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Frederick II ("the Great"), Memorandum to the Administration of Electoral Brandenburg on the Landlord-Peasant Relationship (1755)

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His Royal Majesty therefore feels obliged to inform the Chamber of Kurmark of all these things and at the same time to reprimand them most sharply and severely for not having – as their oath and their duty required–kept a closer eye on these practices, which are so detrimental to the land and contrary to His Royal Majesty’s paternal intentions, and either themselves remedied the same or reported them properly to His Majesty, the result of which, and of the fact that the said Chamber has, in particular, not paid better attention to the new establishments, is that His confidence in the said Chamber has been greatly weakened, and He is obliged to signify to them His extreme displeasure.

In order, then, to remedy these abuses, which are so detrimental to the land and its inhabitants, and to put all things back on a proper footing, His Royal Majesty hereby makes known His most solemn will and command that, seeing that edicts exist that no nobles shall convert any peasant holdings into demesne land, still less, turn them into home farms, and that the introduction of small day laborers and farmhands to replace the peasants is insufficient, and also forbidden, and further, that His Royal Majesty has many times told the Chamber, in connection with the new establishments, that no man shall be done violence and wrong thereby, and that the Chamber must see to this, the said Chamber shall now enact, and diligently enforce, that the peasant holdings converted by nobles to demesne farms shall be resettled in their entirety with peasants, and these shall not be taken as serfs, but proper contracts of succession – under no circumstances limited to one or a period of years – shall be concluded for the tenure of the holdings and messuages. The Chamber shall, under pain of the highest Royal displeasure, not only do this, but shall keep a watchful eye on it, continuously.

As to point 2, that the great majority of the nobles in the Prignitz, or at least very many of them, have no system of fixed rules for the dues and services to which the peasants are bound: His Royal Majesty wishes this point to be settled and determined once and for all, in such fashion that regular rules shall be drawn up and the nobles be told what services and dues they are entitled to receive in the future from their peasants and subjects, which rules shall be based on what is customarily accepted in the locality as equitable and tolerable, and, if no regular customary law exists, what is the law and custom in the circles neighboring to the Prignitz shall be adopted. Nor can the said nobles defend themselves by appealing to a historic right to levy dues from their peasants and subjects at their pleasure, for here the general welfare must simply be put ahead of private interests, and while His Royal Majesty is glad to protect His nobles in their rights, He will not allow the subjects to be oppresed and sucked dry thereby.

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