Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dominikál vs. Rustikál

When you are reading Czech land records, you will inevitably encounter the terms dominikál and rustikál. What do these words mean? Why are they important for genealogists to understand?

Dominikál comes from the same root as the word dominion. It refers to manorial/estate land owned by the nobility and tilled under their direction by the robota subjects. Robota is an amount of labor (and later more of a monetary tax) that serfs owed their estate lords. The equivalent in France would be the corvée. As an anecdote, the evil, dreaded robota remained imprinted into the cultural memory of Texas Czechs, that is, descendants of Czech immigrants to Texas, even until my generation. To give some perspective, my great, great grandfather Joseph John Vašíček was my first direct line immigrant ancstor, arriving in Texas in 1880.
Panská půda, kterou vrchnost obdělávala ve vlastní režii pomocí dvorské čeledi a roboty poddaných
Rustikál comes from the same root as the word rustic. It refers to land/property owned by the estate and possessed by peasants for a fee, "or other consideration."

Nemovitost, zvláště půda, která byla dědičně v držbě poddaného za poplatek či jinou úhradu
The way I had this explained to me was that the land of an estate could be divided into basically two parts: either dominikál or rustikál. Your ancestor's property might be described as a rustikál gärtlergrund, in which case perhaps it has been a small farm passed down for generations. If, however, you see that your ancestor's property is described as a dominikál gärtlergrund, that is an indication that the property was probably not previously used by tenant farmers, but rather was estate land that was either farmed or perhaps not, considering the condition of the property. 

The closest equivalent word in English to dominikál is demesne. This is, "all the land which was retained by the lord of the manor for his own use and support, under his own management, as distinguished from land sub-enfeoffed by him to others as sub-tenants."

But this opens up a huge can of worms, namely: how does feudalism and the system of subinfeudation  in England in the middle-middle ages compare to what existed in the 18th and 19th century Austrian Empire? Is the 1290 Quia Emptores, or the statute that prevented subinfeudation in England, a significant event that differentiates these systems? If so, how?

What I want to understand better is what would be the purpose for the estate lord to sell some of his dominikál holdings? Some reasons I can think of:
  • the need for more liquid cash flow
  • a growing population on the estate that was running out of room in the present rustikál property
  • benevolence and/or generosity of the estate lord
  • risk: the estate lord realized that there is more profit in real estate than in farming, which is definitely as true today as it was back then!
Why is this nuance important for genealogists to understand? I'm not exactly sure, but I have some ideas. 

My understanding is that before 1856 (but I have no source for this!) subdivision of property was not officially legal. My understanding is that basically, it was not until about a decade after the end of feudalism in the Czech lands that peasants actually had the ability to split their land into new parcels. I lack knowledge about this; I need to learn more about the specifics of these laws. But, if it was true that the land could not be subdivided before the middle of the 19th century, then it might also be true that a new property might be significantly different looking than an original plot. As in, the estate lord might have realized that he could sell some of his dominikál land to make a profit off the rent of the tenants. If I were in that position, I would try to sell the land in the smallest size possible in order to provide the maximum number of lots (and annual taxes/rent) possible. Perhaps a dominikál gärtlergrund is smaller than a rustikál gärtlergrund. Of course, for Americans of Czech descent, one of the most fascinating questions to try to understand is, "Why did my ancestors leave?" Certainly we can get closer to a true answer to this question as we understand the precise conditions of their property and farm, including how it compared to other nearby farms, as well as the size, cost, and yields of their land. 

Understanding conditions of an individual property can hint at broader conditions of the estate. It would have mattered to your ancestors if the estate were experiencing an economic boom or downturn, and this certainly could have influenced some of their life decisions: how many children to have, where to live (and thus die), whom to marry, etc. Although peasants under feudalism were not free to move out of the estate without permission from the estate lord (again, I do not have a source for this information! Grr), I have been surprised at how mobile within the estate they were. Understanding the economic conditions of an estate might help you track down missing people. If it were a slow economy, maybe they moved to an urban area? 

It sounds like I need to email an expert in Medieval Law in order to gain more specific knowledge about feudalism in the Austrian empire. And get some interlibrary loan books!


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