I am all for debunking stories that are not based on facts. However, it has to be done fairly and accurately. When a Wikipedia article on Knights Templar legends dismissed the Templar-related legend about the execution of Louis XVI I was a bit surprised:
A frequent recurring legend relates how when Louis XVI was guillotined, an anonymous French Freemason rushed from the crowd, dipped his hand in the king’s blood (or grabbed the head and held it) and yelled, “Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!” This story first appeared in The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a work of science fiction, in 1975.
The reference points to the 1975 book in question.
Really? That recently? Then it took no time at all for this legend to become commonplace! Is it because it was mentioned by Umberto Eco? Perhaps. However, it did not take long for me to find a book published in 1957 that recounted the episode with the same exact phrase being spoken. It’s a book entitled “Cathedral and Crusade: Studies of the Medieval Church, 1050-1350” by Henri Daniel-Rops. Publisher Information: London; New York E. P. Dutton & Co. 1957. More interestingly, the author does not present the story as something new: “Tradition still maintains that the Temple was in fact a secret society; and it is related that, as Louis XVI’s head was severed by guillotine, an unknown voice was heard to cry: ‘Jacques de Molay, you are avenged.'” pp 577-78.
Michael Haag in his book “The Templars: The History and the myth” insists that it was Charles de Gassicourt who first related this episode in his “Le tombeau de Jacques Molai.” Most likely, Haag followed Malcolm Barber who speaks about de Gassicourt seeing Templar vengeance being finally served to the French kings, but there is no mention of the actual phrase. By the way, Barber points to pp. 10-11 in the 1796 edition of “Le tombeau” as containing an interesting episode about the Templars, disguised as masons, collecting the ashes of Jacques de Molay. The story actually seems to appear on page 27 of that edition.
I have poured over “Le Tombeau” for quite some time and was unable to find the desired reference, although the spirit of vengeance towards the crown and the popes is indeed very strong. It is very likely that de Gassicourt’s work acted as the catalyst for the legend. Sadly, I do not know where the actual source for this interesting story is. But for sure, it did not surface for the first time in 1975.
See also: Legends of the Knights Templar