Top Gun on Horseback

Having seen historians call chivalrous WWI pilots the “knights of the air,” I was intrigued to see the reciprocal comparison made by the author of The Templars: The History & the Myth, Michael Haag to explain the how expensive it was to keep 13th century knights in the field:

Whenever the Templars are mentioned in books and articles, I usually find that it is in connection with their vast wealth – and, along with this, their vast greed. Why?

They were extremely expensive to maintain. They were the most superb fighting force in the world at that time, something like supersonic fighter-bomber pilots in our day, where each man and his equipment costs a fortune to keep operational. A single mounted knight in France in the 13th century required the proceeds from 3,750 acres to equip and maintain himself, and for Templars operating overseas in the Holy Land, the costs were much greater since much had to be imported, not least their horses. The Templars’ training, their armor, their horses, their squires, their sergeants, not to mention building and maintaining castles, required an enormous outlay. And the knights themselves could suffer high mortality rates in climactic battles and needed to be replaced. All these costs were met through donations from the faithful back in Europe, usually in the form of estates large and small as well as tithes from the Church.

The proceeds from 3,750 acres sounds like a lot to a 21st century urban reader like me. Several land acts passed to encourage settlement of the American West granted 160 acres to homesteaders, enough to develop into a farm capable of supporting a family. Sounds like it took 20 or more peasant families working the knight’s land to keep him ready to campaign.