Domain and Regency » Manorialism » Social class » Serf
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A serf is an agricultural worker on a manor with ties of service and dependence to a lord. He may own his land, or toil on the lands of his lord, but he owes his lord labor and service. A serf may pay modest fees in coin or kind, but the bulk of their obligation is paid the lord by working his land. A typical manor requires four days of labor annually for each acre the serf has rights to. Some regions may be able to impose as many as five days, and some as few as three, but below three days, a lord would prefer to free his serfs and collect rents instead.
Commoners tend to be reserved when around their betters. However, these folk are lively and spirited when among their own kind, prone to dancing, making music of every description, singing, and telling jokes. Although the labor these folk do is often backbreaking, their spirit is undimmed, and the slightest excuse is reason enough to have a feast or at least a dance in time of plenty. Their tools and goods will reflect the materials available on their lord's lands. Very little of what they can afford is produced off the manor in the towns. Theirs is mostly an economy of barter, exchanging grains and other foods for their needs.
There are two kinds of serfs, generally speaking: villeins and cottagers. Some authorities distinguish between villeins and half-villeins, which is very useful demographically, but their rights and obligations are the same.
Cottagers own very little land, and have light responsibilities to labor to the lord, but to live must sell their labor to the lord or other serfs to get by. Cottagers may have just a cottage and garden, or may have several acres. While simply sell their labor, they may also help support themselves working as fishermen, trappers, herders, or as a laborer.
Villeins have 10-30 acres, but those with less than 20 acres are sometimes called half-villeins. They farm their own land, and pay their lord mostly in the form of labor, though some rents are also due. Their activities mostly revolve around growing crops, as this occupies most of their time. Most areas have few of the so-called half-villeins, as they are often poor and struggling. Villeins whose acreage approaches 30 acres can be quite comfortable for a commoner.
Serfs of all kinds are subject to the manorial court, run by the bailiff. The manorial court imposes a whole set of taxes and obligations on the serf from which free labor is immune. The demesne of the lord includes not just his lands which raise crops, but his full rights to his serfs, including:
  • chevage, a rent for leaving the manor and taking one's labor elsewhere, generally towns
  • eggs, provided to the lord on holidays
  • heriot, an inheritance tax levied on the house of the deceased, based on the value of the serf's household chattels, it often included the best beast and the best cloth in the house
  • gersum, an inheritance tax on the persons taking possession of a tenancy, based on the size of the acreage in the tenanacy
  • merchet, a fee for the marriage of women, paid by the groom, sometimes paid by the bride's father as a gift to the couple, and often valued at a day's labor. When the woman owned (or would one day own) property, such as a widow or heiress, she was also taxed on the value of the land she held or would one day hold.

The labor obligation of serfs, once commonly five days per acre, and now more commonly four, might be served planting or harvesting the lord's crop, making malt for the lord, working the lord's vineyards, shearing the lord's sheep, maintaining the manor's roads, dikes, and irrigation, or serving as watchman for the lord or the manor. A serf's daughter might also take a position in the household, which would be compensated either in salary and/or in reduction of the serf's labor.
Serfdom has been in gradual decline since the Anuirean Empire, as the rents paid by free labor and military service of the yeomanry proves more valuable than the manorial labor of the serfs. Perhaps roughly a quarter of all manorial labor is unfree.
Serfs tend to have good relations with most social groups, especially the nobility. The nobles rely on these folk for the labor that feeds them on a day-to-day basis and treat them with respect, though always with a clear understanding of who?s in charge. Nobles generally take commoners for granted, but do show them a distant respect, at least for appearance?s sake. Commoners tend to dislike the middle class and the criminal classes, however. The middle class is an unknown quantity, and tales of their wealth will occasionally draw a young serf off the manor and to the city usually with disastrous consequences according to conventional wisdom. The city and its social classes are something foreign to the serf and both frightening and improper.

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