Historical evidence from the middle of the fourteenth century for the rural area north of the Harz mountains, between the towns of Brunswick, Hildesheim, and Goslar, does not tell us much about the social relationships of the people of the plough. In this respect, it is not comparable to evidence like the great monastic polyptychs of ninth-century France and northern Italy; or the court rolls and manorial accounts of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England; or the protocols of the Inquisition for the northern Pyrenees in the early fourteenth century; or the famous Catasto of Tuscany around 1400. But historians should not limit themselves to the study of source material preserved by chance.
So far, little attention has been paid to the northern Harz region; the few available studies focus mainly on questions concerning rural organization. This essay fits into the framework of broader studies of rural living conditions in the northwest Harz region.1 The sources for the study are in Latin and middle low German. The following general conditions should be noted: The landscape is a hilly, forested area with small rivers and good soil (see Figure 19). The holding was divided into the farm (Lat. curia, mlG. hoff: Hof) and the arable land (Lat. mansus, mlG. hove: Hufe). Each part was rented separately. The size of the Hufe was about 20 to 30 Morgen, that is, 10 to 20 acres.
In the villages there were three types of peasants. At the top there was a small group of rich peasants (Meier) who held farms with three to six Hufen, leasing them for life or for a fixed number of years (Zeitpacht). The lease generally took the form of share-cropping (one third was due to the lord, usually a member of the nearby town aristocracy, the Patriziat), and production was apparently oriented to the town market. The majority of the villagers were peasants who held one or two Hufen. They were hereditary leaseholders and normally paid fixed money rents (Erbzinsrecht) to their lords, who belonged to the old ecclesiastical foundations or to the