Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 67

serfdom - Etymology, The system of serfdom, Dates of emancipation from serfdom in various countries

freedom lord obligations land

The condition of peasants lacking personal freedom, especially of movement and the disposal of property, and liable to uncertain or arbitrary obligations; an intermediate position between slavery and freedom. In general, they were attached to the land, and denied freedom of movement or freedom to marry without permission of their lord. They were obliged to work on their lord's fields, to contribute a proportion of their own produce, to surrender part of their land on death, and submit to the justice and penalties administered by their lord in the manorial court. The lord had obligations to his serfs (unlike slaves), most notably to provide military protection and justice. Serfdom was hereditary. In Britain, an acute shortage of manpower as a result of the Black Death led to the substitution of wages for labour services, and peasants' agitation for further improvements. Post-mediaeval references to serfdom in W Europe normally have scant social reality; but in E Europe serfdom persisted - in Russia until 1861.

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