February 19th, 1861 – The End of Serfdom

Today-In-History

Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.

serfs

Serfs who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the Lord of the Manor who owned that land, and in return were entitled to protection, justice and the right to exploit certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence. Serfs were often required not only to work on the lord’s fields, but also his mines, forests and roads. The manor formed the basic unit of feudal society and the Lord of the Manor and his serfs were bound legally, economically, and socially. Serfs formed the lowest social class of feudal society.

The decline of serfdom in Western Europe has sometimes been attributed to the Black Death, which reached Europe in 1347, although the decline had begun before that date. Serfdom became increasingly rare in most of Western Europe after the Renaissance, but conversely, it grew strong in Central and Eastern Europe, where it had previously been less common (this phenomenon was known as “later serfdom”).

Serf Supplice_du_Grand_Knout

Punishment with a knout. Whipping was a common punishment for Russian serfs.

In Eastern Europe the institution persisted until the mid-19th century. It persisted in the Austrian Empire till 1848 and was abolished in Russia on February 19th 1861. In Finland, Norway and Sweden feudalism was not established, and serfdom did not exist; however, serfdom-like institutions did exist in both Denmark (the stavnsbånd, from 1733 to 1788) and its vassal Iceland (the more restrictive vistarband, from 1490 until 1894).

According to Joseph R. Strayer, the concept of feudalism can also be applied to the societies of ancient Persia, ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt (Sixth to Twelfth dynasty), Muslim India, China (Zhou Dynasty, and end of Han Dynasty) and Japan during the Shogunate. James Lee and Cameron Campbell describe the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) as also maintaining a form of serfdom.

Tibet is described by Melvyn Goldstein to have had serfdom until 1959, but whether or not the Tibetan form of peasant tenancy qualified as serfdom was widespread is contested. Bhutan is described by Tashi Wangchuk, a Bhutanese civil servant, as abolishing serfdom officially by 1959, but Wangchuk believes less than or about 10% of poor peasants were in copyhold situations.

United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery also prohibits serfdom as a form of slavery.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

Comments are closed.

Skip to toolbar