The conception of the agrarian development of any Europian state will not be compleate if we don't take into account the policy coundacted by the absolutle monarchies of XVI-XVII -th centuries with respect to peasants. In my opinion this problem has not been yet stadiet enough in historiography though some historians touched upon its various aspects in their investigations.

In this preset artical I am marking an attempt to defaine the main trends in interrelation between absolute monarchies and peasant's communities of the period on the example of England and German's duchies. A special notice will be paid to the question connected with peasant's percepcion of the agrarian policy in England.

The literary sources and monographe which are at my disposal speak for fakt that in the XVI-XVII-th centuries the England monarchy and German duchies interfered in the agrarian relation in this or that way and tried to regulate it in the necessary direction. Thereforeone can speak about their special agrarian policy or at last about its separate elements.

At present the agrarian policy of English monarchy of the XVI-th- the first third of the XVII -th centuries has been most fully stadied in the English and Russin historiography. The analyses of the sources shows that it came to three main direction: the publication of laws for limitation of enclosures, legislative and administrative regulation of corn and corn products trade and some measures aimed at expantion of arable land and encouragion agriculture in the kingdom (encouranging at drained the marches, limitation on sowing woad etc.)

The laws on limitation of enclosures could hardly garantee the integrity of communes' lands from being seized and turned into sheep pastures by landlords though nominally the lagislation declared the preservation of some minimum common land fore peasants. The state however did not take any concrete measures in this respect. No guarantees of preserving of peasants' arable lands and especially those of copyholders who possessed less than 20 acres were provided either. The were many reservations in the laws which permitted enclosures to make a conversion of arable as well as common lands.

From the mid of the XVI-th century english peasants showed different attitude to enclosures. Jn the one hand there were legitimate peasants' enclosures an agreement on the other hand there were legal and illegal peasants' actions against enclosures. Obviusly one of the reasons explaining this fact is in the following. Traditionally peasants had a strong belief in the sense of justice and considered the monarch to be their defander against the oppression of landlords. The sources prove the fact that peasants knew aboute the existence of the laws directed on the limitatation of enclosures and tried to make the authorties put them into practice. In their petitions to the Queen they did not complain on all enclosures; they complained only on those which were illigitimate from their point of view. There weren't any referance in concrete clauses of the law. They accepted them on the whole. In their mainds enclousures were a negative phenomenon which was prohibited by the law and and thus illegal. If enclousures were illegal therefore actions against them were considered to be legal. It explained the unusual persistence of english peasants in their struggale with enclousures in courts, their complaints to the Queen and highly state officials. Even open riots against enclousures were thought to be quite a lawful means of peasant's struggle. «Illigitimate enclousures» were not a single peasants' argument. There was one more very important item in their petitions i.e. «general use of tillage». This quastion was even discussed in the Parliament which in 1598 adopted a law in support of tillage. Peasants' petitions speak about their firm belief that the Queen did not know anything about the disastrous condition so peasants demand that the Crown be informed by the officials about the real sitiation in the country.

There are no evidence of peasants' protest against Elizabeth Tudor's sharp changes of the agrarian policy in 1593 in the sources. Later however there were complaints about the conversions of arable lands and the eviction of peasants but in fact it was their reaction on the policy of enclousures but not on the absence of law against them. There were practically no complaints about the inconsistence of the laws directed to the limitation of enclousures. They saw in them what they wanted and either did not see or did not want to see those clauses which gave a chace of their relisation.

Among peasants there grew a conviction that the laws could not garantee from eviction that it was necessary to break the gentry's resistance to put into practice «good laws». Even formally legislation gave peasants an opportunity to act against gentry-enclousureres through special informers who could be found in every parish.

The sources testify that were a lot of cases of peasants' collective actions in the legal form i.e. collection of money fore lawsuits for the hire of guards for their lands from enclousurers.

Sometimes peasants' actions were supported by the cleargy who feared that their income might fall because of the depopulation of parishes.

Quit definit policy whith respect to peasants may be observed in Germans duchies to the West of the Eble. In general it is characte rized by the intention to keep the status quo in the country which first of all was expressed in German duchies' attemte to forbid buying up of peasants' lands by representatives of other estates and to establish control over peasants' commons. There also passed the laws against keeping sheep. The duchies of Wurtemburg were the first to pass the laws directed on limitation of sheep-breeding. Later the same laws were adopted by other duchies. The police of limitation of sheep-breeding must gave been a definite success. Nevertherless the number of sheep in the neighbourhood of Osnabruck was costantly growing up to the beginning of the XVIII century. There townsmen possessed 50 thousand sheep.

In XVI-th centure the duchies of the Western part of Germany as well as the English monarchies were facing the problem of growing woad. But unlike the English who limited the sowing area under woad by granting patents for its growing German duchies in the XVI-XVII- th centuries gave numerous orders and instructios encouraging the growing of woad et etc.

This aspect of the agrarian policy of German duchies wasn't too much of success. The 30-th war is known to undermone the growing of woad in Germany.

From the second part of the XVI-th century the duchies of the South-Western part of Germany adopted laws encouraging the expansion of the area under crop. The duchies as well as the English monarchs forbade to turn arable lands into pastures, vineyards, gardens, hopyards ets.

In Germans duchies to the East from the Tble we see quite a different attitude to peasants. Thus the duchies of Branderburg in 1540 and 1572 adopted deecrees, permitting landlords to by peasants' landsif they wish to live on them. This decrees gave the landowners a wide opportunity their domen at the expense of peasants' land.

The decrees of 1616 in Pmerania, 1621, 1633, 1654 in Macklenburg admitted the unlimited «Abschlachten der Bauern». Actually this decrees recognized the fact that German ptasants were deprived of any rights on tye land.

The atteps of struggle with «Bauerlegen» were undertaking in Prussia and Austria for fiscal reasons in fact. The government of these lands was interested in landlords' land (Rittergut), freed from any taxes, being enlarged at the expense of peasant ' land. Therefore it was settled that the status of peasants' land would remain the same no matter who possessed it at that moment. Such decrees are know to have been adopted in Moravia in 1669 and in Bohemia in 1717.

As the lands of the Austrian Hapsburgs one not propably speaken about any definite state police because all agrarian questions were solved in local assemblies with feudal lords dominating there. Till the 18-th century the imperors from the Hasburds dinasty interfered with the dicision of agrarian questions only in extrem cases.

Un the 16- and 17- ty ctnturies the English monarchs and German duchies had to interfere with the agrarian relations and regulate them. Though the reasons of this interest were different nevetherkess there were some common aspects in their police to peasants which influenced the fate the latter.

In my opinion the English monarchs established a more scale policy in respect to peasants. Howere it was inconsistent in many ways and not too effective in regard to preserving traditional agrarian relations and population. But even in this form, it allowed the English peasantry either to get use to the gradually changing condutions of their life or to transfere to other categories of the English society.

Howere one should remember that this trasference was very hard for the most part of small land copyholders and cotters.

At the same time the prolangation of the agrarian upheval (the end of the 15-th — 17-th centuries) softened this morbid feeling in this or that way.


  1. Thirsk J. Enclosing and engrossing// The Agrarian History of England and Wales. Vol. IV. /Td. By J. Thirsk. -Cambridge, 1967; Martin J. E. Feudalizm to capitalizm. Peasants and landlords in English Agrarian Development. L. 1983; Overton M. Agrarian Revolution in England. The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy 1500-1850. - Cambridge: University Press, 1996; Семёнов В.Ф. Огораживания и крестьянские движения в Англии XVI в. М.-Л., 1949; Штокмар В.В. Экономическая политика английского абсолютизма в эпоху его расцвета. Л., 1962; Майер В.Е. Крестьянство Германии в эпоху позднего феодализма. М., 1985; Люблинская А.Д., Малов В.Н. Крестьянство в общественно-политических системах позднего феодализма// История крестьянства в Европе. Эпоха феодализма. Т.3./Под ред. З.В. Удальцовой, Ю.Л. Бессмертного. М., 1986. с. 414-436.; История Германии: учебное пособие. В 3-х тт./ под общ. pед. Б. Бонвенча, Ю.В. Галактионова.-М., 2008. Т. I. С древнейших времён до создания Германской империи/Л.П. Белковец, С.А. Васютин, Е.П. Глушанин и др. М., 2008. с. 288-290.
  2. Thirsk J. op. Cit.; Martin J. op. Cit.
  3. Statutes of the Realm of England. Vol. IV./Ed. By Luders A. and Tomlins L., 1819.; Greate Britain. Privy Council. Acts of The Privy Council of England. Vols. 32 L., 1891-1900; Calender of State Papers. Domestic series. Vols. 1547-1640.; A Compleate Journal of the notes, speeches and debates, both of the House of Lords amd House of Commons througthout the Reign of Queen Elizabeth/ by D'Ewes. L., 1693.; ect.
  4. Statutes... Vol. IV. 2 and 3 Phil. And Mary C.2. , 5. Eliz.C. 2., 39 Eliz. C.1,2.
  5. The Victoria History of The Counties of England. A History of Yorkshire. Vol. 3. P. 472-478.; A History of Somersetshire. Vol. 2. P. 32.; Acts of the Privy Council of England. Vol. 13. p. 338, vol. 14. p. 91,133,159. vol. 24. p. 201., vol. 28. p. 442-443. etc.; Calender of State Papers. Vol. 1591-1597. p. 316, 323 etc.
  6. Peasants' demand uprising against enclousures in Midland counties in 1607 testify the fact(VH Warwick. Vol. 2. p. 161. ; Tudor and Stuart Proclamations. Vol. 1. p. 121-122., ACP Vol. 25.p. 296. vol. 11.p. 113, 178. CSPD Vol. 1566-1579. p. 513 etc.).
  7. See: CSPD Vol. 1547-1625. According to the information of Acts of Privy Council (1574-1591) the were 30 collective complaints from peasants of 15 counties (APC vol. 13. p. 338. , vol. 14. p. 96, 133, 159 ect). For instance commoners of manor Hillmorton (Warwick) brought chanrges against their landlords 30 times in different courts.
  8. In Russian historiography agrarian police of German's duchies has not been studied in special monographs so far.
  9. Майер В.Е. Указ. соч. с. 42.
  10. Tudor and Stuart Proclamations. Vol.I. p. 84 etc.
  11. Майер Е. В. Указ. cоч. с. 42.
  12. Ibidem.
  13. Кулишер М. Лекции по истории экономического быта Западной Европы. Ч.3. М., 1923. с.62-63.
  14. Ibidem.

Полный текст с научно-справочным аппаратом см.: V.P. Mitrophanov. The State and a Peasants in the Western and Central Europe in the XVI-XVII centuries: comparative study // Аграрная и социальная история Англии в Средние века. Сборник статей. М.; Берлин: из-во Директ-Медиа, 2015.  с.19-23. Просьба ссылаться на опубликованный в сборнике текст статьи.

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