The feudal system and the institution of serfdom was well establishd by the middle medival era throughout Western Europe (1000 AD). Much of Western Europe was governed by a varied mosaic of feudal structures. Some operated more smoothly than others. The system was most pronounced in England, France, and Spain. In Germany), the feudal hierarchy was weaker and less well organized. This is because no unified nation state evolved in Germany. Serfdom became increasingly rare in most of Western Europe after the Black Death and Renaissance, but actully grew stronger in Central and Eastern Europe, where it had been less enforced by coersive action. Some historians refer to this as Later Serfdom. There were three empires controlling Eastern Europe (Austrian, German, and Russian (Tsarist) and here serfdom contunued into the 18th-19th century. Both Russia and Austria controlled large areas of Central an Eastern Europe. The Austrians abolishd serfdom with the 1781 Serfdom Patent. The corv�e continued until the Revolutions of 1848. The Tsar abolished serfdom in Russia (1860). German/Prussia controlled a much more limited area of Eastern Rurope, primarily adjacent areas of western Poland.
The Austrian Hapsburg Empire was a multi-ethnic Empire streaching fron Austria east into the Czech lands, Hungary, Slovakia and parts of Poland and the Ukraine as well as south into Italy and the Balkans. This meant areas both within and outside the Holy Roman Empire. Austria is today a small German-speaking state. This has only been the case since 1918 and the end of World War I. For much of European history Austria-Hungary and earlier the Austrian Empire or the lands goverened by the Hapsburgs were one of the great powers of Europe. The Hapsburgs begun with a small principality in Austrian which they turned into a great empire. This included many small principalities, including the Netherlands and eventually spain, but the heartland was always Austria and the two criticl components of the Austrin empire in addition to Austria was the acquisition of Bohemia and Hungary. Bohemia had been severely weakened by the Husseite Wars. The Czech crown passed first to the Hungarian (Jagiello) monarchy. The Ottomans defeated and killed Hungarian King Ludwig/Louis at the Battle of Moh�cs, ending the Jagellon line (1526). As a result, the Austrian Hapsburgs inherited Bohemia and the other Czech Lands along with Hungary. The Habsburg Empire was never a unified, centralized state. The general pattern as the Empire grew was to accept the existing laws and soial structure in each province as they expabded and incorporate thst in the imperial structure. As a result the institution of serfdom and the laws which enforced it varied from provice to province. As serfdom began to decline in the West, feudal lords in the East including those in the Austrian Empire began to see the need to use coersive power to legally bind their serfs to the land, the same laws and regulations that had been estsblidshed in the West. The reason was the same reason as in the West. Land had no value without the serfs to work it. The history of enserfment and the laws and regulatiins enforcing it varied from province to proivince. Finally Austria began to emancipate the serfs. The key plsyers here were Emperess Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II. The key step was the Serfdom Patent of 1781. It at first affected Bohemia, but was gradually extended. Labor service was not immediately ended. And there was a conservative reaction to the French Revolution (1789). Labor service was fiunally ended with the Revolutions of 1848. The feudal lords, however, continued to be great labdowners and many of the former serfs cointinued to be landless okers on he great estates, especially in Hungary and Slovakia.
Germany was not a unified nationn state until well after the feudal era this the institution of serfdom varied througout the German cultural area, basiclly the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia would emerge as the doiminant state and acquire areas of western Poland where serfdom still existed as part of ghe Polish Partitions (18th century), as was the case in much of Eastern Europe, at a time it was declining in Prussia itself. The history of serfdom in Germany is somewht different than Western Europe, primarily because a German monarchy and nation state did not develop during the medieval era. Germany remained divided into a few large states and many small principalities. Serfdom develooped thrioughout th German states with differences from state to state. The institution began to decline in western Germany after ghe Bkack Death and onset of the Renaissance. This was promoted by the quickening of the economy in the late-mediueval era. The German Peasants' War (Deutscher Bauernkrieg) was a widespread popular revolt in German-speaking areas (1524-26). It horrified Luther. It was not jut the peasantry jnvolved, but serfs and peasants with small holdings along with the Anabaptist clergy provided he leadership. The Peasants' War would be Europe's largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to the French Revolution. The uprising failed because of the organized and effectiuve military action organized by the aristocracy. Some 100,000 of the 300,000 poorly led and armed peasants were butchered. The survivors were fined the fedual restructs wre reimposed in a harsher form. As a result serfdom would contiunue in Germany into the 18th century, especially in the East. This conincided with the Later Serfdom in Eastern Europe, but eventully also began declining in western and southern Germany. Serfdom was most fully devlod by the Thirty Years� War (1618-48) anbd most onerous in Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and East Prussia. In Poland the norms of serfdom became part of the Piotrk�w Statute (1496). And would be in olace when Prussia acquired western Poland (18th century). The abolition of serfdom did not come until the Frenh Revolution era (1770-1830). Abolition came:-- Schleswig (1780), Prussia (the October Edict -- 1807), Bavaria (1808), and Mecklenburg (1820). Vestiges of serfdom survived long after abolition. The Prussian October edict was the most sweeping.
It upgraded the personal legal status of the peasantry and notably gave them ownership of half or two-thirds of the lands they were working. This alone bound the peasantry to nthe Prussian state, creating a conservative force. The edict covered all peasants whose holdings were above a certain minimum size. It applied to both Crown lands and aristocrtic estates. The peasants were freed from the work obligation to thefeudal lordds (coirv�e) and annual dues. The lords (landowners) for their part retained ownership of 1/3 to 1/2 of their land. The other German states genberlly folloed the Prussian example after the Napoleonic Wars (1815). [Sagarra, pp. 341-45] In stark contrast to the violence of the Peasant Wars and French Revolution, Germany handled it the abolition of serfdom peacefully hen it finally came. In a few areas like Schleswig, the peasants had been influenced by the Enlightenment and played an active role. In most of Germny, the peasantry was passive, even in the eastern areas where serfdom was still intrenched (East Prussia and what is now western Poland. For most of the peasants, customs and traditions continued little cnged. Culturally the the traditional pattern of deference to the aristocracy continued. And the the lnd-owning aristocrsvy retaimed condsiderablr legal authority over the villagers which continued after Germany was unified around he Prussian monsrchy (1871). The paternalistic relationship in East Prussia lasted into the NAZI and Workd War II era. What was achieved was the German peasantry was fully enfranchised, could now sell his land, buy land, and move into the city. [Sagarra, pp. 341-45]
Serfdom, the Russian form of feudalism, played a major role in Russian life through the 19th century when it was abolished and the aftermath into the 20th century. Serfdom as in the West, was not the original status of the Russian and Ukranian peasantry. Serfdom developoed in Western Europe after the denise of the Roman Empire. In areas east of the Rhine, the history of serfdom was different, especilly areas as far east as Russia. In Russiand the Ukraine, enserfment was one of the results Mongol invasions (13th century). The Russians commonly refer to the Mongols as the Tartars because it was the artars tghat ruled what is now Russian and Ukraine in the wake of the Mongol invasions. The ruthless Mongols left large numbers of peasants homeless. Many gravitated to the lands of powerful Russian nobels which offered them land and protection. At this time the feudal system and serfdom was well established in Western Europe with a legal bsis and the coersive power of the state. This was not the situation in he East. But the peasantry had few of the economic opportunities developing in the Westas aresult iof the quickening of the economy as the mediveal era and fedualim began to transition to the modern world. It is at this time that the Tsarist regume and lanbdlords began to develop the same legal system that has enfirced serfdom in the West. As ta result, the Russian peasantry geadually came to be controlled by landowner suported by the coersuve power of the Tsarist state (16th century). It was vital for the lndowneR to bind the peasant to the kabnd and turn him into a serf. His land had no value with out workers. Abd once legally bound to the land, the land iwner was in a osition to exploit the peasabtruy and exctract a greater proportion of the wealth created. Eventualy ser srtatus becam hereditary (,id-17th century). Their situation in the Tsarist Empire began to approach slavery. Lndowners could even sell serfs ti other landowners. This could be individuls or whole fasmilies. Historins believe that about half the 40 million Russian and Ukranian peasantry had been reduced to serf status (19th century). Most worked the greet estates, mostly owned by the aristocracy. The Tsarand religious orders also owned eststes. Serfdom may have been somewhat more humane than American race-based chattel slavery, but serfdom was also a brutal system which tied millions of Russians to the land. Even freed slaves were discriminated against. The influence continued into the 20th century. An assessment of Russian boys' clothing would thus be incomplete without an assessment of serfdom. Some Russian boys even in the 19th century look much like European boys. Other Russian boys, especially serf boys and rural village boys dressed very distinctly.
Sagarra, Ewa. A social history of Germany.
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