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Peasants in Franconia

Peasants in Franconia During the first half of the nineteenth century, Franconia was still very much an agricultural society. In lower Franconia, which lagged behind middle and upper Franconia in its economic development, some 75% of the population were to some degree dependent on agriculture for their livelihood in 1852: 28% were full-time farmers, 27% day laborers, and another 20% combined agriculture with a craft. Only 19% of the population were employed exclusively in commerce or the crafts, a ratio not very different from that in 1814. Peasant holdings were widely dispersed and characterized by sometimes minuscule units, the result of the centuries-old practice of partible inheritance. Fields were still planted in the traditional three field system, and as late as mid-century, plows did not go deeper than four or five inches. Of the newly available crops, only potatoes were planted in any significant amount, while wine, the traditional cash crop, suffered from a severe reduction in sales. Population growth was slow: some 19.4% only between 1818 and 1848 in lower Franconia, 23.1% and 29.5% in middle and upper Franconia respectively. In a stagnating economy, many saw emigration as the only viable alternative. Some 13,000 people left the three regions (Regierungsbezirke) between 1835 and 1856 alone, some 44.6% from lower Franconia.

Change came slowly to this society, though not necessarily because of peasant resistance--the legal and institutional framework of the state impeded change as well. To be true, servitude, the serfdom (Leibeigenschaft), had been abolished in the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1808. Franconian serfs had to wait until a decree of July 24, 1818, as the area had been part of the Grand-Duchies of Würzburg and Aschaffenburg in 1808. These reforms granted some 5% of the population their personal freedom and abolished all obligations of a personal nature. But they did not address the issue of Grundlasten, obligations of connected with the ownership of real estate, such as unpaid labor services, the unpaid service obligations ( Fron), noble hunting and grazing rights, which often made consolidation of holdings impossible, and the tithe, still often collected in kind, which forced peasants to time their harvest to the schedule of the tithe collector. The patrimonial privileges (Patrimonialgerichtsherrschaften) of former imperial estates in northern Franconia were not only an important source of income for the local nobility, which insisted on its right to local justice (Gerichtsgefälle), but, more importantly, a place where justice was dispensed, not always impartially, by an employee of the local lord.

As the peasantry addressed these issues after 1818, which were just odious to them as servitude had been, they did not normally resort to force but rather used the legal system in an attempt to wear the opposition down. This route was not only taken by Winterhausen, a community of some 1,100 people on the river Main just south of Würzburg and part of the Patrimonialgerichtsherrschaft of the Grafen Rechteren-Limpurg, but by dozens of communities all over northern Bavaria. In 1825, the Landtag had passed a law permitting the fixing and redemption of Grundlasten through cash payments. Consequently in November 1827, the peasants of Winterhausen refused not the payment, which would have been illegal, but the collection and delivery of the Weingält, the ground rent for their vineyards, due that year. In May 1828, they refused to provide a letter carrier, a Fronbote, to pick up the count's mail or to deliver the circulars of the local minister. They challenged the obligation in court, and won a first victory when the high court (Oberappellationsgericht) in Munich decided on July 20, 1829 that the Graf Rechteren had to prove his right to demand these services. When a court in Würzburg decided in June 1832 that the village indeed had an obligation to provide the Fronbote, the community responded in August 1833 with an offer to fix all unpaid labor services, i.e., the Handfron, Spannfron, Jagdfron, Botenfron, Baufron, collection of Weingült, the making of firewood, dispersing of manure on the fields etc. In June 1834 Graf Rechteren rejected the offer and another court case began. In 1837, the special tax liquidations commission fixed the value of all labor services at 143 fl, even though the community itself had offered to redeem them at 216 fl in 1833.

Not surprisingly, Winterhausen now challenged the findings of the commission and managed to stall the fixing of obligations for the next ten years. In the spring of 1847, a new court case began, which was not yet decided by the time news of events in Munich reached the village. Sensing the victory, a town meeting was called on a Sunday afternoon and a list of grievances compiled. Under the leadership of a tailor named Vial, the villagers presented the list to Major General Graf Friedreich Ludwig von Rechteren-Limpurg, commanding officer of the Landwehr in lower Franconia, hereditary member of the Bavarian Reichsrat etc. etc. The local policeman, sent to stop the crowd, had his broken sword thrown at his feet in a gesture of utter disdain, signifying more than anything else the demise of the old authorities. Graf Friedreich promised at once to grant what he had fought to preserve in court for twenty years. Victorious, the peasants went home again. The revolution was over.

But not everywhere did the revolution pass so peacefully. In the mountainous areas of upper Franconia and on the sandy plains around Nürnburg, the peasantry was worse off then in lower Franconia and quite prepared to take matters into their own hands. Dissatisfied with the laws on June 4, 1848, as they did not grant them the right to hunt, to cut wood freely, nor abolish the tithe, they put a few castles of the nobility to the torch in the fall of 1848. Knowingly or not, they interpreted the freedom from paying taxes (pressen= the paying of taxes), which led to additional conflicts with the state.

Anti-nobility, anti-church, and anti-Munich feelings were strong in the Protestant enclaves of middle Franconia, where some 58.5% of the land had been under theGrundherrschaft before 1848. Democratic elements in particular encouraged these sentiments by suggesting that it was the church and the nobility with their large landholdings which opposed the division of estates, the abolition of the tithe, and especially the introduction of a new hunting law, which empowered communities to auction off hunting rights on the commons. Their agitation paid off in the elections of November 1848. During the spring of 1849, democrats again adopted the demands of the peasantry, outside and parallel to the campaign for the demands of the peasantry, outside and parallel to the campaign for the constitution. Through the Märzvereine democrats were able to achieve to a considerable degree the politicization of the rural population, which was again reflected in the elections for the Landtag in July 1849, where democrats were returned in large numbers. But even here the revolutionary fervor ebbed quickly in the summer if 1849 after the abolition of the tithe and the passage of a new hunting law. Thousands of Prussian troops, ready for action just across the border, contributed their share in keeping upper Franconia, and thus all of northern Bavaria, quiet.

The peasants of Franconia were not revolutionaries. Once the limited demands of the peasantry had been met in the summer of 1848, their political interests were exhausted and the rural areas dropped out of the revolutionary movement. With few exceptions, the laws of June 4, 1848, abolishing the Grundlasten, Patrimonialgerichtsherrschaften and Gerichtsgefälle, simply legalized concessions which had been wrung from the nobility in the preceding months and years. By accepting the inevitable, the government in Munich skillfully pacified the largest, and potentially most dangerous, segment of the population, as events in the Palatinate and, to a lesser degree in upper Franconia, had shown. But as neither the democratic agitators nor the peasantry wanted or dared to leave the foundation of the law, as was signaled in their participation in the elections of July 1849, here too the specter of a genuine social revolution was more imaginary than real. Some work still needed to be done though: in April 1849, the tithe was abolished, and grazing rights on alien ground were rescinded in 1852. Some of the last legal obstacles to modernization were removed by the Arrondierungsgesetz of 1861, which provided a legal basis for consolidating the widely scattered holdings.
Robert Selig


Rudolf Endres. "Franken und Bayern im Vormärz und in der Revolution von 1848/49." in Johannes Erichsen and Uwe Puschner, eds., "Vorwärts, vorwärts sollst du schauen": Geschichte, Politik, und Kunst unter Ludwig I. 3 vols., (Munich, 1986), II, 199-217.

Helmut Jäger. "Der agrarlandwirtschaftliche Umbau des 19. Jahrhunderts." in Unterfranken im 19. Jahrhunderts. (Würzburg, 1965), 210-243.

Dieter Langewiesche. "Die politische Vereinsbewegung in Würzburg und in Unterfranken in den Revolutionsjahren 1848/49." Jahrbuch für fränkische Landesforschung 37 (1977), 195-233.

Klaus Schönhoven. "Zwischen Revolution und Sozialistengesetz: Die Anfänge der Würzburger Arbeiterbewegung." Mainfränkische Hefte LXIII (Würzburg, 1976).

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