This is the first book devoted to the study of burgesses in the Latin Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus (1099–1325). It offers a comprehensive assessment of the contributions made by the non-feudal class to the development of legal and commercial institutions in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. Dispensing with the commonly held view that burgesses had only marginal influence, evidence is presented to illustrate how the existence of a 'middle class' was essential to the ambitions of the kingdoms' leaders.
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A systematic examination of all relevant contemporary source material – charters, law-books and narrative accounts – sheds light on how serfs and freemen, originating from diverse regions of Europe, were able to organise themselves into a class whose status set them apart from non-Latin Christians and Muslims. The study considers at length the different ways in which burgess legislation was formulated; traces the gradual development of the Cour des Bourgeois, the court of burgesses, in terms of its composition and competence; describes in detail the burgess laws of Acre and Nicosia which related, for example, to marriage and inheritance; and defines the special characteristics of a type of property known as a borgesie which was mostly but not exclusively in the hands of burgesses.
Dr Nader's research, furthermore, reveals the complexity of burgess jurisdiction and legislation in the East, and advocates the theory that secular courts established by ecclesiastical institutions exercised authority over burgesses and borgesies in matters which went beyond the parameters of purely ecclesiastical jurisdiction.