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22.08.18 Jefferson, The Templar Estates in Lincolnshire 1185-1565

22.08.18 Jefferson, The Templar Estates in Lincolnshire 1185-1565

This volume is two books in one. It reconstructs the Templars’ exploitation of their Lincolnshire estates in the thirteenth century, but it also becomes an exploration of how slowly the Templar holdings in Lincolnshire came into Hospitaller possession after the trial of the Templars. The survey of the literature with which the volume opens suggests that this work began with the first goal--fitting Lincolnshire Templar management into the larger context of such studies of estate management in Britain. The opening chapters do just that.

The evidence for Templar estate management in Lincolnshire is almost entirely retrospective. The exception is the “Inquest of 1185,” a survey of Templar properties undertaken by Geoffrey Fitz Stephen, master of the Templars in England, which was published in 1935 by B. A. Lees. It showed a concentration of Templar properties in the uplands of Lincolnshire. Jefferson concludes that by 1185, the Templars had received “more than 17,500 acres, twenty mills, and the spiritual income from eighteen churches and the chapel of Burnham in Haxey” (40).

Next is the evidence from estate accounts dated 1308-1311 found in the National Archives in Kew and analyzed by Jefferson in his appendices 1-5. A third source is that published in 1857 by L. B. Larking with an introduction by J. M. Kemble in Camden society records; this is the 1338 report of Hospitaller Philip de Thame to the Grand Master Elyan de Villanova. This last shows the almost complete failure by King and favored families to transfer properties to the Hospitallers--a failure discussed in detail in the political part of this study. Subsequent evidence comes from Henrician and Elizabethan sources.

My major interest is in the discussion of property administration in chapters 2 through 6. Chapter 2 focuses on the buildings and layout of Templar estates. Income came not only from land rental and some direct management, but also from the donation of churches and their revenues, including tithes. Income would also have come from both watermills and windmills, both of which appear to have been used primarily for grinding grain. Jefferson asserts a technical advantage in the Templars’ choice of windmills, but as is clear in the work of John Langdon, the evolution towards windmills came from the exhaustion of any possible water-mill sites: that is, windmills were added only after watermills had filled all possible sites on rivers and streams. [1] Initially there were great similarities in their mechanisms: both depended on the skills of carpenters, and both had nearly identical millstones. As today, windmills were ineffective in moments of calm as well as storms and wind-surges, but both were subject to fire. Moreover, it should not be assumed, as Jefferson does, that peasants were not just as pleased as lords about having powered milling available. To argue otherwise is to fail to take into consideration the labor of women, children, and slaves, particularly in peak seasons when they could have assisted with harvests, while at other times, they might undertake other high-demand processes as spinning wool into cloth. [2]

As for buildings, evidence from outside Lincolnshire suggests the construction of large aisled barns for storage of grain and fodder--which seems to mean hay (or possibly legumes) as winter feed, as opposed to straw as bedding. Local remains suggest barns were located near other preceptory buildings, including a church or chapel, a hall and kitchen, larder, bakehouse, brewhouse, cellar, etc. around a central court. although there appears to have been no standardized plan. Indeed, as has been shown in recent studies of the Cistercian abbey of Morimond in the diocese of Langres, standardized plans always made way to the exigencies of site, access to water, and other physical features. [3]

In chapter 3, Jefferson describes arable farming on Templar estates circa 1308. There is evidence for a three-course rotation and a three-field system, which would have eased the demand for labor at harvest time. There were efforts to maintain soil fertility in the use of manuring, marling, and planting of legumes; there also appears to have been sustainability reasons for planting mixed crops--one might succeed while the other failed. But grain was sold rather than being withheld for seed and, in some manors, grains sold did not fulfill internal needs for particular crops. Were rational decisions being made or not? Jefferson does comment that there were no root crops, like swedes or turnips, that would have contributed to the nutrition, particularly for animals, but the early fourteenth century was surely too early for using them.

Livestock on the estates, excluding sheep, are discussed in chapter 4. Jefferson records the use of mixed plough teams that included “two plough horses yoked with either four or six oxen” to speed up a team (84). There were some manors where oxen--having greater pulling power on heavier soils -- were used as more appropriate. The argument is also made that having horse carts for moving produce to market may have brought an advantage in marketing.

Jefferson turns to the issue of sheep in chapter 5. He recounts the argument about long-staple versus short-staple wool, which now appears to have been settled in favor of short-staple production: “there were no long wools in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries” (96). As he puts it: “the sheep which emerges from the foregoing discussion as having grazed the Templars’ Lincolnshire estates in 1308 is a very small, horned animal, with a short fleece of fine, high-quality wool” (98).

As discussed in chapter 6, Templars in Lincolnshire had no lay brothers, depending instead on tenants of the estate who were designated as famuli, with set jobs--carpenter, miller, etc. An argument expanded here is that Templar estates must have required housing for famuli like the lay-brother wings found in Cistercian plans. In fact, famuli, despite being given titles like blacksmith or carpenter, would have had their own peasant allotments on which they lived. Moreover, Cistercian use of lay brothers varied as did their twelfth-century practices. [4]

In the second part of the study, Jefferson describes the slow or non-existent transfer of Lincolnshire Templar assets to the Hospitallers. This is primarily an account of politics, asset-grabbing, and royal intransigence. All this is derived from the written sources which the author has described and from which he has gleaned the evidence for the thirteenth-century estate management.

Overall, this is a fine study in both parts: describing surviving texts, showing how their evidence fits into the wider picture of estate management in England, tracking down sources from 1308-1312 in the National Archives. There are excellent appendices and maps. If there is a fault, it is a tendency to exaggerate the successes of the Cistercians in this and other regions; as much recent work has now shown, the Cistercians were much less monolithic or organized than once thought.



1. John Langdon, Mills in the Medieval Economy: England 1300-1540 (New York: Oxford University Press. 2004).

2. Constance Berman, “Women's Work in Family, Village and Town after AD 1000: Contributions to Economic Growth?,” The Journal of Women’s History 19 (2007): 10-32.

3. Benoit Rouzeau and Hubert Flammarion, eds. Morimond 1117-2017: Approches pluridisciplinaires d'un réseau monastique. Series: archéologie, espaces, patrimoines, dirigée par Gérard Giuliato (Nancy: Editions Universitaire de Lorraine, 2021).

4. Robert Fossier, “L'économie cistercienne dans les plaines du nord-ouest d'Europe,” in L'économie cistercienne: Géographie--mutations du Moyen Age aux temps modernes, 53-74, Flaran, 3 (Auch: Comité du tourisme du Gers, 1983); and Constance Berman, Medieval Agriculture, the Southern-French Countryside, and the Early Cistercians. A Study of Forty-three Monasteries (Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1986).