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Peasants’ Complaints and the Põltsamaa Ordinance of 1684: The Beginning of Measures Aimed at Protecting the Crown Peasantry in Livonia

The condition of the crown peasantry and its regulation in Livonia after the Great Reduktion of 1681 has been one of the most widely discussed topics in Estonian historiography. However, mostly only the regulations of 1691 and 1696 have been published and cited, while the instructions for the Livonian land revision of 1688 are the only known regulation from the 1680s. This article studies the 1684 Ordonnance of Põltsamaa, the original document of which can be found among the acts of the Tartu district court but has hitherto remained undiscovered. It consists of seven folio pages and can be considered the first comprehensive regulation of peasant protection in Livonia. It already well reflects the basic principles of the peasant protective measures that later found their way into the regulations of 1691 and 1696.

Sources leave no doubt that the Livonian peasants who had become the king’s peasants in 1681 quickly started seeking protection from the king and the provincial authorities. The Põltsamaa peasants were among the most active. The mass complaints of Livonian peasants played a vital role. The growing number of peasants’ complaints meant that the Swedish authorities gained an even better overview of the problems prevailing in the crown manors. The more similar complaints were received, the more systematically bottlenecks were recognised and addressed. Thus, peasants’ complaints certainly had a significant impact on the attention that the king and the provincial administration started paying to the problems of the crown peasantry.

As a result of the Põltsamaa peasants’ mass complaints to the king in 1684, a special commission was set up in the same year to solve peasants’ grievances on the spot. The Põltsamaa Commission compiled an ordinance in order to establish general principles for the obligations and dues of the peasants of Põltsamaa. The vague tithe was replaced by more fixed dues. Also, auxiliary corvée duties were regulated for the first time. The issue of disciplining peasants received attention as well in many of the ordinance’s paragraphs. Thus, the Ordonnance of Põltsamaa demonstrates that the Swedish authorities already arrived at measures aimed at protecting the crown peasantry in the first half of the 1680s, and peasants’ complaints were clearly a direct basis for drafting such a regulation.