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A bailli (French pronunciation: [baji], bailiff) was the king’s administrative representative during the ancien régime in northern France, where the bailli was responsible for the application of justice and control of the administration and local finances in his baillage. Bailli was derived from the generic term bailiff, used all over Europe to mean a personal agent or steward: the equivalent agent in the Languedoc was the seneschal.
Philip II Augustus of France (1180-1223), an able and ingenious administrator who founded the central institutions on which the French monarchy's system of power would be based, prepared the expansion of the royal demesne through his appointment of baillis in the king's land (the domaine royal), based on medieval fiscal and tax divisions (the "baillie") which had been used by earlier sovereign princes (such as the Duke of Normandy). In Flanders, the count appointed similar bailiffs, called the baljuw — a term directly derived from bailli .
Unlike the local administration of Norman England through sheriffs drawn from the great local families, the bailli was a paid official sent out by the government, who had no power network in the area to which he had been assigned, and, in the way of a true bureaucrat, owed his income and social status wholly to the central administration that he represented. "He was therefore fanatically loyal to the king," Norman Cantor observes, "and was concerned only with the full exercise of royal power." The cathedral schools and the University of Paris provided the clerks and lawyers who served as the king's baillis.
Bailli was the rank and title of the head of each of the bailiwicks of the Knights Hospitaller and also of the head, at Rhodes and Malta, of one of the seven, later eight, Langues (or tongues) into which the members of the Knights Hospitaller were grouped once the Order was established on Rhodes and subsequently on Malta. The langues were Auvergne, Spain (later split into Castile-Portugal and Aragon), England, France, Germany, Italy, and Provence.
Despite the seeming link to language, this organization was not strictly aligned with linguistic boundaries, but tended to combine the Order's knights and possessions in several nations or states; the German tongue, for instance, included Scandinavia, Hungary, Poland and Bohemia. Each tongue covered at least one Grand Priory. The Grand Prior and the Chapter, which comprised representatives of all bailiwicks and commandries, administered the individual tongues—including the Order's possessions, its charitable activities (hospitals etc.), parishes incorporated into the Order, and the financial contributions for the defense of Rhodes and later Malta and for the maintenance of the Order's naval forces in the Mediterranean.
At the center, in Rhodes and subsequently Malta, each tongue had its own auberge (hostel) which served as its headquarters and where the members lodged and took their meals. Presiding over the auberge was the "pillar", who by virtue of his office was a Bailli of the Order and, typically, therefore also a member of the Order's Chapter-General representing his tongue. The Baillis ranked just below the Grand Priors and Priors. They commanded the knights of their tongue at the center, where each tongue was responsible for the maintenance and defense of a specific portion of the fortress defenses and had to man it with sufficient numbers of knights and soldiers.
- Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages 1993:412f, discusses the institution of the bailli.
- Cantor 1993, loc. cit..