History

Published on January 27th, 2021 | by Ryan Hess

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The Fall of the Capetian Dynasty: The Unknown Royal Family that Changed Modern France. Part II: The Silly Curse of Jacques de Molay

One must imagine that in March of 1314, Phillip IV le bel, King of France, felt something akin to invincibility.  His longtime military enemies Flanders and England had been fought to a standstill. His rival for spiritual power over Christendom, Pope Boniface VIII, was dead, humiliated, and replaced by a “puppet” to the Throne of saint Peter located now at Avignon, France. Perhaps most important, given the violence that often followed questions of royal succession, he had three sons, all of whom were themselves married, to take his place. And, in front of him, Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charney the last of the Knight Templar, were moments from execution by burning at the stake. The Templars had been among his staunchest opponents during his fight with Boniface VIII, and now all that remained of them was going to literally go up in smoke. Seizing the vast templar wealth to pay down the massive debts Phillip owed for decades of warfare was just a bonus. Yes, as the tinder around the feet of the doomed men began to smoke, Phillip IV probably felt untouchable.

Which is why it a bit annoying when Jacques de Molay opened his big mouth and, according to legend, screamed a now infamous curse. With his last words, De Molay cursed Phillip and the puppet pope Clement V to face God’s judgement within the year. But De Molay was not content to stop with the King, which is understandable as he was literally on fire at this point. So, he went on to curse Phillip’s descendants as well. Anyone in Phillip’s position may have scoffed at such an appeal to supernatural vengeance, but one wonders if he began to get nervous when, one month later, Pope Clement V was dead.[1]


We probably won’t regret this… will we?
Photo Credit: https://www.dominicselwood.com/trial-of-the-templars/

Nevertheless, Phillip had little to worry about. Even if he did die his dynasty would live on with three sons, all of whom were in strong, well-matched marriages, likely to produce Capet sons to rule France well into the future. His sons, Louis X le hutin (for his quarrelsome nature), Phillip V le long, and Charles IV the bald (yes, Charles got the short end of the nickname stick) were married to Margaret, Joan, and Blanche of Burgundy respectively. These were not marriages for love but more importantly they ensured the continuing alliance between the Capets and the powerful Duchy of Burgundy. Additionally, his daughter was Queen Isabella as she was married to King Edward II of England.[2] With these alliances intact, France was the preeminent power in Europe and there was no need to fear a silly curse.

The House of Capet in 1314. Don’t worry… it gets more complicated.
Creation and Photo Credit: Ryan Hess.

Yet, if you believe in such things as curses, the curse of Jacques de Molay was just getting started. In a scandal that would have made medieval tabloids buzz with excitement Margaret and Blanche were caught having affairs with two young (probably quite handsome) French knights. They carried out their dalliance in a large fortress called the Tour de Nesle and were only caught through some scheming by Isabella. The fallout from such public drama was immediate and intense. Both the knights were executed, the princesses were imprisoned and the Alliances those marriages had held together began deteriorating. Also, in a moment of real-world foreshadowing it was decided that all progeny from those marriages was immediately considered, if not illegitimate, at least in question. In case it was not obvious… this problem will return.[3]


Everyone Involved in the Tour de Nestle Affair. From Left to Right; Charles, Phillip V, Isabella, Phillip IV, Louis, and Charles Valois (brother of the King).
One, big, very unhappy family.
Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_de_Nesle_affair#/media/File:Philip_iv_and_family.jpg

Maybe the curse was to blame, maybe Louis and Charles were simply poor husbands, Margaret and Blanche just wanted a little fun on the side. Either way, the strong position that Phillip IV was in before Jacques de Molay’s execution, was going up in smoke before his very eyes. Fortunately, he could fix it. He could rem-marry his sons and patch things up with Burgundy and England. He had money (thanks to stealing it from the templars), a strong army, and still had influence over the church. Why should he be afraid of some silly curse?

In November of 1314, Phillip IV had a stroke and died. Whether by divine intervention or coincidence, Jacques de Molay was right when he said that both Phillip and Clement would meet God before the year was out. Phillip IV was succeeded by his eldest son Louis.  In a touch of irony, Phillip’s death happened so soon after the Tour de Nesle affair that, though found guilty of adultery, Louis had not yet divorced Margaret and she technically became queen when he took the throne.

Despite the drama surrounding his ascension, Louis X ensured that the house of Capet was safe. He was young and healthy. His daughter through Margaret was of questionable parentage now, but he would soon be re-married and probably have more sons and heirs. Yes, the House of Capet had experienced a hard year in 1314 but had come through stronger and ready to lead France for centuries to come. Why should they be worried about some silly curse?


[1] “The Curse of Jacques de Molay,” Sky HISTORY TV channel, accessed January 4, 2021, https://www.history.co.uk/shows/knightfall/articles/the-curse-of-jacques-de-molay.

[2] “House of Capet,” in Wikipedia, December 31, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=HouseofCapet&oldid=997414523.

[3] Alison Weir, Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England, 1st ed (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005).


About the Author

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is a Major and a Foreign Area Officer in the United States Air Force. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 2010 and holds masters degrees from Oklahoma University and National Defence University. Born in Denver, Colorado he currently resides in New Mexico with his wife and newborn son.



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