Twelve French Templars Who Escaped To Continue Templar Survival

Not all French Templars were burnt, 12 or more escaped

According to the foremost Templar Historian, Malcolm Barber (from his book, “The Trial of the Templars”) There were 12 officially named French Templar Survivors led by the Preceptor of France, Gerard de Villiers. Barber gathers this from official sources but his research has discovered about 12 more French Templar survivors [6] [36]. This group of about 24 left the French Preceptory the night before their arrest driving hay carts (possibly with the Temple treasure hidden beneath the hay) toward Switzerland (the first who mentioned the hay carts was Gérard de Sède  in his book about the secrets of Gisors castle [34]. He referred to the same depositions of Jean de Chalon, which he allegedly found in the secret archives of the Vatican). Why are they so significant? Because this band of 24 Templars may very well have made it to a secure location (like Switzerland) with the Templar treasure to continue the line of Templars which may have survived until today.  The following profiles of the twelve known French Templar escapees was compiled by the brilliant Edward Zaborovsky of Latvia and we thank him for his permission to use his work.

The List of Twelve

   This strange document with the custody number fol. 84v was cited in the paper of a famous researcher of the Order – Heinrich Finke[8] – whose works are of a great value for the historians even till nowadays. The list is a mere note, written of an unknown reason not in Latin, but in Old French. The document tells nothing about the author and includes only a list of the twelve Templars, who escaped being arrested and managed to flee. The attribution of the document was apparently made by Heinrich Finke himself, who dated it late 1307. Assuming, that the document isn’t a fraud and wasn’t produced with a certain purpose by the legists of Philip the Fair, we can state, that it shows us the list of Templars, who were especially carefully looked for by the royal authorities. The fact that the number of knights fled was bigger than twelve, which is also partly mentioned in the document, leads to the conclusion that it were these twelve Templers, who should be captured in the first place. Who were then these people, so dangerous and so eagerly pursued by the King?

The most transparent person among them is Humbert Blanc (Humbertus Blancus). He was an old knight, who was in the Order for about forty years.  Having been to the Holy Land, he returned later on to France, where he was at first appointed lieutenant (i.e. the right hand, spokesman) of the master of Auvergne, and from 1299 even became master of that province himself. There are no proofs, that Blanc fled, it’s more probably that he was quite occasionally in England by the time as the trial began in France, else it would be difficult to explain why he waited there to be arrested. Anyway, in 1308 he was captured (according to some records in Canterbury) and from 1309 testified many times on the trial against Templars in London. During the trial he denied all accusations against him and the Order in general. The only thing he admitted to was the secretiveness of chapters’ gatherings, but he himself described this habit to be “stupid”. Nevertheless, some new depositions, made by the French Templars in Clermont, reached England later. There Humbert Blanc was accused of blasphemy while accepting new members into the Order. Although Blanc stated these accusations to be “lies”, the judges didn’t believe him. None of the English Templars except him were sentenced to be imprisoned, so that Humbert Blanc was the only one who was put into irons[9]. We know that from 1313 Hospitallers even paid for his maintenance two shillings a day regarding his high rank, whereas other Templars were getting only four pence[10]. The further destiny of the ex-master of Auvergne remains unknown.

But Humbert Blanc was not the only one from the list of twelve who was captured. Thus we find there a Templar Pierre de Boucle (Pierre de Bouch). Regarding the fact that his name could be spelled in different variations, it is possible that the knight meant here is the brother Petrus de Bocli, who had really managed to escape. In spite of the fact that this young knight (by the time of arrests he wasn’t twenty five yet) was acting in a proper way – he changed his clothes and shaved off his beard – the pursuers still found him[11]. His importance can be easily explained by the position he held – he was lieutenant of the Visitor of France Hugues de Pairaud[12] and could be regarded as a very valuable witness.

It seems like one more Templar from the list was unlucky in his escape. Although a brother from Burgundy, Renaud de la Folie (Foillie) by name, was one of those twelve, we have his depositions made during the trial in 1309. Unfortunately the records give us no hints who he actually was, so we don’t know either why his name is present in the list[13].

Commanderie Villemoison

Commanderie (preceptory) Villemoison – present days

Others were luckier. Among the twelve we find the name of a Guillaume de Lins, of an unknown reason followed by the question mark. He can be perhaps indentified as Gillierm de Lurs, the fled preceptor of a mighty Villemoison commandery[14]. He often committed the receptions into the Order in the chapel of that commandery; the last ceremony was held precisely before the trial in 1307. As it was often stated, the accusations against Templars reversed the different blasphemy actions during the receptions, such as spitting on the cross. That was perhaps the reason why Gillierm de Lurs decided to flee, moreover he also was once the lieutenant of the Visitor Hugues de Pairaud and could tell a lot[15].

The list mentions a Templar Hugues Daray (Dares), about whom we know almost nothing. He was probably a certain official in the Temple, for we know, that in 1306 he was in charge of accepting recruits into the Order in a small commandery of La Fuilhouse (Fulhosa), Auvergne, but he wasn’t a preceptor there. In the records of the trial, published by Michelet, he is not mentioned, and it gives us a reason to think that his flight was successful.

One more Templar from the list is named as brother Baraus. We can doubtless indentify him as the knight Barral de Gauzignan [16], preceptor of a very big bailliage Le-Puy in Provence. Precisely as Daray and Lurs did, he also recruited the new members, but unlike the first two Templars he was an important Order official too. In 1296 he held the post of preceptor in Saint-Giles, one of the hugest commanderies of the region. And from 1298 he was lieutenant of the master of Provence[17]. The presence of the Provence Templars in the list arouses a special interest, for this region was at that time under the reign und jurisdiction of Charles II of Anjou, count of Provence, and the arrest were made there later. Gauzignan was also among those, whose flight didn’t end successfully – he was captured, for we have his depositions in the trial’s records, where he admits the existence of some impious rituals in the Temple, though he states that he did all he could not to be involved[18].

As we see, most of the Templars in the list were engaged in the receptions of newcomers and holding chambers in commanderies. And it was these strange godless rituals, made at the receptions, which became the main and the most concrete and proved accusation against the Temple. In this case the presence of the knight Adam de Valencourt among “the twelve” is somehow strange. He was definitely not young, for there is some evidence about his being in the Holy Land in Château Pèlerin in 1286. We don’t know why he was being searched for, but his biography has a very curious aspect. He joined the Order twice, for after his first reception he left the Temple for an unknown reason and joined the Carthusians, but later on came back[19].

We have no evidence at all about two more Templars – Geraud de Châteauneuf and Charembo de Conflant, who fled and were pursued. The only thing we can assume is that according to their names they probably belonged to some noble families from Burgundy. Perhaps the list of twelve is the only existing document where they are mentioned. In the trial’s records of 1308-1312 in Aragon we find a Knight Templar Jacobus de Conflent[20] who can probably be the same person with Conflent from the list, and thus, regarding that the Templars of Aragon weren’t punished too hard, his escape was quite lucky.

Three villains including a real devil

Now we’ll take a look on the three remaining Templars, whose role in the trial is much more mysterious. One of them is the knight Hugues de Chalon (Hugo de Cabilone), preceptor of commandery of Thors, Champagne. In the trial’s records we find some testimonies that he was quite stingy and skilful. The accusations against him were among others that he reduced the alms for the poor and later on suggested to cancel them at all; he also shamefully practiced the reception into the Order in exchange for money. He was however not an ordinary Templar, for his uncle was the Visitor of France Hugues de Pairaud. Apparently, this kinship made him not only very powerful but also contributed to his political career. Thus in 1302, when the Pope called to his place the leading clerics and the heads of religious orders, but Philip the Fair forbade them to go, Hugues de Pairaud, being afraid of coming himself, sent Hugues de Chalon with this mission. By the way, Hugo was not the only one relative of de Pairaud in the Temple, we know also about Pierre de Modies and Falco de Milli. They both fled too, although they are not mentioned in the list. Disguising themselves as beggars didn’t help and they were soon captured.

The name of Hugues de Chalon emerges in one more very interesting document, which is also to be found in the storage Latin-10919 under the number 236v, and was also cited by Heinrich Finke[21].

Frater Hugo de Cabilone nepos visitatoris et frater Girardus de Monteclaro, milites ordinis seu secte Templi, una cum quibusdam suis complicibus secte conceperant occidere regem.

The brother Hugues de Chalon, the nephew of the Visitor and brother of Gerard de Montclair, warriors of the Order or the Sect of the Temple, together with some moreaccomplices from the same sect planed to kill the King.

The murder of the King, the anointed sovereign – what crime could be more awful than this? We should also notice that this document tells us about the existence inside the Order of a special sect or circle! But who is Gerard de Montclair? There is no evidence about a Templar with such a name, but the list of twelve knows a certain Richard de Montclair. A Templar with that name did really exist and is said to be  in Cyprus in 1304[22]. It’s quite possible, that we have a mistake in the document, and Gerard and Richard should be one and the same person.


Tombstone of Gerard de Villiers, preceptor of a commandery Villiers-le-Temple (died in 1273)

The key figure in this list of twelve villains is certainly Gerard de Villiers, master of France[23]. He is often given the second rank in the hierarchy of French Templars, but regarding the fact that the Visitor Hugues de Pairaud was already in his declining years, Gerard de Villiers played perhaps even the main role. We know nothing about his origin, but he is often confused with another Gerard de Villiers, preceptor of a mighty Wallon commandery in Villiers-le-Temple, who died in 1273. The Villiers family was one of the noblest and not only in the Temple Order, Jean de Villiers was for example the Grand Master of the Hospital, who heroically fought while defending Acre in 1291. The historians know also the name of Pierre de Villiers, who held the high post of Templar commander in Aquitaine in 1292-1300. Besides, from the trial’s records we know of a Templar priest Guillaume de Villiers, who refused to defend the Order in front of the papal commission referring to his poverty and old age, and Bernard de Villiers, preceptor of the commandery in Sent-Paul-la-Roche, who testified against the Temple in 1309 and 1311. We don’t know exactly that kind of kinship existed between all these people, but apparently they were relatives.

We don’t know the time and age when Gerard de Villiers joined the Order but probably it happened not later than 1295. In 1297 he became lieutenant of the Master of France, that was Hugues de Pairaud then, who was also the Visitor at the same time. In 1300 Villiers became the Master of France and started a very prolific administrative activity, which results we see in many receptions and regional chambers organized by him. With the same energy he took up the economic issues, for except being a Master of France he also remained preceptor of the largest Order’s bailliages. This explains the fact that sometimes in the trial he is mentioned as, for example, the head of such bailliages as Brie or Mont-de-Soissons. But right before the trial some curious events took place. The last mention of the Master Gerard de Villiers dates from the February 1307, and already in June, just a couple of months before the arrests, the documents signed by the Master of France bear the name of Hugues de Pairaud[24]. Later on, after the arrests, the Templars held in Paris forwarded a petition to be allowed to meet the highest Order’s officials: the Grand Master Jacques de Molay and the Master of France Hugues de Pairaud! But what has happened to Villiers? If he was displaced, then what for? And if he was already dead by that time, why is it stated that he fled? Now let’s take a look on the trial’s records. They show us Gerard de Villiers as a real devil, whose evil essence can be hardly described. One of the accusations was that at the receptions, he conducted, he under the threat of death demanded from the newcomers to deny the God and spit on the cross, as it was testified at the interrogation by a Templar Nicolas d`Amiens[25]. Another accusation concerned the veneration of a mysterious head, which was said to be cultivated under the lead of Villiers. That was the deposition made in November 1307[26] by Raul de Gizy, preceptor of one of the most important French commanderies in Lagny-le-Sec. Later, in January 1311 he made some extended testimonies. Interesting, that according to Raul the whole thing took place in the very annual chamber of French Templars in Paris. Raul even described how and by whom this head was kept – in a leather sack by Villiers’s personal assistant (lieutenant of the Master?) sergeant Hugues de Besançon [27]. I don’t see any reasons to be skeptical about these accusations, in contrast to, for instance, accusations of betrayal. Villiers was accused of traitorously fleeing together with some other Templars from the island of Rouad, besieged by Mameluks in 1302, leaving its garrison to its fate. This accusation can be found in the depositions of the captured Templar Reno de la Foli[28]. However, they seem to be a real slander, for, as Alain Demurger quite wisely remarks, a traitor had to be punished, and it hasn’t happened to de Villiers[29]. Moreover, the assumption that Villiers was present at that time somewhere in the East contradicts the very beautiful legend how de Villiers “took part” in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (Courtrai) in 1302. According to it some Templar forces were both on the side of the Flemish and Philip the Fair, and because of this fact Gerard de Villiers gave an order to all Templars not to get involved. The French brothers stood aside during the whole fight and then left the battlefield together with the forces of the Count of Sent-Paul. Of course, regarding the weight of the defeat the French suffered, the legend describes how angry and furious Philip the Fair was.

But the most crushing and probably rather deceitful accusations against the Temple in general and Gerard de Villiers particularly were made by Jean de Chalon, preceptor of the commandery in Namur. He not only confirmed the fact of the total corruption in the Order and the presence of some blasphemous rites, but also told that everybody who tried to resist these godless habits of the Master of France had to end up in a dreadful secret Templar prison in Merlen. Moreover, de Chalon appeared to be a prison guard there and witnessed deaths of nine Templars imprisoned[30]. Among these very doubtful confessions made by Jean de Chalon and cited in the report on the investigation in Poitou in 1308, which is now kept in the archives of Vatican[31], we find also the below given passage. It is famous because of a huge amount of stories about the treasure of the Templars which this passage gave birth to:

Item dixit, quod potentes ordinis prescientes istam confusionem fugiunt et ipse obviavit fratri Girardo de Villariis ducenti quinquaginta equos, et audivit dici, quod intravit mare cum XVIII galeis, et frater Hugo de Cabilone fugiit cum tot thesauro fratris Hugonis de Peraudo. Interrogatus, quomodo potuit tandiu istud factum teneri secretum, respondit, quod nullus pro aliqua re erat ausus revelare, nisi papa et rex aperuissent viam, quia, si sciretur in ordine, quod aliquis loqueretur, statim fuisset mortuus[32].

He also said, that the leaders of the Order, expecting the trouble, have fled, and he himself met the brother Gerard de Villiers, who had 50 horses with him, and heard people talking that [he] put to sea with 18 galleys, and the brother Hugues de Chalon fled with the whole treasury of the brother Hugues de Pairaud. To the question, how he managed to keep this secret for so long, he answered that nobody for anything in the world would dare to reveal it, unless the Pope and the King gave way to it, for if the Order’s officials would have found out that somebody had let out the secret, he would have been killed straight away.

The treasury of the Visitor of France Hugues de Pairaud is most probably meant to be the treasury of the Paris Temple, but the confessions, which de Pairaud himself made much later, don’t support this theory. The matter is that despite the common opinion de Pairaud was still alive even 15 years after the arrest. He was kept imprisoned in Montlheri and in 1321 told some quite interesting details. It turns out, that he was really expecting the arrests and thus in September 1307 gave a small chest with the treasures to a preceptor of the commandery in Dormelles for the sake of safety keeping. The preceptor in his turn gave it to another Templar. The latter, however, being afraid of responsibility and possible consequences, passed the chest to the royal official of Sens Guillaume de Angest. It remains unknown, whether it was the whole Order’s treasury or just a part of it but the royal finances increased by 1189 golden and more than five thousand silver coins minted in 1303-1304[33]. I suppose, these facts show once again that the myth of the hidden treasure of the Temple has no real background.

The depositions made by Jean de Chalon arouse the reasonable doubts in their credibility, and in the first place because of the mentioned 18 galleys which the Templars simply didn’t and couldn’t have. On the other hand de Chalon himself meant it to be mere “talks”. What seems to be more interesting is what he says about Villiers. Why did Gerard de Villiers need 50 horses? The answer to that question can be found in the list of the fled Templars, where the name of Gerard de Villiers is followed by the statement that he was able to arm 40 men! So, who seemed to be more dangerous for the royal power – the fled Templar authorities or a small but effective party of armed men? And how trustworthy were the rumors about 1500-2000 Templars, hiding in the nearby of city of Lyon, the rumors, which were so popular in 1311, just before the Vienne Council[35]?

If we assume that all above mentioned documents are trustworthy, then the version, that there was a certain “inner circle” inside the Order, begins to look quite plausible. Moreover, if this “circle” indeed existed, it included not only the captured Hugues de Pairaud and Jean de Chalon or the fled Villiers and other Templars from the list. A lot of other brothers of Provence managed to escape, only in Toulon fled seven, as well as the master of that province Bernard-de-la-Roche, whose name surprisingly wasn’t added to the list. It seems like many members of that secret sect were warned about the coming arrests and fled with their arms, treasures and probably the artifacts of their strange cults. This version will indeed satisfy those who like mysterious secrets and enigmas, but it can be assumed only under the condition that all these documents are not only authentic but also tell the truth. And it is precisely what we can hardly believe in. Jean de Chalon, who collaborated with the investigators, could approve or tell whatever they wanted. He was ready to make all possible depositions just with the purpose to reject an accusation against Philip the Fair that he stole the Order’s treasure. The untitled documents from the storage Latin-10919 were more probably written by the royal legists, who searched the ways how to cast a shadow on the Order’s reputation and blame Hugues de Pairaud, whose nephew was Hugues de Chalon. But perhaps they had one more purpose. It must be stressed, that the flight of Gerard de Villiers is mentioned only in these weird documents, but is not certain. Could the planned murder of Gerard de Villiers by the time the trial began be a good reason for the royal authorities to declare him one of those who fled? And could it also explain why the Templars testified so readily against their own Master?

There is though one more possibility. It shouldn’t be forgotten that all these weird documents from the French National Library may be mere frauds made in the XVIII century in the Masonic circles with the purpose to mystify the past of the Order. However, this assumption exposes the reputation of Finke, whose skills of a historian are beyond any doubts. Let the experts have the last word. But whether the documents are trustworthy and authentic or not, it doesn’t deny the fact, that despite all arrests some of the high-ranked Templars did manage to escape from the royal justice. The question, how many Templars escaped – dozens or hundreds – is still left open.

[1] Laurent Dailliez – La France des Templiers, Marabout, coll. «Guide Marabout», Paris, 1974 gives us the number of 1170 commanderis on the territory of modern France. But from that number we should of course deduct those commanderies, which were situated beyond the boarders of the jurisdiction of the French crown, for example Provence and Languedoc.

[2] Concerning the number of commanderies and Templars in England see, for example,  Evelin Lord – The Knights Templar in Britain, Pearson Education Limited, 2001 or Anne Gilmoure-Bryson – The London Templar Trial Testimony.

[3] Alain Demurger- Vie et mort de l`ordre du Temple, 1120-1314. P.: Editions du Seuil, 1985 p.278

[4] Jean-Claude Bonnin – Les Templiers et la mer: l`exemple de La Rochelle

[5] Marion Melville in – La Vie des Templiers. P. Gallimard, 1982. – gives the following numbers: 140 records of interrogations in Paris (October-November 1307) + 72 witnesses testified in Curia (June 1308) + 595 witnesses gathered in Paris (March 1310) + 13 records of interrogations in Caen, 45 in Cahors, 6 in Carcassonne, 7 in Bigorre, 68 in Clermont (June 1309) = 946, but these lists partly overlap.

[6] Malcolm Barber – The Trial of the Templars, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 60-61

[7] Barbara Frale – Chinon chart. Papal absolution to the last Templar, Master Jacques de Molay, Journal of Medieval   History, 30,2, April 2004, pp. 109–134

[8] Heinrich Finke – Papsttum und Untergang des Templerordens, 2 Bde., Vorreformationsgeschichtliche Forschungen, IV, Münster 1907, p. 74

[9] Barber, p. 225-228

[10] Alan Forey – Ex-Templars in England, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Cambridge University, 2002

[11] Barber, p. 60

[12] De Trudon des Ormes – Liste des maisons et de quelques dignitaires de l’Ordre du Temple en Syrie, en Chypre et en France, d’après les pièces du procès – Revue de l’Orient Latin, tome V, Paris , 1897

[13] Jules Michelet – Procès des templiers (collection des documents inédits de l´histoire de France), Paris 1841-1851, T.1  p.39

[14] Anne Gilmour-Bryson –The Trial of the Templars in Cyprus, a complete English edition, Leiden: Brill, 1998, p. 85

[15] Different sources give different variations how his name can be spelled: Lins, Lur, Liris, Lurs, Lus

[16] Barral de Gauzignan, Barral de Gauzighan., Barralis de Grazilhano

[17] Damien Carraz – L’Ordre du Temple dans la Basse vallée du Rhône (1124-1312). Ordres militaires, croisades et sociétés méridionales, Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2003 p. 308, 311

[18] Finke, p. 357-358

[19] Alain Demurger – Outre-mer. Le passage des templiers en Orient d’après les dépositions du procès в Chemins d’outre-mer. Études d’histoire sur la Méditerranée médiévale offertes à Michel Balard, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2004; see also Michelet T1 p. 204, 595; T II p. 71

[20] Finke, p. 163

[21] Finke, p. 501

[22] Alain Demurger – Outre-mer. Le passage des templiers en Orient d’après les dépositions du procès.

[23] Spelling variations:  Gérard de Vilars, Gérard de Villers, Gérard de Vîlliers, Gerardum de Villaribus, Gerardus de Villars, Gerardus de Villaribus, Girardo de Villariis, Girard de Villard, Géraut de Vîlliers, Gérot de Villiers

[24] Alain Demurger – Jacques de Molay: Le crépuscule des Templiers. Paris: Payot et Rivages, 2007,  p. 246

[25] Raymond Oursel – Le Proces des Templiers – (collection of the trial’s records), Club du meilleur livre, Paris 1955 p.39

[26] Ibid, p. 35

[27] Ibid, p. 266-267

[28] Ibid, p. 64

[29] Alain Demurger – Jacques de Molay p. 163

[30] Barber, p. 119

[31] Register Aven. N 48 Benedicti XII, tome I, folios 448-451 – the presence of these documents in the archives of Benedictus XII (1334-1342) has aroused earlier also some doubts in their authenticity, but it should be admitted that the Chinon chart was found by Barbara Frale in the same storage.

[32] Finke, p. 339

[33] Jean-Bernard de Vaivre – La  Commanderie d`Ėpailly et la chapelle templière durant la période médiévale, Paris, 2005

[34] Gérard de Sède- Les Templiers sont parmi nous, ou, L’Enigme de Gisors, Paris,1962

[35] Barber, p. 262-263

[36] Mechner, Jordan. Templar. New York: First Second, 2013 . Print.

© 2006 – 2013, Edward Zaborovsky. Excerpted here by kind permission of the author from his article appearing here: .  No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from Edward Zaborovsky.  The Forward was written by T. Bryant Jones.