1) THE PRESIDENT'S CORNER (by Tom Steichen)
the bits and pieces here in my "Corner," we continue with what I'll loosely call a "travel"
Article 2 tells you about a Bus Tour service in Burgenland (though it is not an
endorsement of any kind; I have not used this service nor know of anyone who has... but I'm
curious about it!).
Article 3 is trip report (i.e., real travel!) by Frank Paukowits wherein he writes
about Travel in Austria with his family. His comments about keeping the grandkids
happy on such a trip are an added bonus.
Article 4, is the continuation of my effort to shine some light on The Restrictions Placed
on Serfs in Hungary. This is in response to a query from BB member John Rajkovacz
about the Hungarian April Laws of 1848 that included emancipation of serfs as one of the
Laws, though his initial question was about restrictions on their travel.
The remaining articles are our standard sections: Historical Newsletter
Articles, and the Ethnic Events and Emigrant Obituaries sections.
My Fellow Veterans: a belated but heart-felt 'thank you' for your service for us
Veterans Day, November 11th, originated as “Armistice Day” in 1919, on the
first anniversary of the end of World War I ('the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the
eleventh month," this phrasing usually attributed to Winston Churchill, from his memoir of
World War I: "The World Crisis," Volume III, Part 2, 541-4, "1916-1918").
The US Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance and November 11th became a
national holiday beginning in 1938. President Eisenhower officially changed the name from
Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954. The celebration was moved to the fourth Monday
in October in 1971 but President Ford returned it to November 11 in 1975 due to the important
historical significance of the date.
Veterans Day pays tribute to all American
veterans–living or dead–but especially gives thanks to 21 million living veterans who served
their country honorably during war or peacetime.
Britain, France, Australia and Canada also commemorate the veterans of World Wars I and II on or
near November 11th and Austria celebrates its National Day of Mourning (Volkstrauertag)
each November on the Sunday two weeks prior to the first Advent Sunday (Nov 13th in 2016). In
Europe it is common to observe two minutes of silence at 11 am every November 11.
Visit by a Burgenland Government Delegation: Word has reached us of initial planning for
a possible 2017 visit to North America by a Burgenland government delegation. The first proposal
lists Toronto, Chicago, Allentown, and New York (in that order) as destinations and suggests May
26 to June 5 as the travel period. Personally, I think it would be great if the Delegation
expanded its list of possible destinations to include a night in St. Louis and/or
Minneapolis/St. Paul, as I know we have vibrant Burgenländer groups in both locations. At the
least, it might be appropriate if representatives from those communities attend festivities in
one of the current destination cities, to both enjoy the festivities and to show interest in a
future visit to their own city.
Holiday Sale: FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) is running a big holiday sale on DNA
tests and has slashed the price for its autosomal test to the lowest price it has ever been:
$59. Ancestry.com and 23andMe charge $99 for the comparable test. If you decide to
get the test from FTDNA, you can join the Burgenland DNA Project, which is
sponsored by the FTDNA. Here is the link to the FTDNA homepage where you can place
your order: www.familytreedna.com. If you have any
questions about the Burgenland DNA Project (or DNA testing, in general), please contact
Frank Paukowits at email@example.com.
Tracing Burgenland Ancestry: Michael Eckert (firstname.lastname@example.org)
wrote to a group of correspondents (me included):
thanks to the many of you wrote to me in regard to my inquiry about the areas in
Germany from which the settlers on Mischendorf migrated. I am tracing the ancestry line of the
surname Sagmeister (my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, who migrated to Chicago from
Burgenland). Wanted to return the favor and share what I’ve learned. This learning came from
reading Burgenland Bunch newsletters, as well from reading other sources and studying other
websites. It appears there are number of possible locations from where they came:
1. Parts of Germany:
a. Bavaria, possibly from an area called the Fichtelgebirge in
Bavaria near the Bohemian (Czech) border
i. Baden (The Black Forest/Schwarzwald)
ii. Wurttemberg (Swabia)
iii. The Bodensee area
iv. There is also a theory that some could be
Donauschwaben who came from what is today Baden-Wurttemberg via Ulm on the Danube and who
were diverted to Burgenland when they registered in Vienna on their way to the Banat
and Batshcka areas of Hungary or to Romania (could be those from Bodensee)
d. Rhineland Hesse
e. Rhineland Palatinate
f. Saarland, from an area around the town of Sulzpach
g. Saxony, from an area around the town of Chemnitz
2. Parts of Austria
a. The Tyrol
c. Salzburg, via the Lutheran Expulsion from Salzburg in 1732
3. My father’s family were Donauschwaben who migrated to Chicago from German villages
in the Batachka in Hungary (now Serbia). We have been quite successful in tracing their
lineage back from Hungary to 19 villages in Germany from where they migrated to Hungary, and
even have the dates when certain of these actually left Germany for Austro-Hungary in the mid
1700s. I am perplexed why we cannot trace our Sagmeister line back to Germany from
4. I would think, given that so many data bases, registers, records and archives are now
digital and on-line that there must be some records somewhere that can tell us where those
original German settlers of Mischendorf were born? I wonder if the Esterházy or
Batthyány have private records or archives?
5. Wondered if anyone has ideas/further theories about this? Would be great to hear from you
Best regards to all, Mike Eckert
Editor: Please do consider writing to Michael if you can contribute to the
I will comment a moment on why I believe "Burgenland" roots ("Burgenland" marked in quotes to
mean the land, villages and peoples that became Burgenland in 1921) are much more difficult to
trace than Batachka roots... The Batachka settlements occurred after the Ottoman Turks
were driven from the area; thus, they occurred in a desolated, unoccupied area where the
settlers created a brand new village environment, one rooted in their past rather than
that of the area they moved into. Their historical roots were important to them and were thus
recorded locally, both for personal and legal reasons. As no major wars were fought thereafter
in the area, those "new" records were never destroyed and mostly remain intact.
Most "Burgenland" roots, however, go back to long before the Ottomans arrived, even to before
large-scale recording of births, deaths and marriages... but many potential village-level
records of those roots were destroyed when the villages were burned by the Turk armies during
their forays to and from Vienna and into Styria. However, "Burgenland" was not occupied
but for a few months, so the surviving residents quickly moved back home after the armies were
gone. Although there was some "fill in" of new settlers after the Ottoman threat diminished, the
surviving national records (Urbariums, for example) seem to indicate that most "Burgenland"
villages were resettled predominantly by their prior occupants, so the prior location of the
comparatively few fill-in settlers was of little importance to the village elders and not deemed
particularly worthy of systematic recording. Most "Burgenländers" had been there for so many
generations that they no longer considered themselves one-time emigrants; they were natives, so
why record in village records any other roots?
However, it does seem probable that the Esterházy and/or Batthyány private records contain some
pertinent information, but those records are not available online, are largely inaccessible in
person and, even if accessible, were not intended for genealogical purposes so would be quite
difficult to decipher (due both to their business purposes and the style and languages [Latin,
Hungarian] they are written in). Regardless, I do wish such records would be made available!
I'll stop here... but again invite you to join the discussion... please do!
Catholic Indices at GenTeam: Margaret Kaiser shared a post by Felix Gundacker (leader of
the GenTeam effort) wherein he commented that Pilgersdorf (in Burgenland) belonged to the
Lockenhaus Priory starting in 1660. He also noted that there may have existed some branch church
books at Pilgersdorf beginning in 1731 which may have been lost. This is consistent with what we
note in our Pilgersdorf village history: “Catholic church records started in 1720 (baptisms)
and 1758 (weddings, deaths), but were destroyed during the great fire of 1855.” Felix then
mentioned that "The indexes of the parish Lockenhaus have already been created by Frau
Melchart from 1704 and they are already online on GenTeam."
All this caused me to look again at the online GenTeam data... specifically at the list of
villages included in GenTeam's "Catholic Indices." What I found was that there were more
Burgenland records online at GenTeam than I was aware of. Thus, below is the current list of
Burgenland villages online, with record types (B=baptisms, M=marriages, D=deaths) and date
Großhöflein B: 1658-1710 M: 1658-1720, 1751-1788
Halbturn B: 1724-1786
Illmitz B: 1749-1770 M: 1749-1809
Kogl B: 1789-1857 M: 1789-1910
Lockenhaus B: 1704-1852 M: 1704-1880 D: 1704-1820
Pilgersdorf B: 1780-1855
Piringsdorf B: 1750-1852 M: 1750-1864
Rattersdorf B: 1702-1839 M: 1705-1859
As I have mentioned before, access to the records is totally free but you must establish a
user name and password. GenTeam can be found at
http://www.genteam.eu/ and you may select English as the language for the website.
Fest of the First Burgenländer Society of New York: Frank Paukowits reports that the
Katharina Fest on Nov. 13 was a rousing success, with about 275 people in attendance. BB
Member Bob Strauch played his button box during the cocktail hour and music for dancing was
provided by the Heimatklänge from Philadelphia.
Each year a Miss Burgenland is selected to represent the First Burgenländer Society
at the summer picnic in Moschendorf that is sponsored by the Burgenländisches Gemeinschaft.
This tradition has been in effect for more than 40 years. Kristen Brancuccu is this year's
Frank also notes that the First Burgenländer Society of New York recently merged with the
Austria Soccer Club and the joint organization is now known as the First Burgenländer
Austria Soccer Club.
In a separate report, Bob Strauch tells me that it was his first time in NYC since before 9/11
and 25 years since he was last at a Burgenländer dance in NY. He also said that Peter Drauch
introduced Frank and Bob as BB representatives and that 23 former Miss Burgenland New York
were in attendance.
Follow-up to Mural at Coplay Sängerbund: In the previous newsletters, I wrote
about the mural found in the entrance to the Coplay Sängerbund in Coplay, PA, and Bob Strauch
explained its origins for us last month. I also repeated my interest in learning if other
readers were aware of any similar work found in a US (or other) emigrant Burgenländer
destination and, if so, to share an image and possibly some background information about it.
Jeanette Corcoran Castro chose to respond, sharing the following image:
Güssing scene was painted in 1965 by her father, Neil Corcoran, and given to Jeanette's maternal
grandparents, Frank and Julie (Spanitz) Bauer (born in Rábafüzes, Hungary and Gerersdorf bei
Güssing, respectively). Jeanette says "It hung in their house in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY.
Julie is an aunt to Walter Dujmovits. His mother, Theresa, and my grandmother were sisters."
Jeanette believes the painting was based on a postcard that her grandparents (died 2002 and
1996, respectively) had given her dad, and tells me that "That painting was the background
for many of our family pictures." I, of course, wondered where the painting is now,
especially given that it evidently was a object of family respect (and Jeanette replied that it
hangs in her house).
Jeanette also says "I have some other old pictures and wondered if I could submit them for
information. Walter may know who they are because I think it is his grandparents and my
great-grandparents. Maybe his aunts and uncles." The answer is, of course, yes! Do submit
and I will share them with Walter to see if he can identify the pictured people.
I send thanks to Jeanette for sharing with us... and my request for similar Burgenland-related
work remains open!
Evangelical Reformed Church in Bethlehem to Close: Although the newspaper headline
reads: "Bethlehem's beloved 'Strudel Church' closing," the real story is that the ethnic
Hungarian Evangelical Reformed Church at 635 High St. in Bethlehem is closing, likely at
the end of December (see
Morning Call article here).
The article notes that the congregation was quite large and vigorous at the start of the 20th
century when emigrants filled its pews, but is now down to about 20 members, too few to support
the church. Ten years ago, pastor Ron Hari turned to strudel-making for income to stave off the
demise he correctly foresaw. Some 39,000 strudels later, most sold at the annual Fall Harvest
Bazaar, the future has come and the church will close, yet another ethnic institution
falling to the expected (and appropriate) Americanization of the emigrants' descendants. So, if
you want one last strudel, better get it soon!
The Boy from the Burgenland - From Hitler Youth to Seminary Professor: This is the title
of a 2006 book written by the now-deceased Rev. Dr. Eric W Gritsch (1931-2012), one that I see
we failed to mention previously in the BB Newsletter.
Gritsch was a prominent Lutheran theologian, educator and author whose teaching career
at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA, spanned more than three decades.
Son a of Lutheran pastor and a homemaker, Eric Walter Gritsch was born in Neuhaus am
Klausenbach, Austria, and raised in Bernstein, Austria. Gritsch earned a degree in 1952 in
Protestant theology from the University of Vienna. Named a Fulbright scholar, he traveled to
Yale University, where he earned a master's degree in 1954 in sacred theology. He completed
ministerial studies in Austria and served as vicar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Austria
in Bruck an der Mur. In 1957, he immigrated to the United States and returned to Yale, where he
earned his doctorate in 1960. Dr. Gritsch became a U.S. citizen in 1962, the same year he was
ordained into what is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. From 1959 to 1961, he
taught at Wellesley College, until being called to the Lutheran Theological Seminary in
Gettysburg. At the seminary, Dr. Gritsch taught church history and Reformation studies until
retiring in 1994. He was the author of numerous books and articles.
739-page book, written in English, offers a biography (Part I, 108 pages) and a larger
section of collected writings (Part II). The biography highlights his experiences in the two
decades around World War II in Europe: his early years in Austria and Hungary; a stint as a
teenage soldier in the German army; and his formal education in Austria and Switzerland. A
number of photographs also illustrate the memoir. The collected writings consist of research
papers, essays, editorials, sermons and a playlet, reflecting his long-range scholarship,
involvement in current issues, and specific interests, and cover the years 1962 to 2005
Only the first chapter of the book truly reflects its title, covering years 1931 to 1946, and
only the first 108 pages of the book and 16 pages of photographs relate to the author's life.
The remaining pages comprise the author's "literary legacy."
For most BB readers, the pages describing the author's early years and his immigration to the
United States are likely to have the greatest appeal. For Gritsch himself, a more important
aspect of his life and work was his involvement in the Lutheran/Catholic Dialogue, addressing
the "tragic enmity between Lutherans and Catholics."
While I cannot argue that the book adds much to our knowledge of Burgenland, I would be
negligent if I continued to ignore its existence, thus this mention.
for book "The Burgenländer Emigration to America": Here is this month's update on
purchases of the English issue of the 3rd edition of Dr. Walter Dujmovits' book "Die
Amerika-Wanderung Der Burgenländer."
Current total sales are 1108 copies, as interested people purchased 13 more books during this
By the way, there is still time to get one for a special Christmas gift for someone special!
As always, the book remains available for online purchase at a list
price of $7.41 (which is the production charge for the book, as we purposely
choose not to make a profit so we can avoid dealing with the income tax consequences and
so you can obtain the book at as low a cost as possible!), plus tax & shipping. See the
BB homepage for a link to the information / ordering page and for
any current discounts (and there is at least one discount on price or shipping available most of
the time... if not, wait a few days and there will be one!).
Words for Thought:
Since the Roman legions frequently planted olive trees where they were stationed, for food and
fuel, the gnarled trunks and gray-green leaves of the olive became symbols of conquest and
A jug of olive oil on the dinner table likewise marked the triumph of Roman
cuisine over barbarian beer and lard. 'The inhabitants lead the most miserable existence of
all mankind,' wrote a homesick Roman senator of the second century AD posted to a settlement
on the Danube, deep in the beer and pork fat forests of the barbarian north. 'For they
cultivate no olives, and they drink no wine.'
-- from book "Extra Virginity," by Tom
Burgenland Recipes: Vanessa Bammer Sandhu's grandparents are the source for this
recipe. Her grandparents come from Inzenhof, Eisenberg an der Pinka, Woppendorf, and Kemesmál,
Hungary (near Luising, Burgenland), and all settled in the West Coplay/Coplay/Northampton area
of the Lehigh Valley in PA.
KRUMPIS POGACSA (POTATO SCONES) (from Vanessa Sandhu)
1/4 lb. lard
2 c. flour
1/4 lb. butter
1 tsp. salt
Boil potatoes and rice them. Mix all ingredients (except the egg), then knead well in a big pan.
Roll out 1/2 inch thick on a board. Cut out circles with the top of a glass cup. Preheat oven to
350 degrees. Place circles on greased pan and use a fork to poke the tops. Scramble the egg and
brush onto the tops of the cut pieces. Bake in oven at 350 degrees until done. They will be
golden brown in color.
As mentioned a few newsletters ago, I no longer have a "regular" source for Burgenland recipes.
As above, a few readers have shared favorite family recipes so I'm good for a few months, but
then I'll be begging again! So, please consider sharing your favorite Burgenland recipes
or recipe books with me so I can share them with the readership... and so our ethnic dishes do
not get washed away by the ever flowing river of time and become lost to our future generations.
Cartoon of the Month:
4) SERFDOM: RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL, ETC. (Part II)
This is a continuation of last month's article of the same title. As you may recall, John
Rajkovacz wrote to me inquiring about what he called "the Freedom Act of about 1848" and its
influence on allowing free movement of the Austro-Hungarian peasantry. More precisely, he was
referring to a group of laws known as the Hungarian "April Laws of 1848,” which included the
“emancipation” of the peasants by its termination of all remaining vestiges of serfdom in
My reply to John was that I believed that freedom of movement by peasants was revoked in
response to the 1514 peasant uprising (the Dózsa rebellion) in Hungary, but it was restored to
the peasants between 1538 and 1547 and was never again restricted thereafter. But, because
the Hungarian “April Laws of 1848” included “emancipation” of peasants, it was of interest to
understand what actually changed then. Thus I wrote an initial article that provided a review of
the laws controlling the peasantry of Hungary between 1514 and 1848 and the social history
leading to those April Laws. Much of that article was based on material extracted from various
websites, books and Wikipedia articles.
However, a long quote came from a thesis submitted in 2009 for a PhD in History at the
University College London, entitled "Land Reform and the Hungarian Peasantry, c. 1700-1848,"
by Robert William Benjamin Gray, who is now Dr. Robert Gray, a Professor and Lecturer in
Environmental History, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Winchester, in
Winchester, UK. His thesis can be found here:
This continuation article will consist almost solely of additional, selected extended quotes
from Dr. Gray's thesis, wherein he gives more details on the historical status of Hungarian
peasants over time, presents arguments based on Hungarian court cases that show the true
relationship between the peasantry and the noble lords, and gives specific examples of
peasant/lord relationships in Western Hungary.
Because of that dependence on Dr. Gray's thesis, I will start first with his professional
autobiography, as found on the University of Winchester site:
Robert Gray's Autobiography: I joined the University of Winchester in 2015, having
previously taught at Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge), King’s College London and Keele
University. After a BA in History at the University of Leeds, I completed an MA in Central
European History (with Hungarian) at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies,
University College London, from where he also gained my PhD on land reform and the Hungarian
peasantry in 2010. My teaching interests include environmental history from the beginnings of
time to the present day and covering much of the world (and beyond), as well as a more limited
range of Modern and Early Modern Central and Eastern Europe.
The Tie between the Tripartitum of 1517 and the April Laws of 1848
Dr. Gray writes: ...the Tripartitum had confirmed the exclusively noble nature of
landed property, distinguishing between a noble’s right of dominium proprietas [ownership
of property] and a peasant’s limited right of dominium utile [beneficial ownership].
restating the terms of the 1514 law, Werboczy had confirmed the peasants’ legal status as one of
‘perpetual rusticity,’ making the peasants’ rights to the land they farmed dependent upon
revenues and services owed to the lord, and their persons subject to the lords’ patrimonial
justice. This in turn defined a nobleman’s lordship over his peasants as the dominus
terrestris [owner of land], as well as the right to claim such revenues and services from
the peasant tenants, and the right to administer justice over them. It has often been argued
that the April Laws of 1848 did no more than sweep away, with the stroke of a pen (or
rather two pens), the legal status of rusticity. It was then left to subsequent
legislation to establish whether the peasants’ former urbarial plots would become their
permanent private property. On the other hand, in the course of the debates concerning land
reform in the years prior to 1848 it had been established beyond reasonable doubt that, once the
two aspects of rusticity as defined in the Tripartitum had been done away with, it
was inevitable that the urbarial plots would become the peasants’ private property.
Legal Status of Peasants before 1514
Dr. Gray writes: There are few references to the legal status of the peasantry prior to
the Dózsa Rebellion of 1514 and the laws that confirmed the peasantry to the status of ‘perpetual
rusticity’ of the same year. The earliest laws refer to servi (bondsmen),
distinguishing them from liberi (freemen), itself referring to all nobles, town-dwellers
and peasants who were not servi. There is, however, little detail referring to either the
servis’s obligations or their economic conditions, although it is likely these varied
greatly. From the late tenth century to the twelfth century there then developed villages of
peasants living under servile conditions for, first, the princely and, subsequently, the
royal residences. In this period a stratum of personally unfree bondsmen emerged, working on
royal or ecclesiastical estates. Elsewhere peasants, more closely resembling serfs of medieval
western Europe, worked on their lords’ estates with their own tools and animals. By the
mid-thirteenth century a combination of social and economic changes, notable for the growing
importance of arable farming over that of seminomadic animal husbandry, had caused a more
uniform stratum of peasant tenants to develop, paying rents in cash or kind to noble estate
owners. This stratum of jobbágy (Latinized as iobagio) was formed of personally
free but seigneurial dependent peasant tenants, comprised of both the servi and
previously free men.
In the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the position of the jobbágy
became more clearly established, a process accelerated by the depopulation following the Mongol
invasion of 1241. In the following years foreign ‘guests’ (hospites) were invited to
settle in Hungary to encourage repopulation and expand cultivation of the land. The hospites
were granted settlement in ‘free villages’ established through private charters and settlement
contracts, which in turn became adopted as the most common form for lord-peasant relations
across much of Hungary. In the course of many decades, gradual changes in lord-peasant relations
occurred as labour was becoming of less value than rents claimed in either cash or kind,
creating a system of settled villages, with the peasants cultivating their own land, and
developing some degree of administrative autonomy. By the mid-thirteenth century, jurisdiction
over the free peasantry had passed to landlords or local village judges as legal immunities were
expanded to all seigneurs, including lesser noble landowners, removing all peasant
tenants from royal jurisdiction: a distinction latter reaffirmed by Werboczy. The term
rustici, as referring to peasants, first appeared in a reissue of the Golden Bull in
1231, and the first detailed reference to jobbágy or rustici as clearly meaning
the peasantry as a distinct social stratum did not occur until around 1400, in the
Compilation of King Sigismund I, which had confirmed the peasants possessed the right to
move freely once they had paid the ‘just and usual rent’ to their lords. At the same time,
landowners were vested with the array of privileges, including exemption from direct taxation
and the church tithe, that marked them out as noble, and a landowner became, by definition, a
nobleman; a point so firmly reinforced in the Tripartitum.
The Obligations of the Peasantry to their Landlords
Dr. Gray writes: The terms of the peasantry’s obligations to their landlords were
recorded in written law more thoroughly in the aftermath of the Dózsa Rebellion in 1514,
including a set level of labour service (robot) and the ninth and tenth
owed to the lord and the church respectively. Prior to the rebellion, many nobles chose to
maintain little land in their demesne, leasing the majority to a free tenant peasantry.
Moneyed rents had been more common than labour service and dues in kind, the latter two being
rare and of little importance. The form and amount of all rents and dues varied greatly across
Hungary, established according to local custom and recorded in contractual agreements between
lord and tenants. The forms of peasant obligations changed only gradually after 1514, with
robot and dues in kind slowly supplanting cash payments as the most common form of rent. But
significantly, following the defeat of the rebellion, the peasantry had been condemned to ‘perpetual
rusticity,’ later reaffirmed in the Tripartitum. It appeared that it would be the
peasants’ great misfortune that the Tripartitum was published so soon after the events of
1514 as Werboczy cast in stone the impact of the peasants’ defeat. The peasantry were ‘now
subject to their lords in full and perpetual servitude […] by which they incurred the eternal
taint of infidelity.’ By reference to this clause, it has been supposed that over the
following decades the peasants became tied to the soil, were denied the right of free migration
and were subject to the patrimonial justice of their lords, and thus the peasantry of Hungary
was reduced to the status of ‘serfs’. Yet, the status of ‘perpetual rusticity’ did
not equate to ‘serfdom’, nor did it necessarily circumscribe the peasants’ rights to any
First, the degree to which the peasants were denied freedom of movement is unclear. The clause
of the 1514 law, repeated by Werboczy, was not intended to permanently tie the peasants to the
soil, but was rather a reaction to the transient, cowboy lifestyle of the herdsmen on the Great
Plain, who failed to respect property as they followed their herds and bivouacked where they
pleased. Furthermore, the Tripartitum hinted at a sufficient degree of rights concerning
the peasantry, their landed property, and their legal position, that it is clear ‘rusticity’
did not equate to full and complete subjugation to the legal authority of the lord. Although he
did not go to any great length on the subject, Werboczy alluded to the fact that the peasants
possessed strong rights to the land they farmed, and that these rights were based upon
Werboczy made reference to other rights of the peasantry that provided further guarantee of
their usufruct. By explaining the process for the division of inherited property between
the sons of a peasant, Werboczy made a distinction between moveable (or acquired) goods,
to which the peasant possessed full rights and could will or sell off freely, and immovable
(that is landed) goods, to which the peasants could claim the hereditary right of usufruct,
extending only to the peasants’ lawful heirs. In dealing with the rights of minors, Werboczy
observed that once the son of a deceased peasant came of age ‘the right to keep and dispose
of the entire inheritance passes to the heir’, again indicative of the peasants’ hereditary
rights. But, although the peasant could not dispose of his immovable property (his plot) freely,
for it had to be passed onto his sons, equally the lord had few legal means to deny the
peasants’ family the hereditary usufruct of the land. In this way, the peasants’ plot was
subject to the same restrictions but enjoyed the same protection as noble property under the
system of aviticitas [the inalienable status of noble property, based on a tribal
tradition that the estate should descend to brothers, collateral relatives, and kinsmen].
A further distinction is made between land that remained the absolute property of the lord, and
thus devolved back to him on the extinction of the peasants’ family, and that which had been
acquired through the peasants’ labour, which included cleared land and vineyards. In relation to
these, the peasant was free to alienate this property from the lord, and, should a peasant die
intestate, could will half to whomever he wished, the other half becoming the possession of the
lord, a situation that permitted the peasants to increase their holding, and thus their income,
with little interference from their lord.
By establishing the nobles’ rights concerning their peasant tenants the Tripartitum thus
served to restrict the peasants’ rights to the land to a limited usufruct, the
dominium utile: a right that extended to no more than the ‘wage and fruits of his labour.’
Yet the peasant was then free to dispose of this right with very few restrictions. That a
peasant could will or sell his rights to the property, albeit limited to the ‘wage and fruits
of his labour’ (property that the peasant acquired himself, commonly cleared land but also
including the ‘fields, meadows, mills or vineyards’), to whomever he chose is explicitly stated.
Such a transaction did not change the terms of the lord’s rights to the land, for ‘the
perpetual ownership always remains with the lord’, who could also claim the lands for
himself so long as he compensated the peasant for the land. It is not clear from the text of the
Tripartitum when a lord could assert this claim: whether it was restricted to when a
peasant wished to sell his rights to the plot or whether it could be exercised at any time.
Nowhere else in the Tripartitum does Werboczy suggest how or why a peasant could be
denied the usufructary right to his plot, save for cases of criminal misdemeanour.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the peasantry had not been reduced to the status of ‘full
and perpetual servitude’, as the appropriate clauses of the 1514 law and the Tripartitum
have so often been interpreted. Nor can it be argued that the peasants ‘had no constitutional
or legal personality.’ The peasants, despite the defeat of the Dózsa Rebellion,
remained personally free but legally dependent tenants of their lords, with rights protected by
customary law. Having been recorded in the Tripartitum, the peasants’ rights had been
enshrined in the most important text of Hungarian law. It was not until the Crown’s intervention
in lord-peasant relations in the second half of the eighteenth century, in the form of Maria
Theresa’s Urbarium, that a clearer idea of the extent of the peasants’ rights was
established in written legal provision.
The legal position of the peasantry changed little after the Tripartitum. Freedom of
movement, revoked in response to the 1514 jacquerie, was restored to the peasants between
1538 and 1547. Then, in 1608, the right to interfere in lord-peasant relations was removed from
the diet to the county courts, though this had largely been the case since the thirteenth
century. In the same year, the peasants were required to perform twelve days’ corvée
[chores] a year, for the maintenance of roads and fortifications, and assumed the costs of
county administration through the domestic taxes. These laws, however, had little impact on the
peasants’ rights to the land they farmed or their obligations, which remained, as Werboczy had
observed, ruled by greatly divergent local custom. This divergence and fluidity ensured that the
peasants’ obligations could respond to the changing social and economic circumstances of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Events Leading to the 1767 Urbarium
Dr. Gray writes: In the 1750s and 1760s peasants began to plough-up large areas of the
pusztas, which had commonly been used as pasture, incorporating the land into their private
plots. However the peasants could not be assured the strong, hereditary rights attached to their
individual sessios to much of the land acquired in this way, whether from the puszta
or as cleared land (írtvány). At the same time, an agrarian boom brought about by a
period of renewed wars, including the War of Austrian Succession [1740-48] and the
Seven Years War [1756 to 1763], made many landlords desirous to improve the incomes from
their estates. A new period of the spread of manorial agriculture – involving the expansion of
farming on the landlords’ demesnes and increased demands for the labour of their peasant
tenants – began in parts of Transdanubia and those areas of the Great Plain where communications
made it possible to send produce to markets, notably in Heves and Pest counties. As with the
agrarian booms of previous centuries, this saw some landlords seek to increase the demands
placed on their peasant tenants through increased rents.
The increases in the level of rent largely took the form of increases in robot. In the
1730s and the 1740s payment of a few forints had been the more common form of rents, with
peasants paying between two and six forints for a full sessio, along with a
varying portion of their produce and perhaps five or six days of hand robot a year. From
the late 1740s the levels of robot began to increase, to between twelve and twenty-four
days a year, reaching as much as thirty or forty days a year in the 1760s. At first many
peasants did not object to the increased rents, seeming to accept that periodic increases in
rent were part of normal lord-peasant relations. However, as levels of rent, and especially of
robot, continued to increase, voices were soon raised against what the peasants perceived
to be the unreasonable demands of their lords. It was in this period that the peasants asserted
their power to negotiate the terms of their rights and their relations to their lords: a process
that was to be a feature of lord-peasant relations up to the abolition of seigneurialism
in 1848. Through petitions, the threat of violence, and a number of rent and tax strikes, the
peasants played the Crown off against their lords to limit their obligations to both, and secure
their rights to the land they farmed. These events, reaching a peak in the Transdanubian
Uprising of the 1760s, had a direct bearing on Maria Theresa’s decision to issue the
Urbarium in 1767.
In south-east Transdanubia the increases in robot had been going on for some years. As
early as 1733 peasants on the Batthyány family estate at Zalaszentgyörgy, in Zala county, had
complained about the increased imposition of robot, particularly as they were no longer
given food and wine in return. As demand for grain continued to increase, more landlords
expanded the areas of dominical ploughland, clearing manorial forests and demanding
additional robot as part of their tenants’ rents. Rents in this region then increased
more rapidly from the late 1750s. Most notably, this saw the amount of robot increase
from a common level of around ten or twelve days a year, approaching the fifty-two days’ a year
that had been stipulated in the 1514 law. Demands for robot could reach as much as three
to four days a week in the important summer months for all peasants, irrespective of the size of
their holding. At the same time, complaints against the imposition of the long journey also
became more frequent, with peasants at Tótszerdahely and Molnár submitting a petition in the
early 1760s claiming that their lords demanded the journey eight or nine times a year, with the
peasants having to travel as far as Vienna.
Complaints across south-east Transdanubia, in Vas, Zala and Baranya counties, became more common
thereafter, and it was from here that the reports of high levels of robot, deemed
unacceptable by the peasants, came to the attention of Maria Theresa.
In 1765 the villagers at Galántha in Zala county had submitted a petition stating that they were
now required to perform up to three or four days’ robot a week during the summer for
cutting hay and carting, distracting the peasantry to the degree that they could no longer tend
their own ploughland. This situation, the peasants claimed had developed since ‘new agriculture’
had been introduced on the estate that spring. This had seen the peasants denied access to land
they had previously made use of, which had been added to the lords’ demesne and, at the
same time, the peasants had been required to perform more robot to cultivate the
dominical ploughland. [In this instance it is not clear how the peasants had used this land
before but, in light of evidence from similar cases elsewhere, it is likely that land
enclosed was either pasture or woodland that the peasants used for their animals, or former
ploughland which had reverted to scrub. By converting such land to the plough himself, the lord
then denied the peasants their customary use of it, thus ‘enclosing’ the land within his
demesne even if no distinct physical boundaries between the urbarial and
dominical lands were made. As noted before, it was virtually impossible for the lords to lay
claim to any land the peasants were using as ploughland, or that clearly formed part of a
peasants’ private sessio.]
In the same summer , three other villages in Vas county submitted petitions citing the
year-on-year increase in robot: at Németcsencs [Deutsch Tschantschendorf]; at Újhegy
[Neuberg], where peasants complained robot had been increasing for twenty years; and at
Rábaszentmihály [now Vasszentmihály, Hungary, just south of Güssing district]. All were claiming
that robot had now reached ‘incalculable’ levels. At Rábaszentmihály and Németcsencs it
would appear that robot was a relatively new part of the peasants’ obligations.
Likewise, at Pornó [Pornóapáti (Pernau), Hungary], on the Batthyány estate in Vas county, the
peasants petitioned the county against the ‘rapid increase’ in rents that had occurred since a
new contract had been agreed in 1754.
By the summer of 1766 the inhabitants of Keszthely [in Zala Megye] had been joined by other
peasants across Baranya, Zala and Vas counties in protesting against increased rents, the
billeting of troops and state taxes. Peasants on the Zala county estate of Ádám Batthyány, on
the Keszthely estate of Kristóf Festetics (the latter having failed in their appeal to the
lord), and the Somogy county estates of Antal Széchenyi addressed petitions to Maria Theresa
directly, citing an unreasonable increase in demands for robot. Upon hearing rumours that
a new urbarial law was to be passed, and fearing that their obligations were to be
increased, peasants on the Batthyánys’ estates in Baranya county sent a delegation to the
manorial court at Siklós led by Péter Járó, a tenant from nearby Harkány. What began as a
peaceful demonstration against the imposition of new taxes and new obligations, and an attempt
to negotiate terms for a new contract to be concluded before the law was passed, soon escalated
into an uprising. The county was forced to dispatch 400 soldiers to Siklós in an attempt to
restore order but the peasants were able to force the soldiers back to Pécs. With no sign of an
end to the unrest, and similar disturbances occurring across Transdanubia (including at the
Batthyány estates of Körmend, Bozsok and Szerdahely), the peasants were able to win concessions
from the lord.
The 1767 Urbarium
Dr. Gray writes: ...aspects of the Urbarium were to act as a break on further
increases in rents and, crucially, did not deny the peasants the means to negotiate the terms of
their obligations in future. Whereas before, it had been common for every peasant within any one
community (or across one estate) to owe the same amount of rent to their lords, the Urbarium
established that the peasants’ obligations were determined by the size of their sessios.
Only those possessing a full sessio, amounting to between twenty-nine and eighty-two
acres of land, would owe the full fifty-two days of robot a year. Those with a half,
quarter or eighth of a sessio would owe proportionally less. In addition, again
addressing a complaint of the peasants expressed during the unrest of the 1760s, the Urbarium
expressly forbade the lord from demanding that more than three days’ robot be performed
in any one week. Even then, the robot could not be performed on consecutive days, and the
landlord could claim no robot in the following week. The Urbarium also went into
detail on the other obligations of the peasants, including the ninth, the tithe,
and other rents in kind as well as the forms of village administration and the practices of
seigneurial justice. But it was in regulating robot, where the terms of the peasants’
rents where concerned, that the Urbarium had best sought to improve the conditions of the
Most important of all, the Urbarium acknowledged that, if both lords and peasants should
wish, the peasants’ robot obligation could be converted into cash payments. Although not
going into any great detail on how converting the peasants’ robot should be done, this
clause provided room for the peasants to negotiate the form of their rent and obligations, much
as they had before. In the short term at least, this served to limit the negative impact of the
Urbarium as the peasants, through negotiations and petitions, forced compromises with
their lords who were no doubt wary of any repetition of the unrest of 1765/66. In the longer
term, the Urbarium confirmed that the eventual dismantling of seigneurial
relations in Hungary, gathering pace from the end of the eighteenth century, would be negotiated
between lords and peasants, with the peasants finding means to defend their rights.
Until the end of the eighteenth century, the amount of robot claimed by landlords
remained well below that which could be demanded by the Urbarium.
...the Urbarium had in the first instance only a limited impact on the nature of
lord-peasant relations. By stipulating the peasants’ obligations in law more firmly than any
previous legislation, the Urbarium had provided for lord-peasant relations to be
transformed from a system of contracts specifying a nominal rent, most often paid in cash, to
one whereby the lord could legally demand increased rents in labour and in kind. But the
Urbarium also permitted that the peasants could, if they so wished, appeal to their lord to
convert robot into cash payments, negotiating the price of this with their lord. The
amount of robot, whilst limited to no more than fifty-two days a year with draught
animals, was still to be agreed upon through negotiation between the peasants and lords.
Finally, these agreements then had to be ratified by the county administration, which provided
the peasants an opportunity to lodge a complaint should the terms of the urbarial
agreements prove unsatisfactory. By providing room for the terms of urbarial relations to
be negotiated by peasants and lords, the Urbarium permitted local custom, and customary
agreements, to continue to play a predominant role. Thus, where the Urbarium failed to
address adequately the concerns of the peasants, customary law and customary agreements
continued to influence the relationship between lords and peasants, and could often take
precedence over written law. Through these negotiations, the peasants ensured that any increase
in rent, especially robot, would be limited in the short term. As many of the examples
attest, the peasants’ rents continued to increase at a gradual pace, but the possibility to
negotiate ensured that the peasants’ sense of what was reasonable, and what was just, could not
What is more, the Urbarium had established the ruler’s right to interfere in what was
traditionally seen as a private matter between the lord and peasants: a precedent that was to be
of great significance to the debates of the Reform Age. However, there remained a
significant part of lord-peasant relations that had not been addressed sufficiently by the
The Urbarium was to cement a division, barely discernible before 1767, between the
peasants’ urbarial lands and the dominical lands of their lords. To the former the
peasants were confirmed in their strong, hereditary rights established, albeit vaguely, in the
Tripartitum. Of the newly-demarcated dominical land which the peasants had farmed
before the Urbarium, and would often continue to farm in subsequent years, they received
little in the way of guaranteed rights. Thus the Urbarium was to cast into doubt the
nature of the peasants’ rights to a great part of the land they had farmed at the time it was
issued. As a result, the extent of what should be considered peasant ‘owned’ urbarial
land and the size of the village határs became the subject of most peasant petitions from
the last decades of the eighteenth century rather than, as had appeared to spark the
Transdanubian uprising, the terms of the peasants’ obligations. Indeed, it was the extent of the
peasants’ urbarial land, and the nature of their rights to any land used in addition to
this, that was to be the principal problem addressed by the reforms of the 1830s and 1840s.
Events Leading to the Reforms of the 1830s and 1840s
Dr. Gray writes: In a similar vein, customary agreements and customary rights continued
to play an important role in governing peasants’ access to land, taking force in any gaps or
grey areas left by written law. It was then left to the reforms of 1836 and after to account for
the customary rights of both lords and peasants as the process of deconstructing urbarial
relations gathered pace in the years before 1848.
I will suggest that any peasant protest or occasional rural unrest was primarily a means to
defend the peasants’ position against the seemingly threatening actions of lords who sought to
introduce innovations on their estates. These innovations often involved the enclosure of
peasant-farmed land (or, as seen in the previous chapter, new forms of rents) that could easily
be perceived as an attempt by exploitative landlords to undermine the position of the peasantry.
We will see that the county courts, responding to peasant petitions, often sought to do little
more than maintain the rural status quo, encouraging compromise between lords and
peasants in a way that acknowledged the rights or expectations of both parties. The reforms of
the 1830s and 1840s were, in turn, a reaction to such unrest: a means to ease transition from a
system of rural relations and land tenure now vilified as ‘feudal’, and thus increasingly
obsolete, to one that could foster the development of capitalist agriculture. In this way,
reform was a means to overcome obstacles inherent in the old rural order, principal amongst
which was the peasants’ sense of what was ‘just’ or ‘reasonable’ in light of customary practice
or their understanding of their legal rights. But, in doing away with these obstacles, the
reforms had to pay heed to the peasants’ rights, as the peasants perceived them, if the
transition was to be peaceful, and if the peasants were to be enticed to co-operate with the
wider process of rural change.
According to the terms of the Urbarium the area of the peasants’ urbarial
sessios was to be measured, recorded and regulated by law through the land surveys that
accompanied any urbarial agreement. The sessios, including an internal plot for
the peasant’s house and garden and an area of external ploughland and meadow – the size of which
was to be determined by the quality of the soil – collectively formed the urbarial
határ of any village or market town, often including areas of communally held pasture, marsh
and woodland. The peasants were guaranteed the strong, hereditary right of usufruct to
their sessios as had been established, albeit vaguely, in the Tripartitum, and, in
this way, the urbarial land of the határ was permanently separated from the lords’
demesne. Yet, while the law granted the peasants hereditary rights of tenure to a portion
of the land they farmed, there remained a significant part of the land used by the peasants that
simultaneously had been confirmed as part of the lords’ demesne. Such land now became
part of the peasants’ ‘extra-urbarial land’ or ‘off-holdings’. This included land claimed
by the peasants through clearing forests and scrubland or draining marsh (the írtvány)
and areas of land that the peasants had leased under separate agreements, most often from
puszta [deserted farms] used to supplement any area of communal pasture, or the árendás
land [land leased under contract] commonly used to extend an individual plot. The peasants’
extra-urbarial land also incorporated the remanencia or maradvány: land which
was farmed by the peasants before the Urbarium but not attached to the peasants’
sessios in the surveys after 1767.
According to the terms of the Urbarium, the peasants received no rights to the
extra-urbarial land beyond any limited tenancy secured through separate contractual
agreements. These agreements lay outside of regular urbarial relations, and, should the
peasants wish to extend the agreements, their continued use was often reliant on the good will
of their lords. Once the peasants’ sessios and the extent of the village határs
had been measured and recorded in the urbarial surveys from the end of the 1760s onwards,
the landlords could legally lay claim to all of the land excluded from the surveys as part of
their private demesnes, irrespective of who had farmed the land in previous years. Thus,
in the years after the Urbarium had been issued, lords could legally enclose a
great part of peasant-farmed land excluded from the urbarial surveys, dispossessing a
portion of the peasantry as they did so. It is this allodialization [freeing from
tenurial rights] of peasant-farmed land that is most often used to support arguments for peasant
pauperization, and even the entrenchment of ‘neo-serfdom’, in the last years of Hungarian
From the last decades of the eighteenth century, across the Eszterházy estates in Sopron county,
17,200 holds of ploughland and 8,000 holds of cleared land that had been farmed by the peasants
was reclaimed. Likewise, on the Széchenyi estates in the same county, 9,500 holds of ploughland
and 7,000 holds of cleared land were enclosed, expanding the demesne by some
While such statistics would suggest that allodialization was widespread by the end of the
eighteenth century, there are many reasons to question the validity of arguments that solely
rely on such data. Furthermore, these arguments assume that allodialization inevitably
saw land excluded from the urbarial registers enclosed as part of the lords’
demesnes, turned over to the sole use of the lords and with the peasants denied any access
to such land. As we shall now see, there is little reason to assume that allodialization
and enclosure were one and the same process. First, it is hard to establish exactly how
much land was used by the peasantry before the Urbarium.
Rather, in the years immediately following the Urbarium many peasants were able to
maintain their use of extra-urbarial land, renting it under separate agreements with
Of the land added to the demesnes on the Eszterházy and Széchenyi estates thirty percent
of it was then leased back to the peasants.
The majority of the lords’ income from this estate came from renting the manorial land to the
peasants, which also meant that there was little need to request the peasants’ robot.
Moreover, the lord claimed a significant income from renting the regalia rights to the
village, including 120 forints for butchering rights and another 120 forints for
brandy distillation. Finally, the lord claimed 200 forints from the Jewish inhabitants of
the village for the right to maintain a synagogue and employ a rabbi.
The evidence from the Batthyány estates in Vas County suggests that a significant portion of
dominical land continued to be rented to the peasantry into the nineteenth century.
Not only were the peasants able to continue leasing a large area of dominical land after
the Urbarium, but in many places the area of land also included within the village
határs continued to expand from the late eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries.
The land surveys that accompanied the Urbarium in the late 1760s and 1770s reveal that in
Transdanubia, between ten and eleven percent of all land was recorded as part of the peasants’
urbarial plots, amounting to 1,652,059 holds (2,345,934 acres). Records from the
first comprehensive census and land survey conducted in Hungary, completed during the reign of
Joseph II between 1784 and 1787, reveal an increase in the amount of urbarial land during
the few decades since the Urbarium, this having doubled to cover some twenty percent of
all cultivable land, estimated to be approximately 32 million holds in total.
Thus even the statistical evidence can cast doubts as to the extent of any allodialization,
and therefore the entrenchment of ‘neo-serfdom’, in the period before 1848. As we shall
see, one reason for this was that the peasants could challenge their lords’ attempts at
allodialization through appeals to the courts and reference to customary use. Furthermore,
the peasants’ successful appeals to this end can go someway to explain why, contrary to some
views, the area of peasant-farmed land increased rather than decreased in this period. It is
also worth noting that there was little incentive for many lords to risk upsetting the rural
status quo by developing their own manorial agriculture. It was only worthwhile for lords to
enclose land within their demesnes if it could be worked by the peasants, either
through their robot obligation or where paid labour could be secured.
The former was not an easy option for, as we have seen, the peasants frequently protested
against the conversion of rents into robot and, more vocally, at any increase in its
amount. Quite often the second option proved no more practical since there were continued
problems of under-population and severe shortages of labour in many regions. No doubt such
problems would have persuaded many lords that the better option was to continue renting a great
part of their demesne to the peasants, helping to protect the peasants’ extra-urbarial
holdings, at least in the short term. Moreover, as many landlords chose to rent out much of
their dominical land rather than farm it themselves there was little demand for the
peasants’ robot labour. As such, a large part of the peasants’ robot obligation
was converted into cash payments, often including the ninth of produce owed to the lord,
as the examples cited in the previous chapter would suggest. In light of this, any widespread
allodialization of peasant farmed land would have been delayed until conditions were more
favourable for the expansion of manorial farming, be it another agrarian boom, an expanded
labour force or technological advances making what limited labour as was available more
Rather than being denied access to a great part of the land excluded from the urbarial
surveys, the expansion of urbarial land in the period after the Urbarium would
suggest that many peasants were able to attach a great part of the extra-urbarial land
they farmed to their private plots or village határs. Part of the expansion of
urbarial land, as János Varga has suggested, could well be accounted for by deficiencies in
the methods and records used in the earlier surveys. On the other hand, as will become apparent
by turning to peasant petitions in the early part of the nineteenth century, there were means by
which the peasants could challenge their lords’ attempts to lay claim to land used by the
peasants, with the peasants often finding support in their efforts from the county authorities,
and backed-up by reference to customary rights. Thus there is an alternative explanation for the
expansion of urbarial land in the years between 1767 and 1848 than merely deficient
record keeping. The peasants, through petitions and the courts, were able to establish their
rights to the ‘extra-urbarial’ land that had previously been excluded from the records.
Through reference to customary practice, the peasants were able to delay any significant loss of
land in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. When written law caught up with
customary practice through a more accurate codification of property rights in the years before
1848, the peasants used the same means to assert their rights to areas of disputed land. And in
this way, the peasants were able to ensure that that customary practice would be accounted for
when the old rural order was overturned in 1848.
This would suggest that, in this instance at least, any allodialization was delayed until
customary rights were supplanted by rights of private property as part of the complete
deconstruction of seigneurial relations in the aftermath of 1848.
Regulatio [regulations] permitted landlords to exchange peasant-farmed land, including a
peasant’s urbarial plot, with land elsewhere on his estate so long as the new piece of
land was of equivalent size and quality. To control the use of regulatio, the Urbarium
had stipulated that it could be applied only to cleared land (írtvány), and that any such
exchange had to be registered through the county courts; stipulations that were repeated by the
reforms of 1836. But, since the origins of regulatio were lost amongst Hungary’s
labyrinthine customary law, it proved a seigneurial right ripe for abuse, and
nineteenth-century jurists had gone to some lengths to reinterpret the right in favour of the
lords. There was little to prevent lords from offering uncultivated land as compensation for
land a peasant family may have worked for generations, the stipulation that such land should be
similar quality was practically unenforceable, or, in the worst cases, lords could simply fail
to compensate the dispossessed peasant at all. Historians and others have frequently pointed out
the abuse of regulatio to support widespread allodialization in the early
nineteenth century, as in the instances on the Eszterházy and Széchenyi estates.
Of course, many peasants were not willing to allow the confiscation of their land, whether by
regulatio or other means, to go unchallenged. In the first decades of the nineteenth
century, a number of peasant communities brought cases against their landlord relating to abuse
of the right of regulatio but they could find little support from the county court.
In this instance the county reprimanded the landlord, ruling that the right of regulatio
was not to be abused in this manner, and that efforts should be made to prevent the worst land
being passed onto the peasantry. Yet, at the same time, the county officials found that the
complaints were becoming so common they felt they had no choice but to wash their hands of the
case. In the end the courts left the matter to be resolved as best as possible between the
peasants and their lords, although in doing so the county officials admitted that this would
permit what amounted to the legalized land robbery by the lords.
The underlying tension within rural Hungary was to be brought home during the cholera outbreak
and subsequent uprising in the summer of 1831 and, as a consequence, the ‘peasant question’
became a leading issue in the first stages of the Reform Era. What is more, the uprisings
reinforced the fear of a peasant-led revolution, which had been playing on the minds of the
nobility for the past decades.
It became a widely accepted viewpoint that ‘if the people remain discontented they will rise
up again in revenge’.
Before turning to the reforms and their impact between 1836 and 1848, it is worth returning to
the structure of Hungarian rural society on the eve of the reforms. As had been made clear after
the cholera uprising, there was a sector of the Hungarian peasantry whose subsistence was
precarious enough to threaten rural unrest: the cottars and smallholders. As noted
above, there can be little doubt that the position of the cottars, and the fear of a
repetition of the cholera uprising, played on the minds of the deputies at the diet of
1832/36. In addition, the increase in landless peasants has often been taken as indicative of
the growing impoverishment of the peasantry, along with the enclosure or
allodialization of peasant-farmed land, by those who advocate a late ‘neo-serfdom’ in
Hungary in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These have argued that, by
restricting the peasants’ urbarial land to within the boundaries of the határ, the
potential for the peasants to expand their holdings through clearing woodland, draining swamps,
or settling on the pusztas was greatly reduced. The continued growth of population led to
the gradual fragmentation of peasant plots, perpetuated by the predominant system of equal
inheritance amongst all male children and the appropriation of peasant-farmed land. As a result,
ever more peasants descended to the strata of landless cottars and labourers.
Between 1780 and 1849, the number of landed peasant households entered into surveys and censuses
increased from 429,380 to 539,753, while in the same years the number of housed cottars
rose from 174,716 to 728,962. Between 1828 and 1849 alone the increase of housed cottars
had been particularly marked, having doubled from 328,172.
In Moson county in 1848, for example, 3,743 peasant families shared 4,433 whole sessios,
providing most families with a generous-sized plot of land.
Second, what legally constituted a cottar had been redefined since the Urbarium.
According to the Urbarium all peasants with less than one eighth of a sessio might
be classified as cottar. This was based on the assumption that one eighth of a plot,
amounting to between two-and-a-half and seven holds of land, was enough to support a
peasant and his family whilst fulfilling his obligations to the Crown, his landlord and the
Church. However, by the early nineteenth century an eighth of plot was deemed to be too little
land to maintain a peasant household. The Crown and some landlords were becoming concerned that
peasants tended to divide their plots amongst all sons until their plots dwindled away to
nothing, thus reducing the amount owed in tax and rent and the peasants’ ability to pay what
they did owe. In an attempt to limit the future subdivision of plots, laws were passed in 1807
and 1828 that stated the smallest possible size for a plot should be a quarter sessio,
requesting that landlords and the county administration act to prevent any division of plots
into smaller portions. Inevitably this reclassification saw a large part of the peasantry
redefined as cottars in subsequent records.
With the collusion of their lords and county officials many peasants had been hidden from the
original surveys of the 1770s and 1780s. Such peasants, classified as either contractualis
or censualis, had chosen not to conclude urbarial agreements with their lords but
rather maintained separate contracts, often because they believed that urbarial
agreements would see a sudden increase in their obligations. Moreover, by hiding their land from
the urbarial surveys, and having it registered as dominical instead, the peasants
would not owe the full tax obligation, noble property being exempt. In some counties,
particularly on the northern and western parts of the Great Plain, it has been estimated as much
as forty-five percent of the peasantry were contractualis or censualis in the last
years of the eighteenth century, accounting for between ten and fifteen percent of the land
farmed by the peasants. Like those peasants with less than a quarter sessio, many
contractualis or censualis peasants were included in the surveys as cottars
after 1807. This did mean that such peasants now had to contribute to state and county taxation,
but it also guaranteed the cottars urbarial, that is strong, hereditary, rights to
their garden and house plots, which could amount to up to a quarter sessio.
Fourth, it should not be assumed that all peasants classified as cottars were landless.
As already noted, after 1807 a cottar could possess nearly a quarter sessio of
urbarial land, as much as fourteen hold, and would not be classified as a landed
peasant in the records. Furthermore, just as landed peasants had been able to conclude
agreements for the use of extra-urbarial land, many cottars turned to the
extra-urbarial land to supplement their small plots.
In most instances the threatened land formed part of the peasants’ extra-urbarial land or
off-holdings. The peasants had no rights to this land beyond a limited tenancy secured through
contractual agreements, in theory subject to no more than the continuing good will of their
lords. This was in marked contrast to the unlimited and secure usufruct of their
urbarial sessios that had been established in the Tripartitum and then
confirmed by the Urbarium. But, as is clear from the examples above, the peasants
believed their customary use of the extra-urbarial land, provided for under the terms of
long-standing contracts, amounted to securer rights than the law allowed. In the course of the
division between urbarial and dominical lands that occurred from the late
eighteenth century, the peasants would appeal to the lord, the courts, and the law to recognize
such rights and secure as much of the land they farmed as their urbarial property as
possible. In many of these cases, the courts encouraged a compromise between the claims of the
lord and the claims of the peasants, although this was often done in the interests of social
order rather than through reference to established rights. Conversely, that the lords, so much
the legal and social superior of his peasants, and supported by a judicial system dominated by
their fellow nobles, were forced to pay heed to the claims of the peasantry suggests there was
widespread acceptance that customary use amounted to a form of property right almost as binding
as that which applied to the peasants’ urbarial land. The importance of these customary
rights was to become more apparent in the wake of the reforms of 1836 and after.
The Reforms of the 1830s and 1840s
Dr. Gray writes: The 1836 urbarial law did not fundamentally change the nature of
lord-peasant relations as these had been taken from the Tripartitum and the Urbarium:
the peasants still possessed limited but hereditary rights of usufruct to their
urbarial plots in return for set obligations owed to their lords. For the most part, the
1836 law merely confirmed the terms of the Urbarium as part of the corpus of Hungarian
statute law. In this the diet removed any ambiguities that remained due to the fact that
the Urbarium had been passed by royal fiat and not sanctioned by the diet.
First, through voluntary and negotiable contracts it would be possible for the peasants to
redeem their obligations to their lords in perpetuity by payment of a one-off fee: a principle
made legal fact in 1840. By extension, it would henceforth be impossible to emancipate the
peasantry without confirming their former urbarial plots as their private property.
Second, by confirming that the peasants’ rights to their urbarial land amounted to
strong, hereditary rights, the diet set in place the mechanism through which, once the
peasants had redeemed their obligations (or these were abolished), the right of usufruct
could only be converted into rights of private property: confirmed in law in 1844.
The peasants’ rights to extra-urbarial land remained ambiguous, having no firmer base
than the peasants’ customary use or contracts that operated outside the reach of statute law. In
response to this, the 1836 laws attempted to set in place a firmer legal framework for
establishing the rights to the areas of disputed land, particularly any extra-urbarial
land long-used by the peasantry, or any land where access had traditionally been shared between
lords and peasants.
To this end, Articles VII, X and XI of 1836 enabled the division of communal and
extra-urbarial land, according to the terms of its use and the size of the peasants’
holding, between the peasants and their lords; confirmed that the peasants’ urbarial
rights extended to any area of cleared land acquired since the first urbarial surveys;
and provided for the redistribution of extra-urbarial land, where rights remained
unclear, amongst the landless cottars.
Perhaps most importantly, the new laws were to arm the county courts with a means to defend the
peasants’ access to disputed land by reference to habitual use, shoring up the rural status
quo by accounting for customary practice in written law.
In particular, Paragraph I of Article IX, 1836 stated that the customary nature of land use
should take precedence in all cases, and that the lords’ seigneurial rights should only
be acknowledged if this was not at the expense of the peasant tenants. This article amounted to
no less than an acknowledgement of the peasants’ customary rights to a great part of the land
they farmed, whether it had been recorded as urbarial or not.
Peasants attempted to conclude agreements aimed at the permanent redemption of the urbarial
obligations with their lords, conducted both before and after the reforms of the 1830s and
According to the law of 1840, which followed principles established in 1832/36, the terms of
redemption were to be established through negotiations between peasants and their lords,
overseen by the county administration, and then ratified by the central courts in Pest. The 1840
law had established guidelines to be followed: the redemption fee was to be equal to twenty
years’ dues, running at five percent yearly interest, but was not to include the value of the
land (Deák having established during the debates of 1836 that the lords’ possessed no right to
the land, merely the rents that were owed on it).
The county had to be assured that no agreement should be to the detriment of the peasants, nor
should any agreement result in any significant loss of land for the peasants. But the law also
permitted that the exact terms of redemption, particularly the cash value of the peasants’
obligations, would be open to negotiation so as to reflect varying local conditions and custom.
Essentially, the redemption agreements were little different to the clause permitting conversion
of robot to cash payments contained in the Urbarium, except that the redemption
agreements would also include the ninth and other rents in kind, as well as the lords’
seigneurial monopolies over brewing, milling, butchering and so on. In practice, as we have
seen, many peasant communities had already commuted many of their rents, not only the robot,
into cash payments. Thus the redemption agreements would merely convert these temporary
agreements into permanent settlements, supported after 1840 by the written law that had
permitted peasants to voluntarily redeem their urbarial obligations in perpetuity. More
significantly, once non-nobles had been granted the full rights to possess landed property (the
dominium proprietas) in 1844, the peasants’ former urbarial plots were to be
confirmed as their permanent private property once the redemption fee had been paid in full.
Yet only two percent of peasant communities concluded agreements between 1836 and 1848. This is
a remarkably small number if one considers that the terms of agreements, implemented through
negotiation, followed the lines of normal lord-peasant relations. In this chapter we will
examine why voluntary redemption agreements had only limited impact prior to 1848. One reason
for the limited success of redemption agreements was that many peasants lacked the financial
means to pay off their obligations permanently.
Many communities on the Batthyánys’ Körmend estate struggled to keep up with their redemption
payments in the years before 1848. Whilst financial considerations formed a part of why
redemption failed, other factors cannot be ignored.
First, on the Körmend estate, redemption formed only a part of the process of dismantling
urbarial relations. Of greater concern for the peasantry was the issue of their rights
pertaining to any extra-urbarial land they used.
The Batthyány family estates at Körmend, on the western edge of Vas county, and the experiences
of their peasant tenants, provide a contrasting example to those of the market towns on the
Great Plain. Unlike the lands of the Great Plain, the Körmend estate was not dominated by the
large határs of the more-or-less independent market towns. Each village, often consisting
of less than a hundred households, had to pursue separate agreements with their lords, without
the benefit of strong administration through a town council. Rather, the estate was dominated by
a scattering of small peasant villages, with access to much less land.
These towns had fought hard to maintain their earlier freedoms and the contractual agreements
with their landlords, doing so more successfully than the market towns of the Great Plain. In
the late 1760s, for example, five market towns across Vas County, led by the peasants of
Körmend, filed a petition against the Batthyány family to prevent the imposition of the
Urbarium. With the help of a noble inhabitant of Körmend, István Bejczy, the case was
brought to the attention of Maria Teresa in March, 1769. As a result of the Empress’s
intervention, the town was to be guaranteed their rights and use of land according to the terms
of a 1700 agreement with the Batthyány. This maintained Körmend’s status as a free market town,
and thus avoiding the introduction of urbarial agreements that befell Szentes and
Hódmezovásárhely. Similarly, Németújvár [Güssing], Sárvár, Szombathely and Szentgotthárd were
able to preserve their special status.
On the Körmend estate it had been common for lords and peasants to negotiate forms of rent, with
payments in cash and kind more common than robot. By the mid 1820s, the majority of
peasants on the estate were able to commute much of their robot obligation into cash
payments through individual contracts established with their lords. The rate set uniformly
across the estate varied between 11 forints 150 krajcár to 12 forints 50
krajcár, depending on the quality of the soil for a full sessio. Across the whole
estate, comprising nineteen villages, only twenty-nine days of draught robot and 558 and
a half days hand robot was requested by the lords, the remainder being commuted into
cash. Other contracts stipulated that an unspecified amount of robot could be requested
from ‘time to time’ as the need occurred, though there is no evidence to suggest that this was
exploited by the lord or his bailiffs. Some peasants were able to commute the ninth into
a cash payment, either through individual contracts or for a whole village. For example, in
1824, the inhabitants of Radafalva [Rudersdorf] commuted the ninth into a payment of 1091
forints a year for the whole community, rising to 1524 forints when the agreement
was renewed three years later.
Up to the late 1840s a significant source of the manorial income on the Körmend estate came from
leasing the regalia rights to individual peasants. In 1834/35, sixty-eight contracts for
the lease of the regalia were concluded, providing the lord with a yearly income of
15,573 forints. In one instance Pál Pinzéri, a tenant at Radafalva, leased the rights to
produce and sell wine, beer and brandy in the village for 600 forints a year, including a
plot of 18 hold of land. These contracts remained in place until the first redemption
agreements were concluded on the estate in 1847/48, often including the rights to the regalia,
by which time the income from the leases had fallen to 12,107 forints.
The peasants on the Körmend estate also benefited from access to extra-urbarial land. In
1833, forty-one peasants from Gyorvár shared 173 holds of árendás ploughland and
eighty-two holds of meadow between them, leased from the Batthyánys for 497 forints a
year. In 1828, another village on the estate rented ninety-eight and a half holds of
additional ploughland, and fifty-three and a half holds of meadow for 410 forints
32 kracjár a year. Likewise, in 1834 the inhabitants of Holló concluded an agreement to
lease 66 3/8 holds plough and just under 49 holds of meadow for a total of 466
forints a year. At Doroszló twelve peasants supplemented their urbarial holdings by
renting thirty six and a half holds of ploughland along with a small area of communal
pasture for 124 forints. The villages also established terms to maintain their use of 134
holds of ploughland and 27 holds meadow that had been registered as remanencia
in the urbarial surveys. At the village of Radócz the peasants leased some 250 holds
of land from the demesne for 1659 forints.
One reason for this may have been that allowing peasants to cultivate parts of the dominical
land, which in turn left the majority of tenants (urbarial or dominical) free from
any overbearing robot obligation, ensured a better return from the estate and a larger
income for the lord. It was expected that the peasants would work their lands diligently, and
pay their rents on time: all these contracts included cancellation clauses should the peasants
default on payment. Moreover, rent in kind was included in many of the contracts for the lease
of dominical lands, often stipulating that a set amount of grain be sent to the lord’s
mills each year. For example, one tenant at Szoce, who rented ten holds of ploughland in
addition to his urbarial plot, was required to send 160 ‘pozsony measures’
of wheat each year, in addition to a rent of 20 forints 240 krajcár for all of his
land. This ensured that the lord would receive an income from the land, and that the peasant
would be diligent in his cultivation to produce the set amount.
In contrast to the extra-urbarial land leased by the peasants on the Great Plain, this
land was primarily used to supplement the peasants’ urbarial holdings, turned to
ploughland or meadow, rather than left as communal pasture. The nature of peasant land-use also
suggests that they were developing agricultural production for market, with the peasants
responding to the opportunities provided by local conditions. On the Great Plain much of the
extra-urbarial land was maintained as open pasture due to the lack of means to get grain to
market, with the region suffering from a poor and underdeveloped communication network, while on
the Transdanubian estates of the Batthyány family the peasants dedicated a larger amount of the
extra-urbarial land to grain cultivation. It is also worth noting that much of the
extra-urbarial land remained part of the Batthyánys’ demesne after 1848/49 rather
than becoming the property of the peasant tenants. But, after 1848, the peasants continued to
lease this land much as they had before even though it had not been confirmed as their property.
Peasants across the Körmend estates maintained their earlier contracts, renting land through
six-year agreements on similar terms to those of the urbarial peasants in the 1830s and
1840s. For example, at Szokeföld a group of cottars rented 229 6/32 holds of
ploughland and 40 13/32 holds of pasture for 3166 forints a year from 1849-1855,
even though the land had been recorded as part of the lords demesne in 1848.
Although robot could form a part of the peasants’ rent this was a less significant part
of the estate income than payments in cash or kind and leasing rights to the regalia.
What limited labour that was requested by the lord was restricted to the occasions as and when
it was needed: the absence of peasants’ complaints against this suggesting it was not needed
very often. It is possible that either the lord simply did not require all the robot he
could claim from his peasant tenants, or he chose to supplement employing wage labourers with
the free obligatory labour of his urbarial tenants only for certain tasks, as had been
the case in the eighteenth century. This is supported by the view of agrarian development in
Hungary put forward by Peter Gunst. The manorial agriculture that was developing on the large
estates in the first half of the nineteenth century was often accompanied by agrarian
innovation. This saw the introduction of more complex systems of rotation, new fodder crops and
expensive new technologies, requiring more skilful, trustworthy and diligent labour. Quite
simply, the obligatory labour of the peasants, which was often performed reluctantly and in a
slovenly fashion, could not be trusted following the investment of the landlords, reducing the
demand for robot and encouraging more lords to turn to wage labourers. In turn, the lords
converted the peasants’ obligations into cash to pay for the necessary investment in labour.
The limited use of the peasants’ robot on the Körmend estate, combined with the instances
of peasants renting additional land and the regalia, indicates that manorial agriculture
had not developed to any great degree on this estate. It is possible that what manorial
agriculture existed on the estate relied upon the work of manorial cottars and wage
labourers for cultivation, as was increasingly the case around the communities of the Great
Plain. Even on an estate located so favourably to benefit from the growing markets of Vienna and
the Hereditary Provinces, in great contrast to those of the Great Plain, the lord chose
to pass the cultivation of much of his land onto his peasant tenants. One reason for this may
have been that forcing the tenants to perform a large part of their robot obligation may
have been more trouble than it was worth, as had been the case at Szarvas. It is also possible
that the means of collecting rent in cash or kind, especially when rent was set at a specified
amount of grain rather than a proportion of the peasants’ produce, was seen as a means to
encourage more diligent cultivation of the peasants’ private plots. Again this would bear
similarities to developments on the estates of the Great Plain. With cash rents more common than
robot or payment in kind it was no great step for Batthyány to conclude redemption
agreements when encouraged to do so by his peasant tenants.
Furthermore, the system of rent and land use in the nineteenth century on the Transdanubian
estate at Körmend in the nineteenth century show that little had changed from the early
eighteenth century. Contractual agreements and access to extra-urbarial land, based on
customary use rather than written law, was maintained up to the period of reforms of the 1830s
and 1840s. At that time, many of the peasant communities sought to commute into cash payments
all dues once and for all, and to confirm their rights to land they farmed outside of written
law. But, as had been the case at Szentes and Szarvas, even when contracts could be concluded it
would appear that only a few peasants could afford to redeem their obligations in perpetuity.
At Körmend, in contrast, the extra-urbarial land primarily consisted of small areas of
woodland, cleared land, or ploughland and meadow (either remanencia or árendás
land) leased from the lord’s demesne.
Also in February 1841, peasants from the village of Hálogy [near Körmend] submitted a petition
concerning their rights to 113 holds of land that had been excluded from the urbarial
surveys of the 1770s. Like a part of the disputed land at Miske, the land at Hálogy was an area
of woodland that had been cleared by the peasants and used as communal pasture. In this instance
the courts forced a compromise between the lord and the peasants. Stating that ‘the spirit of
the 1835/36 laws’ had been to firmly establish and ‘perfectly account for’ the peasants rights
to the land, the courts granted the peasants full urbarial rights to ninety holds of the
disputed land. Furthermore, in the ‘spirit of goodwill and friendship’ between peasants and
landlords, the court decreed that any demands for a clearing fee, normally paid as
acknowledgement of the lord’s right to the land, should be waived.
...disputes relating to the division of land on Batthyánys’ estates at Körmend did not preclude
negotiations beginning for the perpetual redemption of the peasants’ obligations from the mid
1830s onwards. Although the records for the Körmend estate do not provide great detail on the
redemption agreements, the peasants on the Körmend estate were reluctant to cede rights to any
land they farmed. Furthermore, the tenants on the Batthyány estates found it hard to meet the
cost of redemption.
The first attempt at a redemption agreement on the Körmend estates occurred at Holló. Like many
of the tenants on the Körmend estate, the peasants of Holló had fulfilled their obligations to
the Batthyánys in a combination of cash and kind, performing only a small amount of robot.
In 1835, the Holló peasants had agreed a fee of 14,500 forints to cover all of their
obligations, including the vineyard tithe and the rights to the regalia, for a period of
six years. When the agreement came up for renewal in December 1840, the peasants pushed for the
agreement to be extended to cover perpetual redemption of their obligations along the lines of
the recent law. By this agreement the peasants would ‘purchase’ the rights to the urbarial
land, amounting to thirty-nine sessios for 40,000 forints. This was payable in
yearly instalments over twenty years at a rate of five percent interest and effectively severing
all ties with their lords once payments were complete.
At the village of Lipótfalva [Loipersdorf], the peasants began negotiations for the redemption
of their urbarial obligations in 1846. Prior to this, the peasants of Lipótfalva had
maintained contracts whereby the greater part of their rents was paid in mixture of cash and
kind. As negotiations continued into 1847, the peasants realized they could not meet the cost of
redemption asked by their lords. All attempts to reduce the redemption fee failed as the
peasants would not agree to a contract that included redemption and loss of pasture rights which
would have been ceded as part of the agreement. Finally, in place of perpetual redemption, the
peasants agreed to a contract for the short-term redemption of their obligations, which the
peasants referred to as securing ‘small freedoms’. Taken as a the first step towards perpetual
redemption, these ‘small freedoms’ included converting all dues in labour and kind into a cash
payment and guaranteed the peasants’ usufructary rights (haszonbér) to the pasture
for another seven years. Similar short-term agreements had been reached elsewhere on the Körmend
estates in the course of negotiations, but even so most communities were unable to keep up with
the payments. Of nineteen villages that had concluded short-term agreements in the years since
1842 all but one were behind in their payments by 1848. Clearly, meeting the cost of redemption
was a problem for many peasant communities.
Why, then, were attempts at redemption so limited? For one thing, the issue of access to land
was more pressing, and the courts encouraged that this should be resolved before dues and
services were redeemed. It also appears reasonable that the peasants should wish to secure their
rights to as much land as they felt was ‘theirs’ – in terms of their historic rights of
usufruct – before they should seek to redeem the obligations associated with such rights. It
is likely, too, that few peasants had the means to meet the full cost of redemption. This had
caused lengthy negotiations at Hódmezovásárhely and Szarvas, despite the apparent wealth of the
peasants in the two towns, and equally was a problem on the Körmend estates. At Körmend, the
peasants had been able to establish short-term rental contracts, which converted most of their
dues into a single cash payment whilst confirming their rights to the land, but even these
presented problems for the peasants. Moreover the short-term agreements were seen as a small
step from full redemption and set a useful precedent should any agreement be established in the
future. In addition, where a large portion of their obligations were already paid in cash, the
peasants would have seen little reason to burden themselves with a greater payment so that their
obligations were redeemed in perpetuity. It is not surprising therefore that many communities
found the cost of full redemption too high and deemed it more prudent to continue renting the
land as they had before.
Dr. Gray's Conclusions
Dr. Gray writes: Hungarian seigneurialism, as it had been defined in written law
and as it was established through customary use from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth
centuries, did not deny the Hungarian peasantry the status of a subject or possessor of right.
Through centuries of practice, supported by negotiations with their lords and appeals to the
county courts, the peasants had established customary rights to the land they farmed, and
customary ways in which to assert these rights either through litigation or negotiation. The
peasants’ rights to the land and the terms of their relations to their lord had also been
defined by and established in both written law and written record. But customary right and
written law did not always reflect each other. Where written law did not account for customary
right, there was plenty of scope for exploitation and opportunism on the part of both lords and
peasants. Equally, there was ample opportunity for tension and disputes to arise between the
two. The reforms passed at the diet between 1836 and 1844 yielded a forum in which to
resolve the differences between written law and customary practice. By permitting peasants to
conclude redemption agreements with their lords, the existing common practice of converting
rents in kind and labour into cash payments was supported by legislation. By providing for the
separation of extra-urbarial and communal lands – those lands which had not been
accounted for in the Urbarium – customary rights were to be resolved by written law and
recorded in fully legal instruments. In this way, what had been the peasants’ customary rights
would, after 1848, become rights of private property. Through these measures, the reforms also
addressed the more pressing concerns of the peasantry, and the most common causes of disputes
between peasants and lords. To put it simply, the peasants had wished that their rights as
established through customary use, whether in relation to their obligations to their lords or
access to the land they farmed, were protected. The reforms of the 1830s and 1840s did this by
providing the peasants with a vehicle to have their customary rights recorded in and thus
protected by written law. Thus the reforms passed in the 1830s and 1840s went a long way in
allowing a smoother transition from ‘feudal’ rural relations to a rural society where rights of
private property were rooted in statute law: the basis of the liberal, bourgeois society that
the reformers had wished to create. On the other hand, if the peasants had not been able to
assert their customary rights and to voice their displeasure when these rights were ignored, the
reforms of the 1830s and 1840s would have been of little use to the peasants.
The Tripartitum of 1517 had given the peasants, no matter how vaguely, rights to the land
they farmed. In return, the peasants owed a set of obligations, in theory listed in written law
but in practice set by prevailing local custom. In many cases, the peasants could will and sell
their property freely to whomever they chose, and could move from place to place in search of
better conditions. In this way, the peasants were in a strong position to defend or improve the
terms of their relations with their lords, in a way that ensured that their status as jobbágy,
as legally free but dependent tenants, did not impinge greatly on their livelihoods. From the
mid-eighteenth century, as part of the rationalizing drive of Enlightened Absolutism in
Vienna, the terms of lord-peasant relations and the peasants’ rights to the land were defined,
categorized and recorded in written law and local records. The Urbarium of 1767 sought to
establish a universal standard for lord-peasant relations, listing the peasants’ obligations and
defining their rights to the land. But the terms used to define the peasants’ rights to the
land, as either their hereditary, inalienable property (urbarial land) or the hereditary,
inalienable property of their lord (dominical land), were fundamentally flawed. Drafted
by lawyers and officials in Vienna, the terms used did not adequately reflect customary use or
practice. Thus, as an unintentional consequence of the Urbarium, an alternative form of
land had emerged: the extra-urbarial land (the puszta, remanencia,
árendás and írtvány land). Because of the flaws within the Urbarium a great
part of the land farmed by the peasants was used by the peasants under terms different to those
defined in the Urbarium. This land was left in a legal limbo, with the peasants’ rights
to it established by no more than their customary use unprotected by written law. Thus, it was
possible for lords to exploit the differences between customary use and written law to
dispossess the peasantry of much of the land they had previously farmed. Equally, in many cases
the peasants’ obligations did not match those listed in the Urbarium, often being much
fewer than written law now permitted. In this way, lords could within the framework of the
written law increase the obligations of their peasant tenants or introduce entirely new forms of
rents, most commonly in the form of obligatory labour.
But, as we have seen, any account of the last years of Hungarian seigneurialism that
stresses such developments can only reflect part of the picture. These accounts ignore the
importance of customary practice and the rights that derived therefrom. By reference to
prevailing custom, many peasants had questioned the legitimacy of their lords’ actions, limiting
the loss of land they farmed or limiting any increase in the burden of their rents deemed to be
unreasonable. Customary practice also ensured that negotiation between lords and peasants to
establish the peasants’ obligations and to define the peasants’ right to the land, with
occasional reference to the courts, formed a central part of normal lord-peasant relations. In
this way lord-peasant relations and the peasants’ rights to the land permitted the peasants to
construct their own concept of what was just, reasonable or, at the very least, acceptable,
which did not have to conform to written law.
Many landlords towards the middle of the nineteenth century had become frustrated by the
stalemate between custom and written law, realizing that the best way to improve their estates
was to do away with the customary nature of lord-peasant relations. In the Reform Age of
the 1830s and 1840s, the efforts of a few improving landlords combined with the growing number
of liberal voices within the nobility. Land reform, furthered by perceptions of an imminent
rural crisis, became part of a wider programme of liberal reform that aimed at nothing less than
the complete overhaul of Hungarian society and economy. By 1848, the last remnants of Hungary’s
‘feudal’ rural order had to be overturned: the regular practice of negotiation, and the reforms
passed in the years before 1848, allowed this to be done with the swipe of a pen. Whereas before
1848, custom and law had operated as equal, complementary but also competing sources of
authority, after 1848 statutory enactment by the legislature assumed increasingly priority over
both custom and decree.
...the laws passed between 1836 and 1844 went some way to achieve this. By permitting voluntary
redemption agreements and enabling the division of extra-urbarial land in a way that
accounted for customary practice, the laws provided a way to convert customary right to rights
rooted in written law. The laws, by allowing this to be done through agreement and compromise
between lords and their peasants overseen where necessary by the county courts, also ensured
that the dismantling of the old rural order was accomplished within the framework of normal
Further research would have to be done to establish more completely how the peasants’ status as
jobbágy affected their everyday lives, in particular to patterns of inheritance, family
relations, and the impact of seigneurial justice and administration. Nevertheless,
through this thesis we have seen that the peasants’ position was one of surprising strength, and
certainly not one that saw the peasants become the passive victims of unbridled seigneurial
authority. Rather, the peasants had well established means to assert their rights, as the
peasants believed these had been defined through written law or, more commonly, customary use.
Lords could ill-afford to ignore the peasants’ customary use if they wished to have a working
relationship with their tenants, for the relationship was one of mutual dependence. The peasants
may have relied on their lords’ goodwill for much of the land they farmed, but more so the lord
relied on his peasant tenants as good cultivators and/or labourers if he was to receive an
income from his estates. Furthermore, should any lord wish to improve the income from his
estate, through expanding farming of his private demesnes or introducing the more
rationalized management of the estate, the lord often required the acquiescence of his peasant
tenants. Any changes in the terms of the peasants’ rents or their use of the land, should such
changes go against prevailing custom, could be challenged by the peasants through appeals to
their lords or petitions to the county courts.
And, most importantly, the peasants had a means to maintain themselves in the manner to which
they had become accustomed, protecting themselves from the worst manifestations of
seigneurial abuse: be it the overbearing burden of obligatory labour, or the mass
appropriation of the land they farmed. Certainly, Hungary’s peasants laboured under the
vicissitudes of the economic cycle, the intrusion of royal edict in relations with their lords,
and a social and legal framework that defined their status of ‘perpetual rusticity’.
Nevertheless, the requirements for good order in the countryside, traditional methods of
negotiation and the benefits of custom lent Hungarian peasants rights and powers that enabled
them to stand up to their lords, to make the best of the imprecisions of the Urbarium and
to resist any attempt to diminish what they believed they were due.