The Hospitallers as Land-Owners

  • Jonathan Riley-Smith


The Hospitallers owed their landed wealth to the generosity of lay benefactors. The great majority of their estates had come into their hands through gifts, over half of which were eleemosynary, the lands thus acquired being subject to no service other than that of prayer. In some cases even this service was excused.1 Most of the donations occurred in the twelfth century;2 eleemosynary gifts in particular were far less frequent in the thirteenth. On the other hand, there was an increase in the number of estates rented, the majority of examples appearing after 1240. Rents were often heavy, and there were several attempts to reduce them or to commute them for down payments.3 All those lands given as surety for or repayment of debts were acquired between 1175 and 1215: perhaps because of the troubled times in the East at the turn of the centuries.1 The increase in renting is echoed, although less impressively, by a growing tendency to acquire by purchase. But the Hospitallers had bought lands in the twelfth century; and a method of sale was sometimes used that at the same time secured for the purchaser the advantages of an eleemosynary grant. Properties would be given to the Order ‘in elemosinam’, in exchange for a sum of money, a rent or a piece of land; a sale would be confirmed ‘in elemosinam’ by the king, prince or count.


Thirteenth Century Olive Grove Twelfth Century Colonisation Activity Waste Land 
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© Jonathan Riley-Smith 1967

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  • Jonathan Riley-Smith

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