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The trade in farm money in rural areas in the 16th and 17th centuries (using the example of small towns on the Pardubice estate)

Introduction

The trade in farm money (gruntovnipentze) was connected to the exchange of farm holdings and mainly with a specific system of repayments. It was a sale of claims on farm holdings secured in land transfer registers, which were called farm money. When a farm holding was sold, only a part of the market price was paid in cash, the so-called deposit (zavdavek), with the remaining amount being paid off using repayments. The farm holder gradually settled the claims of previous owners or their heirs. As a result, as many as five groups of people could have claims on a single farm holding. The practice was the same with inheritances - one of the heirs bought out the shares of the other heirs. The unpaid balances of market prices were often bought and sold. Subjects frequently sold their claims only after a long period of time for a cash sum which amounted to merely a fragment of the original amount (Chocholac 2007, p. 300; Mainusova 1965, p. 1).

The essence of the sale of farm money meant that a seller sold the farm money to which they had a claim for a specific farm holding. The buyer purchased it for a lower price and expected that, in the future, the whole claimed sum would be repaid. When farm holders bought out the farm money themselves, they could deduct it from the repaid sum as if they had repaid them themselves. In these cases, purchasing farm money could be considered a means to reduce the indebtedness of a farm holding and to pay off the farm more efficiently, that is more quickly and for a lower amount. When the money was bought by a third party, it was primarily a way to invest free financial resources or to save capital with profit. The buyer could expect a gradual return of the invested amount in the future and repayment of the whole sum. There were also rare cases of buyers changing their minds and selling off the purchased money, which could have been profitable.

Farm money was usually purchased for a sum of money and was therefore a type of financial credit with the possibility of solid appreciation of the invested money. The farm money was occasionally paid in kind, forexample in livestock, grain, beer or wood. In these cases, it was a form of business credit (Chocholac 2001, pp. 71nn, 80). On the Pardubice estate, no case of purchasing farm money for labour was found, as is documented on Moravian estates (Chocholac 2001, p. 81).

I have chosen three small towns for this analysis (Bohdanec, Dasice and Tynec nad Labem), which were part of the large Pardubice estate in East Bohemia. This estate was situated along the Elbe River and included two large towns, five small towns and approximately 120 villages. From 1560, it belonged to the monarch. The selected towns varied in population size and were evenly distributed across the estate. According to the tax register (berm rula), which recorded payers of the tax from tenant farms, after 1650, there were 89 such farm holdings in Bohdanec, 80 in Dasice, and 46 in Tynec. In Bohdanec, there were said to be 463 persons excluding small children, with 344 in Dasice, and 175 in Tynec (Siglova 2011, p. 75).

The sale of unpaid farm money was recorded either in orphan books or in land transfer registers (Siglova 2017, p. 230). These sources contain information about the name or the surname of the seller and buyer, about the amount of the bought out sum, and the sum which the seller usually received immediately. The date of the sale is also given.

The attitude of landlords to the trade in farm money

Judged by a different number of sales of farm money on various estates, not all landlords had the same attitude to this type of transaction. The trade in farm money appeared quite often in records in the orphan books on the Pardubice estate, with approximately one-quarter of farms sold after the death of the tenant holder. On one household, there could even have been several (as many as five) such transactions. Sales of farm money were at least formally approved by the local landlord or estate manager (Vs Pee, bk. no. 302, fol. 318r, 1655; bk. no. 282, fol. 363v, 1579). On the Melnik estate, sales of farm money were not a very common transaction and appeared more often before the Thirty Years’ War (Koumar 2010, p. 261). On the Frydlant estate, the practice of purchasing farm money was not at all common (Stefanova 2009).

The negative attitude of landlords to the selling of farm money resulted from their efforts to protect their own claims to escheat and to prevent the impoverishment of their subjects. The landlords did so from the position of the supreme owners of the land. On the Straznice estate, the landlord did not intervene in subjects’ right of disposal when the sales were within the borders of the estate. Some sales, for example to Jews and guilds, were tied to the consent of the landlord (Mainusova 1965, p. 2). It is clear from the landlord’s decrees, orphan books, and land transfer registers that the landlords on the Pardubice estate wanted to have these transactions under control. They primarily aimed to restrict the involvement of their own administrators in this type of trade (Kalousek 1905, pp. 378n). Even though an administrator did occasionally purchase the repayments, this was rare (Vs Pee, bk. no. 327, fol. 80v). The landlords were apparently concerned that the administrators could have misused the disadvantageous position and poverty of the subjects and used buy-out of the money for their own enrichment.

The landlords oversaw the transactions mainly for the protection of orphans’ rights and also occasionally cancelled a whole transaction. One of the possible reasons was when the seller sold farm money belonging to somebody else (for example, to stepchildren or siblings) (Vs Pee, bk. no. 336, fol. 27r). Another scenario was when the sum of sold farm money was higher than the rightful claim of the seller which meant that the sold sum was higher than the share of the inheritance to which the seller was entitled. Both these cases caused confusion in the settlement of inheritance claims and due to invalid sales some groups of heirs could have received less than they were entitled to (Vs Pee, bk. no. 336, fol. 460r, 1704). There were also exceptional cases of orphans who abandoned a part of their financial claims for ‘social’ reasons.

In contrast, the landlord’s decrees positively encouraged people to purchase money from people who wanted to sell it because of their poverty or some other reason. The estate manager was also tasked to support purchasing farm money of orphans, whose shares of the inheritance or their parts lay unused in orphan chests (funds) or church endowments (Kalousek 1905, pp. 378n; Cerny 1930, p. 90).

 
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