Author: Piotr Zelny
Property inventories were documents of an economic, financial, and legal character. The documents achieved a level of standardisation in the 17th century. However, when dealing with such a great amount of documentation dispersed over such a large area and which occurred over such a long period of time, frequently we encounter a problem in the sense that the contents of individual documents may differ considerably one from another.
Property inventories may present a more or less accurate picture of particular lands, villages and towns. They may contain descriptions of buildings, lands and crops. They may contain registers of feudal obligations which list inhabitants of particular villages and cities along with information concerning their property status and obligations towards the landlord. Eventually, they may contain a detailed description of the system of feudal duties of the particular village being described.
On the one hand, they could sanction the existing regulations, norms and relations between subjects (peasants or townspeople) and the feudal lord, or, on the other hand, they could invalidate the existing rules and introduce new ones. The inventories served as the basis for controlling the condition as well as for estimating the profitability and valuation of individual land properties.
Often the property inventories were prepared for various types of transactions, such as purchase, sale, lease, pledge etc. On other occasions the inventories dealt with the circumstances related to the inheritance of property, i.e. the takeover of the inheritance as well as the division of property between the heirs. The inventories provided a database for estimating the profitability and valuation of the property which affected the amount of lease obligations and property divisions between the heirs. They also appeared due to border disputes arising between the owners of neighbouring properties.
The inventories were produced by clerks managing the farm, the property or the entire complex of properties when the supervisor was to be changed. In such circumstances the property inventory was produced to illustrate the state of the property at the time when it was to be taken over by a new official. Sometimes this documentation could have been created as a result of the official controls carried out by supervisory authorities. The audits were usually conducted by commissioners travelling around their territories. In this way, the activity of the managers of individual farms and entire properties was controlled on site.
The reorganization and reform of property management was another reason why the inventories were created. The goal of this activity was to present an actual picture and description of the condition of the property or to introduce the intensification of agricultural production. In the latter case, the inventory did not present the actual state of affairs, but presented and sanctioned the newly introduced and binding changes in the amount of peasants’ obligations towards their landlord.
The persons responsible for the compilation of property inventories were various types of officials reporting to the landowner. They were workers of administrative and economic departments. Depending on their individual function and position, they were called officials, economists or commissioners. These officials were assisted by scribes who manually drew up the relevant documentation. In general, each inventory was to be made on-site in the form of a site visit. However, it sometimes happened that officials simply copied data from older documents or introduced new regulations not based on the site visit, but on the basis of the data from older inventories. In addition to the site inspection, old inventories and the other documents, an important source of information was the local population, which made declarations to the official regarding the property status, the size of the cultivated land, the amount of livestock and the size of the family as well as the type and amount of feudal obligations.