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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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DEATH OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR

[142] OWING to his many wars and sinful extravagance, Philip needed a great deal of money, which he tried to obtain in every way in his power. Besides imposing heavy taxes on the people, and despoiling the Jews,—whom he finally drove out of France,—he also clipped the coin, and minted money of such low value that he was dubbed "the False Coiner."

All these ways not being sufficient to supply his vast demands, Philip next resolved to confiscate the wealth of the Knights Templar, many of whom, after about two hundred years, had come to settle in France. Besides the castles they owned here and there in all parts of the country, they were masters of a large part of the city of Paris, where they had a huge fortress known as "the Temple."

Because they formed a secret society, and because the members of their order were pledged never to reveal what passed I their meetings, common people suspected them of horrible and impious ceremonies. All manner of crimes [143] were thus laid at their door, and although nothing could be proved against them, the king had them arrested in 1307.

To force the Templars to confess that they were guilty, they were subjected to awful tortures, after being weakened by long imprisonment. While on the rack, many of these poor sufferers acknowledged anything that was asked, but many of them took back their confessions as soon as they were released and had recovered their senses. These men were them condemned to be burned at the stake as perjurers and heretics.

The Grand Master of the order, Molay, was kept in prison for several years, and them met the same fate. He showed great courage on this occasion, and died like a hero, singing hymns even when the flames arose around him. He is also said to have uttered an awful prophecy from the pyre, declaring that the Pope—who had permitted the arrest and execution of the Knights of Templar—would die within forty days, and King Philip within the year. Strange to relate, this prophecy came true. The Pope died while on a journey, within the given time; and, before the year ended, Philip, too, passed away, owing to a hunting accident.

During his reign Philip increased his estates by adding to the crown lands Flanders, Champagne, and the city of Lyons, which had hitherto been a free commune. Many important institutions also date back to the time of this king, among others the assembly known as the "States-General" 1302. This was composed of three divisions,—the nobles, the clergy, and the burghers,—forming the three estates or three classes of society. They were [144] called together mainly to help the king secure more money for his many needs.

Philip IV. left three sons, who, in the course of the next fourteen years, came to the throne in turn; they were the last of the direct Capetian line. The first of these princes was Louis X., the Quarrelsome. No sooner had Philip died, and this young prince succeeded him, than the nobles—still striving to recover some of their lost privileges—rebelled again. But the new king soon succeeded in quieting them.

The people, having been overtaxed during his father's rule, also clamored for redress, so the king, not knowing how else to satisfy them, allowed them to persecute his father's minister of finance, who was accused of having robbed the country to enrich himself. This poor man was also charged with using magic arts to cause the king's death, and for that reason was arrested and hanged.

Being in constant need of money, yet not wishing to enrage his people any further by imposing new taxes, Louis X. allowed serfs on his estates to buy back their freedom, and thus, while the king's needs were relieved, the number of serfs in France was greatly diminished.

Although strong and healthy, Louis X. died young, having taken a drink of very cold water after overheating himself at a game of tennis. During his brief final illness, this king arranged that his children should be placed in the care of his brother Philip, who should be regent of the realm for the next eighteen years. But Louis's only son (John I.) having died shortly after this, in infancy, Philip promptly claimed the crown for himself, in preference to his little niece, declaring only males could occupy the throne.

[145] Although women were allowed to inherit other estates in France, the lawyers—who all sided with the regent, Philip—agreed to this, and enforced what is known as the "Salic Law," whereby women could not claim the crown on France.

Philip V., the Long, thus succeeded his elder brother. During his brief reign of six years, he effected many wise reforms, not only in government and in finance, but also in the laws of the country. It happened, however, that they very law which he had so eagerly revived to deprive his niece of the throne, was enforced by his younger brother Charles when Philip died, leaving daughters but no son.


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