The history behind Friday the 13th


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With Backstory issue 13 coming out, it seemed an opportune time to look at the history of Friday 13th – and why it has become such an infamous day, not to mention a horror film trope.

It is believed to have begun in October 1307, when the French King Phillip IV issued ‘letters cachet’ (secret letters) to his subordinates across his domain to be opened and actioned on Friday 13th. In those letters were orders to arrest every member of the Knights Templar, a religious order that helped and protected the many pilgrims travelling from Europe to the Holy Land.

With this order, close to 15000 members were arrested in France, many of whom were tortured and executed, with their wealth and properties transferred to the king. Whether or not it was because of the tidy profits he earned, King Phillip expanded the suppression of the Order across Europe and the UK. This culminated in March 1314 with the burning to death of Jacques de Molay, the Master of the Order, in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral on the Seine River in Paris.

Reports say de Molay was slowly cooked to death as the fire consumed him. On his dying breath he cursed the French King Phillip, the Catholic Pope Clement, and all who had wronged him and his Order. In his curse he promised that those who had done him and his Order wrong would be dead within a year. As the fates and history records, his curse came true, with Pope Clement passing in April and the King not long after. As it happened, all the King’s descendants died over the next 14 years, and with them came the end of the House of ‘Caped’ which had stood for more than 300 years.

Quite a history for the number 13, and with it comes its ramifications in our modern time. For now, get writing and send your submissions in – we need both fiction and nonfiction history-related stories. You can be part of history by appearing in the 13th edition of the Backstory Journal.


By Luke Edwards.

March 29th, 2022