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Grundherrschaft and Gutsherrschaft in Germany

Through the centuries most of our ancestors lived in rural areas and came under the auspices of a Grund- or Gutsherr (landowner). Most cultivable land was owned by them – less by small farmers, although it was possible for a Grundherr to lease land to more or less independent farmers. A Grundherr can be lord over a small area, does not have to be a nobleman and can also be a monastery. A manorial system was complex and embraced all aspects of life. A Gutsherr, also a manor lord, owned land and managed it through workers. The farmers of the surrounding area were his subordinates and their affairs were regulated by him or his administrator.

There were three forms of manorial systems:
1. Villication
2. Interest or annuity based
3. Manorial or patrimonial based

• Villication
This system consisted of a manor and a couple of dependent farms. The manor lord owned acreage, meadows, gardens, woods, lakes, rivers, canals, vineyards and mills. The manor lord lived either at the manor house or had his administrator (Villikus) conduct the business. This man was responsible to collect contributions from the farmers, also called Grundholden. He had the power to hold court. Even if some farmers were independent, somehow they became part of the multifaceted enterprise of the manor.

• The interest or annuity based system
This system very much functioned as villication did, only there did not exist the right to ownership. The manor lord leased the land and collected interest or annuities. This form of manorial system was prevalent in areas of clearing or colonization.

• The manorial or patrimonial system
East of the Elbe River in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, East/West Prussia, Silesia (Ober-/Niederlausitz) the Gutsherrschaft was prominent. A Gut consisted of a castle like manor house to which was attached a large farming area and smaller farming units (Vorwerk). A Gutsherr was interested in expansion by re-cultivating waste lands and annexing or buying farmlands. In this wise an entire village could become part of the Gutsherrschaft and economic growth be ensured. The entire area was cultivated by farm hands, subordinate farmers and squatters (Gärtner, Häusler). The members of a Gut were part of a more or less crushing personal dependence. Dependents had to observe Erbuntertänigkeit (subservience which was inheritable) Schollenpflicht (tied to the area) and Gesindedienstzwang (had to provide services by waiting in the wings). Gutsherrschaft was spreading because authoritative laws were transferred to the Gutsherrr of noble descent. He exercised police powers and patrimonial jurisprudence.

With all these regulations, obligations, stipulations etc. there are numerous records re. land transactions, regulative and obligatory actions involving our ancestors who dwelled in rural Germany. See the following examples:

Land Records

The land records, formerly recorded in the records of the lower courts of Silesia are now found in the Polish regional archives, partly also in German and Czech archives. An actual list of where what is deposited see the article by Stefan Guzy in Schlesische Geschichtsblätter 37 (2010) pp. 20-30.

The General Commission for Silesia at Breslau was overlooking among others the privileges, services and goods paid in kind. Their records are deposited in the State Archive of Breslau with 42.400 volumes for the years 1769 and 1816-1928. From these records can be gleaned the property situations of all villagers in the first half of the 19th century who were not free farmers, of people occupying houses (Häusler) of Gärtner (people who had small garden plots) and people who just simply rented a house or space. The records are organized by county and villages and are accessible through so called Findbücher (archival indexes).

The very first land records are to be found in so called Urbare. They also contain documentation about the serf population from the first half of the 16th century on. Older records are stored in the State Archive of Breslau, the Troppau Archive and other archives. More recent records might be stored with the lower courts or the actual village administrations.

For further information see Google Search: Urbare

Oberschlesische Urbare at




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  • This page was last modified on 1 October 2011, at 10:14.
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