Helen J. Nicholson

The Proceedings against the Templars in the British Isles

Scheme of research


My aim in this project has been to re-edit in full, translate and analyse the proceedings of the trial of the Templars in the British Isles, 1307-1312; and to identify, edit, translate and analyse other surviving documents relating to the trial in the British Isles. These documents together contain a wealth of information about national and international mobility of lay religious, religious beliefs among the lay population of the British Isles and the operation and economic state of the estates of an international religious order in the British Isles in the early fourteenth century. The objective of this project is to make these extensive resources readily available to scholars and, by providing a translation, more accessible to the wider research community. In addition, by comparing these sources and analysing the data that they contain, the project is advancing historical knowledge of the proceedings against the Templars and of related fields.

Detail of research programme

The project arose out of my research into the Hospitallers in the British Isles in the fourteenth century. On 2 May 1312 Pope Clement V granted the lands of the dissolved Order of the Temple to the Order of the Hospital, although it was not until the 1330s that the Hospitallers in the British Isles had received the majority of the ex-Templar lands. A clear understanding of the trial of the Templars in the British Isles is essential in analysing the social, economic and political situation of the Hospitallers in the British Isles in the fourteenth century, as the Hospitallers inherited the Templars’ assets and liabilities.


In October 1307 all the brothers of the military religious order of the Temple in France were arrested on the orders of King Philip IV and charged with heresy. The trial of the Templars is now regarded by most scholars as a political trial, and its proceedings and the propaganda which accompanied it as being of considerable significance in the development of such trials. Whereas the trial of the Templars in France has been extensively studied (e.g., by Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978) and a study of the trial in Aragon was published recently by Alan Forey, The Fall of the Templars in the Crown of Aragon (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), the trial in the British Isles has been largely overlooked. Historians studying the Templars in the British Isles have incorporated a study of the trial into their wider study, such as: Thomas W. Parker, The Knights Templar in England (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1963); Evelyn Lord, The Knights Templar in Britain (London: Longman, 2002). There are more detailed, specific studies in Clarence Perkins, ‘The Trial of the Knights Templars in England’, English Historical Review, 24 (1909), 432-47; Eileen Gooder, Temple Balsall (Chichester: Phillimore, 1995); and J. S. Hamilton, ‘Apocalypse Not: Edward II and the Suppression of the Templars’, Medieval Perspectives, 12 (1997), 90-100. Yet none of these studies has considered the trial of the Templars in the British Isles within the broader international context of the trial overall. 

The trial in the British Isles is particularly illustrative of the political significance of the trial. King Edward II initially refused to implement the papal order to arrest the Templars in November 1307, but was eventually forced by a combination of political factors to co-operate with papal instructions. King Edward II used the Templars’ properties to finance his campaigns in Scotland, and only with extreme reluctance did he agree in 1322 to hand them over to the Order of the Hospital – an agreement which was not implemented. Because of the difficulty in obtaining confessions from the Templars the investigators of heresy took extensive third-party evidence, which was apparently based on folklore. A study of this evidence has been made by Anne Gilmour-Bryson, ‘The London Templar Trial Testimony: “Truth”, Myth or Fable’, in A World Explored: Essays in Honour of Laurie Gardiner, ed. Anne Gilmour-Bryson (Victoria: University of Melbourne History Department, 1993), pp. 44-61 (currently available online), but was based on the abridged edition of the proceedings published by Wilkins (1737).

The trial proceedings

The trial proceedings survive in three significantly different versions, preserved in four manuscripts:
(1) A long transcript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 454.
Published in abridged form by David Wilkins, Concilia magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae (London, 1737), vol. 2, pp. 328-401. For Wilkins’s omissions see Perkins, ‘Trial of the Knights Templars in England’, 435 note 28, 436 note 31, 437 note 38, 440 note 51. Wilkins’s version is about one quarter of the length of the original manuscript.
Related to this manuscript is the transcript preserved in the British Library, London: BL Cotton Julius B xii, fols 67-82 (was 70-85). This begins at the first full interrogation (MS Bodley 454 fol. 13v), with some differences in transcription and some additional material.

(2) A summary of the depositions of the Templars and third-party evidence, including much evidence not in (1): ‘Deminutio laboris examinantium processus contra ordinem Templi in Anglia, quasi per modum rubricarum’, in Vatican Archives, MS Arm. XXXV, v. 147.
Published by Konrad Schottmüller, Der Untergang des Templerordens mit urkundlichen und kritischen Beiträgen, 2 vols (Berlin, 1887, repr. Liechtenstein: Vaduz, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 78-102. This is a full transcription, with a few errors that can be corrected through comparison with MS Bodley 454.

(3) A summary of the depositions based on version (2), but differently presented and with additional material, in the ‘Annales Londonienses’. The original was seriously damaged in the Cotton fire of 1731. A transcript of the manuscript is at London, British Library MS Add. 5444.
Published by William Stubbs, Annales Londonienses and Annales Paulini; edited from manuscripts in the British Museum and in the Archepiscopal Library at Lambeth (London: Longman, 1882), vol. 1 of Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, Rolls Series 76: here pp. 180-98. This is a full transcription, with some doubtful readings that can be explained by reference to the other manuscripts.

A comparison of the different versions of the trial depositions throws much light on how the trial was progressed and how material was organised to present it to the best advantage, in the eyes of the inquisitors.

Other documents
Other documents relating to the trial – the inventories and extents of Templar property made by King Edward II’s officials, the accounts kept by the royal keepers of the Templars’ lands and government correspondence – survive in the National Archives at the Public Record Office at Kew in London. Some of this material has been digitised and is available online: digital images of the Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer: Memoranda Rolls for 1307-8, 1308-9 and the following years (The National Archives: Public Record Office E368/78, E368/79 and so on), which contain numerous references to the Templars and their properties, are available online in the digital archive assembled by Robert C. Palmer and Elspeth K. Palmer, ‘The Anglo-American Legal Tradition’, available at: aalt.law.uh.edu/aalt.html, aka AALT. Much of the material in the National Archives was noted in the published works set out above and by Clarence Perkins, ‘The Wealth of the Knights Templars in England and the Disposition of it after their Dissolution’, American Historical Review, 5 (1910), 242-63; by Agnes Leys, ‘The Forfeiture of the Lands of the Templars in England’, in Oxford Essays in Medieval History presented to Herbert Edward Salter (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), pp. 155-63; by Rosalind Hill, ‘Fourpenny retirement: the Yorkshire Templars in the fourteenth century’, in The Church and Wealth, ed. W. J. Sheils and Diane Wood, Studies in Church History, 24 (1987), pp. 123-8 and by Alan Forey, ‘Ex-Templars in England’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 53 (2002), 18-37. They analysed but did not publish this material. Lord, in her Knights Templar in Britain, has published a few of the inventories; some of the inventories and extents have been published elsewhere in various local studies, but few of the early inventories. Some correspondence has been published in Foedera, conventiones, literae et cuiusque generis acta publica..., ed. Thomas Rymer et al., vol. 2 part 1, 1302-1327 (London: A. J. Churchill, 1818).

Overall, while this material is known to historians, it is not easily accessible. Editions of texts are widely scattered, and many do not comply with modern scholarly conventions. Scholarly studies have concentrated on limited aspects of the material; much work has been done by local historians who lack knowledge of the wider European context necessary for full analysis. My initial research indicated that these sources contain valuable evidence relating to international mobility of lay religious, religious beliefs among lay people and relations between this religious order and secular society as well as the areas already examined by the scholars noted above (see my list of publications below). As the project has progressed, further fields for research have emerged: for instance, the question of what can be deduced from evidence extracted by torture or under duress; and how far the royal administration of the Templar estates can be compared to those of other escheats (such as the estates of Walter Langton, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield). By collating, comparing and analysing this material I will make a substantial contribution to scholarship in these areas.


The four manuscripts recording the trial proceedings have been published as a critical edition in two volumes, The Proceedings against the Templars in the British Isles (Ashgate Publishing, 2011, vol. 1: ISBN 9781409436508; vol. 2: 9781409436522; both volumes ISBN 9780754653943). Volume 1 contains the Latin text with critical apparatus and an introduction to the Latin text. Volume 2 includes a commentary and analysis of the text, the translation of the text and three appendices (a complete list of the Templars mentioned in the text, a list of the Templar houses in the British Isles mentioned in the text and a list of the locations in London where proceedings took place), bibliography and index.

The other documents relating to the trial are very extensive, and proved too extensive to be fully studied within the scope of the initial project. In April 2011 I submitted a research bid to the AHRC to transcribe and publish the sheriffs' inventories of the Templars’ property and the royal keepers’ accounts, 1308–1313. As this bid was unsuccessful, I am currently reworking the bid: I have photographed the documents for which I did not already have microfilm, and have begun transcription.

Additional analysis of the trial proceedings and my initial studies of the inventories and keepers’ accounts is being published as a series of scholarly articles.

  1. ‘International Mobility versus the Needs of the Realm: The Templars and Hospitallers in the British Isles in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries’, in International Mobility in the Military Orders (Twelfth to Fifteenth Centuries): Travelling on Christ’s Business, ed. Jochen Burgtorf and Helen Nicholson (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, ISBN 0-7083-1907-6, and Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, ISBN 0-8173-1512-8, 2006), pp. 87-101.
  2. ‘Relations between Houses of the Order of the Temple in Britain and their Local Communities, as Indicated during the Trial of the Templars, 1307-12’, in Knighthoods of Christ: Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar, Presented to Malcolm Barber, ed. Norman Housley (Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7546-5527-5), pp. 195-207.
  3. ‘The Testimony of Brother Henry Danet and the Trial of the Templars in Ireland’, in In Laudem Hierosolymitani: Studies in Crusades and Medieval Culture in Honour of Benjamin Z. Kedar, ed. Iris Shagrir, Ronnie Ellenblum and Jonathan Riley-Smith, Crusades Subsidia 1 (Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7546-6140-5), pp. 411-23.
  4. ‘The Trial of the Templars in the British Isles’, in Religiones militares: Contributi alla storia degli Ordini religioso-militari nel medioevo, ed. Anthony Luttrell and Francesco Tommasi (Citta di Castello (Perugia): Selecta Editrice, 2008; ISBN 978-88-901124-2-5), pp. 131-54. I drew up this summary of the state of research on the subject early in my research, in 2003: regrettably publication was delayed.
  5. ‘The Trial of the Templars in Ireland’, in The Debate on the Trial of the Templars (1307-1314), ed. Jochen Burgtorf, Paul F. Crawford and Helen J. Nicholson (Farnham, Surrey & Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010; ISBN 978-0-7546-6570-0), pp. 225-35. This is a major collection of studies on the Trial.
  6. ‘Myths and Reality: The Crusades and the Latin East as presented during the Trial of the Templars in the British Isles, 1308–1311’, appeared in On the Margins of Crusading: The Military Orders, the Papacy and the Christian World, ed. Helen J. Nicholson (Farnham, Ashgate: ISBN 978-1-4094-3217-3), pp. 89–99.
  7. ‘Charity and Hospitality in Military Orders’, in As Ordens Militares, Freires, Guerreiros, Cavaleiros. Actas do VI Encontro sobre Ordens Militares, ed. Isabel Cristina Ferreira Fernandez, vol. 1 (Palmela: GEeOS/Município de Palmela, 2012), pp. 193–206, discusses among other things the validity of the inquisitorial evidence.
I have surveyed the whole trial in the British Isles in a book-length study entitled The Knights Templar on Trial, which was published by The History Press in June 2009.
A short article, ‘The Templars on Trial: A very muted inquisition’, appeared in BBC History Magazine for June 2009, with an associated podcast.
I discussed some of the contradictions within the evidence from the proceedings in a paper at the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in May 2012: ‘How secret was the Templar admission ceremony? Evidence from the proceedings in the British Isles’.
There are also some initial translations in the documents produced for my final year undergraduate course HS1805 The Military Orders, relating to economic activity and to the trial.

I had originally intended to publish my findings online but, as in the past material has been taken from my web pages without acknowledgement, I have now decided that this is an inappropriate method of disseminating unpublished research. Instead, for the benefit of the general reader, I have produced a summary of some aspects of the trial of the Templars in the British Isles, in an appropriate user-friendly format. This summary is on a site outside Cardiff University.
Go to summary.

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This page was created by Helen J. Nicholson on 5 April 2004, was last updated 6 July 2012 and is valid until 30 September 2012.