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Philip IV and His Enemies

P hilip the Fair was very much a man of action. Consequently, he was frequently at odds with other monarchs and the Church. Pious though he was, he could not bear the idea that he was subject to the Pope in any other sense than spiritual. Thus, when Pope Boniface VIII issued the bull Clericis Laicos, in which he forbade the clergy to pay taxes to any prince without papal consent, Philip was very much annoyed. So much so that he cut off the export of gold and silver from France, which was a major problem to the Holy See, for whose finances the French money was direly needed. This time Boniface retracted his bull, but a new problem was already nearing critical mass. It so happened that Philip wished to see a bishop in Southern France bide good-bye to his office, but Boniface did not agree to this. He saw that Philip was ousting the bishop for purely political reasons, and therefore declined to degrade the bishop, even when presented with a very creative list of vices Philip had compiled of the bishop's doings. To make his point, he reissued the doctrine set out in Clericis Laicos.

N ow, this was really a red cloth to Philip, who summoned the estates of his realm (for the first time ever) to gather the strength of his people against Boniface. He, on the other hand, was steadfast, and defaulted to the biggest cannon available in the Papal fortress - he threatened Philip with excommunication. In the bull Unam Sanctam he spelled out his terms: no earthly prince was above the Pope, no matter who the prince happened to be. Philip realized the problematic situation and decided to pre-empt the Pope's plans, and for this he sent Guillaume de Nogaret down to Anagni, Italy, where the Pope was staying with his relatives. Nogaret (who later figured prominently in the trial of the Templars) was one of the early masters of disinformation who could make anyone look extremely bad in the eyes of the King and therefore available for proper punishment. He had shown his talent already in the case of the Bishop of Troyes, and so he was chosen to assemble a task force of selected thugs for the operation at hand. First Nogaret drew up a list of vices he smeared Boniface with: he was, among other things, said to be a heretic, a sorcerer, an assassin of ecclesiastics, and, to top all this off, guilty of keeping mistresses to hide the fact that he was, in reality, a sodomist.

N ogaret seized the Pope and held him captive for some days until the local nobles forced him to free the Pope. Boniface, an old man already by medieval standards, never recovered from the shock of being the first viceroy of Christ to be kidnapped. He died soon after and thus freed Philip of the threat he might have had trouble with later on. As soon as the next Pope, Benedict IX, was inaugurated, he proceeded to blame Nogaret for what he had caused Boniface; note the target of the accusation - not Philip, whom Benedict wished not to infuriate, but Nogaret, who was a hired gun. Disappointingly Benedict died within a year of his office begun, and never found out if his strategy worked or not. This time Philip was en garde and subtly (probably like a rhino) let the French members of the College of Cardinals know that he would be happy if a Frenchman were elected Pope. And to everyone's surprise - Bertrand de Got, Archbishop of Bordeaux, got the job, and assumed the name of Clement V.

A s soon as Clement was in office he was approached by Nogaret, who wished to have his name cleared of any wrongdoing in the case of the unfortunate Boniface. Of course, the new Pope was very much against letting Nogaret have his honor back - after all, he had caused considerable suffering to the late Pope. For six years Nogaret nagged the Pope, until he had no choice but to reopen the case. Nogaret was allowed to present his side of the story, which was surprisingly good, if not true but in a few items. Nogaret even had the nerve to ask the Pope to exhume Boniface and have his bones publicly burned. Such audacity seldom goes unrewarded and the Pope did compromise with the King and his men: all ecclesiastical (I just love typing that word) punishments the King or his men had suffered were lifted, and the Pope went so far as to claim the King had acted justly and rationally in this case. He did not, however, cause the late Boniface to be publicly condemned.

A ll this was necessary to tell here, because it is an essential element in understanding the fate of the Templars. It shows how the King handled his enemies with ruthlessness and almost fanatical fervour. Not long before the King showed the way of the world to the Holy See did Acre fall from the Templars into Muslim hands in 1291. Now the Order was devoid of its main function, that of keeping Pilgrims safe on their dangerous journey. It is not exactly clear how much Philip feared the aimless military force the Templars possessed, and just how much he barely needed the money of the Order, but one thing is clear: when he set out to crush the Order, he did so with terrifying force.

I t is time to enter the Dungeon.

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