All peasants were serfs in medieval England

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The lifting of bondage.

While, as we have seen, slavery in antiquity was a system suitable for survival under certain social conditions and had to fulfill a specific political task, bondage following the accomplishment of this mission was only a temporary condition, that of merely the Its purpose was to lead the working classes over to a time of perfect personal freedom.

Why the serf in the Cities Having become a free wage worker, it is easy to think: either he bought himself off with his savings, or he was released because his master was no longer worth paying for his services with his maintenance. The liberation of this whole class was greatly facilitated by the prevalence of that movement which led to the emergence of free commercial communities and to their endowment with their own jurisdiction. But what the transformation of the rural As for serfs in a free peasant, it is very difficult to follow the relevant rules and steps. In Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" we read: "The time and manner in which this very important upheaval came about are among the most unexplained points in modern history." "Like many other points in the history of human development, there is also this great darkness. We can establish the family tree of the rulers, make a complete list of the besieged cities and the devastated provinces, even describe the whole pageantry of coronations and other festivities of earlier times, but we cannot ascertain the real history of mankind. "(Hallam," History of the Middle Ages. ")

Adam Smith himself attributes the change to two causes: the fact that the landowner drives better if he lets the farmer work independently and for himself, and the fact that the monarchs who are jealous of the great landowners are the happy farmers - under this expression Smith to understand all unfree tenants - encouraged to diminish the power of their masters. These economic and political reasons are certainly correct and important, but Smith overestimates their exclusive effectiveness and ignores the other circumstances - moral and religious - which contributed to that result, namely the personal influence of the clergy, who are the natural intermediaries between the servants and their masters were. The best were the serfs treated on the church property and many releases by private landowners were made at the request of priests, mostly "out of love for God" or - especially on the deathbed - "for their own salvation."

Anyone who studies the history of the abolition of bondage, as far as the available source material extends, will soon recognize that this abolition, although an indispensable and important advance in the life of mankind, in and of itself did not mean such a drastic improvement in the farmer's situation as one did should believe at first sight. It certainly freed him from various humiliations and was suited to awaken in him a sense of personal dignity; it immediately paved the way for later, more profound progress and evoked the need for this. But after the abolition, unless further benefits were combined with it in individual cases, the farmer and his family, even where his fiefdom was permanent, were subjected to a series of oppressive services and often unaffordable, even quite arbitrarily set taxes. The law no longer tied him to the clod; However, since this was his only source of help, he could in very few cases leave it, had to submit to the harshest conditions and in some cases even endure the landlord's jurisdiction, which was approved by the law, and him if the landlord or his representative did him injustice , excluded from obtaining his right. However, the central governments of many states favored the elimination of these abuses in their own interests, only the reluctance of the nobility, who stubbornly clung to their privileges, made all reforms difficult and delayed.

We see, therefore, that the transformation of the farmer, who was no longer a slave, into a full citizen was a lengthy process that made demands on the administrative talent, the firm will and the perseverance of the statesmen, which they were not always able to cope with. Even where every trace of feudal subservience had disappeared and the peasant was supported by a formally voluntary contract, he often depended on the mercy of his landlord, who increased the rent at will and forced the tenant to approve the increase through threats of eviction could. It also happened that the landowner periodically leased a property to the highest bidder by auction and - to which he was also entitled - appropriated any improvements made by the Sassen sent away without compensation. The legislative tasks, which the social reformers grew out of these evils, have received a great deal of attention and led to serious endeavors to find a solution, but they can by no means be regarded as having been finally resolved. It is not within the scope of our aim to follow in detail the relevant processes which affect the modern history of human society in general and of the agricultural classes in particular rather than that of slavery. We must confine ourselves to mentioning those reforms which were closely connected with the abolition of bondage, were indispensable for the implementation of the abolition and, strictly speaking, are to be regarded as essential components of it. We consider it best to conduct our investigation separately for each country in Europe.


Guérard has shown that Guérard's - the author of and "" - conclusions are doubted by Hallam ("History of the Middle Ages"); but they are supported by a long series of evidences, and seem in general to be quite correct. that in the period between the conquest of the country by Caesar and the abolition of feudalism, the situation of the original slave classes experienced a steady improvement. He distinguishes three periods: that of actual slavery, which lasted until the barbarians conquered Gaul; the final towards the end of the reign of Charles the Bald - that is, around 877 - in which bondage gave way to a transitional stage which Guérard calls "" and in which the rights of "" are fully recognized by the Church and society, to some extent by the laws , respected and protected; At that time all social elements were modeled according to the feudal system, which alone was able to meet the demands of the epoch. There is no doubt that this modeling was at times effected by violent means. Many volunteered as serfs under the care of powerful seigneurs or religious associations in order to protect themselves against rape or to have a breadwinner in times of hardship, which were very common at the time. finally a third, in which the actual bondage under the rule of highly developed feudalism came into its own and the bonded tenant farmer was merely a taxpayer who appeared under the most varied of names ().

In each of these periods, up to a certain extent, these three forms of the lower strata prevailed simultaneously, but one form by far predominated in each period. At the end of the ninth century serfs enjoyed recognized ownership and succession rights to their estates. Under the third dynasty they were more subjects than tenants, and their dues more taxes than rents. In short, they were feudal men, and as such they occupied the lowest rung of the feudal ladder. As the serf belonged to the land, the land belonged to him, and it was as difficult to take away his property as it was to deprive the seigneur of his allodial possessions.

With regard to the immediate causes that led to the release of the serfs, Guérard, apart from the goodwill of the seigneurs expressed in donations and bequests, listed the following: the statute of limitations which followed the flight of a serf after a certain lengthy absence; ordination as a priest; Ransom from one's own means or from others; marriage to a woman of a better class; legal decisions in certain cases injustice inflicted on the slave by the Lord. That the Church also helped bring about the happy result is evident from many examples, of which we want to mention only one: In the ninth century, Saint Benedict of Aniane, the reformer of monasteries in the Carolingian countries, received many lands from the faithful; he accepted them for his monasteries, but freed all the serfs belonging to them.

Sometimes landlords issued letters of release to the population of entire villages in exchange for a sum of money. But this procedure was made difficult for the vassal by the need to obtain the consent of all his feudal superiors; approval was often refused either for personal reasons or only given against payment. On the other hand, this difficulty was partially offset by the fact that many lordly possessions fell back to the crown, in whose interest it was to favor the rural communities as much as the urban ones over the nobility. Philip August created a new bourgeois class throughout the empire - the "royal bourgeois" - by allowing the tenant farmers of the crown vassals or their feudal subordinates to renounce their master by means of an oath and formally become citizens of the latter in return for a fixed annual fee or that city, although they continued to live on their estate. The aforementioned monarch made this process so much easier for the peasants that many peasants refused to buy themselves out if their master was ready to release them for a ransom - they just didn't have to.

Since Philip IV needed a lot of money for his Flemish wars, he obtained the release of the servants of entire counties and provinces. His son Ludwig the quarrel, who also needed gold and silver, followed the same policy by all Offered freedom to leasehold farmers of royal estates; but he demanded such high annual fees that only a few could take advantage of his offer. Probably the edicts of these kings meant little more than the recognition of an accomplished fact, and only granted in form the freedom which the servants in reality already possessed. It is certain that in the course of the fourteenth century the great majority of French arable farmers ceased to be serfs. To be sure, they remained subject to heavy taxes and burdens, some of which were of a personal nature, some of which stuck to the ground, and which continued in a milder, but at least depressing and sensitive manner until the outbreak of the revolution. What the peasants in some provinces of France suffered from the arbitrariness of the nobility even in the prime of the reign of Louis XIV can be seen from the description of the "great days in the Auvergne 1665" given in Fléchier's "Memoirs".

Let us take a look at the situation of the peasants at that time. Usually they owned part of the soil they worked. The view, which has long been widespread, that the small division of the lands dates from the revolution, has proven to be quite erroneous. As early as the 15th century, and even earlier, a large number of tenants had bought their small estates from the landlords. Yes, French economics teachers had complained even before the revolution about the supposedly unreasonable increase in small goods. Arthur Young was surprised by the "astonishing small division of land holdings," as he put it in his book "Travels in France". "Probably half, maybe two-thirds of the kingdom belonged to smallholders." This is considered an exaggerated estimate at present, but at least a quarter is conceded. Of course, it happened with very many farmers that besides their own strip of land they also ran other leased properties - usually according to the half-lease system - and, moreover, they occasionally make wage labor.

The administration of the rural districts had passed from the hands of the landlords to that of the central government, which directed or supervised the affairs of all the districts through the directors and their subordinates. With the exception of a few remnants of a local jurisdiction, moreover mostly exercised by representatives, the nobility had ceased to participate in the management of public affairs. The gentlemen lived in Paris or Versailles and had no other ambition than to shine at court and gain the favor of the king. The rank remained to them, but they no longer had any political task to fulfill and differed from the other classes of the population only in their freedoms and privileges. The latter included their feudal rights. These had undergone considerable changes in the course of time and now consisted mainly of monetary levies; they were very different in the various provinces - and even in the individual parts of the same province - but the following can be considered the most generally established and important:

Cheerful service, but it was already rare and easy. Road tolls, metering and market fees. The wine press, meal and bank monopoly. Collection of fines on land purchases and sales within the estate. Hereditary interest and other non-redeemable taxes payable in cash or in kind. The hunting monopoly guaranteed by extremely oppressive laws. In the first chapter of the second book of his famous work The Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville deals in detail with feudal rights on the basis of descriptions by jurists in the second half of the 18th century.

Not only the secular, but also the spiritual seigneurs and the heads of religious associations enjoyed these privileges. They levied the same taxes, had the same mercy, and in some parts of the East even had servants acquired by conquest. So z. B. the bishop of St. Claude in Hochburgund had forty thousand serfs, whom Voltaire took care of and who only gained freedom shortly before 1789.

What made the remnants of feudal farming so hateful and unbearable to the French was the fact that the claims of the seigneurs were no longer made up for by government duties. One had to pay and serve them without any consideration; the taxes paid to them, etc., merely constituted a tribute which one landowner extorted from another. The partial abolition of the economic order of the Middle Ages in France made the remnants appear all the more troublesome and unreasonable, while in Germany far heavier burdens were relatively more patiently endured. In the night session of August 4, 1789, the National Assembly finally swept away the last traces of French feudalism.


In his "" Guérard emphasizes the research difficulties caused by the double meaning which the word "" has in the medieval source scriptures. Accordingly, even such eminent authors as Robertson, Hallam, and Kemble have obscured the subject in their presentations on bondage in England by using the word "slave" now for "slave" and now for "serf." Stubbs, on the other hand, in his "Englische Verfassungsgeschichte" (English Constitutional History) kept himself free from this mistake and, by preferring social facts to the letter of the law, put the history of this class in a clear light.

According to Stubbs, the Anglo-Saxons viewed the slaves "as items in their masters' inventory ... The master was just as responsible for the slave's offenses against others as he was for the damage caused by his cattle ..."The slaves had no blood money, no credibility, no legal rights; injustice inflicted on them were considered inflicted on their masters. 'But the practice was milder than the law; she ensured them adequate food and holidays; it allowed them to use their savings for themselves, thus enabling them to buy themselves out; ecclesiastical regulations could also punish masters for mistreating their slaves. Ethelbert and Kanut forbade the sale of people to pagans by law, and the slave trade, which was mainly conducted in Bristol, was put to an end by the sermons of St. Wulfstan.

After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror and his successors systematically suppressed the upper classes of the Anglo-Saxon population. The result was that those free Anglo-Saxons, who had retained part of their property under feudal conditions, and their unfree tenant farmers moved closer to one another. The changed feudal system in England made the head of state much more independent from the nobility and the high clergy than was the case on the mainland. All subordinate vassals had to take an oath of allegiance directly to the king, by means of which they declared their obligation to be subject to him to be more binding than their obligation to obey their landlords. Thus England became a real monarchy early on and the crown was able to protect the lower classes against the arrogance of the higher classes.

The Frohnbauer or serf ("") of the great old imperial land register "" was not a slave, but a successor to the Anglo-Saxon "", a farmer who could not be driven out, the habitual tenant of a landlord. The Norman knights probably confused the villeins with other, less favorably placed tenant farmers (""). The free one was pushed down and the slave ("") disappeared entirely. The position of the class resulting from this amalgamation was "compatible with considerable personal prosperity and some social ambition." They enjoyed full security of possession of their property, "protection against rape by their masters;" they "could when they left their property and fled to a town, where they become members of the guild and, if the Lord does not reclaim them within a year and day, obtain all the rights of the free. ”If they were reclaimed, the law favored their liberation by creating obstacles for the gentlemen in persecution . Stubbs writes: “Under a tolerably good gentleman, under a monastery or a (college), the tenant farmer enjoyed a freedom and security that his superiors should have envied him for. He was legally protected against injustice, was able to have a say in the administration of his village, was able to buy his children ransom with a little cunning and raise them to a higher level of life. "Walter Map says that in his time (12th century) many tenant farmers had their ignoble offspring trained in the liberal arts. During the long reign of Henry the Third they became landlords en masse, who were allowed to keep their property for themselves and their descendants as long as they kept the court-registered terms of their lease. Before and during this mass emancipation, many individual servants were released by their masters or ransomed by benefactors - mostly as a result of priestly advice. In the century of the three Edwardes, numerous free agricultural day laborers demanded such high wages that the king stepped in to lower the demands; the persons concerned were undoubtedly exempted servants or the sons of such. In the beginning of the 14th century, the tenant farmers were "only in legal form referred to as less than free."

Under Richard III. It is true that the "legal theory" concerning the serfs, which was modeled on the Roman conception of slavery, "has been tightened to such an extent that it almost admitted the most courageous oppression"; but on the other hand, social causes softened their lot and the strict principles, which the jurists strove to uphold, could not withstand the encroachment of the Enlightenment and philanthropy. On this point there are excellent explanations in Professor Vinogradov's Serfdom in England (1892), 1st essay, 2nd chapter. It was not the normal situation of the peasants, as Froissart and others believe, that led to the revolt of 1381, but rather the attempts of the lords to insist on legal claims which in reality were no longer valid. When cash payments became common, services turned into annual dues and the relationship between landlords and tenants was viewed as the result of contracts. Bondage died out in England without any special abrogation laws. Sir Thomas Smith (born 1512, died 1577), who in his fine posthumous work "The English Republic", published in 1588, differentiates between "" as - like the ancient Roman and - tied to a person and his heirs and "" as tied to a clod then remarks: “England does not have many of the two genera; Nobody was known of the former in my day, and of the latter so few that it is not worth talking about. But our laws recognize both types. ”In a few exceptional cases, however, it was preserved in Great Britain as well as in France; Hence it is that Hallam can mention a deed of emancipation by means of which Queen Elizabeth released the merrymakers of some of their goods in 1574, and that in Scotland the workers in the coal and salt mines only under George III. were redeemed from the state of bondage.


The early emergence of powerful urban communities in Upper and Central Italy had two opposing effects on the fate of the rural population. On the one hand, it steered the arbitrary economy of the secular and spiritual landlords, in that the fleeing servants found refuge in the cities. This happened as early as the beginning of the 12th century and was repeated so often that the emperors, at their request, granted countermeasures to the rulers who had been severely damaged by it. However, they usually turned out to be useless. The refugees lived in the cities with manual labor or they were enlisted in the vigilante group. The fear of losing the majority of their peasants in this way induced the lords to treat them more humanely, to make it easier for them to ransom, and to give their tenancy greater stability. On the other hand, the expansion of the possessions of the cities by conquest - or in some other way - had an unfavorable effect on the country people. The annexed villages and districts suffered not a little from the tax burden resulting from the incessant feuds between the palm-struggling republics. This often led to outrages, for which the communities were then punished with deprivation of the local freedoms which they enjoyed; at the same time, the capital placed it under the administration of a Podestà. He had the power to oppress the peasants very much for his own benefit and that of the city population. Many small landowners found themselves in the predicament of selling their properties, which were then given to tenants for a short time - for one or more years - whose rents were raised again and again, which they had to put up with for fear of being driven out. In the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, this deterioration in the situation of small landowners in Upper and Central Italy became more and more prevalent.

But at the same time personal bondage ceased entirely in these parts of the country. Bologna took the first step towards their complete abolition by emancipating all the serfs living on public and private lands in 1256 and compensating the landlords from state funds. About four years later, Treviso followed suit. Florence issued an edict in 1288 which allowed all unfree persons in its territories to buy out and to redeem their feudal duties - taxes and services - without delay; At the same time the alienation of serfs was forbidden even in the event of the sale of their property and it was stipulated that any such alienation would result in the immediate liberation of the serfs concerned. Other cities acted similarly; in them, before the end of the fourteenth century, bondage was either abolished by law or had come to an end in some other way.

To be sure, there was still much to be done for the lot of the liberated, and it remained undone for a long time. The Habsburgs paid lively attention to the interests of the agricultural populations of Tuscany and Lombardy. Maria Theresa rewarded the latter province with the double benefit of an honest, precise land appraisal and a liberal rural community constitution, while Emperor Leopold in Tuscany abolished all remnants of feudal services and on the grand-ducal, ecclesiastical and communal lands the tenants who could be terminated at any time at cheap prices or for a reasonable lease the right of ownership of their property, resp. granted them a hereditary right of usufruct.

If we turn to Lower Italy, we find that under the Normans and Hohenstaufen princes of both Sicilies, the peasants on the lands of the nobility and the church were for the most part unfree and tied to clods, whereas the royal domains had very many free tenants. As long as the kings had enough power to keep the nobles in check, the leasehold farmers of the crown fared well. They were free to dispose of their own property at will, and in the absence of a will, the legal heir took possession. The amount and nature of feudal services were precisely determined, and the law afforded protection against oppressive treatment. In 1231, Emperor Friedrich II completely eliminated bondage to the crown lands and withdrew the power of the landowners over the life and death of their serfs.

Under the Neapolitan Anjous, things took a turn for the worse. The French feudal rights were introduced and the nobles exercised a criminal jurisdiction, which was very often not based on the law. During the turmoil of the 14th and 15th centuries on the island of Sicily, the Aragonese rulers granted them the right to exercise this jurisdiction without restriction - even to the exclusion of appeal to the crown. After the unification of Naples and Sicily under Spanish rule in 1504, the rural population suffered a great deal from hard-hearted, corrupt, self-serving viceroys, and the Bourbons, who came to power in 1735, did nothing to improve the situation of the unfortunate peasants. As late as the second half of the 18th century, these found themselves subject to many oppressive, humiliating feudal burdens. The number of landowners and hereditary tenants was extremely small; In general, only short leases were granted and the Sassen found it difficult to use their property due to unfair conditions and annoying restrictions. The existing reports of trustworthy eyewitnesses about the miserable situation of the tillers are vividly reminiscent of La Bruyère's famous description of French country life in the 17th century.

In Piedmont and Savoy several of the Sardinian princes made a contribution to their people, namely Viktor Amadeus II. By the abolition of feudal services and Charles Emanuel III. by allowing the peasants to redeem their feudal burdens by means of sums, the amount of which was determined by a specially appointed official commission. Yet it cannot be said that the latter reform fully achieved its purpose. The complete abolition of feudal prerogatives was greatly encouraged by the French occupation of Italy after the revolution. Partly directly through laws, partly through the influence of the invaders on the princes who had retained a part of their lands, and partly through the revolting tendencies of the Italian peoples as a result of the invasion, the feudal system under the French received a shock, the overthrow Napoleons and the restoration of the old governments weakened, but could not repel them. These governments were too often unwilling to carry out the necessary reforms, and if they had the goodwill they lacked the firmness and perseverance to adequately arm themselves against the selfish resistance of the nobility. Fortunately, there were exceptions, such as B. Karl Albert, who brought about a peaceful upheaval on the island of Sardinia in 1831, similar to the Prussian of 1807.


Among the Christian refugees in the Asturian mountains, the feeling of brotherhood, which had grown out of common suffering and dangers, closely linked the higher and lower classes, and during the subsequent gradual recovery of the peninsula, the landowners considered it necessary to close the peasants treat in order to attract settlers from the areas still subject to the Moors, so that the lands devastated by the long racial struggles can be properly built up again. Accordingly, the rural people in Spain enjoyed a better situation early on than in most other European countries. To be sure, Byron was exaggerating when he wrote that "in Spain the lower classes were never vassals of the soil," and Hallam's account of the conditions of the Castilian farmers is also too rosy. Nevertheless, although it was recognized in the laws of the Visigoths, bondage had a fairly mild form in the newly conquered areas - with the exception of the areas called "Spanish Mark", which were conquered by the Franks. The secular landlords and the clerical corporations granted the village communities privileges and privileges that were unknown elsewhere at the time, and the relevant charter () are older than those granted by the crown to the town communities. All settlers were guaranteed full personal freedom; they did not know the most oppressive and hateful feudal duties and their tenancy was hereditary. At the end of the thirteenth century all the communities were already in the possession of "" and there were only servants in Catalonia and a part of Aragon - areas that belonged to the Spanish march. In 1486 Ferdinand the Catholic extended the work of liberation to these provinces and set fixed monetary levies in place of the feudal charges.

However, a turn for the worse was soon to take place. Under Emperor Charles the Fifth (King Charles the First in Spain) the peasants sided with the latter in the uprising of the cities fighting for their freedom (), while the nobility stood up for the king. After Charles' victory at Villalar (1521), the country people lost the protection of the crown and were subjected to the worst arbitrariness on the part of the aristocracy. From the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 18th century, despite all their personal freedom, they suffered so much that in 1739 Feyjoó declared the lot of the Spanish peasants to be worse than that of the galley slaves. The backward politics of the court and the indolent selfishness of the nobility, who neglected all the duties of their position, caused the entire nation to decline, but worst of all it was the rural population, so that within one hundred and fifty years the population of Spain fell by half. The Bourbons, especially Charles III. (1759-88), tried repeatedly to control the evil, but failed because of the resistance of the privileged classes.

In order to achieve reforms, it took an uprising and a civil war. The general revival of the country - the landmarks were the Cortes of Cadiz and the constitution of 1812 - also brought about the creation of an independent peasantry; the leases became hereditary throughout, and many peasants acquired their properties in a peculiar way. Hand in hand with this went the abolition of the landlord's jurisdiction, which had been a chief means of oppression. The effectiveness of all these measures could be interrupted and delayed by the reinstatement of Ferdinand VII, but not thwarted. The sale of the crown estates and the secularization of church property (1836-40) threw an abundance of properties onto the market and numerous tenants took advantage of this opportunity to buy their property.


In many parts of Germany the situation of the peasants improved considerably between the middle of the 12th and the middle of the 15th centuries.To some extent this was done through the efforts of the prosperous, prosperous cities of the empire, who took pride in protecting the farmers from their masters and in their suburbs sheltering fugitive servants who were then called "stake citizens." This practice became so prevalent that the emperors opposed it in vain. The situation of the serfs in the rural districts belonging to the possession of the cities differed as a rule very favorably from the relevant conditions on other lands; liberation was also made easier for them. The low density of the rural population and the resulting shortage of farmers - the result of long wars and extensive migrations - induced many worldly and clerical landowners to improve the situation of their tenants, to make their contractual relationship permanent and to ease their burdens. Numerous free village communities emerged in Swabia, Franconia, Westphalia and on the Rhine. However, there were also areas in which the situation of the farmers remained the same as before.

In the second half of the 15th century, disturbing influences asserted themselves. The introduction of Roman law, which had been calculated for a society based on slavery, aimed at replacing the freethinking customs that had often become naturalized with stricter conceptions of property rights. The various degrees of bondage, which in the course of time were recognized and which were sometimes very mild, were grouped into one type by the new law teachers and all fell under the designation "serfdom." The peasant class lost the right to participate in the administration of justice Villages. The growing luxury, with which the intellectual education unfortunately did not keep pace, increased the need for money of the princes and aristocrats, who only knew how to help themselves by heavily burdening the financial and physical forces of the tenant farmers. The incessant wars and feuds of the time forced whole hordes of free country people to give up their independence and to place themselves under the protection - but also under the rule - of powerful men.

The great grievances to which classes that formerly enjoyed a certain freedom were now subjected were indisputably the main causes of the Peasants' War of 1525, which in some areas brought about an immediate relief of burdens. The memory of this revolt restrained the attacks of the nobles for a time; but during the general confusion and impoverishment caused by the Thirty Years' War the attacks renewed themselves and took on worse forms than ever. Immediately after the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia, a kind of absolutism was introduced both in the larger and in the smaller states of Germany, and the arbitrariness of the courts was imitated by the nobles with a more petty, oppressive tyranny. The peasants were left without protection against the whims of their masters, for the governments acted on the latter in order to reconcile them with the repression of the diets, which was damaging to their reputation. The period between the middle of the 17th and the 18th century is one of the darkest pages in the history of the German farmer. In general, according to the law, not a real serf, but only to a limited extent, he nevertheless had to endure the rudest treatment very often, and with regard to his duties and mercies actually depended on the grace of his master. The "father of the country" usually cared very little about him and the state officials did not give him sufficient protection or they even oppressed him themselves.

The modern efforts to liberate the peasant class can be followed with more clarity in Germany than elsewhere, because they are more recent and documented by a greater number of historical documents. In the narrow framework of this book we are unable to describe all the forms which emancipation took in the various states and towns of the empire; We can only describe the events in the two main countries - Prussia and Austria - in more detail, the rest of which we have to mention very briefly.


The first impetus for the liberation of the serfs came from the Empress Maria Theresa, who was guided on the one hand by the philanthropic spirit that permeated her entire government policy, on the other hand by the consideration that improving the situation of the agricultural population would enable them to do so to pay more taxes and to help fill the insatiable war chest better. The efforts of the Empress found a hindrance in the necessity to stay on good terms with the nobility of some provinces, who had suffered badly under the consequences of the Thirty Years' War and rendered valuable services to the crown: only Maria Theresa overcame this difficulty by a coherent series carefully considered measures. First of all, it restricted the manorial criminal jurisdiction, which had all too often been exercised with extreme arbitrariness. Then, for financial reasons, she introduced the principle that peasant estates should never be sucked up by latifundia. In Bohemia, Moravia and several provinces it authorized the tenants with a limited lease term to require the lords to convert the lease into a hereditary property. In order to ensure the most accurate appraisals of the property in this regard, she had a new measurement and appraisal carried out and subjected all purchase contracts to the review by the newly created district authorities. This plan worked splendidly and created a large number of small landowners.

The enlightened ruler succeeded late in making the cheering ("Robott") much easier. In many cases the extent of the service was so vague that at certain times of the year it occupied a large part of the working week or even the whole week for the servants. In 1771 a committee was set up to investigate the pertinent conditions and which recommended two remedies: redemption and the "Robott and Urbarial patents." Since the redemption should have been based on free agreement, it usually failed because the parties involved could only rarely come to an agreement. The above-mentioned "patents", which set the maximum amount of robots to which the gentlemen should have a right and the sums against which the mercy was redeemable, had better success. The peasants of Bohemia overestimated the importance of these precautions and, in their wrong view of them, refused to accept them without Detachment and rose up in an uprising, which the government suppressed with military force. This incident did not prevent the Empress from continuing her reforms. On the Bohemian crown estates, it transformed all merry-making into moderate monetary payments and abolished several feudal taxes in large private estates that had not been found to be justified in the laws.

Their humane endeavors met with fierce opposition in Hungary, where the serfs were extremely badly off. Since she was indebted to the magnates for their earlier political and military support, she wanted to persuade them to introduce reforms, not by force but by persuasion. Only with the help of unfair means did they succeed in thwarting the monarch's good intentions; Even the peasants themselves, with all the good and new unknown, resisted the implementation of the Urbarial patent in Hungary - an unfortunate delusion which gave Maria Theresa the idea of ​​increasing the education of the rural population through the general establishment of village schools (1770).

Her son and successor Joseph II struggled with even worse difficulties as he continued her rural policy. He tried in vain to do away with serfdom completely and to replace it with a milder form of subservience - with fixed money and services. These attempts began in 1781, initially in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, and were then transplanted to the other provinces. They failed mainly because they were not combined with the necessary care and caution, which would have been all the more necessary since the emperor lacked a sufficient number of enlightened officials who worked with pleasure and love to carry out his plans. So it is not surprising that the Hungarians in particular, who had remained particularly stubborn, were successful with their stubbornness. Eventually it got to the point that shortly before his death Joseph II had to revoke all of his reforms, with the exception of the Edict of Tolerance and the abolition of serfdom, for Hungary. The latter innovation, however, had to be sacrificed by his brother Leopold II, who was forced to be content with maintaining the Urbarial patent. In Lower and Upper Austria, too, the crown and its reforms met with such vigorous aversion that Emperor Leopold felt compelled to issue the most important ordinances of his predecessor, those on the liberation of the peasants from these provinces, in which there was no longer any real serfdom the arbitrary exploitation of their masters aimed to withdraw. In general, the Josephine innovations remained in force only in Galicia and Lodomeria - those newly acquired parts of the territory whose farmers, as a result of the weakness of the Polish electoral rulers towards the nobility, were exposed to the worst arbitrariness on the part of the latter. In the particularly readable chapter "The People" of the book "The Free Voice of the Citizen" published in 1753 by the Polish King Stanislaus Leszczynski, which testifies to common sense and noble disposition, there is the following description of the situation of the Polish peasantry at that time: "The people is in a state of extreme humiliation in Poland. The people are almost indistinguishable from their migrating cattle. All too often we sell them to cruel gentlemen by means of shameful hackers ... It is not without horror that I remind you of the law which only punishes the nobleman who kills a peasant with a small fine of 15 francs ... Poland is the only one Country in which the common people seem to be barren of all human rights ... We have put a terrible yoke on them ... Many a nobleman condemns one of his subjects to death without a justified cause - often without trial and without any circumstances. "In these parts of the country Serfdom was abolished in 1782 and replaced by certain limited peasant services, whose robott had previously been unlimited. Leopold II and Franz II resisted energetically and successfully the attempts of the Schlachzizen to restore the old, cherished conditions. When Western Galicia fell to Austria during the third partition of Poland (1795), Emperor Franz introduced the relevant reforms there too.

From the end of the 18th century until 1848 the emancipation work in Austria made no particular progress. It is true that the tenant farmers were already personally free and in some areas the owners of their land; but in most of the empire they still suffered more or less arbitrary treatment. In Bohemia, Moravia and Galicia they were not allowed to acquire a strip of land. In Hungary and Transylvania, the landowners condemned the people in their judicial capacity to corporal punishment, although they were no longer allowed to use the latter in their manorial capacity. According to the law, their dues and robots were not redeemable - even if there was a tendency to redeem them on both sides. In the Hungarian lands all movable property of the farmer could only be bequeathed to his children; if he had no children, he could only bequeath two thirds to others, while the third third fell to the rule; if he died childless without leaving a will, his relatives received nothing and the rulership received everything.

Josef II had regulated the Robott maxima. One did not always obey one's ordinances; but if it did happen, the happy time was extraordinarily unfair - two or three days a week. Individual, more liberal aristocrats strove to replace these achievements, but found little support from their peers. It was not until the revolution of 1848-49 that the important matter had to be dealt with. On September 7, 1848, the Austrian Reichstag abolished the hereditary serfdom of the Frohn farmers by law, thereby breaking the fetters to which agriculture had been chained as a curse. And when the revolution was suppressed and the iron reaction raised its head, the law of emancipation fortunately remained in force and the small estates became the property of their farmers. The same reforms - and the abolition of patrimonial jurisdiction - were soon carried out in the areas that now belong to the Hungarian crown. The landlords were compensated partly from the coffers of the crown lands concerned, partly through compulsory redemption due to the establishment of official commissions. The procedure, known as "basic discharge," took many years to complete, but it went off satisfactorily and did not cause much inconvenience for those involved.


The Hohenzollern kings always wanted to improve the situation of the farmers. As early as 1702, Frederick I announced his intention to free all those servants on the royal lands who would repay the construction costs of the houses they lived in and the seeds and livestock that had been extended to them in the course of time. But the peasants were too poor to meet this requirement; also the ruler lacked the firmness which would have been necessary to overcome the resistance which arose against his plan. Friedrich Wilhelm I, who had a capacity for practical people's economy, tried many times to remedy the evil consequences of the Thirty Years' War in order to attract settlers to the badly depopulated East Prussian provinces. To this end, he eliminated bondage to the local crown domains and granted the peasants hereditary property rights to their property. But he made his own reforms ineffective by confirming the then existing restrictions on freedom of movement and career choice, leaving the level of burdens imposed on the peasants unregulated, and encouraging their children to do merry work in the manor houses. In Prussia the abolition of bondage failed because of the resistance of the peasants themselves, who, on the basis of their experiences, sensed other than benevolent intentions behind the planned innovation.

Frederick the Great was seriously concerned with protecting the peasants against their masters as well as against the state officials who often acted with great arbitrariness. The often disregarded regulation that after the death of every tenant farmer his inheritance should be used immediately on the crown estates, was repeatedly brought to mind. In 1749 a new ordinance threatened any official who would beat a peasant with a stick with a six-year prison term; but since the habit of beating was too ingrained as a result of the procedure observed by Friedrich's father, who even chastised high officers, the prohibition remained ineffective. Since the edict issued by Friedrich Wilhelm in 1739 against the arbitrary expulsion of tenants was systematically violated, Friedrich punished this violation with heavier penalties. In spite of this the evil flourished so much under his successor that new regulations had to be issued against it. In 1763 Friedrich decreed the abolition of serfdom in Pomerania; but since the provincial estates declared firmly that it was impossible for them to introduce the reform, he revoked it the next year. In general he slacked in his striving for the liberation of the serfs - partly as a result of the resistance of the landlords and state officials, partly as a result of his preference for the nobility, which in his view only had a feeling of honor, partly - and probably mainly - because he was supported by the Serious emancipation feared an unfavorable effect on his soldiers being drafted, because at that time the Prussian army was largely recruited from serfs. In addition, given the poor state of his finances, he would not have been in a position to dispute the compensation due to the landlords. So, on the whole, Friedrich did not do much positive emancipation work. Only in the newly acquired West Prussia did he accomplish anything worth mentioning. Soon after the first partition of Poland he was able to write to Voltaire: "In West Prussia I have abolished slavery and reformed many barbaric institutions." Feudal burdens and forbade the expulsion of tenant farmers without the intervention of a court of law.

In the period between the death of Frederick the Great and Stein-Hardenberg's legislative work, very little happened for the Prussian peasantry. In place of the word "serfdom" came the designation "inheritance subservience" and in the general land law of 1791 some non-essential provisions were included. B. not even to the point of removal, but only to the mitigation of the manorial caning right.

The movement received a very powerful impetus from the events following the French Revolution. As much as the loss of territory to Napoleon and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine might offend national sentiment, these incidents were beneficial for the rural population concerned, because with the introduction of the new French codes of law, feudalism and its taxes disappeared in the areas ceded by the Peace of Lüneville etc without Compensation to landowners. The King of Westphalia and the other princes of the Rhine Confederation ensured voluntary agreements which eliminated any personal subservience on the part of the farmer, but secured certain taxes and payments for the lord, which constituted an appropriate compensation for the ownership of the property; Natural work was also regulated and made removable. But the pertinent legislation was hasty, and ambiguities soon arose, which led to squabbles and legal disputes, so that the results of the well-intentioned laws turned out to be far less beneficial than they would have been had more prudence.

Friedrich Wilhelm III. From the beginning of his reign he worked diligently on the lifting of bondage in Prussia. He wanted to make the farmer an independent full citizen. In August 1799 a Prussian minister said to French ambassadors: “The king is a democrat in his own way. He works incessantly, albeit slowly, to restrict the privileges of the nobility, and in a few years there will be no more feudal privileges in Prussia. ”In 1799 he urged the Crown authorities to abolish all royal estates To accelerate compulsory services and the granting of free property titles to the tenants, and in the next few years he introduced all sorts of reforms in several provinces - especially in East and West Prussia - although he encountered some great difficulties. But the final and decisive impetus for a thorough social rebirth was the national misfortune of Prussia in 1806. At that time the keen advisors of the king succeeded in breaking the selfish, prejudicial reluctance and in creating the legislation necessary for the establishment of the almost ruined country .

The new laws, approved by the leading spirits of public opinion, were worked out by a special committee of which Altenstein, Schön, and other eminent statesmen belonged. Stein and Hardenberg supported the drafts with all their influence and so on October 9, 1807 the ruler signed the so famous "Emancipation Edict" which literally said:

'With the publication of the present decree, the previous relationship of subservience of those subjects and their wives and children who own their farms by hereditary or peculiarity or by hereditary interest ceases completely. With the Martini Days in 1810 all servitude ceases in all our states. After the Martini Days in 1810 there were only free people, but with whom, as it goes without saying, all obligations which they as free people owing to the possession of a piece of land or owing to a special contract remain in force. "

On the royal domains of actual As already mentioned, Prussia had already exempted those peasants who were immediate crown tenants from bondage. By means of a cabinet order of October 28, 1807, the liberation was granted all Domains extends. In July of the following year, all domain tenants obtained full ownership of their property, but retained certain taxes and services. At the same time, the free movement of goods was introduced. Until then, aristocratic estates could legally only belong to aristocrats ("persons of bourgeois origin" only with the special permission of the king), only peasants could own peasant estates and only citizens could own municipal lands. These regulations were now (July 1808) repealed and at the same time care was taken to ensure that peasant estates are neither absorbed by property nor excessively overgrown. All box-like restrictions on the choice of occupation and the transition from one class to another were also removed, giving way to complete freedom in these matters.

The benefits of the Edict of Emancipation were later expanded considerably. An ordinance of March 16, 1811 decreed the replacement of all taxes and services by one-off monetary payments on the crown lands. Exactly six months later, a new ordinance made the peasants on private property full owners of their property, at the same time relieving them of all landlord taxes and merchants; The landowners were compensated by being released from any obligation to contribute to the maintenance or support of the tenants and by transferring a part of the peasant property - one third in the case of hereditary leases, half in the case of lifelong or shorter leases. In place of this assignment of land, the agreement of a one-off purchase price or an annual lease payment could take place. The development of the current Prussian farm ownership system is due to this crowning achievement of the emancipation building.

The immediate effects of the liberation legislation were: first, the awakening of the enthusiasm for national unity and fraternity that led to the overcoming of foreign rule; second, the shining example for the small German states; thirdly, it was prevented that, after the return of peace, the stormy crusade of the Germans against everything French led to a retrograde policy in matters of the peasant class. Prussia could not and did not want to back down on this point and so the other German states had to be comfortable with gradually more or less imitating the procedure followed by the most important member of the new confederation.

Other German states.

But this was by no means done with uniform swiftness and in a uniformly free-thinking manner. In these relations there was a very great diversity of procedure. In Baden, Prince Karl Friedrich, well known as a physiocrat, had already worked towards improving the situation of the country folk before the outbreak of the French Revolution, who, by the way, had long had a comparatively mild lot there, because their heaviest burdens had tacitly disappeared over the years. We already know that in the countries temporarily under French rule the liberation of the servants and the land was complete. On the other hand, emancipation was only partially implemented in most of the Rhine Confederation countries. In Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden the conflict between the interests of the governments and those of the nobility came to endure the peasant class.

The liberation work in Hanover, Kurhessen and Mecklenburg met the most violent reluctance. In the latter town, the arable farmers were particularly badly off. If Mecklenburg had suffered terribly from the Thirty Years' War, it suffered even more from the terrible arbitrariness of Junkerism that followed it. In 1802 things were still so bad that Stein spoke out very sharply about it and compared the country estates of the Mecklenburg aristocrats with the caves of predatory animals, "which devastate everything around them and surround themselves with serenity." The situation of the rural population remained very deplorable, and this continued until the middle of the century. In Hanover, Electorate Hesse, and Saxony, efforts to emancipate the remnants of hereditary subservience received a powerful impetus from the July Revolution of 1830, and the main result of the popular movements of 1848 was the acceleration of the conclusion of the long-delayed financial measures which had been determined to help completely relieve the peasant burdens that have in principle already been abolished.


In this country, whose historical antecedents were different from those of the Western European states and which on this point is better counted among the oriental states, serfdom has been preserved until very recently. In the earliest researchable time, the rural population consisted of 1. slaves, 2. free tillers, 3. actual farmers who were small tenants or cottagers and members of a community. As elsewhere, the sources of slavery in Russia were captivity, voluntary self-sale of penniless suitors, sale of insolvent debtors, and judicial condemnation as a result of certain crimes. In the 18th century we find all the differences between those three classes blurred and merged into the serf class. The serfs belonged either to the landlords or to the state. They were not allowed to move elsewhere, but were not tied to the clod (""), because, as it is said in an imperial ukase from 1721, "their owners could sell them individually like cattle"; it was not necessary to dispose of the families as a whole. This use, initially tacitly approved by the government, which received a tax on every sale, was later officially recognized by several imperial ukases. Peter the Great imposed a poll tax on all peasants, made the landowners responsible for the amounts due to their serfs, and forced those free nomads who did not want to join the army to become either members of a community or the servants of some landlord to settle. The Russian bondage system reached its full development under Catherine II. The serfs were bought, negotiated, or given away, either by families or individually, with or without property; only the sale by public auction was forbidden "as unworthy of a European state". The gentlemen were allowed to banish their unruly servants to Siberia without trial or to send them to the mines for life. A serf who sued his master could be punished with a knackle and condemned to forced labor in the mines.

The first signs of a turnaround appeared under Paul (1796-1801), who, by means of ukases, forbade the serfs to do good labor more than three days a week. In other ways, too, since the beginning of our century various efforts have been made to alleviate the lot of the serfs and even to their complete emancipation, but without tangible results. It was not until Alexander II, who ascended the throne in 1855, that something remarkable happened. After the end of the Crimean War, this emperor set up a secret "main committee for peasant affairs" consisting of the greatest dignitaries of the state, which had to study the question of the exemption of servants and of which Grand Duke Constantine belonged as one of the most zealous members. To speed things up, the government resorted to the following means. In Littauian, relations between landowners and servants were under Tsar Nikolaus by the so-called. "Inventories" regulated. Dissatisfied with these, the Lithuanian nobility under Alexander II asked for them to be changed. The government interpreted the request in question as an indirect wish for the abolition of serfdom and hastened to authorize the formation of committees by means of a decree, which were to work out proposals for gradual emancipation. A circular soon followed, in which the government informed all the governors and aristocratic marshals of the empire of the wishes of the large Lithuanian landowners and set out the principles to be followed "if the nobles of other provinces should express similar wishes."

Public opinion strongly supported the proposed reform, and those gentlemen who opposed it recognized that if it ever came to liberation, they would do better to place their interests in the hands of the nobility than in those of the bureaucracy . Accordingly, in 1858, in almost every province in which there were serfs, emancipation committees were established to draw up plans. A large imperial commission was set up to draw up a general plan on the basis of all these proposals. Thus the law of February 19 (March 3) 1861, abolishing serfdom, came into being. The remainder of the resistance from the nobility was soon suppressed. The main provisions of the new law were as follows:

"1. The servants immediately receive the civil rights of free peasants and the power of the landlord is replaced by communal autonomy. 2. As far as possible, the village communities keep the lands they currently hold and compensate the owners with certain annual cash payments or services. H. for the purchase of the lands in question. "With regard to the serfs employed in domestic service, it was determined that they should serve their masters for another two years and then become entirely free, without, however, receiving shares in the communal lands.

The task of explaining the law to those involved and of carrying out the new order of things was incumbent upon individual select landlords in each circle, known as "justice of the peace" and - as a rule with the consent of both parties - drafted statutes which governed the relations between them the landlords and the communities. These men usually performed their difficult task in a fairly satisfactory manner, so that the transition went quite smoothly. The financial side was done as follows. The government capitalized the taxes at 6% and immediately paid the landowners four-fifths of the calculated value. The peasants had to pay: to the owners the last fifth immediately or in installments, to the government for 49 years 6% interest on the four fifths advanced. If a municipality could not take on the purchase obligation, the landlord received an obligatory redemption in return for the transfer of the last fifth.

At the time of emancipation, landowners owned 20,158,231 peasants and 1,467,378 servants. Then there were the citizens, about half of the rural population. Their situation was usually better than that of the private servants; Wallace describes them as "standing in the middle between serfs and free." Among them were also the serfs on the former church estates, which had been confiscated under Catherine II and transformed into state domains. There were nearly 3½ million serfs on the imperial family's apanage estates. In total, the law of 1861 gave over forty million servants their freedom. That was undoubtedly necessary and useful; but the immediate brilliant consequences which many expected of the revolution in economic and moral terms did not occur. In any case, the effects were not the same in all regions of the empire and it will probably still take a longer period of time to bring the results to full development. New legislative measures will probably be necessary if the benevolent social germs contained in the emancipation work of 1861 are to shoot up.

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