Monday, August 18, 2014


Diagram of the layout of a bastide. [source]
Say you are a king who has conquered a wide territory. Most of it is uncultivated, unused, and therefore is not generating income for anyone from whom you can demand taxes. It is wilderness, home to wild animals and lawless men. How do you turn this to an advantage?

That was the situation faced by King Edward I in southwest France when he controlled Gascony: hundreds and hundreds of square miles with no one in sight. His solution was bastides. A bastide was, quite simply, a village.

Villages don't just spring up from nowhere. Over time they spontaneously develop at sites where it was advantageous to be: where two roads crossed, or at a ford in a river, or a natural harbor on the coast, etc. But if you wanted to fill the wilderness with villages, you had to spend money. Edward created one bastide, Baa (now vanished, but named at the time for the Bishop of Bath), by buying the land from the lord of Blaye for £547 in 1286.

Edward would assign one of his trusted men to oversee the building and layout of a bastide. They were generally built around a central marketplace, constructed with sturdy and attractive arcades. The town surrounding the market was laid out to form a square. Defenses were not necessarily a part of the initial architecture, although Edward II and Edward III added defenses to some later.

The creation of bastides had several benefits. Not only did settlers create the opportunity for rents and taxes, but also the town was a local administrative centers where laws could be disseminated and enforced. Not all bastides were initially welcome, however: one called Sauveterre de Guyenne was delayed because other towns nearby feared the loss of revenue caused by a new town generating its own market supply and demand.

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