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Jérôme [Hieronymus] Napoleon, King of Westphalia, Decree on the Abolition of Personal Serfdom in the French Satellite Kingdom of Westphalia (January 23, 1808)

In northeastern (east-Elbian) Germany personal serfdom (where it existed) served mainly to secure labor services for noble-owned large estates that produced for local or export markets. In west and south Germany, where large-estate agriculture was rare, serfdom persisted as a legal rationale for various forms of rents and other material exactions, and to secure subject villagers’ labor at the manor house. This text enumerates the variety of burdens lifted by the abolition of serfdom in this large northwestern German region. It preserves, however, the landlords’ property rights in their tenant farmers’ holdings, for which their village occupants (effectively enjoying hereditary tenure) remained obliged to pay rents and even, if they counted as components of rent, to render limited labor services. The possibility for such tenant farmers to obtain full property rights in their holdings still lay in the future.

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We, Hieronymus Napoleon, etc., in view of article 13 of the Constitutional-Decree of November 15, 1807, which says

“All personal serfdom, of whatever nature and designation, is abolished, inasmuch as all inhabitants of the Kingdom of Westphalia shall enjoy equal rights,” have, in response to the report of Our Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs and after hearing the views of Our Council of State, resolved and decree as follows:

Part One. On the Abolition of Rights and Duties Pertaining to Serfdom.

Article 1. As obligations of serfdom, to be abolished as such, are:

1) strictly personal labor services [Personal-Frohnen], that is, those that a person is obliged to render as a vassal, or for living in a certain place;

2) all services that derive from possession of a landholding or that are unspecified and dependent on the will of him who demands them;

3) the obligation of village-farmers to work in the house of their former lordship as servants, and the so-called Right to Compulsory Service, according to which their children may be compelled to enter the service of their lordship and no other;

4) the obligation to obtain the former lordship’s permission to enter into marriage, and to render to the lordship payment for such permission, whether called Bedemund, Brautlauf, Klauenthaler or any other name;

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