The Trial of the Templars
By Malcolm Barber
Paperback: 408 pages
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Reviewed By Stephen Dafoe
The Details In Brief
The Trial of the Templars was written by Malcolm Barber, an academic specializing in medieval history. Barber is considered to be the world's foremost authority on the Knights Templar. The book was originally published in 1978 and remains one of the staples of Templar and medieval history.
What Is This Book About?
Those with even a passing knowledge of the story of the Knights Templar are aware of their dramatic rise and fall in the years between 1118 and 1307, which culminated in the arrest, imprisonment, torture and, ultimately, the dissolution of the Military Order. However, those who are unfamiliar with the topic will not be disappointed with Barber's book, as the author spends the introduction and a good portion of the first chapter telling of the Templars' rise to prominence and power as Christendom's chief military force.
The primary focus of Trial of the Templars is the events that followed their arrest by Philip IV, the King of France, on 13 October, 1307. As Barber writes in his introduction, this particular aspect of medieval history is an important one, albeit one that has been largely ignored by English-speaking historians - the vast number of books written on the subject being in French.
Barber takes the reader on a seven year journey from the arrest of the Templars in 1307 until the execution of the last Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay, on 18 March, 1314. Along the way, Barber dispels a number of long-held myths about the demise of the Templars. For example, the author explains the role that Pope Clement V (often portrayed in popular works as being involved from the beginning) played in intervening in the persecution of the Templars. Few authors have written about the papal inquiries that - for a time - stopped the tortures inflicted on the Templars by Philip IV's men.
In addition to dispelling Templar myths, Barber provides the reader with a wealth of information on the legal proceedings, the defences issued by individual Templars, and the Council of Vienne, held in 1312, at which the Order was officially dissolved by the papal bull Vox in Excelso.
But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book for those interested in this largely untapped period of Templar and medieval history is the chapter on the form the trials took in other countries. While it is commonly known that the Templars were arrested and put to torture in France, Barber shows that this was not the case in many other countries, including Cyprus, where the Templars did not come to trial until 1310.
My View Of The Book
As a long-time researcher into the subject, this book has held an important place in my own library and, together with Barber's The New Knighthood, is an essential addition to any medieval enthusiast's library.
Although written by an academic, the book is not dry - something that plagues many of the serious and worthwhile books on the Templars. As one would expect, the book is well documented with footnotes, providing further information on primary source materials on the subject.
If there is any complaint with the book, it would have to be the absence of illustrations. While this is not a hindrance for those familiar with the topic, it certainly would have added an extra element of enjoyment to the book. For example, when Barber refers to Templar holdings on the Island of Cyprus, a map pointing out where their land holdings were located would have been helpful.