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Archiver > DENMARK > 2005-04 > 1113067085

Subject: Life in 1600's and 1700's
Date: Sat, 9 Apr 2005 13:18:05 EDT

I am sure that some of the Danes on the list can explain Danish history much
better than I can. This is just what I understand from my reading a little
over a year ago. I wanted to understand the culture my father’s family lived
in before they left Denmark in the 1800’s. Since I knew they were
farmers, I was trying to learn more about farm life in Denmark. I found it
difficult to find information. This was the best I could find and was relevant
because my grandmother’s family were farmers on Sjælland.
Here are a few of the concepts I picked up from my reading about Danish
fæsterer (peasants) in the 1600-1700. Most of this came from “A Manorial World,’
the book I told you about earlier. It is based on a “typical” manorial
farm on Sjælland – Giesegaard.
I hope this helps you a little.
Hazel in Eagan, MN
In the 1600’s, the Danish king was land rich and cash poor because of all
the wars and all the building Christian IV did (i.e. Rosenborg, Rundetårn). He
owed money to a lot of people including merchants and civil servants. He
used small parcels of land to pay them. These parcels of land were spread out
over the entire country. The recipients would sometimes trade parcels so that
their parcels were grouped in the same area. That is what the civil
servant who eventually owned Giesegaard did. He originally had some partners in
owning the land but eventually bought them out. Thus, a commoner (a civil
servant) became a country squire in the early 1600’s. I do not believe that made
him a member of the nobility.
During that time, Danish law designated the land as free and unfree. The
manorial lord could not sell unfree land and could not work it himself as a
part of his farm. The unfree land was required to be rented to fæsterer.
Fæsterer have been defined on the list as “slaves.” That is not precisely
true. They were not the property of the manorial lord. They had signed
contracts (fæstebrev) with the manorial lord that set forth the responsibilities
of both the fæster and the manorial lord. They had to pay a fee for the
privilege of having a fæstebrev. In this contract, the fæster agreed to pay a
certain amount of rent in money, goods (i.e. grain, animals, etc.) and corvee
(days spent working directly for the lord). In return, the lord agreed to
protect the fæster and his family, to care for the family in the event of the
death of the fæster, to send the fæster’s taxes to the king and his tithe to the
church, etc. The contract was in effect for the rest of the fæster’s life
and included the use of the land and a dwelling as long as the fæster met the
terms of the contract. Thus the fæster was not in actual fact a slave as the
lord did not own him.
The corvee (hoveri in Danish) owed to the lord consisted of so many days
that the fæster needed to either have some hired help to send to work on the
manorial farm or have a number of children old enough to do that. The farmer had
to drop everything immediately and go to the manorial farm when the bailiff
came. If it was time to work the fields, the farmer took his horses and farm
implements to the manorial farm to work in the fields. The manorial lord
thus did not need to own workhorses and farm implements himself. The fæsterer
on his unfree lands provided them when necessary. Of course, the bailiff
always chose the optimum times for the work on the manorial farm. This meant
that the fæster would often not get to plow, plant, etc. until conditions were
not favorable. Thus, his yields would be very poor.
When the fæster died, the bailiff and, usually, someone from the small
village that was near or on the manorial farm (herregaard) would assess the value
of everything the fæster owned (including his clothes and everything in the
house – pots, pans, shoes, etc.) Then they would tally his debts. It was very
rare that the assets exceeded the debts. The man’s wife and children were
left with nothing. The manorial lord had to find someone to take over the
farm. In many instances, he would find a young bachelor and give him incentives
(such as exemption from compulsory military service and training on Sundays)
to become a fæster and marry the previous fæster’s widow and care fore his
children. That is one reason why you sometimes find a difference of 20 years
or more between a man and his wife in age. Once the older woman died, the
fæster was free to marry a younger woman.
The residents of the village had no land. Some of them worked for the
fæsterer, some were skilled tradesmen, some were merchants, some were day laborers
on the manorial farm, etc.
As time went on, it became more difficult to find men who were willing to
become fæsterer. While they were not slaves in the sense of being owned, it was
a hard life and they were always subject to the whims of the manorial lord.
Work on the manorial farm was often made very difficult because the bailiff
was so cruel. Sometimes, the fæster was forced to go to the manorial farm
and work, leaving his hired men and/or hired girls at home as they refused to
go to the manorial farm and work for the bailiff.
I believe it was in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s that the fæste system
was eliminated and former fæsterer were allowed to purchase their farms.

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