The Burden of Repaying the Grunt

Czech literature on land books is mostly scattered in a number of smaller, often regional or historical journals. They are published by regional museums, archives or other public institutions. Recently, I finally had a chance to read the Ústecký historický sborník from 2011. In it you would find an article by Jiří Koumar entitled: „Má doplaceno, žádnému nic nedluží…“. Finanční aspekty majetkového transferu poddanské nemovitosti na mělnickém panství v 17. století (see the English summary of the article at the end of this post).

On pages 37 and 38, I was intrigued by the author’s analysis of the length of the farm repayment. Once again, the data collected from the land books serves as a source of quantitative analysis that can demonstrate general trends and historical context. In this article, the author has collected data on the prices of sold farms and the amount of arranged installments from the Mělník Estate land books. By simply dividing the two figures, he found out how long it would ideally take to pay for the whole farm. The data are averaged for two types of farms (farms and cottages), which differ in size. 

The starting point is simple. The new possessor of the farm – who may be a buyer or an heir who takes over the farm from his father – had to pay the purchase price in agreed annual installments. To give an example: let’s say the price of the farm was 100 and the installments were set at 10 per year. Then the new possessor would pay off the farm over 10 years. (For detailed explanation of this topic see Chapter XIII of the book).

1584–16201621–16501651–16801681–1701total average
statky (big farms)28,529,241,353,035,9
chalupy (cottages)11,512,921,332,517,3
in total20,120,032,542,826,5

The data show that the ideal repayment period has gradually lengthened, and it is no coincidence that substantial growth began after the end of the Thirty Years‘ War, which brought ruin and depopulation to the Czech lands. And it was by no means short before that either. Farm prices rose steadily, while at the same time the agreed annual installments decreased.

Finally, it is worth reminding that the figures in the table represent the ideal (and shortest) repayment period. In reality, the repayment of all installments took longer and very often another transaction took place before the original purchase price was fully  paid. 

KOUMAR, Jiří „Má doplaceno, žádnému nic nedluží…“. Finanční aspekty majetkového transferu poddanské nemovitosti na mělnickém panství v 17. století . In: Ústecký sborník historický. Ústí nad Labem: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Jana Evangelisty Purkyně, 2011, pp. 7–43. ISBN: 0231-93-49

Summary from page 7:

“He has paid up, he is in no debt to anyone…“, Financial Aspects of Transfers of Real Estate in the Hands of Subjects on the Mělník Estate in the 17th Century


The contributed article focuses on the financial aspect of the changes to property rights concerning real estate in the hands of subjects on the Mělník estate in the 17th century. Following the study of the land registry the price of real estate is monitored as well as the subentries related to its fulfilment – down payment and annuities. The analysis shows that the price of real estate in the hands of subjects Was not a constant entry; a general decline in the prices is documented after the first half of the 17th century. A similar trend is observed also in case of down payments and annuities, which were further marked by irregularities and delays in their actual payment. A complex study of the financial conditions regarding the transfer of serf property proves that the consequences of the Thirty Years’ War had a significant impact on the financial capabilities of the subject population on the Mělník estate and influenced the overall framework of changes to property rights as regards real estate held by serfdom.

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