De Molay's exact date of birth is in some doubt, but it is known that he joined the Knights Templar in 1265 at the age of 21 and rose through the ranks quickly. He was first appointed to the position of Visitor General in Britain, and later elevated to the post of Grand Preceptor of England.
After the death of Theobald Gaudin, the 22nd Grand Master, de Molay moved from England to Cyprus, where he remained until Pope Clement V summoned him to France in 1307. There he was arrested and jailed by Philip the Fair.
De Molay confessed under torture to "denying Christ and trampling on the Cross," and on March 18, 1314 he was led out to publicly confess the order's sins and his own. On this occasion he recanted his previous confessions and asserted that he was guilty only of lying about his sins in order to relieve his torture. He was taken to Ile de la Cité in the Seine and burned alive, along with Geoffrey de Charney, then the preceptor of Normandy.