Freedom's Price Serfdom, Subjection, and Reform in Prussia, 1648-1848

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-12-15
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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It is usually claimed that serfs were oppressed and unfree, but is this assumption true? Freedom's Price, building on a new reading of archival material, attempts a fundamental re-appraisal of the continuing orthodoxy that a 'serf' economy embodied peasant exploitation. It reveals that, in fact, Prussian 'subject' peasants fared much better than their 'free' neighbours; they had mutual rights and obligations with nobles and the state.

In this volume, Sean Eddie seeks to establish the true 'price of freedom' paid by the peasants both in the so-called Second Serfdom around 1650 and in the enfranchisement of 1807-21. Far from representing further exploitation, the peasants drove a hard bargain, and many nobles subsequently fared worse than their tenants; subjection was abolished and land ownership was transferred from noble to peasant. Capital was therefore at the centre of the pre-capitalist economy, and the growing economic polarization of society owed more to the peasants' access to capital than to noble exploitation. By locating Prussian serfdom and reforms in a pan-European context, and within debates about the nature of economic development, feudalism, and capitalism, Freedom's Price targets a wider audience of early modern and modern European historians, economic historians, and interested general readers.

Author Biography

Sean Eddie was educated in history at the Edinburgh Academy and Trinity College, Cambridge, and in economics in the City of London. Returning to Trinity, in 2008 he completed a PhD combining the two. This is his first book.

Table of Contents

List of Tables
Currencies, Weights and Measures
I. Introduction
Part One: The Manorial Economy
II. The Konservation Conjecture
III. Capital, The Mainspring of Prussian 'Feudalism'
IV. The Onset of the Manorial System in Prussia
V. Peasant Wealth: Bust Turns to Boom
VI. Peasant Poverty: A Tale of Two Cycles
Part Two: Reform
VII. Twilight of the Lords: the October Edict of 1807
VIII. The 1811 Edict: Nobles Enfranchised and Enraged?
IX. The Limits of State Power: the 1816 Compromise with Reality
Part Three: Conclusion
X. The Significance of the Reforms
XI. The Reforms in Context

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