Knightfall is an upcoming historical fiction drama television series on the History Channel. The 10-episode series is set to premiere on December 6, 2017. It recounts the fall, persecution, and burning at the stake of the Knights Templar as orchestrated by King Philippe IV of France on October 13, 1307. The series focuses on Templar leader Sir Landry, a brave warrior discouraged by the Templars’ failures in the Holy Land who is reinvigorated by news that the Holy Grail has resurfaced.
While I love historical fiction it contains just that, fiction. So here is some historical background that goes into the events of the series Knightfall.
Philippe IV (April–June 1268 – 29 November 1314), also known as Philippe the Fair and the Iron King was King of France from 1285 until his death in 1314. Through his marriage to Joan I, Queen of Navarre and Countess of Champagne 1274-1305, (daughter of King Henri I of Navarre and Blanche d’Artois) he was also Philippe I, King of Navarre from 1284 to 1305. Though his wife was Countess of Champagne in her own right, Philippe IV briefly took the reigns of government into his own hands by Right of his wife. Philippe IV was known as handsome, however, his obstinate character won him from friends and enemies. His fierce opponent, Bishop Bernard Saisset of Pamiers, said of the king, “He is neither man nor beast. He is a statue.”
The mounting Crisis.
In 1290, King Edward I of England (1272-1307) had ordered the Jews to leave England. In turn, Philippe IV, the Iron King, also expelled the Jews from France in July of 1306. With the Jews out of France, Philippe IV had to appoint royal guardians to collect the loans made by the Jews, with the money being passed to the Crown. These actions did not go well in France. The Jews were looked upon as honest and good businessmen who not only satisfied their customers but were held in high esteem by the general populace. In contrast the king’s money collectors were universally reviled.
In 1315 the people of France complained and complained loudly, to the point where the Jews were invited back to France and were given a guarantee of 12 years free from government interference. In 1322, the Jews were expelled once again by the King Charles IV of France and Navarre 1322-1328, third son of King Philippe IV, who did not honour his fathers commitment after the great leper scare of 1321.
Philip IV’s financial treatment of the Jews was anti-semitic, but Christians, the wealthy and poor, clergy and lay people alike all suffered due to the Kings actions. Another prominent group wounded by Philippe IV’s policies were wealthy abbots and Lombard merchants. The merchants, who had made extensive loans on the pledge of repayment from future taxation, were expelled from France and their property sized. To further demonstrate his cruelty Philippe IV reduced the value of French coinage. In 1306 these policies which had a harsh impact on all less-wealthy people of France, led to a two-thirds loss in the value of the livres, sous and deniers in circulation. This financial crisis led to rioting in Paris which forced Philippe IV to briefly seek refuge in the Paris Temple – headquarters of the Knights Templar.
Philippe IV vs. Boniface VIII.
Pope Boniface VIII 1294-1303 condemned Philippe IV for his damaging policies along with his spendthrift lifestyle and his treatment of the Jews. The king levied taxes on the French clergy, calling for at least half their annual income, causing a major conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy, prompting Pope Boniface VIII to issue a Papal Bull, Clericis Laicos (1296), which forbade the transference of any church property to the French Crown.
In response to the Papal Bull, Philippe IV convoked an assembly of bishops, nobles and grand bourgeois of Paris in order to condemn the Pope. This assemble was a precursor to the Etats Généraux, appeared for the first time during his reign. This assembly was viewed as a measure of the professionalism, order and legitimacy that his ministers were trying to implement into the government. This assembly gave support to Philippe IV’s condemnation of the pope. Pope Boniface VIII retaliated and escalated the conflict with the ground breaking Papal Bull, Unam Sanctam* (1302) which declares papal supremacy.
King Philippe IV emerged as the victor in the conflict. Philippe sent his agent Guillaume de Nogaret to arrest Pope Boniface VIII at Anagni. Prior to the arrival of the French garrison Boniface excommunicated both Philippe IV and Nogaret. However the pope was able to escape, after being beaten, but died soon afterward. With the Holy See vacant French archbishop Bertrand de Goth was elected pope as Clement V beginning the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy (1309–77), during which the official seat of the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, an enclave surrounded by French territories, and was subjected to French control and became a virtual puppet of the French monarchy.
Suppression of the Knights Templar
With the aid and refuge given to Philippe IV by the Knights Templar the king was substantially indebted to them. The Knights Templar were a monastic military order whose original role was that of protectors of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land during the Crusades. By the time of Philippe IV’s war against Pope Boniface VIII the influence and need for the Knights Templar had waned. In order to free himself from his indebtedness to the Knights, Philippe IV used a disgruntled complaint of heresy ** against the Knights Templar as an excuse to move against the entire organization and destroy both its religious and financial power and influence in France.
Another prime motive for Philippe to squash the Knights Templar was in order to consolidate power into a royal theocracy where the monarchy had both secular and spiritual power/authority in France. This foundation was built upon the Franco-papal rift at the time of Boniface VIII. With the Papacy now a fixture in France, Philippe IV saw himself as the ultimate defender of the Catholic faith, and felt empowered with a Christlike function giving him authority above the pope. This places the need for the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam of 1302 by Boniface VIII, in a proper historical context.
At daybreak on Friday, October 13, 1307, hundreds of Templars in France were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philippe IV, and were later tortured into admitting heresy into the Order. In their view the Knights rejected the spiritual authority claimed by Philippe IV and believed they were only answerable to only the Pope. With Pope Clement V under the direct control of the French king, ordered the Knights Templar to disband. At first Pope Clement V did attempt to hold proper trials, but Philippe IV used previously forced and coerced confessions to condemn the Knights Templars who were promptly burned at the stake before a proper defense could be made.
* The Bull lays down dogmatic propositions on the unity of the Catholic Church, the necessity of belonging to it for eternal salvation, the position of the pope as supreme head of the Church, and the duty thence arising of submission to the pope in order to belong to the Church and thus to attain salvation. The pope further emphasizes the higher position of the spiritual in comparison with the secular order.
** The heresy levied against the Knights Templar stem from claims that were made that during Templar admissions ceremonies recruits were allegedly forced to spit on the Cross, deny Jesus Christ, and engage in indecent kissing. The Nights were also accused of worshipping idols, and the order was said to have encouraged homosexual practices. None of these claims have ever been historically verified.