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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:
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:
Old maps of surveying land were often not very reliable. Cadastral maps were created in order to levy taxes. To be just with the revenue from taxation the Prussian administration ordered new guidelines. Each parcel of land in its territory had to be measured exactly. Revenues, land values and property owners all had to be known and recorded. Thus, the Preussische Urkataster became the most exact book of maps and therefore is most meaningful in the historical aspect of city building and land settlement as it is for genealogical research.
The Preussische Urkataster was established in the 1820s. There were cadastres in other German regions, for instance, in the territories left of the Rhine, which belonged to France since 1801. There, land surveys originated in 1810. For an example of what such maps looked like click on http://www.f05.fh-koeln.de/denkmalpflege/forschung/f03.htm
Cadastral maps are available through Kataster- und Vermessungsämter (surveying offices) of cities or they can be found in archives. Few Urkataster have been evaluated and are available for further analysis. Such a record is the Preussisches Urkataster 1828/30 in Leverkusen by Helmut Lehmler. The book was published in Köln in 1998 through the Westdeutsche Gesellschaft für Familienkunde e.V., Band 96. The book is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Its call number is 943.42/B17 R2h
The role of the Church in the manorial system
The Church and the monasteries were also manor lords during the German feudal period. Since the 10th century the monasteries were regarded as a special entity and were given worldly business and servitude privileges. They received land from wealthy land owners, usually the nobility. The sons and daughters of the nobility would join the monasteries or cloisters when there was no land to inherit. Through them the ecclesiastical entities grew larger and richer, but also Christianity was spread. This gave the Church powers and influence over the emperor. To judge was in the hands of the Church. During medieval times God was the only recognized authority. Therefore, the population adhered to divine law and hoped for leadership from the Church in order to receive grace and eternal salvation. The Church demanded more and more say in all matters worldly, however, never fully gained it. The monastery relied on its own economic strength. The acquired lands were leased to farmers who had to take care of the land and pay tributes, often fairer than they would have to perform under a non-ecclesiastical landowner. In the 16th, 18th and 19th centuries the Church saw the diminishing of its power. Following the Reformation many monasteries were closed or used as schools or as sanctuaries for daughters of the nobility. In 1875 Prussia ordered all ecclesiastical orders be closed.
Source: Meyers Konversationslexikon 1887.
The Landesverband Rheinland has published Urkunden und Akten des Klosters Merten, edited by Theodor Sukopp and published in 1961 through the Verlag Fredebeul & Koenen KG. Essen.
The book is available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The call number is 943.42 A3i v. 7
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