DiPP NRW
zeitenblicke
Direkt zum Inhalt
Sektionen

 

<1>

The historical literature holds that the Brandenburg-Prussian nobility's principal management strategy was, in Marx's phrase, extra-economic coercion. This they exercised on two levels: in their rural bailiwicks, through their judicial and police powers as feudal lords, and, at the level of the state, through the instutitions of the corporate nobility, which constrained and directed the princely power to their collective advantage. Before the Thirty Years War, the landed nobility (or Junkers) dominated the politically weak rulers of Brandenburg, to whose realm in the seventeenth century the eastern Baltic Duchy of Prussia was hereditarily joined. Following the great war, which devastated much of Brandenburg-Prussia, the Hohenzollern dynasty erected the iron structures of Prussian military-bureaucratic absolutism. This interpretation holds that the absolutist system rested on compromises between crown and nobility, such as the agreement of 1653 between the princely power and the Brandenburg estates. Such pacts assured the noble landlords heightened domination of their subject villagers, whose unpaid labors produced the profits of the Junkers' large-estate demesne or manorial farms. Prussian absolutism further benefited the nobility by reserving for their younger sons appointments at court and in the army officer corps and important branches of the civil administration. The Junkers' class power survived the defeat and delegitimization of eighteenth-century Prussian absolutism at Napoleon's hands, so that in the Prussian state's nineteenth-century liberal modernization, the nobility succeeded, despite abolition of village subjection and conversion of the nobility's former service-tenants into freeholders, in maintaining their domination of the countryside and, despite the formal abolition of noble privilege, in the state apparatus. [1]

<2>

The principal defect of this analysis, whether in its (closely related) liberal or Marxist versions, is its one-dimensionality, which subordinates to the Junkers' will, or reduces to passivity, the other collective actors on the Brandenburg-Prussian stage – especially the princely power ("state"), the village farmers ("peasants"), and the townspeople. It substitutes tautology (equating the Junkers with an irresistable class power) for empirical explanation, while mystifying or misunderstanding the historical basis of such power as the nobility in fact possessed.

<3>

A more accurate and realistic picture emerges when it is accepted that the Junkers could unimpededly dominate neither their village subjects nor the Brandenburg princes. An explanation for the landed nobility's formidable accomplishment of the long sixteenth century – the creation of large-scale demesne farms (Gutswirtschaft) aiming to maximize production for sale, especially on export markets – thus requires a micro-analysis of the landlord-village farmer relationship and a macro-analysis of the landlord-state connection. The crucial points concerning the manor-village nexus in the Brandenburg heartland are that the nobility's new demesne farms arose primarily on pre-existing seigneurial holdings, widened by incorporation of the extensive village lands left abandoned by late-medieval depopulation (wüste Feldmarken), rather than through forcible seizure of occupied peasant holdings, though such enclosures began to occur on a small scale toward the end of the sixteenth century. The nobility's incentive to become large-scale agricultural entrepreneurs was market-driven, in that the long sixteenth century's increasingly favorable grain and other commodity prices inspired them to negotiate with the village farmers under their seigneurial jurisdiction who were in possession of fullholdings (ca. 35 hectares+ in size) to obtain from them new and unpaid labor services with draft-teams (2-3 days weekly). These labor services, supplemented by the work of permanently employed farm servants, livestock handlers, and estate officials, produced the Junker estates' marketable surpluses, in large part sold at river ports for export to western Germany and western Europe.

<4>

Typically, the village farmers acquiesced in the Junkers' demands for labor services on condition that their old-established grain-rents, which had fallen significantly in the course of the post-1348 agrarian depression, were not increased (or even were reduced). This enabled them to maximize the sale of their grain and livestock surpluses on the sixteenth century's favorable markets. In conflicts between noble landlords and villagers over imposition of new labor rents, appeals to princely courts often ensued, yielding inquiries by judicial commissioners and compromise solutions generally falling short of maximal Junker claims. The Brandenburg Electors did not allow the noble landlords to degrade subject villagers at will, since the villages formed the princely tax-base, together with the towns whose economic health depended importantly on villagers' demand for their services. On the eve of the Thirty Years' War, the large-scale Junker landlords formed a wealthy and even opulent elite, but the subject villagers had maintained, though not without losses, their individual and corporate judicial rights and – crucially – had held seigneurial rents within limits that assured their social reproduction at levels of consumption acceptable in village eyes. The towns suffered from over-taxation and lack of access to the profits of the export trade in the Junker estates' products, but were not without their prosperous middle and upper classes. Debt and dependence on the corporate nobility for sporadic tax levies weakened the princely state, but its independent military-diplomatic, legislative, and judicial powers were intact and unchallenged.

<5>

Thus the prosperous landed nobility's sixteenth-century successes were real, but limited. The lordship they exercised was neither unrestrained by princely power nor absolute in its sway over the subject villagers. Especially at the local level, it was, rather, a negotiated lordship, conditional on numerous and variable factors. [2]

<6>

The Junkers' chief entrepreneurial accomplishment was to bring the large-estate system into production. But the analysis of noble economic behavior, and its larger effects on economic development, must range more broadly. Peter-Michael Hahn has argued that entry into the wealthiest Brandenburg nobility's ranks required more than successful estate management. It was also necessary to acquire princely office, in which money-lending to the ruler yielded rewards in the form of pawned rents from crown estates and former church properties. In this way, noble fortunes multiplied, allowing the most successful Junkers to supplement their hereditary landed estates' earnings with rents from princely properties and to accumulate savings which they invested in interest-bearing public bonds. Hahn documented a widening stratification before the Thirty Years' War within the noble class, which yielded a "power elite" of some 15-25 noble lineages holding the lion's share of lucrative princely offices, larger commercialized estates, and savings deposits. Opposed to this newly-arisen noble oligarchy stood those who did not hesitate to refer to themselves as the "poor nobility" ("armen von adel"), as well as a squirearchy resentful of the elite's glitter and power. [3]

<7>

Yet the path to princely office and favor led in most cases through successful estate management, including the noble landlords' prowess in marketing their products so as to accumulate savings financing their subsequent political careers. Looking more closely at the strategies the landed nobility followed in developing their demesne economies, a series of steps is discernable. Unquestionably, the Junkers possessed a strong sense of solidarity within familial lineages (Geschlechter). Feudal property law, in force throughout the early modern period, vested the right of inheritance, beyond a landlord's immediate male heirs, in all male agnates ("zur gesamten Hand"). This system greatly complicated the sale of noble lordships outside the agnatic circle, even after the Prussian monarchy in 1717 proclaimed, in return for a minor direct tax, the allodification of noble property. [4]

<8>

Nonetheless, in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries noble lineages sorted out their various landed holdings to enable the development under single families' ownership and management of compact and comparatively large-scale domanial economies, supported by nearby subject villages' labor services. Frequently lineage conferences were held to attain this end, which amounted to the introduction of a kind of consolidated noble private property, where previously the crucial issues had been, apart from ownership of a residence, rights to the collection of more or less widely dispersed village rents in cash and kind. Lineages continued to function as larger property-holding networks. But as the sixteenth-century state imposed military pacification upon an increasingly civilian society, the functions of castles or fortresses held in common by noble lineages – which occasioned many treaties (Burgfrieden) governing kinship members' rights and duties concerning such properties – weakened. The strong bonds between them were now those of affection, political interest, and collateral inheritance rights to individualized noble properties. [5]

<9>

"Feudal law" did not, therefore, throttle the incentives of Junker landlords to develop their own lordships as profit-driven and profit-making enterprises. Even when they acquired crown estates as pawns, or when they purchased vacated noble properties knowing that, after variously stipulated periods, the former owner's descendants might exercise repurchase rights based on agnatic claims, they could confidently improve such properties through capital investment and reap the subsequent profits, knowing that their ameliorations would be appraised and returned to them with interest should they be obliged to surrender such conditional holdings.

<10>

During the long sixteenth century the Junkers did not face complicated decisions about the agricultural technologies applicable to their domanial economies. Although the manorial arable was normally separated out into compact blocks separate from the open-field strip-farming of their subject farmers, virtually everywhere in east-Elbian Germany the Junkers long followed the three-field rotation of winter grain, summer grain, and fallow. They were keen to maximize their wool production and, where meadows were suitable, their dairy herds. They shared the risks of sheep-raising with shepherd-contracters (Pachtschäfer), who tended the seigneurial animals along with their own, a system extended after the Thirty Years War to dairy production under the supervision of Holländer. The number of pigs they could keep depended on their holdings of oak and beech forest. Timber sales on any large scale required princely approval, to avert the danger of lawsuits filed by heirs or agnates charging the offender with diminishing the property's substance to its future possessors' disadvantage. Junkers whose seigneurial rights entitled them to maintain a tavern and supply it with beer and spirits might invest in brewing and distilling, but before the nineteenth century these remained localized, if profitable, activities rather than large-scale enterprise.

<11>

As for their village subjects, the Junkers needed a sufficient number of fullholders (Hufenbauern) to maintain draft animals and farm servants adequate to the seigneurial economy's need for labor services with teams of horses, just as they needed enough smallholding farmers (Kossäten) to supply manual labor services. They could not dispossess their subject farmers without imposing upon themselves the need to maintain equivalent numbers of expensive draft teams and wage-earning laborers of their own. Before 1618 it was not uncommon for noble landlords eager to widen their labor pool to settle new farmers in their villages, especially where the late-medieval depopulation had left previous farms unoccupied. New subject farmers also meant more grain-rents and additional patronage of the mills under the Junkers' jurisdiction, from which they drew valuable leasehold payments and yearly rents in kind.

<12>

The sixteenth-century Junkers' innovation lay not in farming techniques, but in the unprecedentedly large scale of their domanial production. Once they had set up the large manor farms (Vorwerke), their production methods and labor organization remained largely unchanged until the eighteenth century. But there is no question that they enormously increased agricultural output for the market in the period 1470-1620, even recognizing that many of the formally abandoned fields they brought under their plows had previously been leased to village communities for tillage or grazing.

<13>

Little is known of the Junkers' commercial activities, which consisted mainly in marketing their own estates' products. Some acted as buyers of their village subjects' surpluses, as well as those of neighboring small-scale Junkers and other rural producers. But, apart from calculating when in any given year the preceding year's harvests should be sold, their best option, usually, was to sell their reserves at nearby river ports at prices dependent on Hamburg or Stettin markets. In times of domestic shortage,princely decree halted exports, obliging the Junkers to sell their crops in local towns or in Berlin.

<14>

Money-lending in their bailiwicks certainly fattened some Junker wallets. In the absence of bank credit, the nobility had little choice, when in need of loans, but to turn to their richest colleagues. Such transactions required co-signatures of the borrowers' relatives and friends. The promissory notes circulated as legal tender, putting at a considerable risk the assets of co-signers in the event of the presentation to an impecunious borrower of a note fallen due. The increasing rate of turnover of noble properties in the pre-1618 decades may relate to rising volatility in credit markets, and to excessive borrowing based on overly sanguine assessments of rising commodity-price and property-value trends. But the credit, monetary, and fiscal systems in Brandenburg did not plunge into major crisis before 1618. [6]

<15>

To enter princely service meant to hold an appointment at court, as a district governor, or as a manager of a crown estate (or, following the Protestant Reformation, of a former church property). It was not difficult for prosperous landlords to combine such office-holding with the management through bailiffs of their hereditary estates. Though they might (on paper) receive a salary, they commonly financed their own officeholding expenses. Their surest path to fortune was to lend money at interest to the ruling princes, the reward for which – if only after ten or twenty years – would be investment for life with a crown or former church estate, including the right to pass such property on to their heirs until the crown repaid the original loan.

<16>

The older literature attributed to the system of noble demesne-farming or Gutswirtschaft a long-term under-developing impact. It held that the regime of compulsory and unpaid labor services (the chief attribute of the landed villagers' legal subjection [Untertänigkeit]), impoverished family farmers and cut them off from the monetized, urban-centered economy. This, alongside the tendency for noble exports to bypass local urban markets, undermined the towns and stunted bourgeois growth. Noble domination of the state legitimized these effects, and prevented until after 1789 the adoption of alternative strategies. [7]

<17>

More recent studies have viewed central and eastern European commercialized manorialism as an important generator of growth and enrichment, unequally distributed though it was. [8] Before 1618, village farmers' standards of living and the demand their incomes generated for urban products were more robust than formerly assumed. [9] The seventeenth-century wars, far more than sixteenth-century noble manorialism, impoverished wide sweeps of the central European rural and urban landscape before the eighteenth-century recovery began.

<18>

In Brandenburg's towns, the woolen cloth industry's sixteenth-century decline followed from German and European trends in regional specialization unconnected to noble manorialism. The Junkers did indeed challenge the towns' old-established control of the grain trade, as well as their monopoly of beer-brewing. Here they acted both in their own interest and in the village farmers' name, whose right the Junkers ratified in legislation to sell their crops on the most favorable market, and to brew limited quantities of beer for their own (considerable) needs, rather than depending on urban suppliers. Village farmers undoubtedly benefited from these changes, as they did from long-term rising grain prices (though their resentment of the new Junker-imposed regime of compulsory labor services remained unabated). And, though the noble landlords spent some of their earnings from grain exports on luxury imports from western Europe, their patronage of local merchants and craftsmen also rose with their incomes.

<19>

The Junkers advocated a political economy of free trade, whereas the towns clung to medieval corporatism and monopoly. The short-term effect of the nobility's orientation was to advance agrarian rather than commercial or proto-industrial capitalism. Commercialized manorialism based on unpaid labor services hardly represented capitalist best practice, given the low productivity – readily acknowledged by the Junkers themselves – of their subject farmers' obligatory exertions. The Junker estates were effective in greatly raising commercializable agricultural output with a low, though not negligible input of capital (leaving land out of account, since the Junkers were collectively land-rich before they launched into Gutswirtschaft).

<20>

Post-medieval east-Elbian Germany was only sparsely populated. The nobility's village subjects occupied relatively sizable farms to which they were materially and culturally strongly attached, and from which their hereditary tenures protected them from eviction, except in individual cases of indebtedness or incompetence. There was, therefore, no pool from which the Junkers could, in founding the system of commercialized manorialism, draw a reliable supply of cheap wage labor. In any case, the cost of draft-teams was a much greater demesne-farming expense than hand labor. Had the Junkers been obliged to equip themselves fully with the draft-teams their estates required, instead of maintaining the few teams which they kept for setting the subject farmers' pace in manorial service and for other specially important jobs, their production costs would have undermined their estates' profitability. [10]

<21>

The Junkers' only course, given the disastrous late medieval decline of their incomes from village tributes in cash and kind, was to replace such earlier rents with labor services and farm their broad acres themselves. For the villagers, unable to counter the Junkers' legally enforceable demands for heightened unpaid services, the life-and-death issue was to restrict them, as mostly they succeeded in doing, to levels that did not fully exhaust their household labor and draft teams, while holding down grain-rents to levels that allowed them to monetize as much of their marketable farm surplus as possible.

<22>

One might imagine that the Junkers would have done better to avoid commercialized manorialism's costs and aggravations by renting their estate land to farmers for the rising market rents chargeable in the sixteenth century. Here, though, the limited supply of family-farmer candidates for such holdings, the start-up costs of settling them, and the difficulty of imposing satisfactorily high rents on them inspired the Junkers instead to employ their seigneurial authority to fasten the regime of labor services on their settled subjects (who had already for centuries performed minimal labor services on their feudal lords' small-scale household demesne farms). As for leasing their estates to bourgeois tenant-farmers, the nobility could only adopt this practice, widely followed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, after the new system of large-scale demesne-farming's establishment, since only the seigneurial lords themselves possessed the authority to initiate the requisite changes in land-use and village rents. This was a lengthy process often occupying several generations of landlords. There was also an important element of prestige attached to a profitable demesne-based lordship's possession and management, which the sixteenth-century nobility were loath to surrender to bourgeois leaseholders.

<23>

The older literature's assumption that the absolutist system rested on a mutually profitable compromise between the princely state and the Junkers blinded it to the severe losses which the seventeenth-century crisis imposed on the east-Elbian nobility. There were, first, the ravages of war, destroying in great numbers both service villages and noble demesne farms. In Brandenburg, resettlement, reconstruction, and recovery from these losses stretched into the early eighteenth century. Second, post-1648 agricultural commodity markets, especially for grain, declined and stagnated until the seventeenth century's end. Not until after 1763 did export markets once again boom as they had in the sixteenth century. Even then, noble estateowners' profits were hedged by Frederick II's post-1740 system of domestic grain-price controls, achieved through large-scale buying and selling by the Prussian state's military grain magazines, and through export prohibitions in years of high domestic prices. Third, the absolutist system imposed new and heavy taxes on the villages, along with army conscription of the subject farmers' sons. Absolutism cut into the Junkers landlords' resources, draining money and manpower from the villages which the nobility might otherwise have tried to claim.

<24>

The older literature argued that the Junkers offset absolutist resource-extraction in the villages by hyper-exploitation of their own, thus squeezing from their impoverished subjects a surplus satisfactory to themselves. But this assertion was never empirically demonstrated. In fact, because of the severe post-1648 labor shortage in the countryside, the Junkers were obliged to offer concessions to their surviving village subjects to deter them from seeking better terms elsewhere, while new settlers in the Junkers' bailiwicks received various material incentives (e.g., lumber, livestock, and multi-year exemptions from labor services and other rents). In general, village rents fell precipitously, only finally recovering their pre-1618 levels in the early eighteenth century. At the same time, the cost of wage labor, to which many estates were obliged to have recourse, along with horsepower of their own, rapidly rose. [11]

<25>

Many among the Lutheran Junker nobility resented and opposed the rise of the Calvinist Hohenzollern dynasty's military-bureaucratic state. Yet, given the low returns of post-1653 manorialism, the lure of supplementing noble incomes through state service was hard to resist, although the profitable system of officeholding characteristic of the sixteenth century never returned. While some noble courtiers, officials, and military officers rose to riches through princely pay and patronage, the Prussian state was notoriously frugal, as the ironical expression, travailler pour le roi de Prusse, implied. Frederick William I (reigned 1713-1740) imposed on the nobility's sons, whether they wished it or not, ill-paid service in the army officer corps. Under Frederick II, state service only became profitable to noble office-holders after penurious apprenticeship years, upon attainment of high-level army or bureaucratic rank. In the late eighteenth century, the large majority of Brandenburg nobility drew sizable incomes neither from state patronage nor large landholdings, which flowed at best to the upper one-third of individual noble families. Instead, most subsisted as small-scale country squires, junior officers and officials, and estate administrators. Some became literati, others sank into poverty. [12]

<26>

The owners of medium and large-scale Junker estates sought after 1700 to reimpose on their subject villagers the full measure of seigneurial rent. But the Prussian monarchy was loathe to see its tax and conscription bases in the villages undermined, so that the later eighteenth century resounded with lawsuits between lordships and village communes over labor services and other rents. The government's general position was that rent increases over the seventeenth-century status quo ante bellum were illegitimate. Even allowing for evasion and collusion of officials with landlords at the villages' expense, Junker opportunities for squeezing their subjects were not promising.

<27>

Instead, the landlords increasingly turned to improving their estates' productivity by organizational and technological innovations. From the 1730s, or earlier, the Brandenburg Junkers adopted on their previously (or newly) enclosed seigneurial land new systems of crop rotation – especially the mecklenburgische Koppelwirtschaft, a convertible husbandry alternating grain crops and pasturage, inspired by the English model but adapted to the ecological conditions of northeastern Germany. [13] Landlords responded positively to the government's pressure to follow its crown-estate policy of settling family farmer colonists on uninhabited or abandoned land. These villagers gained allodial properties freely sellable (in post-colonization generations), army exemption from conscription, and favorable rents. This, unintendedly, gave the old-established village farmers a higher standard by which to judge their own condition, and seemingly redoubled their litigious zeal in resisting rent-pressures from their own seigneurial lordships. [14]

<28>

Moreover, insofar as an intensified and expanded manorial economy required labor and draft teams in excess of the subject villagers' compulsory exertions, the landlords began to settle on their estates new housed day-laborers and to expand their inventories of seigneurial horses and oxen. The long-term effect of this shift from manorial production dependent on unpaid labor services to manorial production increasingly based on wage-work and seigneurial teams was to reduce the Junkers' reliance on corvée labor. When, after Napoleon's defeat of Prussia in 1806, abolition of village subjection became politically unavoidable, the Junkers concentrated not on opposing it but on obtaining the best possible terms of compensation from the villages for the cessation of feudal dues and services.

<29>

The Brandenburg noble lordship of Stavenow offers a striking example of the increases in output, income, and property values achieved through management alert to market trends, adoption of fallow-free convertible husbandry, and seigneurial investment in wage workers to supplement the unpaid labor of full- and half-holding subject farmers quick to refuse demands exceeding their sixteenth-century norms (including thrice weekly service at the manor).

Table 1: APPRAISED INCOME OF THE STAVENOW LORDSHIP UNDER KLEIST OWNERSHIP (1719-1808)

1719

1763

1808

N

Value a)

Sum

%

N

Value

Sum

%

N

Value

Sum

%

1.

Sowings in tons (Wispel)

                         

Rye

24

16

48

17

54

24

Barley

10

14

16

16

7

20

Oats

17

10

23

9

85

20

Sum

51

702

15

87

1,288

22

146

3,136

29

2.

Livestock (leasehold fees)

                         

Milk cows

210

4

840

330

5

1,600

288

10

2,880

Sheep (100s)

19

16

304

10.5

20

210

13

50

650

Pigs/forage fees

531

365

(see note b, below)

Sum

1,675

37

2,175

37

3,530

33

3.

Labor-Services (in full commutation fees)

                         

Fullholders

48

20

960

57

20

1,140

57

2

1,625

Smallholders

23

7

161

31

5

155

25

11

275

Cottagers

6

6

33

Sum

71

1,121

24

24

88

1,295

22

88

1,933

18

4.

Grain-Rents (tons)

                         

Mills

22

12

264

6

19

17

323

5

19

24

456

5

Farmers

6

12

72

2

16

17

272

5

16

24

372

3

5.

Other Incomes b)

                         

738

16

544

9

1,284

12

Sum 1-5:

4,563

100

5,884

100

10,711

100

6.

Annual Lease-Value of All Incomes (Excluding Wood-Sales, the Hunt, and Other Noble Perquisites) or Average Annual Appraised Income:

                         

3,800

5,884

14,043

(= +90% since 1694)

(+55% since 1719)

           

(+139% since 1763)

Sources: Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin: Provinz Brandenburg, Rep. 37, No. 43: Gutsherrschaft Stavenow: No. 282 (1694): leaseholder's appraisal; No. 240 (1719) leaseholder's appraisal; No. 259 (1760-63): family appraisal; No. 39 (appraisal for sale, 1808) No. 282.

a) Value according to the corporate nobility's appraisal schedules (ritterschaftliche Taxordnungen) in Prussian-minted talers. The 1764 Prussian currency reform devalued the Prussian current-taler (Courant-Taler) by one-ninth.

b) Tons (Wispel) = 24 bushels (Scheffel), at (for rye) ca. 40 kg each. 1 Scheffel = ca. 1.5 Anglo-American bushel.

<30>

Space constraints prevent any extensive discussion of these data. [15] Yet it is evident that in the near-century between 1719 and 1808, seigneurial grain-sowings (on a largely unchanged arable surface) nearly tripled. The adoption of enclosed convertible farming raised bushel-yields, as other data show, by some 50 percent. The appraised value of the lordship's total annual income multiplied across the century 3.6-fold. This reckoning follows the logic of feudal accounting procedures, which treated the villagers' labor services as incomes, since tenant-farmers leasing noble estates paid for them as assets (convertible through the villagers' commutation payments into cash). Table 1 shows, too, that eighteenth-century grain-crops rose considerably more rapidly in value than livestock or labor-service commutation fees. This reflected intensifying demand both for bread-grains in a growing Brandenburg-Prussian and European population and for horse-fodder (oats) during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

<31>

Appraised annual values of the Stavenow lordship's agricultural incomes in grain and livestock rose steeply by eight-fold over the century, and almost four-fold in the 1763-1808 years. In contrast to these agricultural commodities, labor services represented a steadily less salient asset in the landlords' financial portfolio. The picture of agricultural intensification and improvement which the Stavenow data project was not untypical of valuable and well managed noble properties in the kingdom of Prussia. Even longer strides toward productivity gains were taken on many a bourgeois-leased crown estate. Such transformations amount to a kind of "agricultural revolution."

<32>

From the 1780s, when the first imported industrial steam engine was deployed within its borders, the Kingdom of Prussia moved forward, if at first fitfully, toward the regime of nineteenth-century industrialization. Following the early nineteenth-century abolition of the seigneurial regime, large landowners (whether noble or, as was now increasingly possible, bourgeois entrepreneurs) and freeholding family farmers alike adapted themselves, though hardly painlessly, to conditions of free-market and (until 1879) free-trade agrarian capitalism. In this perspective, it is evident that the early modern regime of Junker manorialism had not blocked the Brandenburg-Prussian path to nineteenth-century liberal capitalism.

<33>

While many eighteenth-century noble landlords adopted improved methods of estate agriculture and increasingly employed wage labor, a more powerful engine of old-regime economic growth in the Kingdom of Prussia was the state itself. Grounds for this old-established but still controversial view are adducible from the monarchy's allodification of noble properties in 1717, its vigorous settlement on newly cleared land of freeholding farmers, its promotion on the crown estates (leased to non-noble tenant-farmers) of convertible husbandry, its abolition on the crown estates of the village farmers' legal subjection, its mercantilist promotion of textile and metallurgical industries (whatever their defects as monopolies), its weakening of guild powers and urban oligarchies, and the banking and credit facilities it introduced after 1763. The authors of the Prussian state's economic policies were university-trained cameralists of mainly middle-class origins. The implementing officials were men who, if of noble birth, had gained higher education adequate to their posts and whose guiding star was state interest rather than aristocratic privilege. Far from being the executive committee of the nobility, eighteenth-century Prussian absolutism was a regime which, though certainly moulded by aristocratic values, pursued a statist program of economic development and socio-economic modernization of all classes. [16]

<34>

Except for the nobility in high military and bureaucratic office, the eighteenth-century Junkers, especially those with landlordly ambitions, did not always support the project of Prussian absolutism with enthusiasm, though they bowed obediently to it and sought what advantages they could gain from it, both for themselves and their sons. Symptomatic of their ambivalence toward economic change was the persistence among them of egalitarian inheritance practices, including agnatic succession where direct male heirs were lacking. Although landed estates had long ceased to be physically divided among heirs, the Junkers' rejection of inheritance by primogeniture (and hence also of fidei commissa) burdened estateowners with heavy financial obligations to their male (and female) siblings. The need for numerous potential heirs' co-signatures could impede borrowing against the security of landed property, so that the credit institutions Frederick II's government created in the 1770s and 1780s to provide advantageous loans to noble landowners (Landschaften) found fewer patrons than might have been expected, given the Junkers' need for cash and opportunities for productive investment.

<35>

Left to their own devices, the Brandenburg-Prussian nobility would not have instituted the program of military-bureaucratic absolutism, but would have attempted to adapt the sixteenth-century system of sovereignty shared between princely power and corporate nobility to the post-1648 world. Anti-absolutist Poland or Mecklenburg, strongholds of export-oriented seigneurialism, might have served as their model. Though there were many Prussian landlords who adopted improved agriculture and were prepared to abandon the regime of compulsory labor services, a greater interest in commercial-industrial development reposed in the state and the bourgeoisie whose strengthening it fostered.

<36>

Considering broadly the relation of the Brandenburg-Prussian nobility to European economic growth in the early modern period, the sixteenth-century organization of the system of commercialized manorialism or Gutswirtschaft was their chief contribution. This was not so much an act of invention as of adaptation to local circumstances of models of manorial production based on unpaid (or underpaid) labor that had been pioneered earlier in central and eastern Europe by the Cistercian abbeys and the Teutonic Knights. The Junkers' sixteenth-century entrepreneurialism paid the successful among them handsome returns. Yet the rise of the Junker estates neither ruined the east-Elbian villages nor prevented the absolutist state, working in alliance with the educated and propertied bourgeoisie, from launching Brandenburg-Prussia successfully on the path of nineteenth-century industrialization. And, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Junkers' own zeal for fattened agricultural incomes led them, in place of turning the screws of feudal rent on their subject villagers, to adopt technological innovations with sometimes impressive productivity-raising effects. In this way they slowly transformed themselves, as a class, into the aristocratic entrepreneurs whose large estates survived, with weighty political consequences, to the mid-twentieth century.



[1] This essay will appear as a chapter in Paul Janssens and Bartolomé Yun Casalilla (eds.): European Aristocracies and Colonial Elites: Patrimonial Management Strategies and Economic Development, 15th-18th Centuries, Aldershot/ Burlington (VT) 2005, 137-53. Space limitations prevent full citation here of the historical literature, though for recent summations of the standard view in pan-European perspective see Jonathan Dewald: The European Nobility, 1400-1800, Cambridge 1996, and Robert Duplessis: Transitions to Capitalism in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge 1997. For a detailed critique of the specialist literature on German east-Elbia, see William W. Hagen: The Descent of the Sonderweg. Hans Rosenberg's History of Old-Regime Prussia, in: Central European History 24 (1991), 24-50, and: Village Life in East-Elbian Germany and Poland, 1400-1800: Subjection, Self-Defense, Survival, in: Tom Scott (ed.): The Peasantries of Europe from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, London 1998, 145-90. All the questions raised in the present essay are treated at length, and with extensive quantitative underpinning, in: William W. Hagen: Ordinary Prussians: Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers, 1500-1840, Cambridge 2002.

[2] William W. Hagen: How Mighty the Junkers? Peasant Rents and Seigneurial Profits in Sixteenth-Century Brandenburg, in: Past & Present 108 (1985), 80-116. See also the innovative argument, supportive of the position here advanced, in Lieselott Enders: Die Uckermark. Geschichte einer kurmärkischen Landschaft vom 12. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, Weimar 1992. On market contexts and incentives, see Michael North: Die Entstehung der Gutswirtschaft im südlichen Ostseeraum, in: Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 26 (1999), 43-59. Valuable production data are offered in Hartmut Harnisch: Die Herrschaft Boitzenburg, Weimar 1968, and Bauern – Feudaladel – Städtebürgertum. Untersuchungen über die Zusammenhänge zwischen Feudalrente, bäuerlicher und gutsherrlicher Warenproduktion und den Ware-Geld-Beziehungen in der Magdeburger Börde und dem nordöstlichen Harzvorland von der frühbürgerlichen Revolution bis zum Dreißigjährigen Krieg, Weimar 1980.

[3] Peter-Michael Hahn: Struktur und Funktion des brandenburgischen Adels im 16. Jahrhundert, Berlin 1979; Landesstaat und Ständetum im Kurfürstentum Brandenburg während des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, in: Peter Baumgart (ed.): Ständetum und Staatsbildung in Brandenburg-Preussen, Berlin 1983, 41-79; Adel und Landesherrschaft in der Mark Brandenburg im späten Mittelalter und der frühen Neuzeit, in: Jahrbuch für brandenburgische Landesgeschichte 38 (1987), 43-57; Fürstliche Territorialhoheit und lokale Adelsgewalt: Die herrschaftliche Durchdringung des ländlichen Raumes zwischen Elbe und Aller (1300-1700), Berlin 1989. Important documentation of the relationship between nobility and princely power is collected in Walter Friedensburg (ed.): Kurmärkische Ständeakten aus der Regierungszeit Kurfürst Joachims II. (1535-1571), 2 vols., München 1913-16.

[4] On inheritance law and practices, among other subjects, see Fritz Martiny's valuable study, Die Adelsfrage in Preussen vor 1806 als politisches und soziales Problem, Stuttgart 1938.

[5] For examples, see: Geschichte des Geschlechts von Bredow: Herausgegeben im Auftrage der Geschlechtsgenossen, 3 vols., Halle 1872-90; Hagen: How mighty the Junkers? (wie Anm. 2); Hahn: Fürstliche Territorialhoheit und lokale Adelsgewalt (wie Anm. 3). Rich documentation of noble lineage conferences and treaties may be found throughout Adolph Friedrich Riedel (ed.): Codex Diplomaticus Brandenburgensis, 41 vols., Berlin 1838-69.

[6] See the argument and quantitative data on late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century output, price, and credit-transaction trends in William W. Hagen: Seventeenth-Century Crisis in Brandenburg: The Thirty Years' War, the Destabilization of Serfdom, and the Rise of Absolutism, in: American Historical Review 94 (1989), 302-35.

[7] For details on this argument and its proponents, see Hagen: Village Life in East-Elbian Germany and Poland, 1400-1800 (wie Anm. 1).

[8] See, for example, the chapters on Poland by Jacek Kochanowicz and on Hungary by Peter Gunst in: Daniel Chirot (ed.): The Origins of Economic Backwardness in Eastern Europe. Economics and Politics from the Middle Ages until the Early Twentieth Century, Berkeley (CA) 1989.

[9] See the literature cited in Hagen: Village Life in East-Elbian Germany and Poland, 1400-1800 (wie Anm. 1); and, on landless workers, Hagen: Working for the Junker: The Standard of Living of Manorial Laborers in Brandenburg, 1584-1810, in: Journal of Modern History 58 (1986), 143-58.

[10] See the arguments and critique of the literature, including the Brenner debate, offered in William W. Hagen: Capitalism and the Countryside in Early Modern Europe: Interpretations, Models, Debates, in: Agricultural History 62 (1988), 13-47.

[11] This argument is developed, with quantitative underpinnings, in Hagen: Seventeenth-Century Crisis in Brandenburg (wie Anm. 6).

[12] For data on late eighteenth-century noble incomes and property holdings, see Martiny, as well as Leopold Krug's important statistical compilation and commentary: Betrachtungen über den National-Reichthum des preußischen Staats, und über den Wohlstand seiner Bewohner, 2 vols., Berlin 1805.

[13] See Enders: Uckermark (wie Anm. 2), and Hans-Heinrich Müller: Märkische Landwirtschaft vor den Reformen von 1807. Entwicklungstendenzen des Ackerbaues in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts, Potsdam 1967.

[14] Important on eighteenth-century village colonization is Jan Peters / Hartmut Harnisch / Lieselott Enders: Märkische Bauerntagebücher des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts. Selbstzeugnisse von Milchviehbauern aus Neuholland, Weimar 1989. On the subject farmers' resistance to seigneurial rent-hikes and other oppressive innovations, see William W. Hagen: The Junkers' Faithless Servants: Peasant Insubordination and the Breakdown of Serfdom in Brandenburg-Prussia, 1763-1811, in: Richard Evans and W.R. Lee (eds.): The German Peasantry. Conflict and Community in Rural Society from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Centuries, London 1986, 71-101, and Hagen: Ordinary Prussians (wie Anm. 1), chs. 9-10.

[15] See Hagen: Ordinary Prussians (wie Anm. 1), chs. 5 & 10.

[16] See Karl Heinrich Kaufhold: Leistungen und Grenzen der Staatswirtschaft, in: Manfred Schlenke (ed.): Preussen: Beiträge zu einer politischen Kultur, Hamburg 1981, 106-119; C.B.A. Behrens: Society, Government, and the Enlightenment. The Experiences of Eighteenth-Century France and Prussia, New York 1985; Hartmut Harnisch: Kapitalistische Agrarreform und Industrielle Revolution. Agrarhistorische Untersuchungen über das ostelbische Preussen zwischen Spätfeudalismus und bürgerlich-demokratischer Revolution von 1848/49 unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Provinz Brandenburg, Weimar 1984. Extensive documentation of the Prussian regime's reformist zeal in agriculture is arrayed in Rudolph Stadelmann (ed.): Preussens Könige in ihrer Thätigkeit für die Landwirtschaft, 3 vols., Leipzig 1878-87. See also: William W. Hagen: Prussia, in: Joel Mokyr (ed.): The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History (forthcoming).

Empfohlene Zitierweise:

William W. Hagen : Two ages of seigneurial economy in Brandenburg-Prussia: structural innovation in the sixteenth century, productivity gains in the eighteenth century , in: zeitenblicke 4 (2005), Nr. 2, [2005-06-28], URL: http://www.zeitenblicke.de/2005/2/Hagen/index_html, URN: urn:nbn:de:0009-9-1346

Bitte setzen Sie beim Zitieren dieses Beitrags hinter der URL-Angabe in runden Klammern das Datum Ihres letzten Besuchs dieser Online-Adresse. Zum Zitieren einzelner Passagen nutzen Sie bitte die angegebene Absatznummerierung.

Lizenz

Jedermann darf dieses Werk unter den Bedingungen der Digital Peer Publishing Lizenz elektronisch über­mitteln und zum Download bereit­stellen. Der Lizenztext ist im Internet abrufbar unter der Adresse http://www.dipp.nrw.de/lizenzen/dppl/dppl/DPPL_v2_de_06-2004.html