Serfdom

Theme

Tied to the land of their birth

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For centuries, serfdom kept Danish peasants bound to their local landlord. They were a source of cheap labour for wealthy landowners and could only move away if granted permission to do so. The first peasants began to break the bonds of serfdom in the late 18th century, starting the gradual transition to the agricultural landscape we recognise today.

When a souring economy causes housing prices to fall and unemployment to rise, the headlines often reflect the increasing fear that homeowners will bound to their homes – serfs of the poor economy in a sense. A serf is someone who is unable to move from the town where he was born. Historically, a tenant farmer was obliged to be obedient to his landlord. Starting in the 15th century, landlords on Zealand interpreted that to mean that no one – neither man, woman nor child – could move away from a village associated with a manor without permission. The particular type of serfdom practiced in Denmark at this time is known as villeinage, and in exchange for the protection of the landlord, the villein was required to work the manor’s fields. The practice was abolished in 1702, but it wasn’t long after that a new form of serfdom, adscription, was introduced in 1733 and applied to all the country’s peasants. The goal was to ensure that young men remained on manor land so they…

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