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Discovery of an unknown letter from Jacques de Molay

Letter from Jacques de Molay

Jacques de Molay (1244/1249-1314)

Salto de línea A recent finding by Beatriz Canellas, Head of the Description Department at the Archives of the Crown of Aragon, has allowed us to find an unknown letter from Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar, addressed to Ramon de Bell-lloc, Commander of the Order, dated 21st January 1296. Molay was the last Grand Master of The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon militiamen, and died burnt at the stake on the Île aux Juifs or Île des Templiers in March 1314 during the proceedings backed by Pope Clement V and King Phillip IV the Fair of France, against his Order. The Order of Solomon’s Temple (commonly known as the Knights Templar) was founded at the Council of Troyes in 1129, and its aim was to accompany and protect pilgrims in Jerusalem, in the context of the Crusades. Having lost Acre (St. John d'Acre) in 1929, it was engaged in a power struggle between the Papacy and the French crown, a struggle that was to prove fatal to them, because on March 13th 1312 the Pope, who had ultimate authority over the Order, signed a dissolution decree for heresy offences. After expanding through France, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Aragon, the Kingdom of Castile-Leon, Portugal, England, Scotland and the Germanic kingdoms, the Order was liquidated and its lands and properties confiscated.

Salto de línea The letter that we present today was part of the preparations for the new Grand Master of the Knights Templar’s passage to Cyprus, as part of the strategy to try to regain the Kingdom of Jerusalem after the Acre disaster. This Grand Master had assumed the role sometime between 1292 and 1293, after the death of Grand Master Thibaud Gaudin on 16th April 1292.

Salto de línea The letter

Salto de línea The document was inserted into the legal proceedings of the Royal Chancery (ACA, Cancillería, Procesos en folio, leg. 2, No. 4) and related to the proceedings brought before the Curia Regis to resolve the territorial conflict between the Knights Templar of Miravet and Berenguer de Entenza between 1288 and 1293. The document, in paper (105x305 mm.), was originally a loose leaf that is today pasted into the last booklet. It is in quite good condition; it still has the five folds and forty per cent of the black wax seal that closed and validated the document, which was broken precisely when the addressee opened it. The remains of the seal, originally measuring approx. 30 mm, allow us to identify the word “MILITV” on the bottom of the legend (“[+SIGILLVM :] MILITV[M : XPISTI]”), as well as the hoofs and belly of a horse and a Greek Cross in the field. The letter, which is an original, is not however handwritten by the Grand Master himself. It was probably penned by a secretary working for Molay, a Frenchman to go by the handwriting, similar to that of many other parchments originating from France, which are preserved at the ACA.

Salto de línea The booklet in which it is inserted contains copies of letters dated between 1288 and 1294. It is preceded by the record of several safe-passages signed by James II to delegates at the General Chapter of the order in Montpellier on 9th August 1293. The document that comes just before the letter is the order given to his officials to not hinder Jacques de Molay’s passage through his territories, dated 24th August 1293 in Tarazona (recorded in the ACA, Cancillería, Registros, No. 98, Folio 275v) probably coinciding with the journey that the Grand Master had planned to meet the King of Aragon to discuss the conflict relating to the transfer of Tortosa. Another safe-passage for Molay dated 3rd July 1294 is preserved in the ACA (ACA, Cancillería, Registros, No. 99, Folio 264r).

Salto de línea From No. 18 of volume III of its Acta Aragonensia the great German historian Heinrich Finke (1855-1938) refers to a letter from the Grand Master to Pere de Sant Just, Commander of Granyena, written in Roma and dated 21st January (with some uncertainty, Finke estimated the year as 1295 while the French historian Alain Demurger puts Molay’s passage to Cyprus, the subject of the letter, as one year later, in 1296). The text of this letter is almost identical to the letter recently found and discussed here. In it, he informs him of his intention to travel to Cyprus, as agreed by the Pope, setting the date of his voyage as June 24th, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Prior to that, he wants to call an assembly of the Chapter in Arles (consulted 7th November 2014), although the actual place name, given the time of publication, did not convince Finke. The assembly did take place on 15th August, 1296, so his passage to the East was delayed until the Autumn.

Historical significance

Salto de línea We were unable to identify any author that has cited this letter sent to Bell-lloc, which in every point matches the one sent on 21st January 1296 to Pere de Sant Just, published by Finke and dated by Demurger. Pere de Sant Just, says the latter, was a friend of Molay’s. But, what happened to Bell-lloc? Sant Just was the Commander of Grañena at the time when the letter was sent (the British historian Alan Forey does not give any Commander for Grañena from August 1294 to July 1297 and he puts Sant Just as Commander at some point between 1301 y 1307). Bell-lloc was Commander of Ascó in April 1296. Maybe it is not unreasonable to assume that more letters probably exist, addressed to other Commanders and written with the intention of informing them of his passage to the East and asking for assistance in the areas they controlled. Should this be the case, the importance of the letter kept at the ACA lies in its uniqueness and, at the same time, it is also the confirmation that Jacques de Molay started to prepare his passage to the East with the intention of winning back the Holy Sites, seeking the help of the lands under Western control. During his European tour from 1293 to 1296, he had secured from various monarchs, including James II of Aragon, the right of the Templar lands in their kingdoms to freely send food, arms, horses and money to the East. And this is precisely what was asking for to Ramon de Bell-lloc in the letter we present here: a third of the monies that the Templar lands were contributing to the war efforts of the Order.

Salto de línea This letter adds to the small number of letters from Jacques de Molay, around twenty spread around various European archives (twenty at the ACA, three at the Vatican Archives, two in the Public Records Office in London and one at the National Historical Archives in Madrid). Up till now, the ACA held nineteen manuscripts and one insert, making twenty with this new finding.

More information

Salto de líneaTranscription of the letter PDFSalto de líneaBibliography PDF Salto de líneaAccess to PARES Link externoSalto de línea