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Credit market

The relationship between the peasant society and the credit market has attracted the long-standing systematic attention of historians, as shown by the number of monographs, volumes, and a special issue of the journal ‘Continuity and Change’ from 2014 (e.g. Briggs & Zuijderduijn 2018; Schoefield & Lambrecht 2009). At this point, we will use the established methodological framework to examine the nature, structure, availability, function and importance of the credit market in the late medieval Eger countryside.

Knowledge of the Eger credit market is made possible by the protocols of the city court. The Eger city court sat relatively regularly, namely on Mondays and Fridays, extraordinarily on Wednesdays. A wide spectrum of people who had receivables from Eger burghers - not only the Eger burghers themselves, burghers from other towns or Jews, but also the peasantry - ‘subject’ and ‘free’ tenants from the countryside could turn to the court. The city court and its protocols were a key institutional element providing guarantees for debt recovery and the efficient functioning of the urban-rural credit regime. What is important is that the peasantry was given the same guarantees as the inhabitants of the city, which was an incentive to enter the credit market.

The court protocols recorded (1) the petitions of the creditors on the debtors; and (2) to a lesser extent also the declarations of the debtors on the specific obligation, repayments and guarantees. In the first case, we see formal and informal credits, which failed. In the second case, they are formal credit, specifically loans, regardless of whether they were repaid. Those recorded were mainly those loans, with which the creditor wanted to secure his rights and the enforceability of the debt. It is thus not surprising that records of Jewish creditors predominate. The creditor usually was satisfied with the admission of the debtor himself before the city court, only in one case is also the presence of his landlord documented.

The subject of our analysis are the petitions from 1442-1456 and the declarations of the debtors from 1435-1456 (Schuldprotokolle, 1429-1439; 1439-1452; 1452-1470).

The testimony of the petitions

When the creditor turned to court, he first brought the first petition, and if the claim was not paid, it was followed by the second and finally the third petition, forfeiture of the pledge, or other remedial action was accepted. Both the amount due (principal) and interest (‘damage’ of the creditor) were regularly recorded. It is fundamental that even small debts, less than 10 Prague groschen, were discussed before the court in the period in question, so the earlier city council’s resolution was not applied, namely that only the enforcement of debts from a certain amount of money was to be recorded in the books (Schuldprotokolle, 1387-1416, pp. 1-3).

We have identified, among the 12,276 petitions from 1442 to 1456, a total of 257 (2.1%) cases when the plaintiff came from a rural settlement or market village, whether from Eger city state or outside of it (Table 9.3). Of these petitions, 165 were primary; the rest were repeated petitions. Among the plaintiffs, it was possible to identify 133 unique individuals. The majority of them were peasants. In the registers of the Eger land tax, it was possible to find 61 plaintiffs - peasants directly in the year of the petition. Among the other plaintiffs, a significant share were rural millers (9% of the plaintiffs; 17% of the petitions) and even parish priests were represented.

The first question is what type of credit the claims concerned. Was it a failed loan, or a sale on credit? The specific cause of the debt can only be traced exceptionally in the protocols - unpaid wages occurred three times, an unspecified trade transaction twice, loaned money twice, likely an unpaid inheritance share once, debt created by the sale of grain twice, and of dill once. Nevertheless, a total of 47 primary petitions (28.5%) were brought against burghers - butchers, six petitions concerned Eger millers and five weavers (c.f. Losungsbuch, 1446). On the level of the general tendency, we therefore assume that the petitions relate predominantly to sale credit that

Table 9.3 Amount of the debt for claims sued by plaintiffs from outside Eger before the city court in 1442-1456

Amount of the debt (Prague groschen)

Primary petitions

number

%

Eger ‘butchers’

%*

7-30

50

31.6

12

24.0

31-60

47

29.7

17

36.2

61-120

31

19.6

12

38.7

121-300

23

14.6

6

26.1

300-3,600

7

4.4

0

0.0

Total

158

100.0

47

29.7

* - share within the shown monetary category. Source: Schuldprotokolle, 1439-1452; 1452-1470.

failed, or that they were unpaid wages. In other words, among the plaintiffs, there are mainly the suppliers of the city market for meat, grain, and wool (both direct producers and intermediaries). In this case, the credit market and its institutional security by the city court indirectly helped to supply the city efficiently, as they compensated for seasonal fluctuations and secured agricultural commodities even in a situation of cash shortage.

The second question is how much the individual petitioned debts amounted to. This also tells us how much money the peasants were getting at one time by selling their products. The amount of monetary debt varied in a wide range from seven groschen to 60 threescore Prague groschen. Nevertheless, a total of 61% of the debt can be considered to be small, not exceeding one threescore Prague groschen. Another 20% of the debts were between one and two threescore of Prague groschen. The boundary of 10 threescore Prague groschen was crossed only exceptionally (three cases). Receivables from Eger butchers had the highest representation in the category of a half to two threescore Prague groschen. This range corresponds to the assumption that normal trade with agricultural, especially livestock, products was behind the large part of the petitioned claims.

The third question is how much interest was associated with the credit. We unfortunately do not know the time between the creation of the debt and the deadline for its payment. The records of the petitions listed the interest rate for loaning the money in 119 of the cases (72%); in 46 cases, it was interest-free debt. In total volume, the amount of the petitioned debts was 295 threescore Prague groschen, of which 177 threescore was connected with an interest in the amount of 43 threescore (24%). The interest rate fluctuated in a wide range of 7-79%. Most often, the interest was in the interval of 7-20% and 21-40%, only exceptionally it exceeded 60% (Figure 9.1). The analysis did not show a convincing dependence of the amount of interest on the size of the principal, the occupation of the debtor, the social status of the plaintiff or creditor, the number of petitions, or the year of the petition.

The fourth question is what the property positions of the plaintiffs (peasants) and defendants (burghers) were. We have determined the status of the peasants based on the land tax attributed in the year of the petition, the status of the burghers according to the city tax register from 1446. Of the statistical methods, we have used quintile analysis, that is we ranked all taxpayers according to the prescribed tax and divided them into five categories from the poorest to the richest (Kiir 2018, pp. 202-4; 2019, p. 347). In total, we have evaluated the status of 54 plaintiffs in 69 petitions and 31 defendants in 62 petitions (Figure 9.2). The richest peasants predominated among the plaintiffs. The status of the defendant burghers was more balanced, with moderately wealthy and very wealthy burghers represented equally. It follows that the city’s foodstuffs market was mainly supplied by the richest peasants who were willing to sell to the burghers on credit.

/ Amount of the interest for loaning money

Figure 9. / Amount of the interest for loaning money.

Source: Schuldprotokolle, 1439-1452; 1452-1470.

Social status of the creditors and debtors in the Eger city state, 1442-1456 (sale on debt)

Figure 9.2 Social status of the creditors and debtors in the Eger city state, 1442-1456 (sale on debt).

Source; Klosteuerbikher, !442-l456;Losungsbuch 1446; 1439-1452; 1452-1470.

 
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