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Rural living conditions in the principality/kingdom of Hannover 1650-1850
In order to get a better picture of how people functioned and what was expected of them we need to look closely at their circumstances. Often we garner clues from knowing what our ancestors most likely had to adhere to when going about daily activities.
Life in the villages was molded by the so called Meierrecht, the law regulating lease holding. The records of the non-contentious legal procedures can be found in the administrations, called Amt, the monasteries, the nobility courts and the courts of the land owners. The actual records are known as Lager – and Hausbücher (registers which contain descriptions of all property pertaining to a village, for instance, Kopfsteuerrollen (tax registers), Musterungsrollen (military rolls), Inventarlisten der Höfe (inventories of farms), Kirchenbücher (church books), and Eheverträge (prenuptial agreements). These sources often contain details about villagers, numbers and largeness of farms, age of villagers, information about incriminations, deliveries, and services to manor lord, church, and sovereign.
Villagers were organized into categories from which there was rarely much deviance. Land, especially farmland was owned by landowners. A farmer was only able to cultivate the ground, he held the Erbpachtrecht, the ability to pass on his contract to his heir, usually his oldest son. The other brothers and sisters received compensation. Physically impaired children had a right to remain on the parental property, had to work without pay and had no claim to compensation.
To obtain a prized piece of property, the farmer had to prove that he was able bodied and could get a good yield from his labors. Since the farmer only had usage of the property, the landowner curtailed the rights to property considerably. Own did the farmer just his personal property, such as tools, fertilizer, seed, the harvest yield minus the grain interest and tithing. The farmer also had to adhere to rules regulating services and deliverance of goods as well as paying taxes.
With all these regulations the land owner had a right to interfere in the personal life of his bondsmen. He regulated the marrying. Marriage partner usually came from neighboring farms of the same village. Scarcer was the choice to marry someone from another village and rarely from another jurisdiction (Amt) and only when the borders were not far away. Farmers with the largest acreage married amongst themselves. A woman from such a farm who had to be compensated was a preferred marriage partner for the Kötner (the farmer with less acreage). Marriage age was around 28 years. Farmers’ marriages took place after the harvest in October/November.
The land owner furthermore controlled the transfers of leases, and the compensations. It was all about his interests. Since the 16th century there existed a strict administration in form of the Amt. A village’s activities were regulated by the Amt, the arm of the sovereign lord, by the manor lord, who could also be the judge, and by the local mayor. The village was made up of farms with various amounts of acreage. Small villages usually had more numbers of larger farms, called Voll- and Halbmeierhöfe, large villages had more numbers of smaller farms, called Kötner- and Brinksitzerstellen.
Farmers had the lowest social status. Among them, the Voll- and Halbmeier cultivated the largest amounts of land, the Kötner cultivated smaller parcels of land, had a house and a garden. The Brinksitzer were newcomers who settled at the outskirts of a village. They owned a little house with a garden attached. In the 18th and 19th century these people were called Ansiedler, meaning they are new settlers. At the bottom of the ladder were the Häuslinge. This group consisted of people typically not originating from the village in which they resided. They were very mobile because they had to find their living wherever they could. Most of them were the unlucky ones not inheriting land. They lived as renters, often in vacant houses owned by small farmers whose parents or relatives did not occupy them and who had to depend on the rent. A farmer had to get permission from the landowner to house Häuslinge. They earned their living as day laborers or as craftsmen. We find them as cattle herders, so called Kuh- (cow), Schweine hirten (pig herders) and Schäfer (shepherds). Linen weaving and tailoring were the other preferred occupations because these did not require special tools or a shop. Häuslinge often worked for the farmer as day laborers. They are not to be confused, however, with the male and female servants a farmer employed as they kept their own households. If a Häusling had cattle he was allowed to let it graze in the communal meadows only if he obtained permission from the villagers by contract. For this privilege he had to pay a user fee. Sometimes Häuslinge were also able to grow grains in the grounds of their landlord. Häuslinge did not have to do services or deliver goods to the manor or sovereign lords; they had however, to pay money for their own protection. If they could not afford the sum, they were ordered to do services for the community or the wives had to supply spinning goods for the amount of the protection money if the Häusler was physically impaired.
How much the state was involved in the lives of the rural population comes to us through prenuptial agreements. We get details about ages, the origins of the engaged couple, a list of items of the dowry, the amount of compensation to departing heirs, the retirement regulations of the departing farmer, the right of inheritance specifications and the possible indebtedness of the farm. The landowners had a keen interest in economically healthy farms. Their objections were against too generous of compensations for heirs and retiring farmers. None was allowed to retire before age 60 without reason and without permission by the land owner. Retirement specifications were based on farm yield, how well the retiree was able to still produce and how large of a dowry his wife contributed. After the death of one partner, the other had to return his/her share back to the farm. Land owners regulated support for illegitimate and under age children. Children had to be supported by parents or grandparents until age 14. From then on they were considered fit for work. The manor lord was able to determine which children had to leave the farm. Only the most capable and competent person should work the farm. A woman could become an heiress, however, was not allowed to run the farm by herself; her husband would get the contract as Meier. Widows, on the other hand, were allowed to operate alone until her child was of age to take over. If there was no direct heir, the farm was leased to relatives.
In most cases the farms belonged to one landowner, there were however, some villages which owed homage to several land owners. The reasons for this reach far into mediaeval times. When villages formed, they portrayed a peace zone from which the surrounding area was excluded. Neighborhoods outside a village formed their own jurisdiction. This changed when several villages were combined into one jurisdiction, endowed by the sovereign lord with special rights and privileges. Therefore, a village can be a sovereign as well as a local unit. Village names ending in –sal, -heim, -hausen, -hofen, -dorf, and -stat are reminders of sovereign origins. Village names starting with Süder-, Oster-, Norder-, Wester-, Alter- testify of later formations.
The dual function is mirrored in the responsibilities of the administration (Amt). The services rendered by individual farmers and recorded by the Ant were considerably different regarding Amt, manor lord or sovereign. While the former two maintained the delivery of goods and services in form of time and victuals, the sovereign changed the requisitions to monetary payments in the second half of the 18th century.
A special role among villagers played the innkeepers and other officials. Often they were newcomers and acted as controllers for the sovereign lords. They separated themselves from other villagers by inter marriage.
The described patterns are true for all of Lower Saxony in the time frame of 1650-1850 with exception of few local customs.
Begemann, Ulrike. Bäuerliche Lebensbedingungen im Amt Blumenau (Fürstentum Calenberg) 1650-1850 Historischer Verein für Niedersachsen. Hahnsche Buchhandlung. Hannover 1990.
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:
2. Interest or annuity based
3. Manorial or patrimonial based
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:
Meierrecht ( time lease laws)
The laws of time lease came into existence in the 12th and 13th century. The leaseholder (Meier) was a farmer who leased land for 7 or more years. To the end of the 1400s it was custom to shake hands on the deal and swear to be true and subservient to the landowner. In 1492 this oath was changed to a lease hold fwith documentation (Meierbrief). The proprietor was obliged to carry the expenses of the farm, to maintain and never mortgage, sell or have it default. At the handing over of the documentation, a so called “Weinkauf”, a sum of money ( in former centuries wine was owed ) in the amount of the yearly interest was due. The farmer (Meier) only had usufruct of the land. His property amounted to the buildings, the equipment, the cattle, the fertilizer, the stock, and harvest.
When the lease ran out, the farmer could extend it, if he had managed the farm to the satisfaction of his landlord. It was rare that a farmer was able to lease a farm for life or that a son could inherit the lease. Only in the 16th century the time lease turned into an inheritable lease.
The farmer and his family were also personally dependent on their landlord. The farmer was “schollenpflichtig” which means he and his relatives were not allowed to leave the property without consent. Marriage, transfers of farms, and retirement from farming needed approval. If a farmer did not perform to expectations he could be “abgemeiert”, meaning he could lose his lease. The farm would then be handed over to a new lessee. A new “Meier” had to not only pay the “Weinkauf” but also pay money for shirt and boots. If a “Meier” had no heirs the farm would remain in possession of the landlord.
One or two days a week the farmer had to work for his landlord. Besides services the farmer was also called upon to do errands and guard service.
Records regarding time lease can be found in the State archives of Hannover.
Source: Uwe Weddige. Das Meierrecht
Häusler, Einlieger, Instmann, Budner, Brinksitzer
Most people who lived in the country were among those who do or do not call a house or farm their own. Häusler, Einlieger or Instmann, Budner, Hausgenossen, Häuslinge are those who rent a place from a farmer or other people in a village. For this privilege they have to work for their landlords. In most cases Häusler and Einlieger and their wives are older people. These people also receive a small garden plot and are allowed grazing privileges for their livestock.
For the land owners Häusler are a real treasure because they can be called upon to do odd-jobs, such as haying etc. Häusler replace expensive outside hire help. Often they are not properly remunerated and fall into abject poverty which means they have to look for other employment and need to move. To avoid such moves, the land owners have to write out contracts in which they will assure the Häusler adequate compensation. 10 Reichsthaler (currency) per year was the sum they estimated to be fair wages. In other German regions Häusler received compensation in kind (Deputat) i.e., in the Neumark (Brandenburg) he received 4 Scheffel grain and butter for the equivalent of 8 Groschen (currency). Some land owners had problems with giving the Häusler a Deputat, because grain could be sold for a good price instead of giving it away. Wherever possible, Deputat was altogether avoided.
There are some land owners who recognize the advantage of trustworthy help. They therefore, install among their homesteads places for Häusler, young capable men who want to get married and are looking to improve their lot. If they prove to be skilful workers they often are elevated to land owners.
Land consolidation (Verkoppelung)
Since the middle of the 18th century a call for reform in land usage and –occupancy was underway in Hannover. Motivations for such measures varied. Groups in villages wanted more access to farmland. This view was held by the more prosperous farm owners, who hoped for better usage, intensified farming and higher yields. Rich landowners supported land consolidations because they wished for population in unpopulated areas, such as the heath in the Northwest. Agricultural scientists wanted extensive reforms because they found fault with the efficiency of the old farming methods, the three field system and the Hutgerechtigkeit (grazing rights on commonly owned properties). To use the farming land in such a way was altogether not very profitable because a field did not need to lie fallow if adequate fertilizer was applied. (Fertilizer was applied through cattle). However, dung could not be harvested and used on one’s fields because the cattle grazed day and night in designated areas as was regulated by village authorities. Not only did the farmers not get the necessary fertilizer, but the animals themselves rendered the fields worthless through overgrazing. The Hutgerechtigkeit hindered the farmer to be lord over his land and get the best yield from it.
Another restriction farmers faced was the narrow parcels of land allotted to them which on top were generally not connected. At ploughing times it often happened that a neighboring field got damaged, thus impacting the harvest when such a field was already ploughed and the seed put in. Hence, the urgent plea from various sides to eliminate the practice of letting cattle graze according to regulations and to consolidate farmland so that a better harvest could be assured through adequately fed animals and properly fertilized and cultivated fields.
The land consolidation was not accomplished in a few years and was dragged out in heath and marshlands into the 19th century. The lack of a legal base was the main reason. The breakthrough came with the regulations issued in Lüneburg in 1802. In 1824, 1842 and 1856 further laws were issued in the Kingdom of Hannover, Herzogtum Braunschweig and Grossherzogtum Oldenburg.
The records coming out of land consolidations were amortizations (Ablösungen), part of the lower court system (Grundbuchamt).
Source: Lernwerkstatt Geschichte Hist. Seminar Hannover
Krünitz online http://www.kruenitz1.uni-trier.de/
Bauernbefreiung (absolvence from serfdom)
From 1808 on the principle of Ablösung (absolvence) was in force for the rural population of the Kurfürstentum Hannover. Emancipation of the serfs was the aim. However, the task proved not to be easy. Reforms had to be set into place. The July Revolution of 1830 in France had influence also on the German rural population. Their protests made it possible to establish the Ablösungsordnung of 1833 for the Kingdom of Hannover. Farmers were freed from feudal obligations but instead had to pay regular payments for the land they occupied. Most farmers could not afford such hefty obligations. Only the establishment of a state credit association allowed the farmers the breakthrough for an intensive amortization activity. However, the progress was slow. Only 40% of farmers had satisfied all requirements by 1850, in 1865 it was 75%. If a farmer could not meet the demands of amortization, he was able to convert the charge into an annuity which had to be satisfied within 41 1/2 years. After that the debt was extinct. Thus the farmers accomplished freedom from feudal oppression.
The government issued laws of how to take over the land by those who had the right to inherit.The law is explained here:
2.1 §. 1. Befreiung des Grund-Eigenthums. Befugniß dazu. (Permission for the land to be taken over)
2.2 §. 2. Nähere Bestimmung. (explanatory notes)
2.3 §. 3. Nicht ablösbare Lasten. (servitudes which cannot be absloved)
2.4 §. 4. Forst-Cultur-Dienste. (services re. wooded areas)
2.5 §. 5. Suspension der Ablösung neu constituirter Lasten. (suspension of absolvence re. newly constituted obligations
2.6 §. 6. Veräußerlichkeit ganzer Höfe. (Salable farms)
2.7 §. 7. Grundsätze, nach denen die Befreiung geschieht. Allgemeiner Grundsatz. (Conditions under which absolvence are possible. General condtions.
2.8 §. 8. Bestimmung der Entschädigung. (Regulations for compensation)
2.9 §. 9. Entschädigungsmittel. (What sorts of compensation)
2.10 §. 10. Capital-Ablösung. (Amortization)
2.11 §. 11. Land-Abfindung. (Absolvence of land)
2.12 §. 12. Geld- und Frucht-Rente. (Money or in-kind annuity)
2.13 §. 13. Compensation der auf den Grundstücken des Berechtigten ruhenden Lasten. (Compensation for the goods and services attached to the land)
2.14 §. 14. Berechnung des Capitalwerths der Renten. (Cost of capital)
2.15 §. 15. Ausmittelung des Geldwerths der Natural-Abgaben. (Cost of pay in kind)
2.16 §. 16. Wahlrecht bei Lasten, die in natura oder in Gelde zu leisten sind. (Choice when obligations are to be paid with money or in kind).
2.17 §. 17. Nothwendigkeit der Ablösung veränderlicher Gefälle. (The necessity of amortization in case of variable gradients)
Many archival records found in the archives of Niedersachsen deal with Ablösung. Please refer to the AIDAonline catalog of the various state archives of Lower Saxony.How to use this site please refer to the notes in the article Research in Lower Saxony's State archives.
A contract of absolvence can be found here
The contract is between Johann Heinrich Aselmann at Arpke as Provocant and Carl Ernst Johann von Steinberg in Brüggen, Johann Ernst August Philipp von Steinberg in Hannover and Major Georg Carl von Steinberg as Provocat.
Paragraph 1 declares that the Provocant has to pay a tribute every year at the same time to the Provocanten. The place of delivery is Arpke.<br>
Paragraph 2 indicates that the tribute is part of the amortization in addition to the sum of 240 Reichsthaler, 10 Gute Groschen, und 9 Pfennig in the local currency.<br>
Paragraph 3 contains a clause in case of default. 13 Gute Groschen and 3 Pfennig are added to the total sum.
Paragraph 4 . According to the Provocant the tribute belongs to the so called Fideicommisgüter (family farms) with the restriction that this is designated for stipends for students of theology.
Paragraph 5 determines that the amortization sum plus 4 % interest is due in Arpke 6 months after confirmation of this contract. The Provocaten declare that after receipt of said sum the property will be free of all obligations.
Paragraph 6 indicates that all costs concerning the contract will be the responsibilty of the Provocant.
In paragraph 7 all parties will refrain from all objections and excuses, sign and ask for a confirmation of this contract as well as for a legal copy of the contract for the cousin of Ernst Georg Carl von Steinberg, Carl Ernst Johann von Steinberg.
The contract was drafted and signed in Bodenburg, 2 July 1843.
Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover, Hann 74 Burgdorf II, Nr. 358
Lernwerkstatt Geschichte - Ablösungen
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