The agrarian reforms' significance for Rasmus Stang
Map of Nørre Ørslev from 1809, after the
parcelling out of the land. ©Danish Geodata Agency.
Rasmus Stang lived at a time that was characterised by great
changes. The new ideals of the Enlightenment, which focused on
freedom, science and progress, flourished and left their mark on
political life. In France, the new thoughts culminated in the 1789
revolution. Denmark also felt the winds of change. In the late 18th
and early 19th centuries, a number of pervasive reforms were
introduced, which would later come to be known as the Agrarian
Reforms. This comprehensive legislative work led to a
reorganisation of the agricultural sector and resulted in vast
legal, financial and social changes in rural society. The purpose
was to promote productivity and improve the farmers' conditions.
One of the masterminds behind the reforms was Prime Minister C. D.
F., Count Reventlow, a landowner from Lolland.
Four of the agrarian reforms' fundamental issues had an impact
on Rasmus Stang's life.
The right to move freely - the abolition of the
Stavnsbånd (manorial bondage)
The first of the agrarian reform changes that had an effect on
Rasmus' life was the abolition of the manorial bondage in 1788.
From 1788 to 1800, the manorial bondage was gradually phased
This meant that after 1800, Rasmus was free to move away from
the estate where he was born without having to ask permission from
the squire. Before that, he and other males aged 4-40 had been tied
to the estate where they belonged, i.e. where they were born.
However, Rasmus did not take advantage of the new freedom to move
away from Vestensborg. He remained at his copyhold farm in Nørre
Ørslev with his first wife, Margrethe, and the couple's first
The striking farmers - the villeinage duty
The second agrarian reform resolution that affected Rasmus was
the adjustment of the villeinage duty.
Villeinage was the forced labour that tenant farmers carried out
on the estates. Along with the annual manorial dues, villeinage
constituted the rental fee for the copyhold farm. Villeinage was
usually divided into a number of days where Rasmus would have to
provide a farmhand to work in the fields, and a number of days
where he had to provide a horse for work. In contrast to the
manorial dues, the villeinage was not set out in the tenancy
contract - the landowner was at liberty to adjust the number of
days up and down as needed, which made many farmers feel abused. At
the end of the 18th century, disputes between landowners and tenant
farmers about the extent of the villeinage sparked strikes.
On Saturday 4 September 1790, it all became too much for the
farmers in Nørre Ørslev. For the seventh day in a row, they had
been summoned to work at Vestensborg. By now, they had had enough
and stayed away from work! The landowners responded by issuing
fines. The farmers refused to pay. Rasmus was faced with a dilemma.
On the one hand, he could not approve of the illegal
insubordination against the landowners, due to his position as
parish bailiff - the public authorities' representative. On the
other hand, Rasmus was himself a farmer and thus subjected to the
landowner's unjust treatment. Nobody knows what Rasmus decided to
Negotiations between the farmers and the landowner were
initiated, but in vain. The end of the matter was that in August
1791, the Crown bought the Vestensborg estate in order to implement
the reforms itself. On 1 May 1792, villeinage at Vestensborg was
replaced by a monetary fee. Initially, villeinage was not abolished
nationwide, but in 1799, it was decided that landowners could no
longer decide the extent of the work themselves.
Goodbye to the neighbour - the parcelling out of the
The next part of the agrarian reform changes that made a
difference in Rasmus' life was the parcelling out of the land into
new plots and the relocation of farms.
The objective of the two measures was to streamline agriculture by
abolishing the villages' communal ownership of land. Up until then,
farms were gathered in villages, surrounded by fields, with the
individual farm's plots of land distributed across the village
fields, so that each farmer had a narrow strip to cultivate in each
field. This system guaranteed a fair distribution of good and bad
soil, and the farmers cultivated the land in unison. In step with a
growing demand for agricultural products in the 18th century,
leading landowners realised that this land utilisation system was
both extensive and inefficient. This realisation sparked the
beginning of the parcelling out of the land.
The amputated gable end of Falstergården farm is
the only remaining trace of the twin farm. Photo: Roberto Fortuna.
In Nørre Ørslev, the village lands were measured and mapped and
then redistributed. The village was now divided into 17 farms and
17 house plots. Two of the former farms in the village had to be
scrapped. As the objective was for the farms to be placed centrally
in relation to the new plots of land, eight of the village farms
had to be moved out to their new lands outside the village. Rasmus'
farm, which was one half of a former twin farm, remained in the
village, while the other half was scrapped, and the outbuildings
were demolished. It was decided that the farmhouse, which was
joined to the Falstergården farm, should be left standing for as
long as its owner, Mr Troelsen, and his wife remained alive. After
their death, the farmhouse fell into disrepair, until it partially
collapsed. Today, the southern gable end of Falstergården's western
wing stands as a scar that has healed, bearing witness to the
enormous impact the parcelling out had on both the village and the
individual farmer's life. The close social and operational
community that had existed for generations was now dissolved. The
parcelling out of the land gave the farmers the opportunity to make
operations more efficient, but they each faced this responsibility
alone. Names such as Tårebæk (Stream of Tears), Frihedsprøve (Trial
of Freedom) and Tvisten (The Dispute) indicate that the families on
the farms that were moved outside Nørre Ørslev did not all rejoice
at the change. The parcelling out of Nørre Ørslev took place from
1791 to 1794.
Setting up your own house - from copyhold to
The last of the agrarian reform changes that impacted on Rasmus'
life was the transition from copyhold to freehold.
Being a copyholder meant that the farmer rented a farm with
appertaining lands from the estate in return for an annual payment,
the so-called manorial dues, and villeinage work. In contrast to
renting, copyhold tenure had no time limit. Copyhold tenure was for
On 20 February 1807, Rasmus Stang signed his deed of conveyance.
In doing so, he went from being a copyholder under the Vestensborg
estate to being a freehold farmer who owned his own home and land.
Rasmus died in April 1807 and so he only lived to be a freeholder
for just short of two months.