Culture and contrasts in a northern European village: lifestyles among manorial peasants in 18th-century Denmark.
In the article the possibilities of such a procedure will be reviewed by presenting the results of a larger study of relationships and cultural differences of life on the central Zealand estates (Giesegaard and Juellund) southwest of Copenhagen.(1)
The article contends that we are not, as assumed in most of the rural research, faced with just one, but two different lifestyles among the inhabitants of the same peasant villages. Through the sample study it should be possible to see that we can get closer to the relations among people's actions, routines and perceptions of the world than one normally does in historical interpretations.
By lifestyle I mean the principle of people's everyday activities and their related cultural perspective on life, articulated in relation to their material conditions and in contrast to other lifestyles. Some peasants lived from day to day, more or less resigning themselves to their fate, while at the same time their neighbours might be occupied with the rational management and planning of the future.(2)
The two co-existing lifestyles I want to compare structurally must be seen in contrast to the attempts to identify one particular Continental European peasant type, often normatively described as refractory, simple-minded, sly, and sensual. The forward looking Holstein-born civil servant August Hennings, for example, described the Danish Zealand peasant and his English equivalent as follows: "There [i.e. in England] the farmer, in a [half-timbered] wattle cottage which, for want of windows, looks like a prison, enclosed by filth ... There creeps from the filth a small, bent, sleepy figure, in degree of civilization more like ... a helot than a citizen shaped for the tilling of the soil and the protection of the state".(3) Estate steward Troyel, from the Crown estate in Odsherred, in 1784 wrote somewhat less ironically: "The in general simple and unlettered estate peasant, whose intellectual abilities are quite uncultivated, cannot be expected to be able to be persuaded as others who have a cultivated reason. He is not accustomed to thinking and to agreeing and being moved by inferences, but is driven merely and wholly by the senses. He cannot test the strength and reason of arguments as he never acted from convincing grounds, but only from habit and example".(4)
Statements like these are not so much descriptions of what the peasants were like, as expressions of how the agrarian world could appear from a progressive bourgeois or aristocratic viewpoint. The characterization of the peasants' cultural differentness corresponds entirely with the Enlightenment's foe-images of savage peoples. The strongly degrading phrases are further put into perspective by the fact that before 1800 most people were in fact peasants in the broadest sense of the word. With the exception of the regions around the Channel, the Netherlands and northern Italy, villagers made up 80% of the population of Europe. Most of these people have left us no testimony of their own beyond fields, hedges and some houses in our present-day landscape. Compared with modern ethnographical fieldwork and studies of literate peoples, these circumstances impose great limitations on our research. Yet several of these problems are primarily methodological and technical in nature. If we want to get closer to this culturally diverse, but until 1850 largely anonymous group of the inhabitants of Europe, we must attempt to overcome these difficulties.(5)
In the following I will briefly discuss the more conventional research traditions in the study of rural Europe in order to identify better the contrasts with the approach presented here. This will be followed by a broader discussion of the two lifestyles against the background of the material from the Giesegaard estates.
The Estate/Village Relationship
First, however, it will be necessary to outline the position of the peasant village vis-a-vis the estate. On the one hand the village was actually identical to the estate. Estate and village were, in the manorial society, interdependent. Since the estate encompassed the village, however, a hierarchical difference was in principle defined: the village was also something different from the estate. There was at once unity and difference in the relationship.
As in most other places in eastern Denmark, the framework of life for the villagers of the Giesegaard estate was constituted by faeste (dependent tenancy) and marriage. Danish faeste tenancy of land or property was not the same as inherited use-right, southern European share-cropping or English tenancy. One could say that the peasants as a social "estate" collectively possessed the means of subsistence in the village; but to achieve this individual disposal of the farm and soil, each generation had to enter into the faeste relationship with the estate. And tenancy was only granted by the lord to people who were married or were willing to marry. When a new man made his mark on the faeste deed, he acknowledged his subordination to the lord and his obligation to pay tribute. He entered into a relationship of obedience to the lord, who in return now functioned as the legal protector of the tenant. Through faeste the young peasant family was, as it were, recognized as a social unit in the village.
With the resources of the village, the family could reproduce itself economically. In order to be able to do this under the supremacy of an estate, the peasant had to give up his surplus product to the lord (who administered the peasants as a social category), and, through the estate, had to pay taxes to the Crown (the military and the court), and tithes to the Church (which administered grace and the sacraments). At Giesegaard, the peasants' dues had to be paid in kind, money and labour rent. It was the character of these relationships, defined in terms of political obedience, that constituted seigniorial unfreedom. Corvee labour was used as labour power by the lord in his own agricultural production on a large scale. This physically moved the peasant out of the village, just as the demand for a money rent component necessarily brought him into contact with the commodity market in the town.(6)
Through the fragmentation of the peasant's product we can define him structurally in relation to the other social estates - that is (besides the King) the clergy, the citizens of the town (merchants and artisans) and the lord. The peasant as primary producer was a prerequisite of all of these in their reproduction. Just as he filled his own position in the organization of the village as one of the "men of the village,"(7) he was assigned a quite specific position as a producer and a payer of taxes and duties in the larger fabric of society. This was the practice of the peasant in the societal organization of the ancien regime - an organization based on compulsory stratification and protection, which was known in different forms throughout most of northern and central Europe.
This outline of the principles of faeste is necessary to understand the premises of local life in the villages. Unlike the study of the European manorial system, with the main emphasis on estate structure, we have very few studies of the many-faceted interdependences between village and estate. However, much international research has indirectly raised the issue of the central aspects we must focus on if we are to understand life in the hundreds of thousands of villages we speak of so freely, but with which few people really have much familiarity.(8) Despite different disciplinary backgrounds, this effort is a striking feature of the historical traditions of several countries, and of the anthropological-sociological peasant studies which flourished in the seventies.
Very roughly, I would distinguish among three main views. The oldest, rooted in the nineteenth century, focuses on a detailed specification of the political and legal oppression of people by the estates - often described in terms of drastic examples. Another school has worked in the folkloristic field. It has been particularly concerned with oral traditions of working and home life and collective mentalities. Here, too, a conjectural overall picture is often pieced together from many scattered features. Finally, there is a research tradition that emphasizes the description of socioeconomic factors. One way of doing this is the systematic review of source material that can reflect the everyday life of ordinary people within well defined geographical areas. The emphasis is on showing quantitative differences for example in domestic animal stocks, amounts of furnishings, the duration of tenancy and marriage age, etc. - among different groups, which are described in relation to the overall variations and averages for the village or estate within the specified parameters. All three traditions have given us valuable knowledge, and the third has also developed new operative techniques.
I have familiarized myself with the preferred material of all three schools of thought. As the context for my interpretations I have often found it necessary to perform the socioeconomic tradition's standard analyses of conditions in the two estates studied. Even if one does not personally adhere to the empiricist view of research characteristic of this tradition, it is important to have as exhaustive information as possible about the population, the harvest yields of the farms, the amounts of production equipment, the distribution of furnishings or the reasons for the cessation of faeste. It is quite simply necessary to know the range of variations within which one is working, to be able to compare the conditions with other estate areas, and thus to avoid the private character of local history.
At the beginning of the 1970s, however, some researchers began to process the material on which several of these analyses were based in a new way. The idea was to use the techniques that the socioeconomic and demographic school had developed, but at the same time to break with it at the analytical and methodological level.(9) For example, correlations of the distribution of harvest yield or furnishings in the village with demographic averages, where all individual characteristics were anonymously subordinated to static criteria, were to be replaced as an analytical basis by the possibility of "linking" the different kinds of information referring to the same individuals and households. These possibilities are in fact inherent in much of the European source material, but have still only been scantily exploited. It has often been pointed out that such a procedure is the closest one can get (technically) to a kind of fieldwork among the people of the past. The formulation is characteristic, since it was precisely the analytical experiences of anthropology and sociology with the description of the integrated lives of people in contemporary environments that some researchers wished to use in investigating the historical world.(10)
These intentions were rich in perspectives, but probably also rather too optimistically formulated. Both practically and theoretically they have posed great problems, and few of the major projects that were then initiated have so far come to full fruition.(11) In the following pages I will give an account of my own results with the estate-dominated Danish village.
Village Dilemmas and Peasant Profiles
The investigation of the concept of faeste (tenancy) in relation to its many unpredictable empirical facets was a lesson for me in how fruitful it can be to spend time becoming thoroughly familiar with conditions on a couple of estates, rather than either operating with so-called "characteristic" examples from scattered sources, with "skewed" perspectives, or with collections of material processed only in some quasi-statistical way. As the work progressed it was as if the fundamental position of the village vis-a-vis the estate held the potential for not only one, but several ways of being a peasant.
Viewed from the outside, however, the Eastern Danish manorial villages were typified by fairly uniform features. As in most places in central and eastern Europe north of the Alps, the villages were very small. Those in the Giesegaard area as a rule had between 70 and 400 inhabitants. They were all so-called faellesskabslandsbyer - "communal villages" - with three-course rotation systems.
Although all the agrarian inhabitants belonged to the peasant "estate," in Scandinavia there was a distinction among three formal categories of people: 1) the peasants proper, or "men of the village," who possessed the farms and had their 50-100 strips scattered across the village fields; 2) the cottagers, who were not counted among the "men," some of whom might have a little of their own land, but most of whom were landless (but with some pasturage rights to the common); and 3) the indsiddere ("inmates" or "subtenants"), who rented accommodation in a farm or house. The landless tenants mainly lived by working for the peasants and perhaps for the estate-owner. Some of them were also rural artisans. The peasants produced barley, mainly for grain and beer, rye for bread, and oats for fodder, as well as milk, bacon, piglets, poultry and bark dust (as a pure cash crop). One fifth or more of production circulated to the market.
In a world where crop failure and cattle disease were uncontrollable quantities, there was a constant struggle to keep a level of production that was stable and sufficient for the needs of the ever-increasing number of people in the eighteenth century.(12) Because of the changeable Scandinavian climate and the poor resistance of the crops to bad weather and disease, the yield from the various crops could fluctuate from sixfold down through the normal fourfold or fivefold to as little as twofold - which meant crisis. The villagers also often had great problems obtaining sufficient fodder for the cattle, and for the many horses which it was found necessary to keep on account of corvee.
It has emerged that even slight climatic irregularities could make it hard for many peasants to do the preparatory spring work on the areas of the village that could theoretically be sown. It might be impossible to drain off the water from the land, the horses might be too weak to plough enough, and the seed grain stored from the previous year might have been eaten up.
For many peasants, these dilemmas in the communal village developed into problems because the peasants were also burdened by the farm dues. On Giesegaard most of the peasants had to till what corresponded to about a third of their own fields. Compared with many Eastern European conditions, corvee of about 300 man-days a year for each farm was not harsh, yet it could have striking consequences. The extra wear on the peasants' own implements and horses was palpable, and to this one must add the 3-6 kilometre transport of ploughs etc. to the demesne fields. Moreover, the peak period for agricultural work on the demesne and in the villages was the same. This meant that the work for Giesegaard directly detracted from the peasants' own farming, and exhausted the horses and manpower of the households in the most pressing periods.
In other words there was a relationship between the demands of the estate and the bottlenecks in the ecological/economic situation of the villages. Yet it is misleading simply to speak of the destructive consequences of corvee labour and its generation of a general sense of despair among the peasantry. Simplistic explanations like this are well known from both the contemporary debates and our own historiography. Corvee and the other payments and services due to the lord and king seem to have had different effects depending on the "peasant profiles" we focus on. Some peasants slowly but steadily consolidated their positions, while others at the same time lived in a situation of almost permanent resignation and often suffered want. These were the peasants who were hit hard by Giesegaard's corvee labour.
Even without having to pay an entry fee, some of the landless inhabitants of the village might refuse to take over a fairly large tenant farm, while others were willing to pay substantial amounts to subject themselves to the lord. Some young unmarried farmhands almost had to be compelled to become tenants by the estate. Other strong young men were apparently exempt from this pressure, while at the same time Giesegaard complained that there were not enough young people in the area!
We are faced with a kind of paradox. In the period after 1750, with grain prices rising regionally and internationally and a growing population, the studies show that the peasants expanded the cultivated areas fairly substantially, and that both their stocks and the amount of valuable furnishings increased on average. At the same time, as mentioned before, we see a tendency for both unmarried farmhands and cottagers to exhibit a negative attitude to becoming tenants. Extreme drunkenness was widespread. To the surprise of the observers of the Enlightenment, many people - even in an apparent boom period - had a very reserved attitude to "striving" (at straebe), as an enterprising peasant called it. They preferred to "stay merry" (holde sig lystige).(13) Even though in the same period the estate intensified corvee labour, the overall rent paid by the villagers was, in relative terms, less than before if one views it in the context of increased production and better prices. The potential seemed great, yet many still drank the day away. With examples taken from Southern Sweden, David Gaunt has pointed out that good material possibilities did not automatically coincide with parallel social conditions of life.(14) Although the resources of the villages, viewed from the outside, can hardly be called poor compared with the population, there were still very clear subsistence problems and conflicts.
In the Danish rural history debate contemporary expressions of the potential and lifestyle of the peasants have been interpreted in very different ways. The classic view is that the increased dominance of the estates, and in particular corvee labour, inevitably led to a resigned attitude among the peasants, who became increasingly defeatist in the eighteenth century. The other view is that the peasants did in fact exhibit innovative attitudes in the period, that they had enough resources to cope with corvee labour, and that they were in fact keen to see state intervention with agricultural reforms.(15)
In my view the arguments suffer from the fact that both schools of research, on the basis of 1) quantitative criteria and 2) individual examples, 3) generalize one particular peasant attitude at the expense of another, the features of which 4) are characterized as less important. They speak generally of the peasants as one class, depending on which "kind" there were most of. This represses the awareness of the economic and cultural differences. It would appear that there will be no resolution of this debate until the analytical perspective changes.
Interconnections in Differences
In order to trace co-existing but contrasting attitudes within the same class of people I have tried, in three selected villages under two estates, Giesegaard and Juellund, to follow as many individuals as possible through different spheres - for example, in their everyday relations with the estate, in the church context, in their contacts with the state apparatus and with the courts. For this purpose I have transcribed, for the 1750-1800 period, all personal and residential data from the most informative source groups:
1. Manorial rentals - registers stating the tenants' names, residences and share of the village lands, forests, and dues, with the writer's comments on the heads of households (supplemented by the financial accounts of the manor).
2. Reports from the steward to the lord on the personal qualities of young people who were potential tenants for some farm.
3. Deeds of faeste, with information on the conditions for each tenancy.
4. Probate inventories drawn up on the death of the tenant, with information on property, tools, horses, cows, family relationships, debt etc.
5. Legal records (crime, conflicts, theft from forests, and debts to Giesegaard).
6. Court records of cases concerned with the loss of faeste due to extreme neglect of the farm or very high arrears to the estate.
7. The estate inkvisitioner into farms and houses of 1746, 1752, 1763-81.
8. The national census of 1787.
9. Consolidation cases from the 1790s concerning the abolition of the open field system, relocation of the farms and loans from the Crown.
10. Miscellaneous items: cadastral registers of the distribution of the land; tithe lists; valuations for fire insurance of farms in 1772; allowance list for 1773 regarding grain and horses; maps of the villages; as well as partial transcriptions of the parish registers of 1773ff (previous ones were burned).
The information is ordered so that by using name and residence one can link the same individuals and their activities in the different spheres (sources).(16) The idea was to keep the village as an overall framework, while letting as many as possible of its inhabitants "have their say" on the basis of the various questions the researcher asks. The aim was to identify interconnections in people's activities and "language" in the broadest sense. I was particularly interested in any differences in these patterns. At this level, the pinpointing of these differences has to be a hermeneutic process. In the following I will look at the results achieved with the village of Gorslev as an example. The village consisted of 20 farms, 34 cottagers' houses - six of these with land - and ten subtenant households. In all, the village had a population of about 300.(17)
The social interconnections I was looking for can be seen, for example, in who people asked to hold their children for christening and who were asked to be godfather or godmother. In Gorslev it was people from six or seven farms (according to the church register) who appeared at almost all baptisms, besides some of the parents' close friends or family. Formally, all farms in the village had the same status, and true godparent relationships of the type found in the Mediterranean countries do not seem to have existed. If one then examines which farms in the village 1) had more than the essential bed linen (in probate documents); 2) had the biggest wings (in estate surveys); 3) exhibited the best building quality (in the 1772 appraisal); 4) were not significantly in arrears to the estate (in the estate accounts); 5) were rarely involved in illegal felling of trees (in court records); and 6) sowed a little wheat (in tithe lists) - which indicated that they had initiative and strong horses - one can see that there is much congruence between these groups and the godfather group. They apparently appeared to have formed part of a distinct type of village order.
It emerged that I slowly had identified the people who in the estate steward's terminology - and probably also in that of their neighbours - constituted a group which in fact had its own name, and thereby became socially/culturally visible. The steward called them "those who think ahead."
In a very similar fashion I identified the opposite category - those who "did not make a go of it" (the same as the "merry" ones above). They had almost all received help from the estate in crises; they were often in the steward's spotlight and in trouble with the law. Despite relative poverty, these people were frequent customers at the inn, and they appear to have appreciated both plenty of food and a good fight. The humiliation of the many itinerant Jews also seems to have been considered good sport. Economically, they appear to have muddled through life in fits and starts, but their life was not without merriment. However, some of them went so far that the estate evicted them from the farms for example because they had sold the thatched roof, the horses (which they also had to use for corvee work) or the seed grain that the estate had perhaps given them. This category was less homogeneous than the above.
Finally, there was the last third, whom I have provisionally called "the quiet ones" because they left only faint traces of their lives. They had a profile that did not arouse attention. They kept to themselves, were not disturbingly in arrears to the estate. In court, they appeared mainly as witnesses, and if they stole wood, this was only discovered on rare occasions.
Household members in both the latter categories were very rarely asked to be godfathers or godmothers by people to whom they were not closely related. The differences identified exhibit many economic dimensions, which is understandable, since the account concerns primary producers in a world where the margin between survival and crisis was not wide. As we have seen, though, the differences were not only economic in nature.
If we turn to the rest of the inhabitants of Gorslev - mainly domestic farmhands and landless cottagers, and a few cottagers with a little land it provides food for thought that the same three-fold division also existed in their sphere. The six cottagers who had a little land at the edge of the forest almost always managed fairly well, and had close relationships with one another. Several kept horses and probably partly earned their living as drivers and in (illegal) trade.
On the other hand there were cottagers in the village centre who were unable to procure the small amount of money for the rent and had to give up the faeste. Others could not work efficiently because of physical accidents. In lean years they starved, and often had to stay in bed to keep warm. Some crossed the threshold where they became beggars or thieves. This whole category lived in a kind of pauperized shadow of the village. They died in poverty without much attention from their surroundings. The poor, like weather crises and epidemics, were part of the order of things.
Between these poles there was the biggest category of cottagers. Their daily life was humble, they often lived in their houses for a long time, but economically they were closer to subsistence level than the farmers.
In general, the cottager categories and the many domestic servants on the farms had very different profiles. Some were apparently just waiting for a "good farm" or a house with land to become vacant, while trying to resist the steward's pressure to take on the "bad" tenancies. Many domestic farmhands engaged in small-scale production of their own or hired out iron stoves to poor cottagers. This way they could accumulate some money against the day they were allocated a faeste tenancy. Others drank or gambled their money away as soon as they got hold of it.
When we speak of the formal classifications of rural society into peasants and cottagers we should be aware that in the life of the same family in large estate areas, there could be great cyclic mobility from generation to generation between these main categories.(18) Before 1800 people brought up in a cottager home could easily become tenant farmers, and many farmers ended their days not as their children's "pensioners" on "their own" farms, but as "inmates" on someone else's farm.(19)
The social differentiation in the population outlined here is easily reconciled with cyclical mobility within (parts of) the formal groupings. However, it raises new issues: whether the institutional organization of the village could function together with what were really extreme differences in the cultural order, and how this order could be maintained from generation to generation.
A Divided Village. Manorial Practise and the Significance of Rent
If we view the village in terms of relations between these tentatively identified life patterns, it does not emerge as the political whole we know from much of the material from oral tradition, nor as an (empirically) well defined unit in the estate/village relationship. It seems to have been very much divided. Despite a formal community of interests, neighbours had no qualms about testifying in court against one another, and thus for the estate - for example in cases of wood theft. After trials where people had informed on one another, even though none of them could have any economic advantage from doing so, the grudges must have affected relationships in the village for many years. In crisis years it was not unusual, even for close relatives, to refuse to help one another, and then Giesegaard would have to lend a helping hand. It is possible that close family members did not belong to the same cultural category as oneself. This is thought-provoking in itself.
Even when the problems were collective, for example tithe disputes with the estate, it was almost impossible before the reform years around 1790 for the peasants to mobilize any kind of clear common political front against the steward of the kind we know from other regions. This made it easy for the estate to play people off against one another. Giesegaard appears to have been successful in completely marginalizing the traditional, elected chairmen of the village council and replacing them with so called bondefogeder, or peasant bailiffs, whose main task was to help the steward in mobilizing corvee manpower in return for their own exemption from corvee labour.
What seems most extreme, however, are the situations where farmers from the "forward-looking" category had annoyed other villagers for years by letting their own pigs run loose (and into neighbour's gardens), and where the village council does not appear to have dared do anything about it; or where people from the same group directly appropriated resources for themselves at the expense of the village as a whole. In 1792 three of these powerful farmers even organized a full-scale relocation of the house and land of a cottager family, solely so they could get a longer, more rational ploughing shape for some of their own fields. This meant fewer turns of the wheel plough and thus a little extra soil to plough. Instead, the cottagers, with the approval of the estate and the "men of the village", were assigned an alternative area elsewhere in the village, to the detriment, however, of the common pastures. This was a real small planning coup executed by a small section of the elite, with negative consequences for the common grazing of all the peasants and cottagers. For the sake of individual gain, these peasants ignored the time-honoured social patterns of action of the village. Yet influential individuals like these were able to force the arrangement through.
This brings us to a central point. The inhabitants may have been tenants of the estate, but the village as such was actually autonomous. Formally, for example, Giesegaard had nothing to do with the subdivision of fields, which was in fact the province of the village's own political body, the bylag, or village council. However, the estate could intervene - if it wished to for various reasons - and help tenants in trouble, and was indeed expected to do so by the ethical norms of the village. The steward was a frequent visitor to such homes. After years with failed crops, he even recorded the number of pots and pans owned by the families, probably on the assumption that they might be tempted to sell them and then come and ask for help to buy new ones. Through the tenancy relation Giesegaard could interfere in almost anything of a personal nature, and if people were notably in arrears with their dues, this interference could even become very intense. This intervention was a clear expression of the dominance of the estate. However, it did not mean that Giesegaard dominated everything or exercised the same kind of sanctions over everyone. If we do not remain aware of this distinction, the differences in peasant profiles in the village will become impossible to explain.
The forward-looking peasants were tenants just like the inadequate ones. But the interesting thing is that the provident ones on the whole managed to avoid direct interference from the estate. They do not seem to have been under constant pressure. They avoided sanctions, received no help, and they also had the resources to give the steward any small bribes that were necessary.
It would appear that their view of the concept of seigneurial dues was different from that of the "merry" or "failing" group. For both groups the dues were very much a presence, but as an extension of the Giesegaard policy, the forward-looking peasants appear externally (i.e. vis-a-vis the estate) to have used fairly full and punctual payment of their dues as a means of avoiding interference in their administration of their farms. They may well have considered the dues a burden, but also as economic contributions that could patently exempt them from the most restrictive ties with the estate - ties which certainly existed, but which did not to any great extent have to be visible or a real nuisance in their everyday life. This strategy required an already-stable production apparatus and the development of their own innovative features. If one could honour these requirements - unlike those who could not - one could avoid direct interference from Giesegaard. Here, some people had better initial conditions than others. If the estate was paid its full rent on time, it was willing to a great extent to leave people to their own devices. This was precisely what this category of peasants was interested in, if they were to lead a life that was meaningful for them in terms of accumulation and succession in their households. It was probably these people the steward was referring to in a letter to the lord when he used the characteristic expression: "those who think ahead, who [in times of crisis] can see how reasonable it is to maintain a thrifty household ..." These were the ones who had "courage" in life. For the estate, they were the easy peasants to manage.
This variation in the forms of manorial practice had its counterpart among the other peasants. For the ailing farming households it was a relatively greater effort to produce the necessary surplus, but the attitude to the very concept of dues was also clearly different. Those who would anyway have difficulty constantly meeting their full rent would see the dues as something they should pay as sparingly as possible. Their logic was that they could pay just enough rent to ensure that they were allowed to continue farming. The lower limit for many payments was the point where the arrears had become so high, or the exploitation of the farm's resources so disproportionate, that the estate showed the family the road. Up to this limit it was a matter of living so that, in the here and now, this peasant category had as much enjoyment out of it as possible. The face presented to the estate was often a pathetic one. On the other hand, these peasants could count on the help of the estate in crisis years. For the sake of the corvee and taxes, if for no other reason, it was important from Giesegaard's point of view to keep the farms running somehow, especially if there were no immediate prospects of alternative tenants. This was a clear requirement, if the life expectations of these peasants were to be fulfilled. In a 1778 report to the Ministry of the Interior on cereal farming in the area, it must have been this kind of farmer that the steward called those who did not "think ahead," but were characterized by "slavish thinking, under the influence of which they ... doze off in a flood of sighs." In his eyes they suffered from "refractoriness and indifference."
These two forms of manorial peasant practice thus did not exist because of the absence of the estate in the village, but by virtue of its presence, combined with the competition among the peasants for the resources of the village. Through faeste and its administrative practice, Giesegaard erected a quite definite framework for the kinds of life that could be lived.
Attitudes to Fate and Two Lifestyles
If the peasants' views of the meaning of rent were as different as claimed here, it is because they must have been associated with diverging views of fate. For the peasants, fate was their perspective on existence, including the purpose of their daily life. Whereas payment of full rent was what gave the "strivers" peace to realize themselves in agricultural work organized as much as possible by themselves on their constantly improving farms, what we can perhaps best call the barely adequate rent, combined with least possible rebellious behaviour, was what enabled the other peasants to have enjoyable hours. For these people the farm and the agricultural work were hardly ends in themselves. The adequate work on the estate (under the corvee) and in the village made possible the degree of survival necessary to "live life" culturally.
The forward-looking peasants concentrated on their work with the resources to stay "free" of the steward, and thus on having the scope to improve their farms further, so they could in the longer term buy better horses, furnishings, etc. This must have been a meaningful life for them.(20) It demanded ambition, thrift and planning. For these people, it seemed that fate could be influenced by sufficient personal initiative. In their consciousness, their own disposal of the resources meant they could exploit new opportunities, as some of them showed for example in the removal of the cottager's house. They were people who exhibited an individualistic thinking. They scheduled their lives in terms of a plan for the future. Their organizational form indicates what I call the aspiring lifestyle of the village.
For the peasants seen as "dozy" by the estate, the situation was more or less the opposite. They considered any thought of getting out of their treadmill as utopian. Even if they tried to save something up, their investments would not go far on a run-down farm, and before that the steward would probably have claimed an installment on their arrears. The work on the farm was probably considered necessary, but is unlikely to have been seen as particularly meaningful. In the circumstances, these peasants would feel that personal initiative did not lead to any tangible advantage. Fate was simply what came to you. It was not something to be sought out. Their strategy seems to have been to pursue short-term goals. Much time was spent on sociability. When one year was largely like the next, the purpose of life must be to make everyday existence as tolerable as possible. So one looked for merry company when money occasionally came to the house. Consumption was immediate. I will call their organizational form the fatalistic lifestyle of the village.
This lifestyle could manifest itself in rather different ways. On the one hand there were those who lived more or less in a vicious circle of misfortune, illness, resignation and drunkenness. Their conditions were such that some more or less gave up hope in life. They lived for the day, gave highest priority to small pleasures and are unlikely to have thought of the world as something that could be changed. There were also peasants who muddied through without attracting much attention from the outside world, perhaps with a little help from the estate. These are the people I called the "quiet ones" at an earlier stage of the account. However, since the difference between these two types seems to be one of degree rather than substance, I have stuck to a single lifestyle designation.
How could the two basic lifestyles be maintained in the long run, so distinct from each other? The answer must be sought both in external relations with the given estate and internal ones in the village, and consequently does not refer to a difference of universal validity. First, as mentioned before, the lifestyles must be seen in terms of Giesegaard's requirements in the widest sense. Secondly, both as such were not really self-reproducing in the village, although the problems and personal conditions as illness and bad luck of the communal village contributed to the ultimate resignation of some people. In social terms, however, the lifestyles reproduced each other.
The Strivers Versus the Fatalists
Inwardly in the village the two lifestyles were the preconditions for each other's existence. Within the organizational structure of the village, the strivers exploited the often poverty-stricken situation of the fatalists, although they did so with their consent. They rented parts of the fatalists' pasturage quota cheaply - the parts they did not have enough cattle to exploit. This way the strivers could increase their cattle stock beyond the ordinary size. The cattle represented the road towards expansion for the peasants. Similarly, they often sowed some of the poor peasants' fields, which the latter could not keep cultivated because of their lack of seed and ploughing power. They might also buy from the weaker neighbour, in order to resell it, the wood that he had been granted by the estate to make harrows and wagons from. One could say that within the hierarchy of the village, the fatalists - to be allowed to live their life - had to stand by and watch the strivers helping themselves; just as, outwardly, they had to satisfy a minimum of Giesegaard's requirements for corvee labour, taxes and a certain superficial obedience.
This way the strivers within the communal system helped to keep the weaker peasants in their vulnerable economic position, while at the same time complaining that the fatalists, for example, did not have the punctuality, implements and drawing power (which required fodder) to keep up their end of the collective work of the village. However, if the strivers had been unable to draw on these extra means of production, they would hardly have achieved their level of material wealth.
Conversely, the richer farms were essential to the fatalists. The constant economic competition of the strivers in principle provided opportunities for the different priorities of the fatalists in life. At a pinch they could borrow small amounts of grain for bread from the strivers - for example for funerals, for which one could not ask the estate for help. They probably attempted to maintain positive formal relations with the strivers by asking them to be godparents to their children. This could later be exploited in a tight situation.
So the two lifestyles provided the conditions for each other in the village, while as a phenomenon they were an expression of Giesegaard's own manorial administration. The interest of the estate in the villagers was the appropriation of their surplus - in practice to as great an extent as possible. In crises Giesegaard may well have helped the weaker peasants, but in the longer term the estate wished to encourage the lifestyle of the strivers. Giesegaard knew that it was precisely from these people that it got its dues in money and in kind with a minimum of administration. The steward, as a progressive man of the Enlightenment, thought that model peasants like these could stand as an example to others. But in the given conditions, they could not all be strivers if the same resources were to be available as before.
In explaining the continuity of the lifestyles it must be noted that the estate in fact encouraged the disparities. When farms were to have new tenants, they were often children brought up in the strivers' households and recruited by the estate for the farms that were already best run. If there was a rich widow on the farm with a talent for rational householding, a tenancy like this could be a great economic asset. Often the future tenant had earned a little money as a servant-labourer by hiring cows or iron stoves out to poor people. It was young people from homes like these who refused most adamantly to be forced into the tenancy of a run-down farm, and perhaps to have to marry a poor widow (with another lifestyle). If the estate exercised unduly palpable force, the steward knew that the young people completely lost the heart to be strivers, and instead became indifferent. So the badly maintained and poorly run farms got tenants with other qualifications. These were young people who had often saved up nothing for the entry fee, and were perhaps more interested in the life of the inn than the improvement of agriculture. Sometimes, too, they suffered from some physical handicap - for example poorly-healed fractures - which put them in a weaker position both on the marriage market and as tenancy candidates.
Giesegaard considered its room for manoeuvre rather limited. It is doubtful whether the estate was aware of the connections between its own policies and the differences between the two lifestyles. The idea that the power of example would work with the fatalists suggests that it was not. Nor was Giesegaard perhaps aware of how the survival potential of the fatalists was undermined by the activities and dominance of the strivers. Giesegaard attributed the differences to individual qualities of the peasantry. Nevertheless, the steward did point out the negative consequences of corvee labour for peasants who, because of poor implements and weak horses, were already behind with their own farming.
Through the analytical distinction between the lifestyles, it has been possible to understand many conflicting features in the actions and culture of the village population. But this should not be taken to mean that we are concerned with two isolated categories living their own mutually exclusive lives. As shown above, they existed precisely in terms of each other, and in many respects shared the same experiential world. This applied to dimensions like their actual occupation vis-a-vis the nobility and burghers, their domiciles in relation to the rest of their surrounding geographical world, the struggle against nature and crises, and festal custom and usage. However, there is no indication that this resulted in any kind of integration. Despite the fact that both kinds of peasant might want complete freedom from the presence of Giesegaard, no political practice developed that welded them together in opposition to the estate. The maintenance of material and cultural differences appears to have been more important than unity in the village. It was only during the reform debate on the statuting of corvee terms in the 1790s, when the peasants on a large number of estates saw their chance to voice their complaints to the King, that the peasants of the Juellund estate were politically and collectively activated.
The Cultural View of "The Others"
If, in the context of the contrasting lifestyles, we try to give an account of how the two peasant groups may have viewed each other, we must begin with the differences between their respective life perspectives. For the strivers, the ideal of their painstaking, goal-oriented efforts was to be able to develop as much as possible personally and economically. For the fatalists, the purpose of their efforts was to have a reasonably agreeable life, preferably in close social relations with others. In other words, what was the very purpose of existence for the former was only a means to the enjoyment of life for the latter.
To the "striving" peasants, the fatalists must have seemed like people who did not know what was good for them, who held back the economic management of the village, and whose sloppiness attracted the attention of the estate to the life of the village. They really did not deserve help, as their condition was to a great extent their own fault. Often they squandered the aid they were given anyway. Perhaps some saw them as people who did not have the self-discipline necessary to plan for the future. On the other hand, they did understand how to enjoy themselves, they were inventive when it came to stealing wood from the forests, and they had the ability to give the steward amusing, pithy answers. However, since the strivers themselves depended on them in the village work, there was much indignation over their sluggishness. At times some of the fields were flooded because some of them did not clean out their fallow ditches in time, and the often late sowing and harvesting of the fatalists delayed everyone else in the village.
Conversely, the fatalists must have had difficulty understanding the point of the work-fixated life of the strivers. They must have seen them as self-righteous, puritanical individualists, with an "I'm all right, Jack" attitude. Their enterprise broke into the cultural rhythm of the village, and in some cases directly paralysed the village council. Through their position they were able to seize privileges at the expense of the community in general (individual cultivation of the common), and by renting uncultivated fields cheaply, to exploit poor fellow villagers without seed or enough drawing power. The strivers are unlikely to have been loved for their greater wealth, yet many people were often able to go to them for small loans. On the other hand, the fatalists would have been capable of understanding the really poor people in the village. They might end up among them themselves if the arrears became too high, or some extra misfortune occurred. For this reason, and out of fear of misfortune, they were also willing to give a wandering beggar something, although they had little to give themselves.
What appeared to the strivers and the steward as (economic) "doziness" in the fatalists was for the fatalists themselves more like the very content of their lives; and what appeared to the fatalists as a lack of solidarity and breaches of cultural norms in the village was material growth for the strivers. It was an expression of courage and progress.
Despite the fact that both parties were manorial peasants, they must have found it very difficult to understand each other's lifestyles. By reflecting themselves in their difference from "the others," people must however have been clearly aware of who they themselves were. The proportional representation of the two lifestyles could vary with the administrative practice of the estates and the extent of the villages' resources (especially forests). As a phenomenon, however, they were found in all the villages of the estate area. On the main estate, Giesegaard, the forward-looking peasants made up between a third and half of all peasants. The rather more rigorously-run neighbouring manor, Juellund, which from 1752 belonged to the estate complex, was by contrast typified by the fatalist lifestyle. Thus the 18th-century ethnographic observations of regional variations arouse renewed interest, since, although their writers were not aware of it, they may reflect the distribution of the one lifestyle compared with the other. In light of the conflict-ridden co-existence in the village between practically two forms of peasant culture it is quite understandable that the village was as split as it was, although it still "functioned." In the given circumstances it could hardly be homogeneous. A later age's ideal model of an egalitarian village organization probably has little in common with life as it was lived. The old estate-dominated village in Eastern Denmark was rather a structural totality of contradictions.
Conclusion. An Example with Further Perspective?
To work with reconstructing historical lifestyles means on the one hand having to do with relative totalities which in themselves are more than the sum of the parts, and on the other realizing that it is precisely a question of re-constructions. The idea for a possible identification of different forms of integrated peasant life (the empirically isolated patterns/peasant profiles) I obtained through the hermeneutic correlation of sources, but the subsequent grouping of the results in the shape of two fundamentally different lifestyles in the same estate/faester relationship is precisely an analytic interpretation. The analysis proceeded in four steps. First, the social, structural conditions of life in a manorial system were outlined, focusing on the preconditions of being a peasant on the Giesegaard estate. Secondly, the two lifestyles were introduced and each was interpreted from the point of view of its own cultural logic. In the third step of the analysis, the lifestyles were viewed as being in a relationship of interdependence within the economic and spatial context of the village. This was seen in terms of economic possibilities, lease of resources and borrowing. Finally the two lifestyles were viewed phenomenologically as contrasting each other.
The reconstruction of some of the village's internal relations as lifestyles thus refers to differences in ways of living (in a given social praxis), and only secondarily to the village's individual inhabitants. Even though in the practical historical work one now and then happens to employ the lifestyles as empirical typologies, it would be erroneous to assume that all of the inhabitants lived completely in either the one or the other lifestyle. Analytic concepts should be used if they can contribute to clarifying complex relationships, but it is an abuse of the concepts to employ them as classificational typologies.
If we shift the focus from the researcher's reconstruction to the villagers' own perspective, I have in the text attempted to be as loyal as possible towards the period's own linguistic turns of phrase, even though I only know the many expressions from the steward's and the clerk's accounts. I think, nevertheless, that the contemporary villagers would have been able to recognize distinctive features - if not in themselves, then in any case in their neighbours - through the lifestyles presented here. The grouping of the co-existing lifestyles actually gave meaning to both differences in several quantative expositions and to linguistic turns of phrase. It is my impression that the two different life-worlds which the concepts refer to have comprised one form of reference system for, generally speaking, all the village inhabitants (and functionaries) on the estates.
The villagers had, so to speak, both lifestyles in them - via the social system they were living out as well as in their own consciousness. The inhabitants in Gorslev would be able to be understood on the basis of the different elements in the two lifestyles, but no inhabitant has moved about as an ideal type of either the one or the other category. Such pure types exist no more than the homogeneous village.
Just as the lifestyles do not merely refer to concrete typologies, they do not refer to anything universal. As meaning-integrating complexes they are not only extremes on a dichotomous scale, nor can we expect to find them in all periods (at any rate not with the background demonstrated here). The lifestyles refer to specific conditions appertaining to great estates regions, and ought to be detectable both in the 17 and the 18th centuries. In the 19th century, many of the prerequisites for the fatalistic lifestyle in Northern Europe were eliminated, and rural society was gradually structured along other, non-manorial principles.
In the 18th century, my impression is that some of the praxises and attitudes of estate owner, steward and peasants on Giesegaard had parallels with estate conditions in parts of France, Germany and Eastern Central Europe. I am not talking about empirical representativeness, but am saying that the "cultural logic" of the lifestyle was perhaps based on the same principles, although the forms in which it was manifested could be very different. This inner logic was not uniquely determined by the manorial structure. In its realization it was clearly dependent on that structure, but was situationally shaped by the specific differences among European estate regions. It might be fruitful to study how much the two lifestyles presented here may have permeated European variations outside Denmark. Even though they existed side by side, as we have shown, it is conceivable that the fatalistic lifestyle was, for example, more strongly represented in Northern and Eastern Germany along with Poland, and the aspiring lifestyle was more predominant in regions in Western Germany and Northern France, where the conditions of life were different.
It is characteristic of our limited knowledge in the area that even Jerome Blum, in his major work on the end of the Old Order in rural Europe, gives a rather featureless sketch of the nature of peasant life. Although he mentions that there were wealthy peasants, it is striking that most of the examples cited fit like a glove with the visible formal features, which distinguished the very thing I have called the fatalistic lifestyle.(21) Blum is perhaps the scholar with the best overall view of what has been written on the subject, but nevertheless it is the 18th-century's cliche-like conception of the uncultivated peasant, perpetrated by writers, proprietors, and burghers, which happens to draw the general picture. However, it is food for thought that this unmediated description of the peasants as generally apathetic, drunken and simple recurs even today in some of our historical works. This is both an expression of cultural, growth-oriented ethnocentrism and of a view of description which is based on a casual and mechanical summation of individual features. Seen through the cultural spectacles of rationalism - which we to a great extent still use - maybe many of the peasants of the 18th century lived a prospectless day-to-day existence. Even here, as I see it, the task of research should be to make the fatalistic lifestyle's point of view understandable within the framework of the culture itself. As a social phenomenon the fatalists' lives never went into total disintegration through manorial oppression. In a cultural-analysis perspective this lifestyle ought in fact to become comprehensible. It can be explained without using negatively charged words from another culture.(22) It is such an initial step I have been interested in taking.
This cultural profile appears so sharply-drawn because it is seen in contrast to other cultural points of view. And here the elitist culture of the Enlightenment is not the relevant contrast - the "striving" lifestyle of the village is. In European research, though, the lifestyle of the strivers has hardly been mentioned as a social phenomenon. It cannot simply be compared to the life of the English farmer type or the enclaves of extremely sales-oriented peasants in certain regions of the European mainland where particularly favourable specializations were possible.(23) Even on relatively strictly-run estates in Denmark this lifestyle was reproduced, although there were probably more strivers in the places where the conditions imposed by the estate-owners were more favourable, or where the peasants owned their farms. It may be that this lifestyle also existed outside Denmark, if we begin to look for it - that is, if we accept that it could have existed.(24)
What is most interesting, meanwhile, is not to minutely map out which kind of peasant life was quantitatively the most widespread but to investigate the multiplicity of the ways in which cultural or economic differences were articulated within the same praxis, and how the disparities show up according to whence they are perceived. The differences in lifestyle existed not merely by virtue of their mutual cultural incompatibilities, but because people were confronted with unequal conditions in life. The culture was manifested in a quite specific context, which it is necessary to be acquainted with in order to understand thoroughly the articulation and meaning of the cultural forms. Every "existence" is lived out in contexts that contribute to imparting meaning.
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Vandkunsten 5, DK-1467 Kobenhavn K Denmark
I thank David Gaunt, S. P. Jensen and Jens Rahbek for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.
1. This article is based on a comprehensive study now in manuscript form, entitled A Manorial World: Lord, Peasant and Cultural Distinction on a Danish Estate 1750-1980. All relevant references will be found there in the notes to Chapter 4.
2. This distinction between two lifestyles does not refer to a simple continuum on a scale expressing the degree of modernization, or to some philosophically "universal" difference. In the given seigneurial conditions, the two lifestyles were created and culturally defined in terms of each other, and my account of them is structural in nature.
3. August Hennings, "Iagttagelser fra en indenlandsk rejse," Minerva 2 (1787): 42.
4. Frants W. Troyel, Kort Afhandling om den bedste Maade at forvalte Jordegods pa (Kobenhavn 1784), p. 34. Only very few writers comment on the peasant ability at survival, their handy qualifications and their often steady work. Likewise the writers of the 18th century are blind to the fact that most of the characteristics that they attributed to the being of the peasants, could in fact be the peasant's tactical attitudes towards people who the peasants feared would manipulate them.
5. See for example Hans Medick & David Sabean (eds), Interest and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship (Cambridge, 1984).
6. Palle Christiansen, "International Consumption Patterns in Peasant Households," in E. Ladewig Petersen, J. C. V. Johansen and H. Stevnsborg (eds), Clashes of Cultures: Essays in Honour of Niels Steensgaard (Odense, 1992).
7. Joan Rockwell, "The Danish Peasant Village," Journal of Peasant Studies 1.4 (1974).
8. Jerome Blum, "The European Village as Community: Origins and Functions," Agricultural History 45:1 (1971).
9. Alan Macfarlane, "History, Anthropology and the Study of Communities," Social History 5 (1977): 631-652.
10. Janet Blackman & Keith Nield, "Editorial," Social History 1 (1976); David Sabean, "Verwandtschaft und Familie in einem wurttembergischen Dorf 1500 bis 1870: einige methodische Uberlegungen," in W. Conze (ed.), Sozialgeschichte der Familie in der Neuzeit Europas (Stuttgart, 1976), pp. 231-246; David Gaunt, "Natural Resources-Population-Local Society," Peasant Studies 6 (1977): 137-141. Hans Medick, "Die proto-industrielle Familienwirtschaft," in Peter Kriedte, Hans Medick & Jurgen Schlumbohm (eds.), Industrialisierung vor der Industrialisierung (Gottingen, 1978), p. 90f.
11. David Sabean, Property, Production and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870 (Cambridge, 1990) is an impressive exception.
12. It should be emphasized that the village itself imposed strict limitations on stable production because of its time-consuming structure, its relatively inefficient forms of exploitation and the common grazing, which more or less encouraged the transmission of infection among the cattle. If the peasants had only produced for their own consumption - not for the estate, the Crown and the Church - the resources of the village would hardly have been felt to be inadequate.
13. Soren Klestrup, Betaenkninger i anledning af nogle poster.... (Kobenhavn, 1782), pp. 17-18.
14. David Gaunt, "I slottets skugga," Ale. Historisk Tidskrift for Skaneland 4 (1977): 15.
15. The debate is wide-ranging. For the two views, see for example Fridlev Skrubbeltrang, Agricultural Development and Rural Reform in Denmark (Rome, 1953) versus Thorkild Kjaergaard, "The Farmer Interpretation of Danish History," Scandinavian Journal of History 10:2 (1985).
16. For an outline of the technique see Alan Macfarlane, Reconstructing Historical Communities (Cambridge, 1977).
17. In the 1780's, two of the farms were at the disposal of the estate gamekeeper and rural deacon respectively, and are not included in the following as peasant farms proper.
18. Cf. Teodor Shanin, The Awkward Class (Oxford, 1972), p. 76.
19. Palle Christiansen, "Forms of Peasant Dependency in a Danish Estate, 1775-1975," Peasant Studies 7 (1978): 38-67.
20. Throughout the article there will be inferences of the type "it must have been such and such". Cf. also Natalie Zemon Davis's use of words like "perhaps", "should", "suppose", "probably" (Natalie Zemon Davis, Die Wahrhaftige Geschichte von der Wiederkehr des Martin Guerre [Munich/Zurich, 1985]); Carlo Ginzburg, "Beweise und Moglichkeiten. Nachwort zu Zemon Davis," in Davis (1985). My reasoning is that I can first show that certain features or phenomena occur in a special constellation, then ask the question "If that is the case, what then must also have been the case if these features were to be meaningful to the people of that time?"
21. Jerome Blum, The End of the Old Order in Rural Europe (Princeton, 1978), p. 45.
22. I know that linguistically this is an impossibility, although we have to make efforts in this direction. From such a point of view the designation "fatalistic lifestyle" is unfortunate, since in the eighteenth century it would have recalled the Arab world for many people of the Enlightenment. However, I have kept the term as a parallel to the "striving" lifestyle. The language is unfortunately not that of the peasants, but that of the steward.
23. Blum, The End of the Old Order, p. 171; Jan de Vries, The Economy of Europe in the Age of Crisis 1600-1750 (Cambridge, 1988), p. 83.
24. This was what was so difficult for the reformers of the eighteenth century. They saw - with very few exceptions - only those aspects of their (rural) times which looked black to them. This made the conceivable future look that much more inviting.
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|Author:||Christiansen, Palle Ove|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1995|
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