The Grand Master

Like the Priory of Sion itself, Pierre Plantard, who died in 2000 at the age of 80, has been regarded eitheras one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures in French - or even European - politics or as a fantasist and confidence trickster.

 The Plantard family seal

The Plantard family seal

Plantard was born in 1920, and made his first public appearance on the esoteric stage at the age of 22, as the editor of a journal called Vaincre (Conquer) published in Nazi-occupied Paris. Vaincre was the journal of the Alpha-Galates Order, a patriotic 'neo-chivalric' group of which Plantard (under the name Pierre de France or Pierre de France-Plantard_ was reportedly named Grand Master in September 1942.

As with much that Plantard was involved in during his long career, it is hard to pin down exactly what Alpha-Galates and Vaincre were about. Although in the 1980s Plantard described Vaincre as a 'Resistance

 Pierre Plantard in 1942

Pierre Plantard in 1942

journal', it is not that simple. Not only must the magazine have been produced with the knowledge - if not the approval - of the Nazi occupiers, but in addition its articles and editorials are supportive of the Vichy regime, the 'puppet' government allowed to govern southern France.

In 1984, Plantard suggested that Vaincre had been a cover, making overtly pro-Vichy comments that allowed it to be published while including coded references that were meaningful to the Resistance. There is some evidence to support this, as the magazine was printed by a company owned by Poirier Murat, a Resistance hero who was awarded the Legion d'Honneur and who later wrote an endorsement of Plantard.

Vaincre called for the re-establishment of a united France and the creation of a new European chivalry that would form the basis from

 The first edition of Vaincre, September 1942

The first edition of Vaincre, September 1942
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which the Alpha-Galates Order's main objective was to be realised. This was the creation of a 'United States of the West' or United States of Europe. Similar themes were to appear in the Priory of Sion's writings.

Plantard's wartime career is a matter of controversy. He stated that he was imprisoned by the Gestapo for five months from October 1943, although this has not been confirmed by the available records. He has even claimed that Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, personally offered him the title of Duke of Burgundy in return for a pledge of allegiance to the Third Reich.

It was shortly after his involvement with Vaincre that Plantard,

 Allegorical drawing from Vaincre illustrating the new knighthood and the quest for the United States of the West

Allegorical drawing from Vaincre illustrating the new knighthood and the quest for the United States of the West

according to his own account, was initiated into the Priory of Sion. This was in July 1943.

In 1956 the Priory of Sion was officially registered as a society, with Plantard being named as its Secretary General. (The other officials listed have never been identified, and seem to be either pseudonyms or complete fictitious individuals._

The 1956 statutes refer to a journal called Circuit published by the Priory of Sion. A few editions of this

General Charles de Gaulle

General Charles de Gaulle

magazine were circulated in France in that year - although, bizarrely, it was concerned with 'information and defence of the rights and liberties of low-cost housing'. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln describe it as 'baffling in its apparent irrelevance'. There is speculation that it was part of a cover for a network of political groups that were preparing for the return to power of Charles de Gaulle.

It was de Gaulle's cause that led to Plantard's next appearance in the public arena, in a role that suggests that he was indeed a serious player in the shadows of French politics.

In 1958 a political crisis in France, sparked by the independence uprising in Algeria, led to the return to power of General Charles de Gaulle. Instrumental in orchestrating the events that led to his return was a network of groups calling themselves the 'Committees of Public Safety' (modelled on a similar network of the French Revolution_. There was said to be some 120 such committees operating in France during the crisis. After de Gaulle's return, the committees were disbanded.

 The formal handover of power to de Gaulle, May 1958

The formal handover of power to de Gaulle, May 1958

According to Plantard's first wife, Anne Lea Hisler, writing in 1964, it was he who, using the pseudonym of 'Way' had, with André Malraux and Michel Debré, controlled the Committees of Public Safety. (Malraux and Debré were given Cabinet positions in de Gaulle's new government._ Indeed, Plantard was personally appointed to this task by de Gaulle - and, just as importantly, it was Plantard who was given the delicate task of disbanding the Committees once their job was done.

 André Malraux

André Malraux

Hisler's claims are borne out by contemporary documents and news reports. The guiding force behind the Committees was indeed a 'Captain Way' - and at the time of the dissolving of the network 'Way's' identity was revealed as Pierre Plantard.

Perhaps significantly, according to later sources the 1956 registration of the Priory of Sion (which makes so little sense for a genuinely secret society, especially one that had kept its existence secret for nearly 900 years) was the result of internal upheavals within the Order caused by reforms introduced its then Grand Master, Jean Cocteau. The same sources state that this version of the Priory was dissolved in 1958, an event which they link – exactly how is not made clear - with de Gaulle's restoration.

Given Plantard's involvement in the organisation of the Committees of Public Safety, and the nebulous nature of the Priory's stated purpose

 Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau

(relating to a network of groups concerned with low-cost housing) it is a plausible speculation that the 'original' Priory was in some way concerned with political activities that would later form the basis of de Gaulle's second term as president. In this light, it is significant that in 1956 the Priory was portrayed simply as a neo-chivalric organisation (much like the Alpha-Galates Order) and that the claims relating to Merovingian survival and a pedigree stretching back to the Crusades did not emerge until the 1960s. Was the Priory first set up as a cover for political objectives, and later revived for a new purpose?

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