Forgotten History – Bastides and Burghs
Bastides are small fortified towns which were built in France from the 13th century. Many survive to this day, particularly in Lot and the Dordogne. I have visited several, but I did not understand their significance until I read this Wikipedia article.
Before the bastides were built the peasants either lived in isolated hamlets dotted about the countryside, or in houses clustered around castles or monasteries. The bastides were built to create trading centres. An entrepreneur would set up a bastide and try and attract peasants and traders to it. The deal for the peasants was that once in the bastide they were free and had their own land; the deal for the entrepreneur was that he got to tax the peasants and the trade that the bastides generated. When the peasants had been dotted all over the landscape they had been difficult to tax and it had been hard to get any worthwhile trade going. Trading was much easier in the bastides because they had large covered marketplaces.
I found all this interesting for two reasons. The first is that what had been pleasant places to visit whilst on holiday were the products of medieval entrepreneurship and town planning. The bastides were also major social innovations and part of the decline of feudalism.
The January 1995 edition of the Scots Magazine has a good article on the Scottish Royal Burghs.
Both the French and the English built bastides in France. The one in the illustration is an English bastide called Monpazier. It was built in the Dordogne in 1284 by Edward I of England.