Denmark: Adscription of 1733 (Stavnsbåndet)

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Adscription (a form of Serfdom) originated in 1733 at the request by the Land Lords and the Military. It required men between 18 and 36 years of age to continue living on the estate where they were born. There was a possibility of buying a release from the obligation, so the adscription was in practice not especially binding for the wealthier farmers and their sons.

This practice was instigated to relieve a serious farm crisis in the 1730’s which among other things was caused by a diminishing request for Danish exports. The movement of people from the copyhold farms to the cities caused additional difficulties in populating the copyholder farms. Finally, the military needed people for the local militias. Military service fell in practice on “the less able” in farming, because it was the Land Lords in charge to pick the men for the local militia.

The age limits during the years of adscription were changed three times. In 1735 it was 14 to 36 years of age, in 1742 it was 9 to 40 years of age and in 1764 it was 4 to 40 years of age.

The adscription was revised as a part of Landboreformerne of 20 June 1788 with a transition period until 1800. In the first transition the change only concerned those less than 14 years of age. In the second transition those who were more than 36 years of age – and thereafter those who had served as soldiers. The main point in this administrative reform was that the tying to the large estates was changed to a tying to the conscription districts. The absolute monarchy was now so well established that the state to a higher degree “could act independently”; there now existed a lesser need for landed proprietors to serve as administrators.

There is a widespread and popularly accepted historical myth, that the most important result of “Den Store Landbokommissions” work was the “elimination” of the adscription, which in reality was slow in adoption, since to some extent it was feared, that society would dissolve, if one would allow a break with the old system. In the combined Landboreformer adscription is a matter of secondary importance.

It was not until the advent of the compulsory military service in 1848 that men could choose their place of residency.

As a lasting reminder of the occasion of the “elimination of the adscription” the statue of freedom was erected in Copenhagen, because of encouragement from certain circles in Copenhagen, as homage to the power of the king. That was the beginning of the creation of the tenacious myth related to the elimination of the adscription in 1788.


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