Manorial Farms

In many areas of West Prussia, the Remus family members lived on manorial farms. On this web page I will try to describe how these farms worked and why there was a large out migration from these farms. The information provided is based on a book called Ordinary Prussians by William Hagen and published in 2002 by Cambridge University Press. It is quite a wonderful resource with detail far beyond what I will report below. It is 700 pages and costs $100 so try interlibrary loan. Do note that Germans ran the villages described and the residents are largely Germans. In West Prussia, the manorial farms can differ if Polish nobility runs the farm and there are a large number of Polish serfs.

Manorial Farms consisted of a manor house (gut) owned by a noble family, many large barns, and residences for the workers. In many cases there was an adjacent village owned by the manor in which there were small scale farms which the small farmer residents had the right to pass on to their descendents; in some areas it was customary to pass on land to the oldest son but this was subject to confirmation by the lord of the manor. Other workers lived in the manor house or in nearby structures.

First, here is a picture of the gut in Gross Konarszyn in Kreis Schlochau:


Note that this is not a terribly impressive building (at least for those of us who watch Masterpiece Theater on Public Broadcasting). This is because the noble lord of the manor often owned many estates so the gut resident was often the manager of the farm. Sometimes the resident was a poor cousin. Other times the gut resident was a hired professional manager. In other cases the right to manage was purchased from the lord of the manor by an entrepreneur.

The land held by the noble family was often very large so many barns were required to house the equipment and produce of the land. Note the worker residence in the front part of the first barn shown below. Here are the two big barns from the manorial farm in Gross Konarszyn:

The manorial farm had three kinds of workers:

as well as supporting people like millers and tavernkeepers.

The small farmer had a one or two room house, outbuildings, land for a small garden, and land for cash crops such as rye, barley, or oats in the old days and potatoes after 1750. The small farmer also had access to common land for pasture. The small farmer would pay his rent in grain and in unpaid work on the manorial farm (often 3 days a week).

To be successful, the farmer needed a capable wife to share the tasks and produce little workers (children). The eldest male of resulting offspring in the family typically inherited all the property rights upon his marriage. The marriages were not based on good looks and romantic love but would be best thought of as a business partnership. The financial deal included gaining inheritance rights, a woman's dowry, gifts from both families, the right for the man's parents to retire and live in an outbuilding on the land, and payments to disenfranchised siblings. This event occurred after confirmation at age 13 or 14 but often before 20 if there was inheritable farm. There were variations on this inheritance arrangement when there were no male children or the children were quite young. Divorce was virtually unknown. (Marrying a first cousin was not a bad idea since it kept the inheritance in the family - and after all marriage was a business deal.)

A manorial farm typically had upwards of 20 farm workers doing tasks like cooking, cleaning, and working in the dairy. The farm workers were usually hired on an annual contract after they reached the age of their confirmation. The lord of the manor could require compulsory service from the children of the small farmers for up to three years. This type of work provided a good bridge between childhood and marriage, particularly for non-inheriting children. These farm workers received food, clothing, housing, and a small amount of money.

There were also day laborers on the manorial estate. These were usually people without inheritance rights and who would be otherwise impoverished. They often roomed and boarded with a small farmer providing him a supplemental income source. They would receive some pay for work but also had to perform unpaid work for the estate; they had to work especially long hours at harvest time. They could be hired and fired at any time. If these people had no source of income, the local church had to provide support for them.

The village layout was often set up to facilitate access to the manorial estate. The following is a common village layout:

The above map shows the village centered on a common area which all can use. The manor house and its many barns are at the head of the village. The large tract of land behind the house and barn was owned by the noble family and the yield of these fields was the main source of income for the estate. The estate largely produced grains for market.

Each worker’s house has a small garden behind it and then outside the village are small plots of land for the workers to grow the food for their families. Given that the Prussian plow used during this period were very heavy and hard to turn around, the land outside the village was subdivided into long strips, each associated with a small farmer.

From all the above, it is clear than the non-inheriting children of the small farmers as well as the day laborers often had to move elsewhere (like Volhynia or new farming estates) in search of land to farm.

There were a number of special functionaries associated with the estate. There were millers who ground the grains into flour and other products. Millers often purchased this right from the lord of the manor plus they paid an annual fee in grain. Tavern keepers (krugers) purchased or leased the right to brew and to run an inn; additionally the kruger might pay fees in beer or money. Both millers and krugers often had land for growing food for their own consumption.

The lord of the manor had the right to be judge for minor infractions committed by people on his estate. This was often done indirectly by appointing a judge. The parameters of justice were fairly well defined and limited by the Prussian government as earlier there had been abuses of the system.

Often the villages had village heads (schultz). Schultz were powerful in villages of free farmers or where the schultz privilege was inheritable. However, in manorial villages the schultz were unpaid and disenfranchised; they were caught between the interests of the lord of the manor and those in the manorial village.

In 1807 the world of the manorial village changed. Napoleon defeated the vaunted Prussian Army and a reform minded Prussian government took over. The new government began the process of disbanding the manorial farms and dividing up the property between the manor and the farmers with hereditary rights. The time this disbanding took varied widely. The rules were such that some farm sizes were uneconomical and some of the small farmers did not have enough food to eat and migrated. Many villagers had no opportunity to buy land and migrated.

In the Pommern, manorial estates were created by the Dukes of Pommern in the 13th century. Some estates remained the property of the Dukes (royal villages), some were granted to the nobility (largely German and Slavic Knights) that supported the Duke (noble villages), and some were granted to the church. The church held villages might contain a monastery or might be a manorial farm controlled by a church official like a bishop whose management was contracted out.


Click here to go to other West Prussia Villages.


Please send any queries to Bill Remus at

March 1, 2012