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Serf, Seigneur, and Sovereign

Serf, Seigneur, and Sovereign: Agrarian Reform in Eighteenth-Century Bohemia

William E. Wright
Copyright Date: 1966
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsv42
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    Serf, Seigneur, and Sovereign
    Book Description:

    This is a detailed history of the agrarian reforms which took place in Bohemia during the reigns of the Habsburg rulers Maria Theresa, 1740-1780, and Joseph II, 1780-1790. The enactment of the land reforms had far-reaching social, economic, and political effects, and the subject constitutes an important chapter in the history of the nation we now know as Czechoslovakia. The topic has been hardly touched in English, however, and has only recently been properly treated by the Marxist historians of post-World War II Czechoslovakia. Much of Professor Wright’s account is based on documents not previously used by historians, particularly materials in the Hofkammerarchiv in Vienna. The author provides a background by describing the development of serfdom in Bohemia over approximately two hundred years prior to the accession of Maria Theresa to the throne of Austria in 1740. In major sections of the book Professor Wright traces the causes, events, and effects of the program of agrarian reform which Maria Theresa and Joseph II carried out. He shows how the changes in the land system profoundly affected the relationships of the serf, seigneur, and sovereign, and how they paved the way for the much greater social revolution which was to come with the emancipation of 1848. In addition to providing a wealth of factual information, the account gives a dramatic picture of the plight of the peasant, along with valid glimpses of the personalities of the rulers and their ministers. Specialists in European history, social history, or agrarian history will find the book particularly rewarding.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6496-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-vi)
  2. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-x)
    William E. Wright
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-1)
  4. List of A bbreviations Used in Citing Documents and Periodical Literature
    (pp. 2-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-5)

    The eighteenth century stands between the brilliant intellectual achievements of the seventeenth century and the turbulent political, social, and economic metamorphoses of the nineteenth century. But the eighteenth century cannot be regarded merely as a bridge connecting the sublime enterprises of the preceding era with the restless strife and striving of the era that succeeded it. Descartes, Newton, and Locke were prophets, but it was their eighteenth-century exegetes who gave currency to their message and nourished respect for reason, science, and the natural law, until these elements, combined and transformed by thephilosophes, blossomed into a kind of public philosophy,...

  6. 1 THE BOHEMIAN SERF TO 1740
    (pp. 6-26)

    In the late fourteenth century, the conditions of peasant serfdom in Bohemia, like those in Western Europe, were undergoing changes that seemed to indicate the advent of a new agrarian order in which the seigneur would exercise powers of jurisdiction and administration in a society of independent peasant leaseholders. The seigneurs were more concerned with their interests as lords of territories and less concerned with their interests as manorial proprietors. To be sure, they were not eager to forego the income supplied them from the land, but they had little enthusiasm for farming their demesne lands themselves or in having...

  7. 2 THE AGRARIAN PROBLEM DISCOVERED
    (pp. 27-37)

    The tide of peasant fortunes had been ebbing steadily since 1620. During the reign of Charles VI the fortunes of the crown had, along with those of the peasant, receded as the wave of noble particularism and prerogative swelled. The common opponent of king and peasant was the nobility. The old adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” did not and could not apply here, however, for an alliance joining scepter and scythe was unthinkable in early eighteenth-century Austria. Habsburgs did not aspire to become “peasant kings,” and certainly Charles VI was not the man to set a...

  8. 3 THE LATER YEARS OF MARIA THERESA
    (pp. 38-54)

    In 1765 Maria Theresa could look back on twenty-five years of sore trial. Her monarchy had been on the edge of disaster more than once; military defeats and unfavorable stalemates had exacted great tolls on her people, land, and coffers. The fundamental weaknesses of her government had been only too discouragingly manifested, and those measures undertaken to strengthen the state were met by countermeasures of the nobility — more covert and devious than overt and direct — designed to obstruct the exercise of state power and preserve noble prerogatives. Adversity had been her well-nigh constant companion, and she had known...

  9. 4 THE RAAB SYSTEM
    (pp. 55-70)

    The proposal to abolishrobotaand distribute manorial lands to the peasants was a radical one in 1775, but it was no longer a novel idea. It would have been remarkable indeed if theavant-coureurs, who were so imbued with the principles of the Enlightenment and who had striven so mightily to cure the public ills of Austria, had not earlier contributed that idea to the already ample inventory of controversy that seemed daily to be enlarged in both administrative and noble circles. No small factor in prompting the innovators to espouse radical ideas in agrarian matters was the conduct...

  10. 5 JOSEPH II, ROYAL REVOLUTIONARY
    (pp. 71-77)

    Joseph, the second Habsburg ruler to bear that name, had been born on 13 March 1741, when the fortunes of Austria and the Habsburgs appeared dark indeed. When he died forty-nine years later on 20 February 1790, he left the state and dynasty in equally perilous circumstances — to a considerable extent circumstances of his own creation. The intervening years of his life make an absorbing account of human strength and weakness, of high ideals much too mechanically and brusquely applied to the affairs of men, and of great humanitarian motives rendered sterile by a failure to understand the people...

  11. 6 EXTENSION OF THE RAAB SYSTEM
    (pp. 78-94)

    During the year 1782 Joseph exercised what for him was remarkable patience and forbearance in matters of agrarian reform. Following his order in January of 1782 that ways and means be found and a plan devised for the extension of the abolition system, he allowed a lengthy series of discussions to take place within and among the various governmental agencies concerned with the program. The Court Chancellery, the Treasury, and the Accounting Office let the year wear away while they studied and weighed proposals for the best scheme whereby the program might be improved and accelerated.¹ Finally, in January 1783,...

  12. 7 THE HOYER SYSTEM
    (pp. 95-111)

    In the spring of 1783 Hoyer had wasted no time in going to Bohemia to investigate circumstances there and to explain the system to the various lords and cameral administrators. His report to Joseph upon completion of this preparatory mission rang with confidence and enthusiasm, which was precisely the proper tone to impress Joseph favorably. The emperor’s approbation could sometimes be more quickly won by a combination of ineptitude and enthusiasm than by skill and by caution born of frank recognition of realities. Both Hoyer and Joseph were to discover that the way was not as free of stones and...

  13. 8 TRIALS AND SUCCESSES IN ROBOTA ABOLITION
    (pp. 112-129)

    The demotion of Hofrat von Hoyer and the promotion of Johann Joseph Erben to the position ofrobotaabolition commissioner were not the only results of the conferences held in Vienna in January 1785. There followed soon a basic reorganization of the lines of supervision and responsibility.

    Zinzendorf successfully pressed his request to be relieved of the abolition system, and the Court Commission was placed in the charge of Tobias Phillip von Gebler.¹ Zinzendorf’s attempts to resign in August and December of 1784² had not been prompted solely by personal dislike of Joseph, or even exclusively because he disagreed with...

  14. 9 THE AGRARIAN AND TAX LAW OF 1789
    (pp. 130-150)

    At about the same time in 1783 that Joseph II began to press for more vigorous action in therobotaabolition program he also began to consider how he might extend agrarian legislation to all manorial estates whether they were controlled by the state or privately owned. The program being conducted on state lands occasioned discomfiture and embarrassment to the noble landowners, for it awakened desires and hopes in the hearts of their serfs which became all the more consuming when the serfs compared their conditions to those of the peasants on state lands. The abolition program set dangerous precedents....

  15. CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 151-164)

    At Joseph’s death the vigorous reaction against his reforms, and the more imaginary than real threat of “Jacobinism”¹ which spurred on that reaction, brought a halt to the progression of ameliorative and encouraging governmental acts that had favored the Bohemian peasant for half a century. To the conservative elements of Austria, principally noble and ecclesiastical, Josephinism was all too redolent of Jacobinism and when logically projected, they supposed, would culminate in revolution. In the largely needless fear and self-engendered frenzy which the Bohemian Estates permitted themselves in the winter and spring of 1790, Leopold had to read storm warnings and...

  16. Appendix I. KOSCHUMBERG CONTRACT
    (pp. 167-172)
  17. Appendix II. ABOLITION FOR ZAHORAN (HOYER)
    (pp. 173-179)
  18. Appendix III. ABOLITION FOR DEUTSCHBROD (ERBEN)
    (pp. 180-186)
  19. Appendix IV. PETITION OF SERFS AT LIEBESCHITZ
    (pp. 187-189)
  20. Appendix V. CONTRACT FOR SALE OF SERF-HELD LAND
    (pp. 190-191)
  21. Appendix VI. DOCUMENT DISPOSSESSING SERF FOR POOR HUSBANDRY
    (pp. 192-194)
  22. Appendix VII. BOHEMIAN AND AUSTRIAN MONEY, WEIGHTS, AND MEASURES
    (pp. 195-196)
  23. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 199-208)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 211-217)