Famous Trials and their Legacies
August 14 – September 20, 2008
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
In fall 2007, the Robbins Collection acquired one of the 799 limited edition copies of the Processus Contra Templarios, a facsimile reproduction of the parchments containing the minutes of the 14th-century trial under Pope Clement V against the order of the Knights Templar; this served as a centerpiece for the Robbins Collection’s Fall 2008 exhibit.
Inspired by the vivid afterlife the Knights Templar—their order, their rituals, their persecution—have had in the popular imagination, this exhibit presented three historic trials as they were formally documented at the time and as they have continued to be represented and interpreted in the centuries since. Different in scope— from the trial of a wealthy and powerful medieval organization, the Knights Templar, to the far-reaching trend of persecution in communities from Early Modern Europe to Colonial America that culminated in the Salem Witch Trials, to a trial to prove (or disprove) the identity of a single individual, Martin Guerre—each of these three trials was a sensational legal drama that had at its heart issues of power and control, whether political, social, or communal.
The religious mysticism and secrecy surrounding the Knights Templar, the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft leveled against ordinary townspeople during the witch trials; or the family drama, intrigue, and questions of memory and identity in Martin Guerre story—what ties these trials together is the manner in which they have each captured people’s imaginations for centuries, giving rise not only to a wealth of scholarship, but becoming part of popular culture in the form of paintings, novels, plays, and films.