|dc.description.abstract||This thesis deals with a society long gone: a local peasant community in the hundred of Visnum in central Sweden during the 17th and early 18th centuries. The aim of the study is dual: to examine how the wealth was distributed among the peasants in the local community and how this economical stratification changed over time, but also how the unevenly distributed wealth corresponded with which of the peasants who held public offices on the local political arena.
Previous historians have not considered these problems due to lack of source materials. By using a previously neglected kind of source, population registers (mantalslängder), this study fills in the gap between studies done on earlier and later time periods. Although the method approximates a landed peasant’s wealth with the size of the farm he cultivated, thus omitting crofters and other landless people, it is still useful for determining the wealth distribution within the local community, especially regarding the local public office holders.
The results of the study of the peasants’ wealth show that the average wealth of the peasants nearly halved during the period 1629–1718. This was due mainly to a rise in population, which led to several peasant families living off acres previously cultivated by one alone. The size of the smallest farms in the area shrunk many times during the period. At the same time, a number of peasants still managed to keep the largest farms (helgärdshemman) undivided for large amounts of time and several generations, hereby creating an economic upper stratum. What in 1629 only had been small differences in wealth had by 1718 grown to become unbridgeable gaps.
Except for tenant farmers from one parish particularly rich in farms owned by the nobility, most of the jurors of the local court were freeholders. This is true, although to a slightly lesser degree, also for the church wardens and sexmän. On top of this, the freeholders fully monopolized the position as the hundred’s representative in the peasant estate in the Swedish parliament. Most of the public office holders were richer than the average peasant in the area. But the group was heterogeneous and also poor peasants served as office holders, especially as sexmän.
Not all of the public office holders had the same position of influence. Some office holders distinguished themselves from the rest by holding the same position for many years or holding more than one office. These politically influential peasants must have held a deep
respect within the local community, as well as they themselves must have been particularly politically interested. A few of them were also amongst the richest peasants, thus forming a small group of men combining both considerable economic and political powers. By covering both these angles, the study lets us witness the formation of a new group within the local Swedish agrarian society: a local peasant elite.||sv