GHDI logo

Emperor Joseph II's Penal Patent [Strafpatent] governing Manorial Courts in the Countryside (September 1, 1781)

The reign of Maria Theresa saw the issuance of administrative rulings that improved the condition of the peasantry in the lands of the Austrian monarchy. These rulings put limits on the feudal rents noble landlords could rightfully demand from their village subjects. They also prohibited further landlordly enclosure of peasant land in manorial demesne land. This patent, released early in Joseph II’s independent reign, sought to further improve the condition of peasant subjects by systematizing the procedures whereby manorial courts maintained by noble lordships administered primary-jurisdiction justice to subject villagers [Untertanen]. Though its provisions are harsh by modern standards, its intent was village-friendly. In any case, noble lordships had little rational interest in meting out lengthy or debilitating punishments, which would only render their subjects unfit to fulfill their labor obligations. Still, abuses of manorial justice were common.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 2

That on the one hand, the general welfare may be promoted and preserved, and the dependence and obedience of the subjects to their lawful lords, which is necessary for tranquility, be established, and on the other hand, that subjects be protected against any abuse by the manorial authority – Be it enacted:

1. Every subject shall obey and submit to the commands of the Crown services and the orders of the manorial lords and their officials.

2. No subject shall be judge in his own case, but shall carry any complaint to the lawful authorities, and act as instructed by them.

3. A person disobeying such instructions is to be punished as ordered by the manorial authority unless a penalty has already been imposed on him by a higher instance.

4. Persons inciting others to disobedience or combining with them to that purpose are to be regarded as principal offenders.

5. Before any subject is punished, his offense shall be recited to him in the local Court in the presence of the magistrate or of two neighbors, and his defense heard. If his defense is untenable, or if his offense is proved by witnesses, the authority shall impose on him a punishment appropriate to the offense.

6. A record must be drawn up stating the offense, indictment and all attendant circumstances, and the sentence. This shall be read aloud and signed by the neighbors convoked for the purpose.

first page < previous   |   next > last page