Tenant Farmers in Denmark (Fæstebønder)

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Being copyholder or smallholder meant that one rented a property with land by a landowner. A landowner could be a private person, but also could be more prestigious, such as the king or university. A tenant farmer could stay in the house or on the farm and cultivate the soil. In return, the tenant farmer would pay indfæstning (money paid by the renting party upon accession or renewal of the plot of land) and landgilde and make hoveri. At least until the head depot was lifted - and it was later in 1850.

Landgilde and Hoveri[edit | edit source]

Indfæstning: the entrance fee the tenants had to pay to begin residing on a farm or in a house.
Landgilde: the annual fee paid by tenants - usually a combination of cash and kind, such as an amount of grain or pig.
Hoveri: work that tenants were required to do without pay. Also known as corvee labor. If a tenant could not pay taxes or not manage the farm well enough, the landowner would remove the tenant and replace him with a new tenant.

For more information about hoveri, see Hoveri from Aarhus University (in Danish).

For more information on drudgery on copyhold farms, see the article: Drudgery.

Fæstekontrakterne in duplicate[edit | edit source]

Fæstekontrakterne (sometimes called fæstebrevene) were written contracts between two parties, typically between the landlord and the tenant.

By regulation on 23 January 1719, it was decided that all fæstekontrakterne were to be made in two copies, the original for the tenants, and the copy for the landowner (called reversalfæstebrevet). The original letter typically contained information on:

  • the landowner
  • the fæstebrev
  • the location of the tenancy
  • the soil and grain quality
  • the previous tenants and any relationships to the new tenants
  • reasons for the change in tenancy
  • indication of landgilde and hoveri
  • any other conditions, including the location of tenancy
  • the indfæstning amount


The contract should also be copied into a protokol or minutes. Two witnesses were often present to validate the contract.

In the late 1700s, the tenant system was reformed - among other things, an established tenancy was allowed, which gave tenants the right to have such a son or son in law continue tenancy of the farm/house. The tenant system was finally abolished by Act of 30 June 1919.

Several kinds of documents[edit | edit source]

It is not only the protocols that can give information about tenants and their circumstances. Hoveriforordninger can be found in godsarkiv. These documents can reveal how much the peasant had to work for the landowner. There may be diaries of the head depot, where you can see exactly how much work the peasant had. There may also be business or land books, which gives names of tenants, as well as information on the living standards of the farms and houses they lived in.


References[edit | edit source]

Per Ole Schovsbo. Fæste Protocoll for Øebierggaard Gods, 2. del: 1800-1848. Køng Museums støtteforening, 2012-13.