Libelles

I have pondered for some time now what could be driving the explosion in VIP sex scandals in recent decades. The deployment of devastating accusations of sexual deviancy to undermine and – ultimately – to destroy an institution or opponent has much older historical roots.

One example is Philip IV of France’s attack on the Knights Templar, a powerful pan-European military Order subject only to the Pope’s authority, which had acquired immense wealth, and developed a form of banking, during the Crusades. It operated almost as a monastic state.

Philip was heavily indebted to the Order, and thus had a motive to procure its demise. His methodology sounds uncomfortably modern: drown the Order in a monster of a scandal, from which there was no chance of recovery.

The pattern is a familiar one. A disgruntled ex-Templar, who had been expelled, started making allegations in 1305. These trickled upward to the French authorities, who regarded them as unfounded. In 1307, Philip seized on them and, before you know it, a number of the Order’s leading lights in France were arrested in dawn raids.

Following interrogation, they were charged with a sensational array of offences ranging from fraud to idolatry, desecration of the cross and – wait for it – ritual sodomy, as part of initiation rites. A number had confessed to dreadful deeds, as a result of torture, and were then condemned to be burnt as heretics in a series of high-profile executions. The Leaders of the Order recanted, but were eventually executed in 1314.

The Pope (a relative of Philip’s) also got in on the act, ordering monarchs throughout Europe to round up any Templars on their patch, and seize their assets. In 1310, he tried to pursue a separate Papal Investigation, as a number of those accused were protesting their innocence. But Philip blocked this parallel initiative with threats of military action, and demanded that the Order be disbanded instead.

The Pope capitulated to this pressure, and dissolved the Order in 1312. Its assets were transferred to a rival crowd, the Knights Hospitaller. Only the King of Portugal, Denis I, had held out against the Pope, refusing to take any action against the Order in his country.

Then disaster struck. The Pope died, and Philip was killed in a hunting accident. A backlash in favour of the Templars resulted in mass acquittals. The survivors rebranded themselves under different orders, and were left alone thereafter.

During periods of religious and political conflict in the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries, the use of libelles – pamphlets slandering public figures and persons in authority – was widespread in France. Increasingly, the authorities viewed such publications as seditious. Their authors then tended to operate clandestinely, or from abroad, to avoid legal action.

Cardinal Mazarin became a particular hate-figure, being variously accused of lowly birth, illicit relations with the Queen Mother (a foreigner) and – well, of course – buggery.

Buggering bugger,

Buggered bugger,

Bugger to the supreme degree,

….

Bugger in large and small volume,

Bugger sodomising the state,

And so on and on. Evidently this author thought that, if you repeat a scurrilous accusation endlessly and repetitively, eventually people will come to accept it as true.

You can see that a standard tactic of the pamphleteers was to attack opponents about their (allegedly deviant) sex lives in an especially vicious and graphic way.

By the time of Marie Antoinette, such attacks set out to undermine respect for ruling institutions as a whole, and were nakedly subversive.

Does this tactic remind you of anyone, incidentally? Scallywag and Miele’s resident libeller Alan Goodwin are two modern culprits, fanatically obsessed with accusing political opponents of buggery. It’s a very old strategy, this. Exaro also fell into this mould.

What of the Savile scandal, the fallout from which has been as dramatic, in its way, as Philip’s crusade against the Templars? Other bloggers have for some years now been covering in depth the genesis of the Savile scandal, the advent of Operation Yewtree, and the process known as Savilisation.

Kudos to an impressive army of citizen journalists, including Rabbitaway, Moor Facts, Sally Stevens, Victoria Lucas, Anna Raccoon, Bandini and Real Troll Exposure.

Increasingly, it appears that the self-appointed Witch-Finder General de nos jours, ex-cop Mark Williams-Thomas, was a prime mover in all this. And he certainly has not been slow to take the credit. Indeed, he has built a career on it, claiming that he was only ever interested in the noble cause of “giving victims a voice”. The ends justify the means, seemingly.

I have sometimes wondered about the type of institutions and persons targeted by latter day witch-hunters, and how they came to be chosen. Pop stars, actors in soaps, DJs, TV entertainers, the BBC, the NHS, politicians, and – surprise (not!) – professional football.

So, you could argue, everything that makes life enjoyable…..as well as key institutions: the state broadcaster, the state healthcare service (one of the world’s biggest employers), and even Parliament itself.

In the USA, we see a similar range of targets: universities, Hollywood, Supreme Court candidates. And, in the stampede to take down prominent institutions and persons, some innocents are unfairly tarnished.

What a double whammy. Or is this a kind of cultural cleansing?

Now, this is not to argue that all allegations against prominent people are unfounded. That would be absurd. The law of averages suggests that sex offenders – like wife beaters – come from all walks of life. And clearly wrongdoers should not be able to evade investigation or prosecution, simply by virtue of their status.

Nevertheless, as the example of the Templars suggests, the motives of those who target particular sectors may include a large dollop of self-interest. And witch-hunts, like revolutions, contain the seeds of their destruction. The upheaval which they generate typically results in a counter-movement by those concerned to defend institutions and individuals from unjust attack.

So, having claimed some high-profile scalps with (sometimes) their assets to boot, the orchestrators tend to run out of institutional support. Just as Matthew Hopkins did in 1646.

C’est toujours la meme chose.