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Ghost Commandery: Shaping Local Templar Identity in the Cartulary of Provins

Ghost Commandery: Shaping Local Templar Identity in the Cartulary of Provins

By Michael J. Peixoto

Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, Vol. 36 (2009)

templars seal

Introduction: In 1133, in the presence of the retinue of the Count of Champagne, the Count of Brie, and more than twenty other men and women from the Champagne nobility, Drogo of Pierrefonds presented a knife to the Knights of the Temple of Solomon. This knife gave tangible form to the orally pledged gift that André, the seneschal of the Count of Champagne, gave to the Templars. The gift itself, a castle in Baudement along with fields, meadows, bridges, and servants, was made for the salvation of André’s soul and especially for his son William, who was himself a Templar. André’s gift was recorded in a charter, which was copied into the cartulary of the Templar Commandery (or House) at Provins nearly eighty years later. The use of a cartulary to compile older records was, of course, nothing new. Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, many monasteries recommitted their written records to a consolidated manuscript book (codex). In some cases the copied records were preserved; in other cases they were destroyed. The copying of records could be used both to define geographic space and interests and to emphasize the institutional history of the copiers. What makes the case of this cartulary particularly interesting is that the Templar house in Provins was not established until 1193, sixty years after André’s gift. In 1133, there were no Templars living in Champagne at all.

The case of André’s gift was not unique. Altogether, eleven records from the Provins cartulary not only predate the production of the cartulary, but also the very founding of the Templar commandery. In some cases, the utility of these documents is readily apparent; they record lands or rights that were later assumed by the house at Provins once it had been established. In other cases, they record transactions that took place with other Templars in the area who had nothing to do with the house at Provins, yet were nevertheless preserved in its records. Whatever the case, these records present an opportunity to examine the Knights Templar in a new way. Any medieval charter represents both an economic transaction and a social relationship. It produces a snapshot of the singular event or agreement involving lands or goods and people. Similarly, a cartulary was the physical evidence of the the singular event of the preserving of records and the social relationships that those records were understood to symbolize. Thus, the cartulary from Provins attests to the past social and economic relationships most important to the Templars in Provins at the time of its production in 1212. In addition to recording assets, it also functions as a form of corporate memory as it was contained in the Order’s documents.

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