Wednesday 24 March 2021
11.00 - 12.15
Servant Laws, Compulsion, and Resistance in the Nordic Countries, 1500–1900
Paul Borenberg :
Enforcement of Early Swedish Labour Laws in Practice. The Case of 17th Century Stockholm
For many people in early modern society, taking up service in the household of another was voluntary, but was required by law. From 1664 all unmarried and landless people were, in theory, mandated to take up service for at least a year. This servant act was renewed several times during ... (Show more)
For many people in early modern society, taking up service in the household of another was voluntary, but was required by law. From 1664 all unmarried and landless people were, in theory, mandated to take up service for at least a year. This servant act was renewed several times during the 17th and 18th centuries, with increasingly harsh penalties for vagrants. The implementation of these laws and the reasons for them have stood at the centre of Scandinavian research on servants for large parts of the 20th century.
But for several centuries before that, from the 14th century, there had been a law in place, although not as detailed, mandating that everyone who did not have the means to support one self independently was obliged to take up service. The existence of an older obligation of service has often been overlooked in studies of servants in the early modern period, there by obscuring the deep roots of mandatory service in early modern society.
Through court records from the town court of Stockholm in the years of 1600-1635, I will examine conflicts between servants and masters over employment, looking at by what kind of means mandatory service was upheld, or neglected.
I will especially focus on what means the masters had of forcing someone to serve in their household, what role the family network of the servant played in trying to negotiate or circumvent the obligation of service and how the town court and other official institutions viewed the obligation for young or impoverished people to serve.
The paper strives to shed light upon the mechanisms of forcing people into service that had long been in place and had been at work as an institution without having been codified into law as well as enabling a discussion about why there was a perceived need for a more codified system a couple of decades later. (Show less)
Dorte Kook Lyngholm :
Absolute Obedience. The Legal Status of Servants on Danish Estates in the 19th Century
The paper examines the legal relation between landlords and their servants on Danish estates in the 19th century. It examines the Danish servant laws form 1791 and 1854 and identifies the specific areas where landlords were entitled to impose sanctions on their servants, such as the right of chastisement and ... (Show more)
The paper examines the legal relation between landlords and their servants on Danish estates in the 19th century. It examines the Danish servant laws form 1791 and 1854 and identifies the specific areas where landlords were entitled to impose sanctions on their servants, such as the right of chastisement and the right to dismiss the servants without notice. It examines legal practice in cases where courts dealt with household conflicts that had traditionally been a private matter between master and servant. The paper identifies the notion of obedience as a central feature in the court cases and argues that local courts in the 19th century protected the remains of the traditional inequality between landlords and the rural population in Denmark. (Show less)
Carolina Uppenberg :
Regulating Masters – how the Swedish Servant Acts Constrained Masters as Employers
With the Servant Acts, the State clearly promoted the year-long service contract as the preferred way to organize work. The Servant Acts had two major aims: to order the landless population into hierarchical households; and to apportion labour power in a way that met different interests (smallholders and large landowners, ... (Show more)
With the Servant Acts, the State clearly promoted the year-long service contract as the preferred way to organize work. The Servant Acts had two major aims: to order the landless population into hierarchical households; and to apportion labour power in a way that met different interests (smallholders and large landowners, the State, and the military). They gave masters/mistresses power, and compulsory service considerably restricted the opportunities for the rural landless population. However, masters’/mistresses’ possibilities to organize a work force according to their needs were also affected by the Servant Acts. As freedom of work implies freedom of employment, there is a need to study how compulsory service worked for both servants/workers and for masters/employers, and this paper focuses on the latter.
In the local courts, not only cases where servants and masters had acted wrongly against each other were handled, but also cases in which masters/mistresses were accused by state representatives for breach of the Servant Acts in their employment decisions. However, as part of the peasant farmer estate, many of the masters also had political influence over legislation. Tax-paying smallholders had the right to elect representatives to the Estate of the peasant farmers, which were one part of the Diet of the Four Estates.
This paper will make use of two different sources in order to understand the effects of the compulsion of the Servant Acts directed towards masters/mistresses: court cases in which a state representative accused masters/mistresses for not having employed servants/casual workers in a correct manner; and debates in the Estate of the peasant farmers in the Diet. The time period will cover the discussions concerning the last Servant Act, issued in 1833, when compulsory service gave way to an acceptance for landless people to provide for themselves with casual labour.
The viewpoint of the masters will enable to study how compulsory service and the servant institution affected agriculture as such in a time period when the need for a more flexible work force grew. The paper will also discuss how 19th century growing freedom of work could be understood from an employer perspective. (Show less)
Vilhelm Vilhelmsson :
Responding to Coercion: Servants, Peasants and Everyday Resistance in 19th Century Iceland
In Iceland, compulsory service dates back centuries, being the primary and preferred form of labour management from the late Middle ages until the end of the 19th century. From the late 17th century onwards, regulations on compulsory service, domestic discipline and social order became more detailed and strict and several ... (Show more)
In Iceland, compulsory service dates back centuries, being the primary and preferred form of labour management from the late Middle ages until the end of the 19th century. From the late 17th century onwards, regulations on compulsory service, domestic discipline and social order became more detailed and strict and several repressive measures and surveillance methods were introduced in the 18th and early 19th centuries to enforce such legislation, following a similar development in other parts of the Danish-Norwegian kingdom. Between 1783 and 1863 anyone 18 years or older, who did not run their own household, was required to become a servant in a legal household. Any exception from this, such as for craftsmen or fishermen, required a written permit from the local magistrate. Servants were subject to the authority of their masters, should show them both obedience and submission, and were expected to undertake any work which was required of them. Masters, in turn, were by law responsible for their servants well-being as well as their moral education and Christian upbringing. They had the right to physically punish disobedient or insolent servants. The master-servant relationship was seen as a moral relationship and the bedrock of social order, and local authority figures were obsessed with promoting the importance of the service institution.
The labour system in Iceland thus had a high degree of legal compulsion and physical coercion. This paper will explore the ways servants and peasants responded to the compulsory nature of the servant system and the various coercive measures undertaken by the authorities. How did peasants respond to efforts by local officials to either remove undesirable servants (pregnant servant girls for example) from their homes and local communities, or pressure peasants into taking in servants which they did not want? In what ways did servants respond to harsh treatment by their masters or experiences of humiliation or indignity during their period in service? What possibilities did people have to resist being coerced into service? Did servants have, or create for themselves, ways to negotiate with their masters or the authorities on the conditions of their servant contract? In short, the paper will discuss the agency of servants and peasants, its possibilities and limits, through the lens of everyday resistance as an inherent part of power relations in Iceland in the early 19th century. It highlights four major elements in servants’ repertoire of everyday resistance: Insolence, laziness, theft (pilfering) and absconding from service and places those elements within the broader ontology of resistance studies. (Show less)