Patrimonial Estate Theory

Patrimonial Estate Theory


(yotchinnaia teoriia), a view held by a number of bourgeois historians who regarded the medieval patrimonial estate in Western Europe as the institution that shaped the socioeconomic, political, and cultural life of the Middle Ages. Many tenets of patrimonial estate theory originate in German romantic reactionary historiography at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, particularly in the views of J. Möser and K. Eichhorn. The theory was fully developed and widely accepted in the 1870’s and 1880’s. The proponents of the patrimonial estate theory attributed to the owners of patrimonial estates the improvement of agricultural techniques, the development of trades, the creation of medieval towns, and the organization of the process of internal colonization. The proponents of this theory also maintained that the large patrimonial estate had completely swallowed up all other forms of landownership and attempted to show that, within the framework of the patrimonial estate, the interests of feudal lords and peasants were harmonious as late as the 13th and 14th centuries.

Nevertheless, those scholars who combined the patrimonial estate theory with certain principles of the theory of the commune (obshchinnaia teoriia)—for example, the Germans K. T. Inama-Sternegg and K. Lamprecht and the Russian P. G. Vinogradov—also held some scientifically progressive ideas. These scholars did not regard the patrimonial estate as a primordial social institution but related its emergence and consolidation to the process by which earlier free peasants organized into communes had been transformed into feudally dependent peasants. Thus, they recognized the qualitative difference between the early Middle Ages and the period of developed feudal relations.

The patrimonial estate theory received frankly reactionary treatment in the works of N. D. Fustel de Coulanges (France) and F. Seebohm (Great Britain). These writers rejected the historical validity of the existence of the free commune and regarded the patrimonial estate, with its inherent dependence of the peasant on the landowner, as one of the primordial institutions of human society.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, a number of bourgeois historians, including G. von Below and G. Seeliger (Germany) and A. Dopsch (Austria), developed a critique of the basic tenets of the patrimonial estate theory, directing their sharpest arguments against its scientifically viable elements.

In contemporary bourgeois medieval studies, the patrimonial estate theory has lost its former significance as the most widely accepted system of views on socioeconomic problems in medieval history, but some of the most reactionary ideas developed by its exponents still exert an influence on bourgeois historiography.


Danilov, A. I. Problemy agrarnoi istorii rannego srednevekov’ia v nemetskoi istoriografii kontsa XlX-nachala XX veka. [Moscow, 1958].