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Prices of farm holdings and the instalment system

Before proceeding to the actual comparison, it is necessary to emphasize the property rights of the examined properties. In all cases without exception, these were purchased farmsteads (Prochazka 1963, pp. 95-105). At these farm holdings in the 16th century, there was an instalment system of their prices. Its beginnings likely reach back to the late Middle Ages (Chocholac 2007, p. 300). The expansion of this system was aided by the frequent alternation of the farmers at the farmsteads (especially at the smaller farm holdings), the lack of cash on the part of the purchaser, with which he could pay for the purchase of the homestead immediately or in the short term, and the overall price increase due to the price revolution. Its accompanying phenomenon was an increase in the prices of agricultural crops and wage labour of subjects and, in terms of financial penetration, of highly inflationary tendencies into the money circulation which were caused by the use of large amounts of small coins with low silver content (Vorel 2000, p. 145). Practically, this meant that the buyer did not have sufficient funds to pay the homestead immediately and therefore the agreed price was distributed (for the prices of farm holdings, their creation, and difficulties in interpretation, see Chocholac 2005, pp. 98-103; Stefanova 2009, pp. 86-94). The first part was the earnest money, that is usually the largest instalment paid immediately after the property transaction or shortly after it took place; the remainder was divided into several annual instalments (Prochazka 1963, pp. 308-9, 314-21). These instalments of the prices of farmsteads, from which interest was never paid, were usually labelled as vejrunky (annual payments), annual or farm money (for other labels in Czech and German, see Prochazka 1963, p. 318). They were mainly paid to the creditors by the farmer working on the farm holding, less often the widow or the village headman as the so-called money deposited on the right. The recipients of the farm money were most often individuals, less often institutions, such as the orphans’ cash boxes and church endowments, sporadically guilds, municipalities, etc. Part of the means were also acquired by the manorial lords, for instance, as money of fugitive subjects, etc.

Thanks to several land registers, which were kept regularly already from the 1540s, research in these localities on the Pernstejn estate have proved a permanent growth of the prices of farmsteads in all size categories for the second half of the 16th century; on the contrary, their slight decrease by about a tenth of the previous value was observed at the beginning of the 17th century (Chocholac 1989, pp. 67-73, 81). A different price development was recorded at the end of the 16th and at the beginning of the 17th century at the Boskovice and Tele estate because the prices of farm holdings stagnated here or even rose slightly (Vanek 1997, pp. 34-46; Chocholac 1999, pp. 79-80). From this, it is clear that there was no continuous rise in farmstead prices everywhere at the turn of the 17th century as the older literature postulated for Bohemia (Petran 1964, p. 25). Whether and to what extent the differentiation in the development of farmstead prices in individual estates was related to the current level and state of the serf economy, however, cannot be determined at present and is a question for further study.

The comparison of price data from the pre-White Mountain period with the war period, which could be realized for the Boskovice, Drevohostice, Tele, and Zd'ar regions, provided interesting information. There was a significant drop in the price of the farmstead if the farm holding was directly hit by the looting of soldiers, a fire and subsequently its desolation. In such cases, however, of which a small number was recorded (Chocholac 1999, pp. 77, 89-90), the price set in the next property transaction was only a fraction of the original value.

If the farm holdings were not directly affected by the above-mentioned interventions, the decrease of their prices on the mentioned estates were zero or only minimal, at most a tenth of the original pre-White Mountain value (Vohnicky 2014, p. 55; Vanek 1997, p. 35 f.). It is even still possible, in the first war years (the beginning of the 1620s), to observe a slight increase of the price with some farm holdings (Valusek 1998, pp. 63-7). It was similar also at the Melnik estate in Bohemia (Koumar 2011, p. 88). Unfortunately, it was not possible to determine whether the inflationary moves of the coins were projected in the rise of the prices (Kostlan 1985, p. 285 f.). The absence of a distinct reduction of the prices of the majority of the farmsteads indicated that the actual fact of an ongoing military conflict did not influence the value level of the villagers.

In the framework of the property transactions in all of the examined localities, further data with an influence on the instalment system of the farmsteads besides the prices - the earnest money and annual (vejrunkove) instalments - were also negotiated. The solvency of those interested in the farmstead can be seen in the size of the proportion of the really paid earnest money (without the values of the hereditary shares of the new farmer on the farm holding or his wife, gifts of relatives, permanent burdens, etc.) as compared to the price of the farmstead (Chocholac 1999, pp. 98-9; Janik 2002, p. 65). In the pre-war period, the share was around (Bojkovice, Kufim region, Pernstejn region, Tele region, Zd'ar region) 10 to 16% of the price on average (Chocholac 1999, pp. 100-2; Janik 2002, p. 66). The share of earnest money in the price of a farmstead was similar (18%) in localities on the Brumov estate, even though the methods for processing the data were different - all found amounts of the earnest money were included (Odehnal 2007, pp. 98-9, 213). In contrast, a high share of earnest money in the price was proved in the research of small towns on the Pardubice estate where it reached 40% in the period between 1601 and 1621. Despite a small decrease in the following years, the share remained high (between about a quarter and third of the price) until the end of the 17th century which probably reflects less serious damage of the localities during the Thirty Years’ War (Siglova 2017, pp. 202-4). Considering practically stable prices of homesteads in small towns throughout the whole 17th century, buyers must have had quite large amounts of cash in order to acquire them.

Other than the municipalities from the Kufim region, Hosteradice on the Tele and Pocitky on the Zd’ar estates, with which the statistical processing of the comparison could not be carried out because of the absence of sources or the limited number of data, there was a decline in the share of the earnest money in the price in all the examined localities on the Bojkovice, Tele, and Zd'ar manorial estates in the course of the war (Chocholac 1999, p. 100). With the small town of Mrakotm in the Tele region, the reduction was minimal; similar values were found also on the Melnik estate (Koumar 2011, p. 90), whereas with Bobrova in the Zd'ar region, the drop was the greatest where the paid earnest money only reached a fifth of the pre-White Mountain values (Chocholac 1999, p. 100). A larger amount of financial means from the earnest money in the pre-war period gave the seller (if he received it) a greater change of a new purchase on another farmstead. In this way, it was possible to support the exchange of farm holdings in the surveyed localities and a certain trade approach of the subjects to the farm holding is observable on the estates of West Moravia in the pre-White Mountain period, especially among holders of smaller-property farms. The farm was held to the extent that it was beneficial to the landlord and the size matched to the abilities and energies of his own family. If the owner of the homestead felt he could handle ‘more’, it was not usually possible to buy more fields so he sold the old farmstead and bought a larger one for it (it was similar in the opposite case) (Chocholac 1999, pp. 155-6). Nevertheless, the decline of the actually paid earnest money in the course of the war while maintaining farmstead prices almost unchanged significantly reduced these options.

In the post-war period, if the instalment system did not disappear on the estate (as, for instance, in the Pernstejn region) and payment of the earnest money was maintained, the pre-White Mountain values of its share in the price were not mainly (with the exception of Mrakotm) renewed. Their amount was low and almost the same as the data from the period of the Thirty Years’ War. Completely different amounts of earnest money were found for the town of Valasske Klobouky. In spite of different methods for processing the records (all found amounts of earnest money were included) in comparison with previous studies, the share of earnest money in the price increased throughout the whole 17th century with the exception of the period 1660-1679. It was due to a growing tendency to buy homesteads in the town for cash, in such a case, the earnest money equalled the price of the homestead (Odehnal 2007, pp. 211-12). This practice, if compared with findings from other estates in Moravia, where the price of farmstead paid in cash was lower than the price of the same farm holding paid in instalments, apparently decreased the prices of farm holdings, disrupted the instalment system in the town, increased the number of paid homesteads and secured the payment of financial means to the seller (creditor) but required the buyer to have quite a large amount of cash. When these financial means did not suffice as a result of the worsening economic situation in the town, which was caused by frequent invasions from Hungary to East Moravia during the 17th century, the number of gratuitous transfers increased and accounted for as much as one quarter of all exchanges (Odehnal 2007, p. 221). In order to ensure that the farm had a holder, all claims of creditors were lost.

In the course of the entire period in question (for the Pernstejn region already from the middle of the 16th century) on the estates where data comparisons were possible (Dfevohostice, the Pernstejn region, the Tele region, the Zd'ar region), there was a reduction of the annual (vejrunkovy) instalments set within the conditions of the property transaction. If this fact was accompanied by a more significant decrease in really paid farm money, this led to an extension of the ideal and mostly real maturity of the farm holdings. As a result, the number of long-term or permanently indebted farms with instalments increased in those localities.

The researches carried out so far have generally confirmed the very good payment discipline of farmers for the pre-White Mountain period which was reflected both in the amount of the instalments and in their regularity of their use. Despite that, the extent of indebtedness with farm instalments was different at the individual estates. In the Pernstejn region in the period from 1550 to 1580, only not quite 45% of the farm holdings were in debt (Chocholac 1989, data from graphs Nrs. I, III, V, VII, and IX), on the Nove Hrady estate, it was even only 39% of the farmsteads in the middle of the 16th century (Holakovsky 1993, pp. 77-8). The Tele region at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries (1580-1619) showed roughly half of the farm holdings to be in debt (Valusek 1998, pp. 83-5), the Pernstejn region, at the same time, was already two-thirds of the farmsteads (Chocholac 1989, data from graphs Nrs. I-X). It was similar at the Melnik estate (1584-1620), where 67% of farms and 61% of cottages were indebted with instalments (Koumar 2011a, p. 38). So far, the greatest indebtedness of farmsteads with instalments before White Mountain at a level of 71% was found at the Cesky Krumlov estate in the first quarter of the 17th century (Holakovsky 1993, pp. 77-8). When interpreting the growth of the indebtedness of the farm holding with instalments, it is not possible to settle for the primary reference to the worsening economic conditions of the subjects, it is necessary to put this phenomenon in the broader context of ongoing property transactions. The indebtedness was influenced not only by the ideal maturity, which reflected the negotiated terms of the transaction between the buyer and the seller or the acquirer of the farm holding and heirs concerning the amount of the price, the earnest money and annual payments, but also the actual maturity of the farm holdings. It reflected both the payment discipline of the farmer which depended on the actual yield of the farmstead and the number of people it had to existentially and socially secure as well as the frequency of the exchanges of the farm holdings. The frequent alternation of the farmers (especially at the smaller farm holdings) in the pre-White Mountain period, on the one hand, maintained or increased the indebtedness of settlements with instalments, on the other, reflected the trade access to these properties on the part of their holders.

During the war, there was a deepening of the indebtedness - it was almost 70% in the Tele region, nearly 80% in the Pernstejn region and more than 85% of the farm holdings in the Zd'ar region (Chocholac 1989, graphs II, IV, VI, VIII, and X; 1999, pp. 113-5). This trend (if the entire instalment system did not collapse) then continued even in the post-war period and reached 90% indebtedness of the farm holdings. The research on the Melnik estate in Bohemia also came to the same results (Koumar 201 la, pp. 38-39). At the end of the 17th century, the existence of paid-off farmsteads was already an exception (Chocholac 1999, graphs pp. 113-5). The long ideal maturity, little or no earnest money and almost non-payment of the annual instalments practically precluded the payment of the farmstead and, at the same time, created conditions for the actual collapse of the instalment system (on the reasons of the collapse of the system, see Chocholac 2005, p. 117), as happened, for instance, in the Boskovice, Pernstejn or Straznice regions. In the case of a long-term absence of the instalment system in the locality (at the estate), the awareness that the farmsteads had been purchased may decline.

The indebtedness of the farm holdings with instalments at the Svetlov estate (specifically in the village Sehradice) in the east of Moravia at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries was resolved in other ways: gratuitous acquisition of the farm holdings, or payment of a farmstead with cash (neither case required the existence of an instalment system), or setting low prices of farm holdings (only to 50 Moravian gulden) in maintaining a certain level of the instalment system of the farm holdings (Odehnal 201 l,p. 47).

On the contrary, a completely different state of the payment system of tenant farms in comparison with research in Moravia or with the research in the Melnik region was presented by Dana Stefanova for several villages of the Frydlant estate in North Bohemia because the farmers there in the second half of the 17th century paid their annual instalments very regularly and systematically. They acquired enough financial means not only fromtheir agricultural products, but also through participation in protoindustrial domestic production (Stefanova 2009, pp. 122-4).

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