Templars and Hospitallers as urban landlords

"Although the strictly managerial documentation of the local commanderies sheds little light on this aspect, the economy of the military orders were essentially geared towards the needs of the Holy Land. The military orders therefore developed a profit-oriented economy based on the direct exploitation of agricultural and livestock resources, on land rents and on control of certain exchange and production activities." Some facts on the military Orders as urban landlords.

"(...) We should simply point out that while the initial settlement in the town was encouraged by donations, the generosity of the lay owners was always supported by a policy of purchases, backed up by astonishing financial capacities. In the city, the pressure to own land encouraged the brothers to develop strategies for acquiring and consolidating land holdings, if necessary by undercutting market prices. The temporal holdings of urban commanderies, which were generally established in the first third of the thirteenth century, seem to be characterised by two typical profiles:

  • cases where most of the assets were gathered in the surrounding countryside and where urban holdings were very limited or even absent. This situation has been identified for the two orders in Saint-Gilles or for the Temple in Montpellier. In this case, the urban house was the relay for an essentially rural economy. 
  • settlements characterised by a typically urban heritage made up of houses and gardens on the outskirts of towns: this is the case in Nîmes, Arles, Avignon, Aix, Perpignan, etc. The size of these temporaries, whose mode of operation was based solely on rent, varied greatly from one site to another.
For example, at the end of the 13th century, the number of houses rented by the Knights Templar ranged from approximately 168 in Aix, 40 in Arles, 30 in Avignon and 15 in Nîmes, while the Avignon Hospital operated a property of between 60 and 100 houses. Generally speaking, these properties were concentrated in the commandery district and sometimes in the immediate vicinity of the commandery, as in Avignon and Marseille, where houses were in the "insula Templi" (Temple block). In Aix, the Temple's the Temple's housing stock was concentrated on five commercial streets. 
However, the rural influence was never absent. Michel Hébert has calculated that more than three quarters of the buildings in Manosque were owned by the Hospital. And yet, in the land registers from the first third of the 14th century, this urban heritage accounts for no more than 32% to 34% of the total number of properties acknowledged by the Order."

This blog presents quotes, translated from French by TN, from Damien CARRAZ, Les ordres militaires et le fait urbain en France méridionale (XII e-XIII e siècle), dans les cahiers de Fanjeaux 44, source ufr3.univ-montp3.fr, consulted 2023-07-25. Illustration Couvertoirade Templar town, southern France, photo by Pline, source WikipediaCC BY-SA 4.0

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