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Frederick II ("the Great"), Memorandum to the Administration of Electoral Brandenburg on the Landlord-Peasant Relationship (1755)

Here, Frederick addresses reports that noble landlords had been enclosing vacated village farms in their own estate lands. Such destruction of peasant fullholdings (later termed Bauernlegen) worked against the royal interest in collecting direct taxes from the nobility’s subject farmers and in recruiting soldiers from among their sons. Apart from prohibiting these enclosures, Frederick aimed to improve the subject farmers’ tenures and terms of seigneurial rent, replacing legally unlimited labor services with contractually specified obligations (of lesser extent). He sought to convert personal serfdom (where it existed) into personally free subject status and to supply all subject farmers’ holdings with judicially ratified contracts of tenure and rent [Hofbriefe] in place of unwritten, customary arrangements (which aggressive landlords were tempted to sharpen). Frederick’s success in these endeavors was real but limited. Landlord-village judicial strife rose steadily during and after his reign, due in part to his administration’s judicial reforms, which facilitated suits filed by village communities before the royal appellate court.

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Remedy of abuses which have taken place in respect of conversion of peasant holdings; oppression of unfree subjects.

Whereas most humble reports and representations have reached His Royal Majesty that the Directorate of new establishments and enterprises in the Prignitz was, under Pfeiffer, conducted in such bad and conscienceless fashion, and so confusedly that:

1. Sundry nobles laid hands on many peasant holdings and messuages under the pretext of establishing new enterprises and converted them into demesne farms, sometimes settling small men of mean estate on them, most of whom, being treated and regarded as serfs, and no proper contracts of succession having been made with them, soon ran away;

In connection with this abuse His Majesty has further been informed that:

2. The greater part of the nobles in the Prignitz have neither any regular system nor fixed rules for the dues and services obligatory on the peasant and subject, so that the latter are pressed and squeezed dry. And finally,

3. That various of the Privy Councillors of the Prignitz have departed very far from their duties and obligations, so that instead of regarding the best welfare of the land and the maintenance of the subjects and the equal allocation of their burdens, they have simply worked for the destruction of the land, robbed the subjects in various ways, and freed their own properties from all haulage duties and saddled others, even subjects of the Crown Agency, with them,

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