Economic History of Europe in Modern Times

By Melvin M. Knight; Harry Elmer Barnes et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT OF GERMANY SINCE 1800

ABOLITION OF SERFDOM

DIVERSITY of climate, differences in the fertility of the soil, and racial and political conflict have played an important part in the development of agriculture in Germany. The struggle from serfdom to freedom was successful only after centuries of conflict. In England the disappearance of the manorial system was gradual, but certain and continuous. Not so in Germany, for in some parts of her territory serfdom disappeared early, while, at the same time, a highly developed manorial system continued intact elsewhere. The reasons for this situation are to be found in the conditions under which the manorial system flourished and decayed throughout German lands -- conditions which were largely controlled by the geographical regions in which, respectively, they developed.

In the southwest, the manorial system early showed signs of decay. Commutation of services, notably during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, gradually led to a decline in serfdom, until, by the middle of the seventeenth century, it had largely disappeared as a factor in the economic life of the people, even though, legally, serfdom was not abolished until much later and unimportant remnants of manorial organization continued into the twentieth century. The scattered manorial possessions in many parts of the southwest gave little opportunity for the development of landlordism. This lack of territorial continuity frequently enabled the serf to secure his freedom through commutation of manorial obligations, and possibly to gain possession of one of the numerous scraps of land which constituted part of the holdings of his lord. Thus, in time, the relatively independent peasant became a dominant figure in the rural organization of this territory.

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