You have heard how often the kings of France were at war with the nobles, and how gradually their power was reduced while that of the king increased. Philip iv. struggled, not against the nobles, but against the Church.
Wealthy persons had been used, when they were dying, to leave all their lands and riches to the Church, but Philip forbade them to give her more than a certain portion of their wealth or property. He also refused to let any of the clergy sit in the law courts. Nor was this all. Being in need of money, the king determined that the clergy should be taxed, a thing unheard of until now.
Boniface viii. , who was Pope at this time, was very angry when he heard that the King of France had dared to tax the clergy. He at once wrote to Philip, saying that the priests were his subjects and could not be taxed without his permission. If the king would not "amend these matters of his own good will," the Pope threatened to correct Philip more severely.
Philip could ill brook the Pope's reproof. He answered that the King of France could tax whom he would in his own realm, and had done so before ever a Pope had ruled at Rome.
The Pope with some sharpness retorted that if the king did not humble himself, and that speedily, he, Boniface, would excommunicate him; nay, he would do more, he would even depose him.
As Philip did not submit, a Bull of Excommunication was actually sent to France. The decree was called a Bull from the golden bulla or ball to which the Pope's seal was attached. But the bearer of the Bull was thrown into prison when he reached France, and Philip proceeded to attack the Pope.
The French king had in Italy at this time a captain named Nogaret. He, by Philip's orders, joined an Italian prince called Colonna, who for long had had a family feud with the Pope.
Nogaret and Colonna then hired soldiers and set out to seek the Pope, who was staying in a palace in the town of Anagni.
In September the soldiers, led by Nogaret and Colonna, entered the town, the gates being flung wide for them to enter, for Nogaret had bribed the captain of Anagni with gold.
Boniface was an old man, over seventy years of age, but when he heard that his enemies were near, he threw over his shoulders the cloak of St. Peter, put the crown that had belonged to him as Pope upon his head, and, taking the Cross in his hands, awaited the soldiers without a trace of fear. As they entered the palace he said to his enemies, "Here is my neck and here is my head!"
Colonna would fain have killed the old man on the spot, and when Nogaret interfered, the Italian prince is said to have struck Boniface with his mailed hand, until the blood streamed down his face.
The soldiers then sent the Pope's attendants away, placed the old man on a horse, with his face to the tail, and led him away to prison.
For two days Boniface dared neither to eat nor drink, lest his enemies should poison him. On the third day the people of Anagni could no longer bear to think of their Pope in prison. Forgetting their fear of the French, they rose and drove Nogaret's soldiers out of the town, and set Pope Boniface free. Then in triumph they led him back to his palace, and because he was faint with fasting, they fed him with bread and gave him wine to drink.
When the Romans heard how the Pope had been treated, they sent their soldiers to bring him back to Rome. But soon after the old man, worn out by all that he had suffered, took ill and died. From that time the worldly power of the Pope was broken.
In the following year, 1304, Philip was forced to recognise the independence of Flanders, and Count Guy's eldest son came to do homage to the French king as his lord. Save for two or three frontier towns, Flanders no longer belonged to the kingdom of France.
The war had emptied Philip's treasury. To fill it Philip did two cruel deeds. The Jews in France were known to be wealthy. The king accused them of horrible crimes, such as using evil spells and poisoning wells of water. Then he banished them from the land, and himself took possession of all their riches.
Not satisfied with this, Philip next attacked the Knights Templar, who were also known to be rich and to possess much property.
Long before this time, in 1119, nine knights had gone to live in a house near the Temple at Jerusalem. They called themselves its Knights Defenders, and were the beginning of the order of the Knights Templar.
At first these knights lived simple lives, under the control of a Grand Master, whose power was supreme. Over their armour the Templars wore a white cloak, with a red cross fastened to it on the left side, over the heart. They were half soldiers, half monks, living on alms, and possessing neither lands nor money, and they were among the bravest of those who fought in the crusades to recover the Holy Sepulchre from the Infidels.
Gradually, when the crusades were ended, the Knights Templar forgot their vow of poverty. They grew rich and powerful, and owned lands and property in both France and England.
In Paris they built the Temple, which was a strong fortress close to the Louvre, while in London the Temple Church was founded, and took its name from these knights of long ago.
Dark tales began to be told of the order in the reign of Philip iv . People believed that its members trampled and spat on the crucifix. They believed that the knights did many other horrible deeds, and they knew that they were idle and proud.
These tales gave Philip the chance he wished, and in 1807 he suddenly ordered all the Templars in France to be thrown into prison, while he seized their wealth to fill his treasury, just as he had seized the Jews' wealth when he banished them from the country.
Many of the knights were tortured and put to death, while the Grand Master and one other were taken to a little island on the Seine. There, at the hour when the vesper bell called to evening prayer, they were tied to a stake and burned to death.
Philip thought nothing of the sufferings he had inflicted on these knights, but the nation was growing angry with their king's cruelty.
The nobles and burghers leagued themselves together, and presented Philip with a petition, begging him to relax his taxes and oppressions. At the head of those who signed this paper was the name of Joinville, the chronicler of St. Louis's time, who was now almost a hundred years old. Philip was as much surprised as angry when he received the petition. Shortly afterwards, as he was out hunting, he was wounded by a wild boar. From this wound he never recovered, dying in November 1814, at the age of forty-six.
France had suffered too much under Philip's reign to be sorry when she heard of his death.
"God forgive him his sins," says a writer of his day, "for in the time of his reign great loss came to France, and there was small regret for him."