In The Da Vinci Code, “The Knights play an overarching role in the book as one of the historical linchpins of the plot: the Priory, The Da Vinci Code maintains, created the Templars as a military arm charged with the recovery and protection of the documents and relics of the Holy Grail” [Secrets of the Code, edited by Dan Burstein].
The reality of the Knights Templar in the 14th century is seen in the present original document, which confirms three previously granted Royal Charters:
I. Louis VII’s exemption of the Knights Hospitaliers from certain transportation fees. The text cites the diligent service of the Knights to the crown of France; to them the king therefore concedes the exemption from duties levied on goods transported by water. This charter, given by the hand of the chancellor Hugo, was issued at Paris in 1158.
II. Philip IV’s confirmation to the Knights Templars of all their hitherto acquired possessions, fixed and movable, rights and freedoms, dated at Paris, June 1304. The king declares that the works of piety and the great abundance of mercy which the Knights Templars have exercised throughout the world have exercised throughout the world have induced him to ratify all their rights and freedoms in regard to their possessions, both moveable and immovable. These are conceded especially out of consideration for “our faithful brother” Hugo de Peraudo, the visitator generalis of the Templars. It is interesting that Philip expresses such warm sympathy for the Templars at such a date, for it was precisely in 1304 that the accusations by which the order was destroyed were begun. Their rights and privileges, however, continued to be affirmed, as here by Charles IV, for those who inherited the possessions of the suppressed order.
III. Philip IV’s grant to the Knights Hospitaliers of the redemption of their goods and the regulation of jurisdictional relations between them and the crown, dated at Mona en Pévèle, August 1304. The opening formula citing the good works and piety of the Knights Hospitaliers differs from that used in the above-mentioned charter only in the additional mention of their care for the poor and sick. As the special recipient of affection, this text names “our faithful brother” Ytherius de Nantolio, prior of the Hospitaliers in France. The concessions granted also differ very little from those accorded the Templars. The Knights are accorded alienation in mortmain for their goods. The confirmation of this text coincides with a major reorganization within the Knights Hospitaliers, a procedure soon necessitated by the order’s acquisition of possessions belonging to the suppressed Templars.
The Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitaliers were the preeminent knightly orders in medieval times. The Templars were formed in 1119 when they undertook the pious task of protecting the pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem after the First Crusade. They organized themselves as a religious community, vowing to forsake worldy chivalry and live in chastity, obedience and poverty. From these humble beginnings the power of the Knights grew enormously; they received large land grants throughout Christendom and Pope Adrian IV gave them the right to establish their own churches. As defenders of the Church, they were exempted from the payment of tithes and from the action of papal censures and decrees, unless specifically named in them. The Knights soon refused to submit in any way to the ordinary jurisdiction of the diocesan bishops and formed in effect a separate ecclesiastical organization under the Pope. Their power was virtually unassailable and even the decrees of the Lateran Council, which in 1179 attempted to curb abuses of their privileges, failed to affect them. In succeeding centuries the power of the Templars continued unabated. Their members served as advisors to kings; they were summoned to the great councils of the Church; and Frederick II’s persecution of the order was one of the main causes of his excommunication in 1239. In the mid-thirteenth century it was estimated that they owned upwards of nine thousand estates; and in Paris and London their houses were used as strongholds for the royal treasure. They acted as bankers for several kings, loaning Louis IX the major portion of his ransom. By the end of the thirteenth century they finally abandoned Palestine; and in 1306 the last grand master, Jacques de Molay, arrived in France with a great amount of gold and silver. Its privileges and immunities at that time constituted a church within the Church, and in France at least, a state within a state.
Philip IV of France, in his efforts to centralize power in the Crown, had from the beginning of his reign made gradual efforts to curtail the power and wealth of the Templars. When Benedict XI succeeded to the papal throne in 1304, however, the Knights’ privileges were confirmed by the Church once more. Under great pressure, Philip issued the two charters reconfirmed in this document; but he later circumvented the Pope by having charges against the Knights brought before the Grand Inquisitor of France, William of Paris, and in this way was able to effect their arrest by civil powers. After many tortures and trials, the Templars were effectively destroyed, the leader being burned at the stake in front of Notre Dame in 1314.
The first and third charters appear in J. Delaville de Roulx’s Cartulaire général de l’Order des Hospitaliers de S. Jean de Jérusalem, vol. 1, 1894, no. 262 [pp. 198, 199] and vol. 4, 1906, no. 4662 [pp. 88-90]. The late 14th century transcription is earlier than any of the copies of the 1158 grant cited by Delaville de Roulx. The charter for the Knights Templars was printed in Entwicklung und Untergang der Tempelerrenordnung, 1888, pp. 307-308.
Matted in red with a wood and antiqued gilt frame. Framed dimensions are 27 ½ inches wide by 24 inches high.