Serfdom Patent (1781)

Serfdom Patent (1781)

Serfdom Patent (1781)

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The Serfdom Patent of 1781 () aimed to abolish aspects of the traditional serfdom system of the Habsburg lands through the establishment of basic civil liberties for the serfs.

The feudal system bound farmers to inherited pieces of land and subjected them to the absolute control of their landlord. The landlord was obligated to provide protection, in exchange for the serfs’ labor and goods. The Serfdom Patent, issued by the enlightened absolutist Emperor Joseph II diminished the long-established mastery of the landlord; thus allowing the serf to independently choose marriage partners, pursue career choices, and move between estates.

Historical context

The Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II ruled as co-regent of the Habsburg Monarchy with his mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, from 1765 to 1780. Following her death in 1780, Joseph II pursued further liberal reforms. His policies included the 1781 Edict of Toleration, in which the Roman Catholic Emperor granted Protestant denominations more equality than in the past. This represented a tremendous change from the Catholic-centered policies of his mother. Joseph was an enlightened absolutist ruler, incorporating reason and Enlightenment ideals into his administration. Emperor Joseph’s enlightened despot contemporaries, Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, both claimed to detest feudalism yet chose to appease their noble classes by strengthening the serfdom system during their years in power. ...
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