Friday, December 13, 2013

Excerpt from "Bohemia and the Čechs" that discusses land ownership

Here is a really interesting excerpt from the book Bohemia and the Čechs, the History, People, Institutions, and the Geography of the Kingdom, Together with Accounts of Moravia and Silesia, by Will Seymour Monroe. This book was published in 1910. I have found it a fascinating read, especially from my vantage point in history. There are quite a few anti-Semitic comments, and he sometimes portrays Czech culture in black and white; it sometimes seems like he doesn't really believe Czechs are people - more like animals in a zoo to be studied. As long as you remember that this author had his own personal biases, and you remember that everything that he says might not necessarily be true, there is a lot of fascinating history to learn from what he wrote. It will be extremely useful to you in your pursuit of your family history to understand the history of the region, and this book does it in an interesting way, written over 100 years ago. Plus, it is in English.

"Bohemia is the richest agricultural kingdom in the Hapsburg empire. Its soil is fertile, the climate is favourable, and the country is well watered. More than half the area is devoted to agriculture; five per cent. to grass meadows; less than two per cent. to vegetable-gardening, and twenty-nine per cent. to forests. It will thus be seen that less than one per cent . of the total area of the kingdom is unproductive.

Unfortunately more than a third of the agricultural lands belong to the nobility. The emperor and the Roman Catholic church are also large land-holders. Five families - the Schwarzenbergs, the Lichtensteins, the Lobkovics, the Schönborns, and the Thuns - own nearly eight per cent. of the area of the kingdom; and seven hundred and seventy-six landlords, constituting less than one-tenth of one per cent. of the population, own more than thirty-six per cent. of the area of the country. "The state is still the tool of the noble." Yet the big estates yield only one-half in proportion to the acreage of the small holdings, which means that they are less intensively cultivated.

The big estates, it is charged, impoverish the people, since each of the feudal families has an enormous staff of overseers, labourers, and hangers-on, non of whom are nearly as productive as they would be on small holdings. Serfdom and labour dues, it will be recalled, were not finally abolished until 1848, and it was not until 1867 that the peasants were granted the right to emigrate. The demand of the Bohemians for the abolition of the robota (enforced personal service) was one of the causes of the revolution of 1848, and a patent issued by Emperor František-Josef the 4th of March, 1849, freed the peasants from al lobligatiosn to their feudal lords.

Up to this period agriculture was in a very backwards state. But the impetus given by the freedom of the serfs, and the subsequent introduction of the Bohemian language into the schools, made the dissemniation of agricultural knowledge possible. The peasants, it will be recalled, had never given up the Bohemian language for the German; but as they were not taught to read in the mother-tongue (German being the only language allowed in the schools), they had remained unfamiliar with the progress in agricultural and horticultural methods in other countries. With the study of the Bohemian in the schools, and the publication of agricultural papers in that language, marked improvement followed in the matter of stock-breeding, the care of orchards, rotation of crops, and the improvisation and purchase of modern farming implements. 

Before 1868 the peasant landlord was not allowed to sub-divide his farm. It could be bequeathed to one child only, and custom rather than law determined which child should inherit it. In case the peasant farmer died intestate, the children inherited equally, which meant that one of the children had to take the farm and meet the claims of his brothers and sisters. Otherwise it was sold as a whole. Since farmers were required to purchase tracts of land as wholes, the law made it impossible for the peasants to improve their condition by the purchase of a field or two at a time, with the added disadvantage that when farms were thus sold as wholes they were generally purchased by the nobles or the church.

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