Max Weber



from General Economic History, by Max Weber, trans. by Frank H Knight, Ph.D., Greenberg, Publisher, 1927


The inner development of seignorial proprietorship, especially of the Occidental manor, was conditioned, in the first place, by political and social class relations. The power of the lord was composed of three elements, first, land holding (territorial power) second, possession of men (slavery) and third, appropriation of political rights, through usurpation or through enfeoffment; the last applies especially to judicial authority, which became far the most important single force in connection with the development in the west.

Everywhere the lords strove to secure "immunity" (immunitas) as against the political power above them. They forbade the officials of the prince to come upon their territory, or if they permitted it the official had to come directly to the lord himself for the performance of his mission on behalf of the political authority, such as colleetion of feudal dues or serving of military summons. With this negative aspect of immunity is connected a positive aspect. At least a part of the immediate exercise of rights taken away from the officials of the state became the prerogative of the holder of the immunity. In this form immunity exists not merely in the Frankish empire but before it in those of Babylonia, ancient Egypt and Rome. Decisive is the question of appropriation of judicial authority. The holder of land and of men everywhere struggled for this prerogative. In the Moslem Caliplhate he did not succeed; the judicial authority of the general government was maintained unimpaired. In contrast, the land holders of the west usually succeeded in their endeavors. In this part of the world the lord originally had unlimited judicial power over his slaves, while free persons were subject only to the jurisdiction of a popular court. For unfree persons the criminal process of the official court was final, though it was early true that participation by the lord could not be avoided. This distinction between free and unfree became effaced in the course of time, the ower of the lord over slaves being weakened and that over free men being strengthened. From the 10th to the 13th century, the public courts increasingly interfered in the determination of cases affecting slaves; their criminal cases were often tried before the popular court. Especially from the 8th to the 12th century, the position of the slaves steadily improved. With the cessation of the great movements of conquest the slave trade declined and it became difficult to supply the slave markets. At the same time the need for slaves increased greatly, in consequence of the clearing of forests. To secure and retain slaves, the lord had progressively to improve their conditions of life. In contrast with the Latin possessor, he was primarily a warrior and not a farmer, and found himself hardly in a position to supervise his unfree dependents, so that on that ground also their situation improved. On the other hand (cf. page 63) his power over the free population was strengthened by changes in military technique, and resulted in the extension of the household authority of the lord, originally confined to the familiar over the whole extent of his territorial dominion. (65, 66)

There is a correspondence between free and unfree conditions of tenure and free and unfree persons. In this connection we must consider the precaria and the beneficium. The precaria is a lease relation based on a documentary application, and entered into by free persons of every class. Originally it was terminable at will, but soon evolved into a contract renewable every five years but in fact for life and usually hereditary. The beneficium is an enfeoftment in exchange for services, originally of any form whatever, or under some conditions in exchange for payments. Later the beneficium differentiates into that of the free vassal, who bound himself to feudal services, and that of the free man who bound himself to service on the lord's demesne. In addition to these forms of lease there was a third, the land settlement lease, by means of which the overlord was in the habit of granting land for clearing against a fixed tax and into the hereditary possession of the grantee. This was the so-called quit-rent (Erbzins), which later made its way into the towns also. (66, 67)

Over against these three forms, all of which related to land situated outside the village community (Gutsverband), is the manorial estate (Fronhof) with the land dependent upon it, of which the Capitulare de villis of Charlemagne gives a clear picture. Within the manor was first the seigniorial land, or demesne, including the terra salica, which was managed directly by the lord's officials and the terra indominicata, seigniorial holdings in free peasant villages; and second the holdings or hide land of the peasants. The latter fell into mansi serviles with unlimited services and mansi ingenuiles with limited services, according as hand labor or team work had to be rendered throughout the year or only in connection with tillage and harvest. The payments in kind and the whole product of the demesne (called fiscus in the case of royal holdings) were laid up in a storehouse and used for the needs of the army and the seigniorial household, any surplus being sold. (67)

A decided shift in the relations between free and unfree persons resulted from the establishment of territorially bounded limits of jurisdiction of the landlord and judge (socage districts or sokes - Bannbezirke). An obstacle to this at first was the scattered condition of the holdings; for example, the monastery of Fulda held some thousand scattered farms. From the early middle ages on, the holders of judicial and proprietory- rights strove to consolidate their holdings. This was accomplished in part through the development of "real-dependency," the lord refusing to grant a particular piece of land unless the grantee submitted at the same time to personal suzerainty. On the other hand, there developed the manorial law, in consequence of the fact that within the jurisdiction and seigniorial farm free and unfree persons were thrown together. Manorial law reached its highest development in the 13th century. While originally the lord possessed judicial authority only over the unfree members of his familia and outside of this exercised authority over the territory of his "immunity" only on the basis of a royal grant, on his own holdings he had to deal with persons of various classes who were under obligation to render exactly the same services. Under these circumstances the free persons were able to compel the lord to join with all his dependents in forming a manorial court in which the dependent persons functioned as magistrates. Thus the lord lost the power of arbitrary control over the obligations of his dependents and these became traditionalized (similarly, to the way in which the soldier councils tried to set themselves up on behalf of soldiers against officers in the German revolution). On the other hand, from the 10th to the 12th century was being evolved the principle that by the mere fact of a land grant the recipient became ipso jure subject to the judicial authority of the lord of the land.

The consequence of this development was the modification of the freedom on the one hand and servility on the dependent population. Modification of free status was politically conditioned by the judicial authority of the lord in connection with the unarmed state of the free men, which was due to economic causes, while the modification of unfree status resulted from teh greatly increased demand for peasants for clearing the forests and in Germany for the colonization eastward. Both these cumstances enabled the unfree to escape the authority of the lords and put the latter in competition among themselves in granting favorable conditions of life to their dependents. In addition, the slave trade, and hence the new of slaves, had ceased, and the available servile persons had to be treated with consideration. In the same direction of elevating the dependent classes worked the political situation of the lords. The lord was not a farmer but rather a professional soldier, and was not in a position to conduct agriculture effectively. He could not budget his affairs on the basis of a fluctuating income and was disposed toward a traditional fixation of the dues of his dependents and hence toward meeting them on a contractual footing. (69)

Thus the medieval peasantry became strongly differentiated within and held together through the power of the lords and the manorial law. Alongside the dependent classes, there were free peasants outside the community circle of the lord's estate, on freehold land subject only to quit-rents, and hence essentially private owners. Over such persons the lord had no judicial authority. These free-holders never disappeared entirely, but were found in considerable numbers in only a few places. One of these is Norway, where feudalism never developed; they were called "odal" peasants, in contrast with the landless, un-free classes dependent upon them. Another such locality is the marsh lands of the North Sea,- Frisia and Ditmarsh; similarly in parts of the Alps, Tyrol, and Switzerland, and in England. Finally there are the "mailed peasantry" of many parts of Russia, who were individual proprietors; to them were added later the Cossacks as a plebeian soldier class with the social position of small farmers. (69, 70)

As a consequence of the development of feudalism, when the landed nobility began to collect the taxes, there arose exemption from taxation of the nobility itself, with liability to taxation on the part of the unarmed peasantry. To increase the military power of the territory, the French feudal law set up the principle of nulle terre sans setgneur, intended originally to increase the number of benefices as a guarantee of military strength; on the same principle rested the compulsory reinfeudations imposed by the German king in connection with every grant of land. This differentiation as regards liability to taxation formed the basis of the policy of the princes in maintaining the peasant holdings. They could not consent to having the hide land alienated from the peasant, as the area subject to taxation was thereby decreased. Thus the territorial princes adopted the system of protecting the peasantry and forbade the nobility to confiscate the peasant holdings. (70)

Several economic results also followed: 1. The large household of the lord and small household of the peasant subsisted side by side. The dues of the peasants originally served only to satisfy the requirements of the lord and were readily fixed by tradition. The peasants had no interest in making the soil yield more than was necessary for their own maintenance and for covering their obligatory payments, and the lord had as little interest in increasing the payments, as long as he did not produce for a market. The mode of life of the lord was but little different from that of the peasant. Thus "the walls of his stomach set the limits to his exploitation of the peasant," as Karl Marx observed. The traditionally fixed dues of the peasant class were protected by manorial law and by community of interest. 2. Since on account of the taxes involved, the state was interested in maintaining the peasantry, the jurists took a hand, especially in France. The Roman law did not generally, as commonly supposed, work toward the disintegration of the old Germanic peasant law, but on the contrary was applied in favor of the peasantry, against the nobility. 3. The attachment of the peasantry to the soil. This followed, in so far as personal fealty arose, or in consequence of the tax obligation, when the lord became answerable for their taxes; to an increasing degree also the nobility established it by usurpation. The peasant could withdraw from the community only by forfeiting his land and by securing another man to take his place. (70, 71)

4. The rights of the peasant in the land became extraordinarily diversified. In the case of unfree tenants the lord generally had the right to resume the holding at death. If he renounced the exercise of this right, having no tenants to spare, he at least assessed special dues, the heriot, etc. Free tenants either held leases terminable at any time or were copy-holders with permanent rights. In both cases the legal position was clear, but the state often interfered to forbid the termination of grants - the so-called tenant right. Among the dependents, who as freemen had originally commended themselves to a lord, arose an attachment to the lord and of the lord to them in return. The lord could not simply dismiss the villein, but as early as the time of the Sachsensplegel was compelled to pay him a small capital in money. (71)

5. The lords regularly appropriated to themselves the common mark and often the common pasture or almend as well. Originally, the chieftain was head of the mark organization Out of the lord's right of supervision evolved in the course of the Middle Ages a feudal proprietorship over the mark and the common pasture of the village. The peasant wars of the 16th century in Germany were waged primarily against this usurpation, and not anainst excessive payments and dues. The peasants demanded free pasture and free woodland, which could not be granted as the land had become too scarce, and fatal deforestation would have resulted, as in Sicily. The lord had established in his own favor numerous "socage rights" or banalitgs (Bannrexhte) such as a compulsion on the part of the peasant to grind grain at the lord’s mill, to use his bakery, his oven, etc. These monopolies arose, to begin with, without compulsion; for only the lord was in a position to erect mills or other institutions. Later, oppressive force was used to compel their utilization. Besides these the lord possessed numerous banalitis in connection with hunting and the transportation of goods. , They grew out of obliga¬ tions to the chieftain, transferred to the later judicial overlord, and were exploited for economic ends.

The exploitation of the subjugated peasantry by the lords was carried out, with two exceptions, not by means of forced labor, but by making them into rent-payers. The only two exceptions in the world will be treated later, in connection with the development of capitalistic economy within the manor (cf. Chapter VI). The grounds for this method of exploitation were in the first place the traditionalism of the lords. They were too lacking in initiative to build up a business enterprise on a large scale into which the peasants would have fitted as labor force. In addition, as long as the cavalry was the core of the army, the lords were bound by their obligations as vassals and could not be spared for agriculture, while the peasant could not be spared for war. Moreover, the lord possessed no movable capital of his own, and preferred to transfer the risk of active operations to the peasant. Finally, there was in jai law which bound in Europe the restriction of manor lords, while in Asia the latter could not rely on sufficient protection on going over to production for the market, since there was nothing corresponding to the Roman law at hand. Here there was no development at all of the demesne (Pronhof) or in-land, farmed by the lord.

The lords secured rentals, in numerous ways: 1. Through feudal dues, which the free peasant paid in goods, the servile one in labor. 2. Through fees on occasion of a change in tenant, enforced by the lord as a condition of the sale of the holding. 3. Fees in connection with inheritance and marriage, imposed as a condition of transmitting the land to heirs or for the privilege of letting the peasant's daughter marry outside the lord's jurisdiction. 4. Fees in connection with woodland and pasture, as for mast in the forest. 5. Indirect rents secured by imposing on the peasant transportation charges as well as the burden of building roads and bridges. The collection of all these fees and payments was carried out originally through the divillication system which represents the type of manorial administration for south and west Germany as well as for France, and is everywhere the oldest form of feudal organization for the exploitation of land. This system presupposes the scattering of holdings. The lord sets over each of his widely separated holdings (Hufen) a villicus or bailiff, whose duty it is to collect the payments from his neighbors who are dependents of the lord, and to hold them to the performance of their obligations.