Norway: Cottager Contracts

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Cottager (Husmann) Contracts

Cottager contracts are important source material for social history. Preservation of the contracts varies greatly between regions and parts of the country. Some contracts can be found in private archives such as the farm archives or in other private collections. We can also find some contracts in the Priest Archives. But most are preserved because they were taken through the court system and recorded in the land records (Pantebøkene).

The cottager class of people in Norway was not a homogeneous group. There were big differences in different part of the country, both when it concerned the extent and the economic and social conditions. In the coastal areas there was not a lot of difference between farmers on the one side and cottagers and seaside residents (strandsittere) on the other side. However, there was a substantial difference between the farmer and his cottagers in the eastern part of the country. The cottager contracts give a glimpse of how one interpreted the relationship between cottager and farmer in different time periods.

It took time before the cottager system was regulated by law. From the last half of the 1700’s the Department was regulated through ordinances. The first laws came in 1851. The laws caused a greater demand on the courts than the earlier ordinances did.

There were a large number of those in the cottager class in the flat communities around Lake Mjøsa, but there are proportionally few contracts which are preserved for that district. In other places it was more usual to have the cottager contracts preserved by the court system.

A number of conditions must be regulated when a cottager contract was created. Rental of the place and work obligations, rights in the inner and outer fields, and personal relationship between the cottager’s family and the farmer were most of the items which were considered. Clear regional and local variations occur within this framework. Gradually a standardized cottager contract form was created.

When the farmer and the cottager were closely related the requirements were quite favorable. Often the cottager was relieved from rent and work obligations. But, in most cases, there was not a close relationship between the farmer and the cottager. Then the contracts had another tone. It is there that we find that the social difference was clear and that the cottager’s family was in a subservient relationship to the farmer.

At first we find in the cottager’s contract was usually for the cottager’s lifetime. Beginning in the 1800’s we find alternatives such as a term of years or a terminable lease. In the earliest contracts it was usual to have an inheritable lease. For instance, the place could be taken over by one of the cottager’s children, this also for life.

The lease payment was usually made by working without pay. Paying with money was very unusual. The biggest part of the work obligation required by the owner was tied to the haying season. The cottager was, additionally, required to work when summoned, but was paid a set daily wage.

The right to use the inner and outer fields was detailed in the contracts. In the earlier contracts the cottager has use of raw materials and fences, etc. could be used as the cottager desired. Later permission had to be obtained before using them. Many cottagers were complained against for unlawful wood cutting and unlawful grazing.

Most of the contracts have a list of specific demands as to how the cottager and his family should behave. They could be prohibited from dancing and other merriment. They could be required to keep a decent and proper house. The words believe (tro), proper (hørig), and obedient are repeated often in the contracts.

Breaking these conditions could lead to loss of contract. It is difficult to measure in which degree the regulations were actually abided by. We find lots of documents of conflicts between cottager and farmer. It is well documented that cottagers in some parts of the country were expelled. There are many examples in the flat communities where cottager had to vacate.

An example of a cottager (husmann) contract

This contract is from early 1870.

1.  The cottager had to pay a yearly fee for the property he occupied.  (I aarlig Afgift af Pladsen svarer han 4-fire Spd.) In yearly fee for the property he paid 4 dollars.

2.  He had to maintain the properties he occupied.  (Han bruger Pladsens Jordvei paa bedste Maade, og om muligt forbedre den, samt holde Husene og Gjerden i aabodsfri Stand. (He may use the road, and when needed he is to improve it; as well as maintain the buildings [properties] in his care).

3.  He is to work for the farmer (owner or user of the main farm) usuallly 20 hours a week.  He will be paid for his work.  In one contract the pay was listed as 12 shillings pr. day from the 14th. of April until 14th of October, and 6 shilling pr. day from the 14th. of October until the 14th of April.  The pay may vary from farm to farm. (Han er forpliktet til at indfinde seg paa garden til Arbeide efter Tilsigelse, mod derfor at erholde 12-tolv- Skilling for Dagen fra Aarets 14 de April til 14de Oktober, og 6-seks-Skilling for Dagen fra 14de Oktober til 14 de April).  In this case he is also expected to hire a grown women to work at the farm as needed, for a salary of 6-six Shilling a day any time during the year.  (Ligeledes er han forpligtet til at skaffe et voxent kvindemenneske til Arbeide paa gaarden, naar forlanges, mod en daglig Betaling af 6-sex Skilling til enhver Tid af Aaret).

4. He is to produce firewood (10 Favne) for the payment of 1-one dollar.  (Han er pliktig til Hugst af 10-ti Fane Brendeved med en Betaling af 1-en Spd.).

Word List

A Husmandsplads - Husmannsplass = is the small property where the cottager lived. It usuallly included several building such as:  The house or cottage where the cottager lived with his family (stue), Sauna (badstue), barn (låve), Storehouse on pillars (stabbur). 

Aabodsfri Stand = Good condition

Aarlig = yearly

Arbeide = Labour

Badstue = Sauna

Betaling = Payment

Brendeved = Firewood

Forpligtet = Obligated

Gjerdene = Fences

Husene = Houses

Husmann - Husmand = Cottager - share crofter

Husmannsplass = The cottage the husmann occupied

Jordvei, vei = Road

Kvindemenneske = Female

Låve = Barn

Pladsen = The cottage  - houses, place the cottager occupied

Skaffe = Produce

Stabbur = Storehouse on pillars

Spd. Spesiedaler = Dollar