Dvortsovye Krestiane

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dvortsovye Krest’iane


(court peasants), feudal-dependent peasants in Russia who belonged personally to the tsar and to members of his family. Land inhabited by dvortsovye krest’iane was called court land. Landholding by the royal family originated in the period of feudal fragmentation (12th—15th centuries). The basic obligation of the dvortsovye krest’iane was to supply the grand prince’s (later, the tsar’s) court with provisions. The number of dvortsovye krest’iane increased during the period of the formation and consolidation of the Russian centralized state (late 15th—16th centuries). According to the pistsovye knigi (census books) of the 16th century, court lands were located in at least 32 districts of European Russia.

In connection with the development of the pomest’e (fief) system in the 16th century, the state began to make wide use of dvortsovye krest’iane to compensate the service nobility. The number of dvortsovye krest’iane also increased in the 17th century, with the growth in the territory of the Russian state. There were approximately 100,000 households of dvortsovye krest’iane in 1700. At the same time, the dvortsovye krest’iane were being given away—a practice that took place on an especially large scale during the first years of the reign of Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov (1613—45). Under Aleksei Mikhailovich (1645–76), 14,000 households of dvortsovye krest’iane were given away, and under Fedor Alekseevich (1676–82), more than 6,000 households. Approximately 24,500 households of dvortsovye krest’iane were distributed during the first years of the reign of Peter I (1682–99). The majority of these peasants fell into the hands of relatives and favorites of the tsar and retainers of the court. In the 18th century, as in previous centuries, the ranks of dvortsovye krest’iane and court lands were replenished primarily with confiscated lands of disgraced landowners and the population of newly acquired land in the Baltic region, the Ukraine, and Byelorussia.

As early as the late 15th century various special court institutions managed the dvortsovye krest’iane and court lands. In 1724, the dvortsovye krest’iane were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Main Court Chancellery, which was the central administrative-economic body for governing dvortsovye krest’iane and the court of highest instance in civil cases. Until the beginning of the 18th century court volosts (small rural districts) in the provinces were administered by local commissioners and later by estate managers. There was local self-government in the court volosts.

From the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 18th the dvortsovye krest’iane paid the obrok (quitrent) in money or in kind, or in both money and kind at the same time. They supplied bread, meat, eggs, fish, honey, and other products, performed various labors for the members of the court, and brought foodstuffs, firewood, and other supplies to the court in their own horse-drawn carts. From the beginning of the 18th century, in connection with the increasing significance of monetary rent, the majority of the dvortsovye krest’iane were made exempt in 1753 from barshchina (corvée) and duties paid in kind and were placed on monetary obrok.

In the 18th century the economic situation of the dvortsovye krest’iane was somewhat better than that of private landowners’ peasants; their obligations were lighter, and they enjoyed greater freedom in their economic activity. Rich peasants, traders, and money lenders were clearly distinguished among dvortsovye krest’iane in the 18th century. Under the reform of 1797 the dvortsovye krest’iane became udel’nye krest’iane (appanage peasants).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.