Between Clan and Crown: The Struggle to Define Noble Property Rights in Imperial Russia
Ransel, David L., Canadian Slavonic Papers
Lee A. Farrow. Between Clan and Crown: The Struggle to Define Noble Property Rights in Imperial Russia. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Cloth.
After a long famine of work on imperial Russian property law, we are able to enjoy a feast of two monographs in the space of two years. Lee Farrow's book on noble property rights follows the publication of a path-breaking monograph on women and property in imperial Russia by Michelle Marrese (A Woman's Kingdom: Noblewomen and the Control of Property in Russia 1700-1861 [Cornell, 2002]). Farrow's study covers a shorter period of time and rests on a thinner source base than Marrese's but is nevertheless useful for setting out the basic contours of property law in the eighteenth century.
Farrow concentrates on two aspects of Russian property law-redemption and confiscation-that she believes were especially salient and consequential in imperial Russia. "This study," she writes, "seeks to demonstrate two things-that noble life, including possession and control of the all-important resource of land, was inextricably intertwined with clan life, and that this often stifling influence combined with the significant power of the ruler to restrict the growth of private property and political freedom." What she means by the "growth of private property" is the individual's right to dispose freely of his or her property, a right that was hedged round in Russia by the claims of members of one's extended family to redeem land sold or mortgaged to others and by the ruler's right to confiscate land (and other property) on a number of pretexts.
Farrow walks the reader through the seventeenth-century legal background and the changes introduced in the period of Peter the Great's reign. She has a chapter on the Single Inheritance Law and, more important, on the legislation passed in the subsequent reigns of Catherine I and Anna that refined and partially overturned it. The Single Inheritance Law is well known to historians. The details of the legislation that altered it are less well understood and well worth knowing better. We are in Farrow's debt for clarifying them.
The chapter on Catherine the Great's legislation is titled "Fool's Gold." Farrow argues here that the nobles did not wrest any great concessions out of Catherine on property rights and that the Charter to the Nobility, despite the claims of historians about a new plateau of rights, provided no guarantee of property.
The core of Farrow's book and its thesis about the insecurity of nobles' control of property lies in her discussion of redemption and confiscation. The source base for the first is redemption suits. While Farrow references her cases, she does not tell us how typical they were. It is hard to provide a balanced view of noble property rights on the basis of a limited number of purely conflictual instances. It would be interesting to know the proportion of redemption challenges that occurred in what was a highly active market in property. …